Being Human in a Buddhist World

[MUSIC PLAYING] So I’d like to begin
our conversation tonight by welcoming you on
behalf of the Center for the Study of
World Religions. My name is Frank Clooney. I’m the director of the center
and member of the faculty here. And I know many of you are
familiar faces who’ve been here many times, so welcome back. And if this happens to
be your first time here, it’s great to have you with us. As you may know from previous
gatherings if you’ve been here, these are meant to be collegial,
conversational, enjoyable times together, probing into
the wonderful work that our professors do. Part of that is to eat,
drink, and be merry. So if you are inclined,
as we’re talking, to get up and get something
more to eat or drink, don’t be shy– as
long as you don’t block the camera for too long. That will be the
only requirement. The general pattern for
these sessions will be– I’ll begin by introducing
tonight’s author, Janet Gyatso. She will have a
chance to speak first to present something of her book
and how she came to write it. Then our two
respondents– and I’ll introduce them each
at the time when they speak– will
talk about the book from a certain angle,
their own perspective. Then Janet Gyatso will have
a chance to respond to them. And then their chairs will be
presented facing out toward you in the front here for
an open conversation with yourselves as well. So I think it’s meant to
be an enjoyable season. The only really firm rule we
have is we finish by 7 o’clock. And then informal conversation
can continue after that. But as I begin, I’d just
like to make a general point that, as director
of the center, I find these book events one
of the most enjoyable things to happen at the center. We spend a lot of time doing
our research and writing. We put incredible
effort into our books. And often, people say,
“Great book, great cover.” And then you don’t get the sense
whether anyone has actually looked too deeply inside it. So these occasions
are a chance to, not simply celebrate
each other’s work, but get into how we’ve thought
about these topics, how we do the writing, and so on and
[AUDIO OUT] a great occasion. We’ve had a number of
these events this year. We have one more– I just advertised it– on
April 28th, Marla Frederick, from the Committee on
the Study of Religion. Her book presentation
will be on April 28th. And that will be the
last one for the year. So let me just then begin
by introducing a person who needs no introduction. Janet Gyatso is the Hershey
Professor of Buddhist Studies and also Associate Dean for
Faculty and Academic Affairs here at the Divinity School. She has her PhD
from the University of California in Berkeley. She is, as you
all know, I think, a specialist in Buddhist studies
with a concentration on Tibetan and South Asian cultural
and intellectual history. She is also a member– in addition to the
Divinity School– of the faculty of
Arts and Sciences’ Committee on the
Study of Religion, the Department of East Asian
Languages and Civilizations, and the Committee on Inner
Asian and Altaic Studies. She is also a leader and active
participant in the Harvard Buddhist Studies Forum. She’s involved, too, right
here at the Divinity School, in development of a new track
for the training of Buddhist lay ministers and leaders in
the MDiv program here at HDS– a very innovative and
pioneering program. She was previously
also the president of the International Association
of Tibetan Studies from 2000 to 2006 and also co-chair
of the Buddhism section of the AAR from 2004 to 2010. In her teaching and
writing, she does work on Buddhist history,
ritual, and ideas, Tibetan literary practices
and religious history. In both teaching and
writing, Professor Gyatso draws on cultural and
literary theory and endeavors to widen the spectrum of
intellectual resources for understanding of
Buddhist and Tibetan history. She has also been
writing on sex and gender in Buddhist monasticism and on
the current female ordination movement in Buddhism. Previous topics
in her scholarship have included
visionary revelation in Buddhism, lineage,
memory, and authorship, the philosophy of experience,
and autobiographical writing in Tibet. Her writings are, as you would
expect, prolific and numerous. I’ll just mention
several of the books. In the Mirror of Memory;
Reflections on Mindfulness and Remembrance in Indian
and Tibetan Buddhism, 1992; Apparitions of the Self– The Secret Autobiographies
of a Tibetan Visionary, 1999; Women in Tibet,
Past and Present, 2006. Her current projects,
in addition to the one we’re
discussing tonight, include Tibetan reception
of Sanskrit poetics, another project on the
possibility and skill in human communication
with cats and other animals and how this has
philosophical implications, and another project on
seeing and imagining one’s self from the outside
as others might see you, constituting a key dimension
of ethical self-cultivation. Tonight, when we turn
to this wonderful book, Being Human in a
Buddhist World– An Intellectual History of
Medicine in Early Modern Tibet, the first thing to be said– and
you’ll notice this when I pass it around– it’s a beautiful book. It’s lush in its
images, so well set up. But that is not
to make us neglect the content, which is the
intellectual high power of this volume. And I can’t help concluding
by reading a passage that I very much appreciate from
the introduction to the book, which raises many issues
close to my own heart, and I’ll do this and then
turn things over to Janet. She writes, “I am convinced
that to read for processes– reaches, retreats, experiments,
questions, and worries– rather than positions
requires a humanistic eye. Quite apart from whatever
issue is at stake, we are best poised to
appreciate the fact that a significant process is
in progress when we remember how opaque our own ideas can be. Keeping sight of our own
history allows the scholars we are reading to be
as human as we are, to be stretching
beyond themselves, to be still in the
process of thought. So if contemporary biomedicine
is home to untold stories, numbers of unsettled questions,
so was Tibetan medicine. We read to find other
human beings taken up with the questions in ways
that are meaningful to us, sometimes less to
find out what answers they proposed than to
appreciate their negotiation of complexities along the way.” So I think it’s a wonderfully
scholarly project, humane project, by one
of our most appreciated teachers and scholars. So let us welcome Janet Gyatso. [APPLAUSE] Thank you so much, Frank,
for the introduction and also just for having these events,
which I always enjoy very much. And now I’m especially
appreciative of it being my turn to
have it about my book. And I also do want to make
