Category: Publications

Hidden Paradises of the Himalaya: Kangchenjunga & Beyul

“A distant view of a snowy range…has a strange power of moving all poets and persons of imagination,” wrote Douglas Freshfield in his 1903 memoir, Round Kangchenjunga. The British mountaineer was describing his vision of the 8586-meter Mt. Kangchenjunga from the hill-station of Darjeeling. Kangchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world and has the thickest layers of granite in the Himalaya. Straddling Nepal and India, its vast massif gives birth to the great riverways of Asia: the Brahmaputra flows from the eastern glaciers, the Ganges from the western. In Tibetan its name means “Snow Mountain of Five Treasuries,” referring to reserves of salt, gold, turquoise, religious teachings, weapons, fruits and medicines believed to be concealed inside its five peaks….”

2016. “Hidden Paradises of the Himalaya: Kangchenjunga & Beyul.” In Alpinist 54.

Gesar’s Therapeutic Geographies

This paper explores how practices of healing or information about medicine operate in the Gesar epic. I begin with a discussion of a few relevant examples from commonly known Gesar episodes, proposing that beyond being of significant interest in themselves, these stories may be rich sources for questioning how the category of ‘medicine’ may be understood in different contexts. I will then introduce several lesser-known episodes that are explicitly focused on Gesar’s conquest of medicinally rich lands. The detailed medical information found in these stories provides insight into the role of professional knowledge more broadly and how it operates in an oral tradition. Finally, I will examine depictions of healing landscapes in the epic that demonstrate ties to Tibetan writing on hidden lands (sbas yul), suggesting that they may offer us new modes of thinking about healing, embodiment, and nature.

Forthcoming in edited volume, to be published by Brill.

Gold, Statue, Text: Mapping Movement in Tibetan History

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 5.43.29 AMA digital project with a collection of essays, art historical resources, textual databases, mapping, and architectural modeling, this website is a pilot project for an approach to visualizing the movement of people and things around culturally significant places. It is the product of a phase of research by a group of scholars, architects, and web designers who have taken 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 maps 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.

“Gold, Statue, Text: Mapping Movement in Tibetan History.” Published in Fall 2014 at http://shalu.miketissenbaum.com/index.html. Collaboratively developed by Frances Garrett, Ben Wood, Sarah Richardson, Kunga Sherab and a technical team of web developers.

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 5.50.53 AM2014. 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

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 5.54.05 AMThis 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 examine how histories of medicine themselves construct the place of the medical tradition within Tibetan bodies of knowledge and literature, followed by a look at how medical study and healing practices are presented in one prominent fifteenth-century history of Buddhism in Tibet. Finally, I briefly consider what may be learned about the history of medicine by studying particular healing practices over time. In viewing Tibetan medical history from different angles, using different kinds of sources, with an emphasis on its relationship to Buddhist traditions, this essay aims to demonstrate how complex this relationship has been throughout history and to advocate for research on Tibetan medicine that is sensitive to the localized and historically contingent nature of the tradition.

2014. The Making of Medical History. In Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine, ed. Resi Hofer. University of Washington Press with Rubin Museum of Art.

Smoke and Sky, Faith and Fortune

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.

Filmed entirely in Tibetan regions of China.

Director: Wendekar
Cinematographer: Wendekar
Subtitles: Wendekar and Andrew Erlich
Creative and Executive Producer: Frances Garrett
Length: 18:52 minutes

See trailer at http://www.wendekar.com/smoke-and-sky-faith-and-fortune.html

Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Tibetan and Himalayan Library

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.

Filmed entirely in Tibetan regions of China.

Director: Wendekar
Cinematographer: Wendekar
Subtitles: Wendekar and Andrew Erlich
Creative and Executive Producer: Frances Garrett
Length: 34:54 minutes

Trailer at http://www.wendekar.com/making-prosperity.html

Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Tibetan and Himalayan Library

Seeds in the Wind

This film documents traditional food collection, production and consumption practices in the filmmaker’s remote Tibetan village. Filmed entirely in Tibetan regions of China.

Screenings:

  • June 2011: Strolling of the Heifers Farm & Food Film Festival, Vermont, USA
  • March 2011: University of Toronto Film Festival, Canada
  • February 2011: New Voices, New Visions: Documentary Filmmaking in Tibet and Myanmar, University of Toronto, Canada

Director: Wendekar
Cinematographer: Wendekar
Creative and Executive Producer: Frances Garrett
Length: 35:15 minutes

See trailer at http://www.wendekar.com/seeds-in-the-wind.html

Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Tibetan and Himalayan Library

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.

2013. Narratives of Hospitality and Feeding in Tibetan Ritual. With Matt King, Barbara Hazelton, Andrew Erlich and Nicholas Field. In Journal of the American Academy of Religion 81 (2): 1-25.

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.

2010. Shaping the Illness of Hunger: A Culinary Aesthetics of Food and Healing in Tibet. In Asian Medicine 6 (1): 33-54.

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