Janet GyatsoDec 18, 2015
Being Human in a Buddhist World
An Intellectual History of Medicine in Early Modern Tibet
Columbia University Press 2015
Janet Gyatso's new book is a masterfully researched, compellingly written, and gorgeously illustrated history of medicine in early modern Tibet that looks carefully at the relationships between medicine and religion in this context. Being Human in a Buddhist World: An Intellectual History of Medicine in Early Modern Tibet (Columbia University Press, 2015) looks carefully at the "double movements" of medicine and religion from the twelfth through seventeenth centuries: at the same time, medical learning in Tibet encouraged a critical approach to religious authority while also maturing within the context of Tibetan Buddhism. Gyatso finds a turn to "evidence of the empirical" in some aspects of Sowa Rikpa, a kind of mentality that shaped not just approaches to anatomy and pharmacy but also the writing of commentaries and the ethics of medical practice. The chapters of Being Human in a Buddhist World introduce readers to a wide variety of materials that include visual and verbal engagements in some fascinating debates over gendered bodies, the evidence of the senses, the possibility of having access to the word of the Buddha (and the stakes involved), and the relationships between Tibetan and other kinds of medical theory and practice, among much else. In addition to its obvious import for Tibetan and Buddhist studies, Gyatso's book should be required reading for anyone working in the history of early modern science and medicine, especially those readers and writers who are interested in embracing a multi-sited, plural approach to the field.