one more joke about the “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” In my case, I’m
fortunate to have– it’s a very beautiful production
and indeed a very, very beautiful cover. But sometimes, I
get the impression that that may indeed be
all that anybody ever– that’s as far as people get. So many people
have come up to me and said, “Oh, you’re
book is so beautiful!” I said, “All right, but,
you know, anything else? Did you like to
look at it inside?” Anyway, so just according
to the way these things go, I thought I’ll just tell you a
little bit about why and how I took up this project
and just some of the larger contours of what
I’m trying to do in the book. Basically, how did I
come to write this, or how did I come
to get into it? I’ll say the primary and most
direct and important answer was I just love the material. So as soon as I was exposed
to it, I said, “Yes, this is great. I really like this,” not knowing
why but just really loving it. So going for the
sweet spot for me is always the best reason
to get into a project. And then later on, you figure
out what’s important about it. A little bit more fulsome
story is that, basically, after I finished
an earlier project, I had the intention of doing
a full project on gender and the history
of women in Tibet. And one of the things
I thought of early on was, well, I wonder what the
medical texts say about women and the whole question of
sexual identity and even gender, if there’s anything there. Now it turns out, in the
kind of training that I had, which was in a Buddhist
studies program and also even in
Tibetan studies itself, there is a huge
medical literature out there from Tibetan
history, but pretty much no one has studied it
except for just a few very superficial
looks at things. And so I was really delving into
sort of uncharted territory. But one of the things
that happened– well, for one thing, I was very
fortunate that, at the time, I was still at Amherst College. That shows you how long I’ve
been working on this thing. There happened to be a
Tibetan medical historian who was out in Western Mass, who
was teaching Tibetan medicine. I was fortunate enough to
be able to go out and start reading with him a few passages. And I was extremely struck– yes, indeed, of course,
in the medical text, there’s a whole lot
about the nature of women and the nature of
sexual identity. But I was very, very struck
by the way that the discussion unfolded and the kind of
language that was being used and just the whole
approach to knowledge. Again, being steeped in a
background in Buddhist studies, I’d been reading Buddhist
works, Buddhist ritual, Buddhist metaphysics,
Buddhist philosophy, Buddhist epistemology,
Buddhist ritual. This was like a revelation to
see the Tibetan language, which this is not a statement about
Tibetan, it’s about the way that we were trained in
the West in this area, just to see the
Tibetan language used in a very cultivated
and sophisticated way. But talking about
much more practical, pragmatic things on the
ground was, for me, just an absolute breath of
fresh air for a change. And so I said, “Wow, you
can use the Tibetan language and write in this kind of way.” So I actually found
myself a little bit drifting away from the
project on gender itself. Although in the
final book, I do now have a chapter on gender
that’s still there. But I got interested in the
whole field of medicine itself and in Tibet and, in
particular, trying to get at that very thing that
I was sort of perceiving in maybe, at first, a
aesthetic way It was simply that tone, that orientation,
that approach to writing and knowledge and thinking
and that was distinctively, I would say, not religion. Now that, of course, is a
controversial thing to say. And what do I mean by that? As I’m sort of having
that perception, I’m really seeing a different
sort of epistemic place or subject position. How do I define what’s
different about that? Or how do I get a handle
on what that’s about? And, of course, it begs
the very question of, what do we mean by religion? Why am I saying this
is not religion? Well, so just a
bit of background– and one of the things about this
book is that there is currently a lot of people interested in
Buddhist studies, in medicine, in Buddhist traditions– and actually just backtracking
a little bit, medicine and Buddhism have a long history
together starting in India where, even in the early
monastic communities, it seemed that
Buddhist monks were being trained in various kinds
of medicinal practices as well. And so there is a
long intersection between Buddhism and medicine. What I’m trying to say is
that there is a way in which, at least in Tibetan medicine,
that Buddhism and medicine in certain interesting
ways diverges. However, I’m pretty much the
only person who’s saying that. So everybody– either if
they’re doing Tibetan medicine or Buddhist medicine in China. There’s a lot of work being
done on Chinese medicine and also Japan and some work on
Indian Buddhist medicine, not a lot– everyone is saying,
“You know what? Our whole Western categories
of religion and science are not really
relevant to this case. You really can’t
distinguish them. Each is imbued with each other,
and that kind of distinction doesn’t work.” And I’m saying,
“No, actually, there is an important distinction– that there are ways
in which that I think that it’s wrong
to just collapse the categories of
religion and science, even if we take them in the
sort of common sense ways that we understand
them in English. They’re relevant, actually. What I’m finding amongst
these Tibetan intellectuals is that they’re
wrestling with issues that are very similar and
at least recognizable. So this book is going against
the grain of scholarship in the west on
Buddhist medicine. Yet on the other hand,
what I’m claiming is that the very
issues that I’m raising were issues that were
apparent to the writers that I’m talking about. And actually, in this
final chapter, one, we actually find that they
are developing categories in which to distinguish
the approach to knowledge and knowledge acquisition
and the nature and purpose of knowledge that
distinguishes medical knowledge from the Buddhist tradition. So there’s actually terms
that you can point to– those of you in the room
who do Sanskrit things. The word, “dharma.” which is a term that
means the way or a path. It might conceivably
be a term for religion in the most general
sense in South Asia. The Tibetans come up
with a term that they distinguish two types
of dharma– human dharma and pure dharma. And pure dharma is clearly
the teachings of the Buddha. This human dharma is
an ambiguous category, which I think they’re trying to
get at some of the issues that are somewhat familiar
