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Being Human in a Buddhist World

An Intellectual History of Medicine in Early Modern Tibet

By Janet Gyatso

About the Book

Critically exploring scientific thought and its relation to religion in traditional Tibetan medicine, Being Human expands our sense of Tibetan cultural history, unpacking the intersection of early modern sensibilities and religious ideals during the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Studying the adaptation of Buddhist concepts and values to medical concerns, the book also advances an appreciation of Buddhism’s role in the development of Asian and global civilization. Through its unique focus and sophisticated reading of source materials, Being Human captures the religious character of medicine in Tibet during a period when it facilitated a singular involvement in issues associated with modernity and empirical science, all without discernible influence from the European Enlightenment. The book opens with the bold achievements of medical illustration, commentary, and institution building, then looks back to the work of earlier thinkers, tracing a subtle dialectic between scriptural and empirical authority on questions of history and the nature of human anatomy. It follows key differences between medicine and Buddhism in attitudes toward gender and sex, and the shaping of medical ethics to serve both the physician and the patient’s well-being. Being Human ultimately finds that Tibetan medical scholars absorbed ethical and epistemological categories from Buddhism yet shied away from ideal system and absolutes, embracing instead the imperfectability of the human condition.

About the Author

Janet Gyatso is Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies at Harvard University Divinity School. She is the author of Apparitions of the Self: The Secret Autobiographies of a Tibetan Visionary and In the Mirror of Memory: Reflections on Remembrance and Mindfulness in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism.

Hanna Havnevik is assistant professor at the University of Oslo and is the author of Tibetan Buddhist Nuns: History, Cultural Norms, and Social Reality and The Life of Jetsun Lochen Rinpoche (1865-1951).

Reviews

An amazing book and a stellar contribution to Columbia University Press's growing catalog of Tibetan and Tibetan Buddhist studies, for it will be the key book on medicine and religion in Tibet for this generation. Like Gyatso's book on autobiography, her new book on medicine will simply be field defining. Little of this literature has received attention to date, and in fact much of it has only been available to a contemporary international scholarly audience for a decade or so.