Stages of fetal growth in the Tibetan medical thangka

Buddhists throughout history and across Asia considered knowledge of embryology to be an important aspect of both medical and religious thought and practice. Embryology has been historically, and is still today, a forum for Indian and Tibetan scholars and practitioners of different traditions to set forth their own philosophical views, and the widespread effects of these debates point to the prominence of embryological thinking in the greater Buddhist milieu. Although in much of the modern world embryological details are now scientific questions, in the ancient Asian world “scientific” details such as these were often quite centrally religious or philosophical issues. This essay discusses writings embryology as they begins to appear in Tibetan texts from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, focusing especially upon the contentious issue of the sequence of fetal development.

2005. Ordering human growth in Tibetan medical and religious embryologies. In Textual Healing: Essays on Medieval and Early Modern Medicine, ed. Elizabeth Furdel, 31-52. Leiden: Brill Publishers.