to us from the history of the scientific
revolution in the west actually in which
issues about authority, scriptural revelation,
about the nature of truth, the importance of empirical
fact versus received wisdom become salient issues. And so I’m trying
to point that out. Now why is that important? Not only am I
seeing it happening, but this is an issue for them. And so there’s a difference
between just seeing it happen and realizing that,
historically, these people are recognizing that such
an issue is a problem. And they don’t really have
the language to deal with it. They’re trying to make
up the language in order to deal with it. But why is that important? I think it has a
lot of implications for our general history
of ideas altogether. And I’m talking now
internationally, globally, in terms of our history of the
world and the history of ideas. The fact that the medical
historians were self-conscious of the fact that there’s
different types of knowledge that are relevant in
different types of contexts. Again, it might
not seem so much, but actually, it has
a lot of implications, because what it means
is that there’s not one single, absolute
truth that’s true in all cases
for all contexts, that there’s different
realms of knowledge. And that starts the
smack of some of the ways that we understand the
dawn of “modernity,” to use his term, in the west
or other parts of the world as well. A knowledge that no one
thing, such as the Buddhist dispensation, can be true
everywhere and in all times. There’s no absolute final truth
that everything collapses down to. So that’s really
important to say that that’s happening in places
outside of where we normally locate those kinds of ideas in
the Enlightenment in the West. Early on, I got so excited
about this fact and other kind of parallels with the scientific
revolution in the West that I said, “Oh, my God. I really now here discovered
something really important about Tibetan history.” But the longer I was
working on this project– and I will say this project
took me a very, very long time to finish. It was very complicated. The sources were very
hard to understand. The rhetoric is very subtle. And I also want to mention
that, for eight years, I had a doctoral student
who as a Tibetan student from Lhasa who was working on
his own doctoral dissertation here in Inner Asia
and Altaic studies. But he also helped
me to read almost all of the primary sources
that I used for this work. And without the experience
of working with him and seeing the way
he read the rhetoric and what’s really happening
behind the surface, it would have been
very, very hard for me to figure out
what really was going on. His name is Yunga. And he’s back in
Tibet right now. But it really turned
out to be quite complex. But I do think that– and I’ll be interested to
see if our commentators say anything about this or not– but certain grounds or
certain centers of gravity that really do
distinguish what we might call a
scientific perspective and a religious perspective,
some of the things that I saw happening,
had to do with, again, issues of absolute authority,
certainly the power of ritual. One of the things I
bring out in the book is about this sort
of way that death figures on the horizon
for medical theory and for the physicians. In Buddhism, you have a sense– you die. There is a notion
of reincarnation. There’s a whole idea of
somehow transcending death in a certain way, that there’s
an ethical kind of path that goes along with getting
ready for death. In medicine, it’s just
very, very different. There’s no sort of sense of
the possibility of perfection. Medicine is convinced
that we’re alive. We get sick. Life is always imperfect. And we die, and that’s
the end of story. There’s not a word
about anything happening– not about the
bardo or next slide or anything like that. It’s just a very, very
different orientation that I feel that you can discern
throughout the whole thing. So that’s what I
tried to bring out. On the other hand, it was
very, very interesting to see, nonetheless, that these
writers on medicine in Tibet were inheriting a huge tradition
of philosophical analysis and historical writing
from Tibetan Buddhism. And not only that, all kinds
of traditions of ethical self formation, practice, and types
of intellectual reflection and many, many different
sorts of ways of thinking, categories, are taken
from Buddhist traditions and actually
transformed and applied in the medical context in
really interesting ways. So just to give two
quick examples– one is that not just the
notion of compassion, which obviously is
important for physicians, but the technologies of
developing compassion– so types of
meditative exercises– were transformed. They use the same
fine-grained techniques to think through the
course of an illness. So for example, the whole
notion of the middle path in Buddhism– how not to tip to one
extreme or the other, not to go into nihilism
or essentialism but sort of stay in the middle– is then transformed
in the medical context as a way for physicians to train
their own ability to sort of– what do physicians have to do? One of the most important things
is figure out what’s wrong, right? Diagnosis. And so how do you hit the
nail on the head correctly, not to go too far, not
to go, not far enough? They’re using Buddhist
language, or language that’s developed in Buddhist
ethical training traditions, to apply to medical knowledge. Another conception is the one
of extrasensory perception, so the idea of being able to
see that which is not seen. In other words,
for the physicians, this is about seeing what’s
underneath the skin, what’s inside the body. So they’re very
familiar with this idea that the Buddhas can see
the past and the future. The Buddha can see
what you’re thinking. The Buddha has this
extrasensory kind of perception. In some ways, the
doctor can use that kind of model or inspiration
as a way of sharpening his own way of figuring out
what’s wrong with the patient. And these discussions
are developed without any of the sort
of ethical or ritual kind of language around them. They’re just using them
as basically a skill in straight-ahead
medical diagnosis. So it’s really interesting to
see how those things happen. That’s really religion
impacting and, perhaps, improving scientific method. Anyway, so these
things really struck me and kept me very interested. I especially loved the
these medical paintings, which is what makes
the book so beautiful. I was able to reproduce a set of
gorgeous medical illustrations. And I have a whole
chapter on just analyzing what’s going on in
these illustrations. I won’t say more
now, but they just were so much fun to work with. They’re just
absolutely delightful. There’s also some
