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གླིང་སྒྲུང་ལས་བྱིང་བའི་བོད་པའི་གསོ་རིག་སྐོར་གླེང་པ། (Tibetan Medicine in the Gesar Epic)

2014. གླིང་སྒྲུང་ལས་བྱིང་བའི་བོད་པའི་གསོ་རིག་སྐོར་གླེང་པ། Gling sgrung las byung ba’i bod pa’i gso rig skor gleng pa (Tibetan Medicine in the Gesar Epic), published by Qinghai Nationalities University Gesar Research Institute Press (China) in 2014. Chopa Dondrup is primary editor; I am collaborator and producer. 226 pages plus 2 DVDs.

The Making of Medical History

This essay addresses the transmission of medical knowledge in Tibet spanning a period of roughly six hundred years. I begin with an overview of several of the major traditions of Tibetan medicine during this period, emphasizing both how intertwined they are with each other and how connected they are to contemporaneous Buddhist traditions. I then..

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Smoke and Sky, Faith and Fortune

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This film documents a Buddhist ritual practice conducted in the home of the filmmaker’s family in an Eastern Tibetan region of China. The practice involves creating elaborate decorated sculptures out of dough, which are known in Tibetan as torma. In this film, these are offered as food for non-human spirits who may otherwise harm people or animals of the household. Enticing harmful spirits away from the house, monks and lay participants work together to create good fortune for the family in the coming year.

Making Prosperity

In this film, Buddhist monks prepare for a ritual in which they ask a deity for luck and prosperity. The ritual is performed in the filmmaker’s village in Eastern Tibet. The film offers a rare study of one of the most important tasks in preparing a Tibetan ritual, the making of torma, elaborate sculptures made from dough and decorated with colored butter. Depicting a variety of kinds of torma, from those that are used to expel harmful spirits to those that are made to be homes for deities, the film shows the integration of these objects into a family’s life.

Mapping an Epic: Religion and Healing in Inner Asia

This program’s general goal – to map the King Gesar epic’s “therapeutic geographies” as a way of studying the intersections between religion and medicine in Inner Asia – is organized around three intertwined research objectives. We plan (1) to examine episodes in this vast epic tradition that depict healing acts or geographic sites that provide healing power; (2) to explore how “Gesar-inflected” healing has spread beyond the epic to ritual literature and practice; and (3) to analyze these geographic, narrative and scholarly sites of healing knowledge, practice and power with the use of an integrated set of digital maps and tools. To support this research we will configure an international research partnership linking scholars and students at the University of Toronto, the University of Virginia, Cardiff University in the UK, Qinghai Nationalities University in China, and the Arura Tibetan Medical Group in China. Over the initial three-year “development” phase of the project (2011-14), we also plan to solidify additional partnerships with the National University of Mongolia and with the Canadian Tibetan Association of Ontario in Toronto, a development that will in turn expand the project’s research scope.

Narratives of Hospitality and Feeding in Tibetan Ritual

This essay proposes that many Tibetan rituals are shaped by a language of creating, giving and eating food. Drawing on a range of pre-modern texts and observation of a week-long Accomplishing Medicine (sman sgrub) ritual based on those texts, we explore ritualized food interactions from a narrative perspective. Through the creation, offering, and consumption of food, ritual participants, including Buddhas, deities and other unseen beings, create and maintain variant identities and relationships with each other. Using a ritual tradition that crosses religious and medical domains in Tibet, we examine how food and eating honors, constructs and maintains an appropriate and spatio-temporally situated community order with a gastronomic contract familiar to all participants.

Shaping the Illness of Hunger: A Culinary Aesthetics of Food and Healing in Tibet

This essay considers the relationship between eating and maintaining health or curing illness, as seen in Tibetan pre-modern texts. In particular, it focuses on selected “ritually” enhanced food practices that are aimed at treating illness and improving one’s psycho-physical health and power. It begins with a look at practices that model hunger as an illness for both humans and non-humans, observing a resulting blurring of boundaries between food and medicine. The essay proposes continuity along a range of “culinary” practices, focusing in particular on “ritual cake” (gtor ma) offerings and “nectar” (bdud rtsi) recipes involving creation of pills and healing foods. The essay posits a “culinary aesthetics” of healing and personal enhancement and introduces speculation about Tibetan understandings of food as medicine that may shape our understanding of the relationship between medical and religious thinking and practice in Tibet.

“What children need”: Making Childhood with Technologies of Protection and Healing

In this article I explore the care of children in Tibetan culture as expressed through several works on the medical and ritual treatment and protection of children. These texts describe a remarkably broad range of technologies aimed and healing and protecting children, recommending the feeding of pills, soups, butters, beers, or texts to children, parents, or deities; physically manipulative techniques, such as as surgery, washing, annointing, fumigating or massaging; the wearing of all manner of amulets, talismans, strings, papers, ointments, or letters; and the theatrical staging of elaborate hospitality or ransom dramas. Some of the texts I will examine are old, but all of them are in use today, in some way, each having been recently reprinted in one or more editions; none of this material is therefore obscure or terribly esoteric. Anyone who has spent time around small children in Tibetan parts of Asia, particularly in rural areas, will have observed ample evidence of the kinds of therapeutic technologies we will see described in these texts: amulets hanging from children’s necks, mantras and diagrams posted on household doors, ransom effigies left at dusty intersections. Through an examination of the making and use of these therapeutic and protective objects, I will propose that we can describe a material culture of childhood that may in turn tell us a bit about the child as a category.

Gold, Statue, Text: Visualizing Movement in Tibetan History

This is a pilot project for a new approach to visualizing the movement of people and things around culturally significant places. Through this research a group of scholars active across multiple disciplines will take the historic Tibetan site of Shalu (Zhwa lu) Monastery as a case study for examining interactions between people, things and places through the creation of interactive, spatial-temporal maps. Focusing on the active and ongoing creation of “place” through material and social exchange, this project will map movements of people (founders, abbots, patrons and artisans) and things (building materials, precious metals, paintings and statues) that defined the character and history of Shalu through time. We propose that by visualizing history in this way, we may facilitate knowledge that is both particular and interactive, allowing us to see how particular histories, cultures and social exchanges are defined and created by and through particular people, things and places.