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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 5.1 (2022): 444–451;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Text and Image & Buddhist Biography)

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C. Pierce Salguero. 2022. A Global History of Buddhism and Medicine. New York: Columbia University Press. Pp. x + 258. $140.00 Hardback, ISBN 9780231185264; $35.00 Paperback, ISBN 9780231185271; $34.99 E-book, ISBN 9780231546072.

William A. MCGRATH
New York University

Pierce Salguero’s Global History of Buddhism and Medicine is an overarching narrative of healing in Buddhist traditions based on his analysis of Buddhist texts and networks of medical practice. Like its two companion volumes also edited by Salguero,1 this monograph explicitly concerns ‘Buddhism and medicine’. Despite the conjunction splitting the two subjects of the title, however, after decades of effort and over twenty separate publications on the subject (234–35), Salguero has integrated historical, anthropological, and clinical studies into a unified field of ‘Buddhist medicine’.

What is Buddhist medicine? ‘“Buddhist medicine” refers to the totality of the different intersections and relations between Buddhism and medicine’, Salguero writes. ‘Indeed, to study this topic means not only to study how bridges have been built to connect Buddhism and medicine in some times or places but also how lines have been drawn to separate them into two distinct fields of knowledge in others’ (5). Like ‘Buddhist art’, Salguero frames Buddhist medicine as a second order term that is not ‘native’ to Buddhist traditions. Salguero also argues that we need not distinguish ‘medicine’ from ‘healing’, because ‘any approach to human health whose doctrines and practices are articulated, codified, and institutionalized is worthy of being spoke about as “medicine”’ (183, note 7). The result is a decentralized medical tradition with unclear boundaries that developed in conversation with and in contradistinction from other, equally nebulous traditions like Āyurveda, Chinese medicine, and ‘Greek medicine’ (yūnānī tibb, 126). Unlike the specific national origins and extra-religious nature sometimes attributed to these other traditions, however, Buddhist medicine is transnational and fundamentally religious, which may help explain its absence from histories of medicine and its status as a contested category in Buddhist Studies.


About the Author: William A. McGrath is the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Assistant Professor of Buddhist Studies at New York University. His research interests include Buddhism in East and Central Asia, Tibetan and Chinese medical traditions, Tibetan language and history, and the intersections of religion and medicine. He recently edited a volume entitled Knowledge and Context in Tibetan Medicine.


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