very, very cool stuff in the medical
tradition on gender and this whole notion of
pulse and bodily style and the flexibility
and fluidity of that, which is really an interesting
thing that got me excited. And then finally,
the medical ethics– how to learn from the teacher. Again, it’s an area that sort
of takes traditions coming out of Buddhism of the
relationship between the guru and the disciple. But in medicine, it’s
very, very different. And it has a lot to do with
getting so close to the teacher that you pick up all
of the teachers habits. So actually, the
medical text says, whatever your
teacher likes to do, you should like to do that too. So if your teacher
likes farming, you should get into farming. If your teacher
likes playing sports, you should get into
playing sports. If your teacher likes to
fight and beat up people, you should do that as well. So again, there’s
no sort of judgment. It’s not about whether the
teacher is a good guy or not. It’s just that you’re
kind of inhabiting his body in a certain way as
part of a way of picking up those kind of talents. So those kinds of passages
I had a lot of fun with it. So anyway I’ll now just go
sit down on the hot seat. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Janet. We’ll have a special
session sometime on whether Harvard professors
should have their students do as they do also. God knows where
that would lead us. So thank you very much for
introducing your book to us. And the task before
our two discussions tonight is not to
do a book report. It’s not to cover
it comprehensively all the material in
this magisterial work, but rather to open up
different angles for the sake of our conversation. So I’m delighted,
first of all tonight, to welcome Malcolm David Eckel. David is Professor of
Religion and Director of the Institute for
Philosophy and Religion at Boston University. David received his
BA from Harvard, a BA and MA from Oxford, and
his PhD in the study of religion from Harvard. It’s a pleasure to welcome
David but also welcome him back. You may know that David was
a professor on our faculty for a number of
years and, in fact, was the administrative
director here of the center. So it’s always a pleasure
when David crosses the river and comes back into
this space, which partly is very much indebted to your
presence for those many years here. David is a well-appreciated
professor at Boston University. In addition to his
administrative tasks, his teaching has been well
recognized by the university. He won the Metcalf Award
for Teaching Excellence. And he has also served as
a distinguished professor in the humanities. So he’s well
appreciated, and I think you’ll hear his style tonight. As a scholar, his
interests include the history of Buddhist
philosophy in India and Tibet, the relationship
between Buddhism and other Indian religions,
the expansion and adaptation of Buddhism in Asia and the
West, Buddhist narrative traditions and
their relationship to Buddhist ethics,
and the connection between philosophical theory
and religious practice. Among his many publications– I’ll just mention a
few of the books– Jnanagarbha Commentary
on the Distinction Between the Two Truths– An eighth century handbook
of Madhyamaka Philosophy from 1987; To See the Buddha– A Philosopher’s Quest for the
Meaning of Emptiness, 1992; Buddhism– Origins, Beliefs, Practices,
Holy Texts, and Sacred Places, 2002; and Bhaviveka and
His Buddhist Opponents published here at
Harvard in 2008. He’s also the editor
of a number of volumes, including India and the West– The Problem of
Understanding, published here at the center in 1985, and
Deliver Us From Evil, 2008. So I can’t think of a better
respondent than David Eckel, and welcome for coming. [APPLAUSE] Thank you very much, Frank. Thanks to all of you for coming. It’s wonderful to be
back at the center. And thanks to you,
Janet, for giving us such a wonderful excuse to
get together this afternoon. As I heard you talking
about your beautiful book, I thought, jeez, that’s
what it was about. How wonderful! Now I should just go home
and rewrite my remarks. The problem is I don’t have
enough time to do that. So what I’m going
to have to do is read you just a few thoughts
that occurred to me when I was working through
Janet’s marvelous book and hope that they
will spark some kind of interesting discussion. Whenever I stand in this
room, in a common room of the Center for the
Study of World Religions, I’m reminded of another
event that took place a few years ago,
when I was asked to be Santa Claus at the
center Christmas party. Do you still have
Christmas parties, Frank? Oh, no. Holiday parties. OK, holiday parties. I’m just kind of
curious about that. And so I was asked
to be Santa Claus. And the last thing
I wanted to do was to be a scary Santa Claus. And since I was a graduate
student at that time, it was really easy to
be a scary Santa Claus. I didn’t want to traumatize
all those little impressionable kids who were in this room. And they were waiting for me
to step through that door. My office was back there where
the refrigerator is right now. So I thought I would speak
with kind of a friendly voice. But I had no idea what
that would be like. So I walked through that
door, opened my mouth, and out popped the voice
of an Irish Santa Claus. So I had no idea
where that came from. And there it was. For that moment, I was an Irish
Santa Claus right in this room. I won’t tell you what I said,
because those of you who know what a real
Irish accent is like would easily see that it was
coming from the wrong place. Anyway, I know I don’t have
much time, so I’ll limit myself just to four points about why
I think Professor Gyatso’s book is extremely important
for all of us who have gathered here to consider it
and should be received with great reverence, not
only in Tibetan studies, but to anyone who’s
interested in a whole range of possible subjects–
many of which she has just mentioned–
including Buddhism, study of religion, the study
of medical traditions, and the impact of a
scientific attitude toward medical
practice in a country that, at the time in which
Professor Gyatso has been studying, Tibet was on
the cusp of modernity. I would have preferred to
make only three points just to keep my remarks simple. But I didn’t know which one
of these points to drop. So you can think of my remarks
like this symbolic exegesis of the syllable Om– three sounds plus a fourth,
except that my fourth sound will be more than silence. So my first point has to
do with the study of texts and their commentaries,
especially in Tibet. You know that a lot of what
we do in the study of religion has to do with texts
and their commentaries. This is especially true
in the study of Tibet. Being Human in a
