Category: Publications

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..

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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


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.

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.