Buddhist World– like a lot of works
in this field– is based on a root text– the so-called four
treatises, the Rgyud bzhi, composed by Yuthok Yonten
Gonpo in the 12th century and commented on by a string
of Tibetan commentators, most notably Desi Sangye Gyatso,
protege of the great fifth Dalai Lama and the founder of
a medical college in Lhasa. That college incidentally was
located across from the Potala on a hill that’s known
today as Chakpori. The hill is still there and
has a great view of the Potala, but the medical college has
been demolished and has been replaced– at least it was
when I was last there– by a big Chinese
telecommunications tower. That tells you something
about the political realities of modern Tibet. Another key figure in the
commentarial tradition is Zurkharwa Lodro Gyalpo, who
lived a century before the Desi and, by Professor
Gyatso’s reckoning, is probably Tibet’s most
brilliant medical writer. Jonathan Z Smith has said
that any important work in the study of religion should
deal with an exemplum that has been well and thoroughly
understood in its own right and also is displayed
in the service of some important
theory, some paradigm, or some fundamental question. One important
theoretical question has to do with the
relationship in this book between empirical
medical science, the actual observation of the
conditions of the human body, and the structures of
religious authority. Coming as it did on
the cusp of modernity, this had implications for the
study of many other aspects of learning in Tibet and
not just in Tibet but also in the rest of Asia. It also has implications for
the way we study commentaries. As you know, if you
have read or tried to study traditional
Tibetan commentaries, this is no easy task– Janet just referred to this– especially in an area that is
as arcane and largely unknown as Tibetan medicine. In the old days, it would
have been enough just to figure out one commentary– thank you– or maybe even
one part of one commentary. I know what that’s like. But this book is based on
the deep study and analysis of an entire
commentarial tradition. And that’s one of
the reasons why it has grown gradually over
such a long period of time. By putting all of
these together, Professor Gyatso has given us
a picture of these commentators as living, breathing scholars. And this is an
aspect of the book that I don’t think Janet
has just referred to, but these scholars,
Zurkharwa and the Desi, just leap off the page as lively
thinkers and human beings. It’s extraordinary, actually,
to sense them in this way. She has brought this
tradition to life. And of course,
that’s exactly what’s intended, because
the tradition has to do with the complex
problems of life and death in actual human beings. This book, I think, raises
the bar for any of us who work on
commentarial traditions in South Asia and
hope, in some way, to find what it is that makes
these texts come to life. It’s brilliant, Janet, really. I’m sensing that I have written
all these words on a page here. And I would actually rather
throw the page away and just say, this is why
I love the book. Yes. So anyway, I’ll say that
again in a few minutes in case you forget. Now my second point has to
do with the relationship between reason and tradition
in Buddhist thought or reason and scripture. It’s well-known that
Indian Buddhists had a distinctive approach to
the relationship between reason and tradition. They pay great respect to
the authority of the Buddha’s teaching, but they
also subject it to critique from the point of
view of rational investigation or, in some cases,
simply from experience. A formula that I
run across often in my own work on
Indian sources is that you should rely on
reason that is consistent with or follows tradition. Well, that’s fine
as far as it goes. But what does it mean
to follow tradition? Chapter three of Being
Human, the chapter on the word of the
Buddha, gives us a stunning picture of the
complexity of this question. The question is whether
the traditional ascription of these four treatises to
the Buddha by [INAUDIBLE] can be trusted, or
should it be understood as being written by a historical
Tibetan author, namely Yuthok Yonten Gonpo. The evidence of the
text seems suspicious. There are lots of
details, like– a small one– like
the mention of Tsmapa in the text, a staple food
of Tibet, that makes the text seem Tibetan. But there are lots of
hermeneutical possibilities that are available to dodge
the force of the question. First of all, Yuthok
could have been a manifestation in some way of
the compassion of the Buddha. Or he could have been inspired
by the blessing of the Buddha. I take this to be the
Tibetan word, jinlop. And that’s a common term
in Sanskrit literature that goes way, way back
for a statement that’s inspired in some way by
the disembodied power of the Buddha. What’s intriguing
about this discussion, to me, is how ambiguous
clever and allusive the different thinkers
are in their handling of this question. They want to, in some
way, have it both ways. And Janet brought this out
brilliantly in the book. They want to assert
and recognize the autonomy of
rational investigation and empirical investigation too. But they also want to do that
in a way that acknowledges and is framed by
this recognition of the authority of the Buddha. Once again, the complexity
and the ambiguity bring the commentators to life. And this is one
more reason why I think this is a marvelous book. OK, the third point that
I want to speak about has to do with gender. Janet has just mentioned that. Another chapter that I
found particularly helpful was chapter six on
women and gender. Anyone who teaches introductory
courses in Buddhism– as Charlie and I did with a
group of undergraduates here at Harvard back in the fall– anyone who teaches
one of these courses knows how problematic it is to
deal with Buddhist attitudes toward women and gender. It’s not enough to assume
that the tradition treats everyone as equal as
much as we wish it did. So we try to find a model– perhaps even one that can
be written on a blackboard– that pictures some kind
of structured ambiguity, a model that acknowledges
ando-centrism and misogyny on one side, while it identifies
the resources to criticize these equities on the other. Chapter six is an extraordinary
model of how to do this. And if you don’t read any
other chapter in the book, this wouldn’t be
a bad one to read. Professor Gyatso
says, “For its part, Tibetan medical writing produces
starkly misogynistic passages on occasion. But there also are a
few surprising moments when certain theorists soared
above the usual consignment of the female to
inferiority and even made liberative suggestions
about gender.” And one of the most striking
things about the text, in comparison to
its Indian models, is that it devotes
a whole section to female medical problems. Janet brings this
out very clearly. Is this good? Or is this bad? Well, it depends on how
the particular ailments are handled. And that, of course,
is complex, as is the treatment of the
category of the third sex– neither male nor female. The third sex is known
in Tibetan as ma ning. This was sometimes referred
to in this literature as the bodhisattva. How interesting. Janet speculates about this
but isn’t able to explain it. Hmm, very interesting–
very interesting matter. I won’t try to
summarize what was said except to say that I
came away from this chapter– perhaps as much as
from any other chapter in this extremely rich book– feeling that I had
been challenged to think about gender in
much more sophisticated ways than I had ever been before. And then my fourth point– but conventional truth. And here I stray back
to my madhyamaka roots. Finally– this is
my last point– I’d like to make a few
comments about something that had particular resonance
for my own research on Indian Madhyamaka. Vomica You know, of
course, that Madhyamakas are concerned about two truths. Most of the discussion,
at least in the beginning of this tradition, has to
do with the ultimate truth– that everything is empty of
identity, or of own being as it’s sometimes called. But what about conventional
truth in Madhyamaka? In what way do things exist
conventionally even when they are empty ultimately? In eighth-century. Madhyamaka, a group
of thinkers developed a three-part definition
of conventional truth. They say, “Correct conventional
truth arises dependently. It’s capable of
effective action.” That means it’s in
some way, perhaps, empirically verifiable. “And it satisfies
without analysis.” I’ve spent some time
thinking about ways in which the third
criterion can serve as the basis for moral
action, about how we sometimes make moral choices without
being able to analyze fully their implications. To use the Nike appropriation of
a phrase that was made popular in Zen, we “just do it.” We just do it. Chapter one on the
medical paintings that the Desi commissioned
to illustrate his magnum opus gave me a new way of
thinking about no analysis. Professor Gyatso
points out a painting that tells people to do
a particular sadhana– that’s a meditative practice– without specifying any
particular sadhana. She also mentions
a painting where a monk is reading a text that
is just covered with squiggles as if to say that he’s reading– in Janet’s words–
“that dharma stuff” without specifying which
dharma stuff it is. Mark knows this is one of the
nicest passages in the book. Then she says that
religion, in this context, has been centered
and recontextualized in the medical paintings. It has been made
into a whatever. What a nice way to picture
satisfaction without analysis. Now to acknowledge this
extremely important conceptual breakthrough in
Professor Gyatso’s book, I’d like to present
you, Professor Gyatso, with a t-shirt that we produced
in Religion 74 in your absence this fall and make you an
honorary member of the Harvard Whatever Association. So here we go. Do you have one of these? This is an important
phrase from Dharmakirti. In Dharmakirti’s
Pramanavartika, He allows the Madhyamaka
objector to speak once in the whole text. He’s just to find
ultimate truth as one thing and conventional
truth as the other. And the Madhyamaka
says, “What you call ultimate is what we
call conventional.” And this is
Dharmakirti response– [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. Make sure you get your iPhones
out and take a picture of this, because this is the translation. So Professor Gyatso,
I ceremonially presented this to you in
thanks for your marvelous book. [APPLAUSE] Thanks to all of you for
your patient attention. And thanks again to
Professor Gyatso. Whatever. Thank you, David. I think that’s the first
time one of our respondents has actually given a
gift to the speaker. We would have expected like a
scarf or something like that. But this is moving
things forward. If we decide next
year to rethink and have a Christmas
party, we’ll definitely invite you back too. And we’ll be photographing
that as well. So thank you very much. It was wonderful. Our second respondent tonight
needs no introduction also. Mark Jordan is the Andrew Mellon
Professor of Christian Thought here at the University. He’s a wide-ranging scholar
of Christian theology, European philosophy,
and gender studies and teaches accordingly
a wide range of courses in the
Western traditions of Christian theology, the
prospects for sexual ethics, and the relations of religion
to art and literature. He continues his groundbreaking
work on Thomas Aquinas. A few years back he had a book
called Rewritten Theology– Aquinas After His Readers. And his next book that
will be out any day now and will have a book
session next year surely is entitled,
Teaching Bodies– Traditions of Moral
Formation in Thomas Aquinas. So stay tuned. He’s also written extensively
in the field of sexual ethics, producing books that
are widely regarded to have opened important new
conversations, particularly regarding homosexuality and
ethical reflection on marriage. And a whole series of
publications in this field could be mentioned. Just to mention a couple, four– The Ethics of Sex, 2001;
Telling Truths in Church, 2002; Blessing Same Sex Unions, 2005;
and Recruiting Young Love– How Christians Talk About
Homosexuality, 2011. And regarding the
larger conversations of philosophy, religion, and
American Western culture, his most recent book,
Convulsing Bodies– Religion and
Resistance in Foucault, was discussed in this
room not so long ago. So although as far as I know
Mark is not a Tibetan scholar– at least doesn’t show it to us– I can’t think of a more
humane and well-versed universal scholar
than Mark Jordan to also give a response
tonight, so welcome. [APPLAUSE] I want a t-shirt too. [LAUGHTER] What’s your size? Yeah, exactly. In public? You want me to say? My thanks to Frank and Lexi and
Matthew and other colleagues here at the center
for hosting another of these delightful
conversations. They are delightful. And my thanks to Janet for
including me on the panel, despite my ignorance,
but much more for writing this fascinating
and sumptuous book. It gives us much to talk
about and much to look at. Given my all-too-obvious
limits as a reader, I wanted to concentrate on
two questions that kept rising for me throughout the book. They may only be symptoms of
my ignorance, but, as we know, even ignorance can
be instructive. So I offer these
questions to Janet. The first has to
do with realism, especially, but not only,
in medical representation. The second question has to do
with this separateness or even autonomy of medical discourses
within a culture shaped by religious
discourses, especially religious discourses of an
aesthetical and idealizing type– another of Janet’s words. Let me begin, as she
so delightfully does, with the question
of representation. Janet opens the book,
as you’ve heard, with that remarkable set
of medical paintings. One of her points about it
is that it shows a growing tendency towards realism,
a tendency that she traces into a number of
other cultural attitudes. So realism comes eventually to
be associated with preferences for direct observation
over scholastic authority, for frank criticism
over pious commentary, for an emphasis on the
local and historical rather than the
legendary and timeless. But let me focus on the realism
of the drawings themselves. I take it that
realism, as applied to these medical drawings, can
mean at least three things. First, it can mean that the
drawings look more real to us, that they conform
to our standards of realist representation,
because, of course, pictorial realism is a
convention that varies, not only across artistic
traditions, but within them. In short, realism is also
local and historical. This is Ernst Gombrich’s
familiar argument an art and illusion. “Realist art is not a
direct imitation of reality, and progress in
realism is not just making better copies
of what everyone sees. Realism is an effect produced
within certain conventions that are contested,
revised, replaced.” Gombrich recalls the story
about John Constable’s efforts to replace the varnished,
mellow browns used to depict grass by realist
painters in England around 1830. Constable prided himself
on copying landscape colors from life. Indeed, he had plant
and tree cuttings brought into his studio
just as they were brought in to Janet’s painters. Yet the jurors at the Royal
Academy judged at least one of Constable’s efforts,
“that nasty green thing.” Both the jurors
and Constable were accomplished realist painters. But they had quite
different notions about how to paint
grass realistically. Gombrich goes further. If you could carry
Constable’s water meadows near Salisbury out from the
Victoria and Albert Museum to put it on a lawn,
Constable’s green would not look like
the green of grass– at least not that
grass in Knightsbridge on a bright July afternoon. So to talk of progressive
realism in representation requires further specification
of the conventions of realism being marked. Second, realism
in representation can have a second meaning. It can be contrasted
with the ideal. This often has more to do
with the topics or contents of the image than
with the conventions of its representation. So, for example, we might
contrast an epic idealizing canvas like a Leutze’s
Washington Crossing the Delaware with the etchings
in Goya’s Disasters of War. Leutze’s painting uses a range
of sophisticated techniques to render visual elements
including light and color, while Goya’s images
are more like cartoons. Still, we might say that Goya
is more realistic, because we judge that he represents
war as it actually is not as it is imagined in a
mythology of national founding. This is not a remark on
technique or representational convention so much
as a remark on topic. So too, in the paintings
Janet represents, we might be struck
with a growing interest in depicting ordinary
people or ordinary activities– people raising children,
people having sex. We might be struck especially
by the inclusion of incidents of daily domestic life– even when, or precisely when,
they have no direct relevance to the medical texts
being illustrated. But here, we encounter, as
Janet keeps reminding us, a different problem
of representation, which is the relation of the
typical to the individual or the type to the instance. So some of Janet’s images
are much closer to diagrams than to portraits. Sometimes, they
are meant to show the typical disposition
of bodily parts or the identifying marks
of medicinal plans. But at other times, they seem
more like names or concepts arranged visually for ease of
understanding or memorization. Even in the case
of plant drawings, there is always a
considerable distance between image and the individual
plant you have in front of you. I say this as an old gardener. So we might also notice
that realistic content, in the sense of daily
life or ordinary bodies, can go along with the
abstraction of the type– the schematic diagram. You don’t want a diagram
to be too realistic. That would only
make it confusing. There is finally a
third meaning of realism in scientific and
medical illustration. This is the real as the
really intelligible, the real as the field of
intelligibility within which objects are truly known. We might think of
real in this sense as the assumed space traversed
by the gaze of the Illustrator or the physician. I can make this a bit
clearer by another analogy and by invoking Michel
Foucault whom Janet also sometimes invokes– though for other purposes. That’s my excuse. I would probably
invoke Foucault anyway. At the start of his
book on modern changes in European medicine,
Birth of the Clinic, Foucault juxtaposes to
medical descriptions separated by less than 100 years. The first from the middle
of the 18th century describes the results of a
regimen of baths prescribed for dryness of the nerves. The patient’s body, observed
only from the outside, begins to reject
pieces of itself. The medical regimen
is actually a regime of torture for the poor
woman undergoing it. The second description
from the first quarter of the 19th century
depicts a lesion in an anathematized brain. Foucault asks, “How do these two
medical descriptions differ?” He answers, “Not by quantity
of imagination however much we’ve been taught to
believe that the earlier text about the medical
treatment is driven by fantasy and the later text
is a sober report of unimpeded observation.” We were taught, in other words,
that truly modern medicine liberated the space of seeing
from the fantastical figures that once obscured
our view on reality. For Foucault, that story of
progress in medical description is itself an obscuring fantasy. There is a change
in view from one of the juxtaposed
medical texts to another, but it doesn’t result from
an increase in realism. The change comes in how the
later medicine conceives intelligible space, where it
places illnesses to suffuse them with analytic clarity. Medical language has also
changed between Foucault’s two selections. It has taken up what
seems a new style– meticulous, measured,
minutely attentive, fastidious in its
deployment of adjectives. So despite what its
myth of origin asserts, modern European medicine
isn’t a new commitment to seeing things clearly. It is a change in
the domain of what is to be seen and understood– no longer bodies
but parts of bodies represented to
anatomical analysis. If that suggestion
is right then it raises an interesting
question for Janet’s drawings. What new space of
knowledge do they imply? Or what do they
ask us to suppose in the very practice
of representation about what there is to
know in human bodies? If they are more
real, what reality do they judge most visible,
most knowable, most treatable? This third sense
of medical realism as a claim about the
objects of knowledge leads me to the other question
I wanted to lay before Janet. This is a question
about the relation of medical discourses to the
larger discourses of Buddhist culture– what she sometimes calls “the
space apart for medicine.” Here again, I fear that
my ignorance requires me to proceed by
making clumsy analogies between Tibetan
medical traditions and those other contacts
between religious culture and Galen that happened
a bit to the west– I mean, in Western Europe. One of the most striking things
for me in reading Janet’s book was the recognition
that Tibetan physicians and Western European
physicians were both dealing with some of
the same medical root texts– the works of that Hellenistic
physician philosopher, Galen. As Janet analyzes the changes
in medical tradition in Tibet, she occasionally
proposes comparisons with European developments. For example, she
raises the question of multiple modernities, the
sense in which Tibet or India might be undergoing
modernization entirely apart from European
contacts or colonization. Given this status
of Tibetan medicine, how far Tibetan medicine
had come, and especially the reliance on
human dissection, it makes sense to compare
16th- or 17th-century Tibetan medicine with European medicine
in and after the 16th century. That is, the time of Vesalius’s
extraordinary drawings of human dissections. So I understand why you
compare Tibetan medicine in the 17th century with
European medicine in the 16th. But I was also struck
by interesting analogies between the Tibetan
developments and the situation of European medicine in the
13th or 14th centuries– that is, at the moment when
European religious institutions had to make sense of the rapid
influx of a whole library of new medical texts. So in these years, a number
of Christian theologians began to worry that
medicine represented not so much a necessary skill as
an alternate way of thinking about the world, a way
of thinking not entirely compatible with their religion. The story of Galen in
the European Middle Ages is complicated, so let me only
tell the very small piece of it I need to draw the analogy and
to articulate the question. In the early Middle
Ages, some fragments of the ancient
medical bibliography survived the
cultural disruptions. But these are mainly Roman
texts or Latin translations of Hippocrates. Beginning in the
late 11th century, there is a new infusion of
Galenic texts from the Arabic. They were also accompanied
by Arabic commentary. So for example,
Galen’s Art of Medicine appears in Latin
with an introduction called “The Isagoge
of Joannitius,” which is actually an abridged
Arabic work disguised as a Greek work. At this time, the
working library of medical texts in Western
Europe is still very small. Indeed, 12th-century
Latin readers assemble a short
canon of medical texts called the Articella, which
includes Joannitius, sometimes Galen, two works by
Hippocrates, and two short works on diagnosis
by pulse and by urine. This canon begins to attract a
number of commentators working in different genres, including
rendering the Articella into charts for easy memory. I kept thinking of
the Articella when I was reading in Janet
about four treatises, because the commentary
practices and mnemonic devices are exactly the same. Even though there was no effort
to pass this collection off as a work by a
Christian authority, it did not seem to pose
problems for Christian readers. Indeed, some of its
most technical doctrines passed quickly into
monastic writing. So for example, models
of cerebral anatomy from the Articella enter
into Cistercian treatises on the human body and soul. Here, I kept thinking
of the question of the tantric channels. By the 13th century
though, adaptation is no longer so easy. Much more Galenic
medicine has been translated from the Arabic. And new translations
of Galen are also beginning to be
made from the Greek. The increase in
the number of texts gave a much better
picture of Galen and a more unsettling one. Christian theologians
also learned that Islamic writers on
philosophy and theology had engaged in running
critique of what they regarded as the dangerous implications
of Galenic medicine and medicine in general. Let me take a single example. Around 1270, the
Dominican Ramon Marti published a comprehensive
work called the Pugio Fidei– the Dagger of Faith. Not a peaceful man, Ramon. Indeed, he had been engaged for
decades in the Dominican combat with Judaism and Islam. In the Pugio Fidei, Ramon
divides the teachers of error into three kinds. There are the teachers of the
temporal, or carnal, pleasures. There are the naturalists,
or physicians. And there are the philosophers. Galen is declared the
prince of the second group for his brazen denial of
an immortal human soul. Probably, Ramon Marti is
getting this accusation directly from an Arabic
source, from Ghazali. Whatever its source, we
can find critiques of Galen in a growing number in
other Christian texts– for example, in encyclopedias
or in commentaries on Aristotle. Because not only
did Galen dissent from Christian doctrine,
he also disagreed with Aristotle, who
was rapidly becoming the authorized
technical language for Christian universities. Some 13th century authors move
beyond rehearsing disagreements of Aristotle and Galen to
mount Aristotelian attack on the basis of all
medical knowledge. Roger Bacon, for example,
writes a treatise on the errors of the physicians
in which he not only exposes the ignorance of quacks but
also accuses even the best physicians, including
Galen, of not having a properly philosophical
foundation. The story of Galen continues. Let me stop the
history recital there in order to frame the question,
which the comparison suggests to me. I keep trying to
picture the separateness of medicine within
Tibetan Buddhist culture, especially its relation to what
Janet calls, “Buddhist regimes of personal cultivation.” How would we draw this
relationship of medicine in its multiple aspects? Is it a hierarchy
or separate planes of reality or distinct
social spheres or just the familiar
capacity of distracted human beings to think two
very different things at once, especially when they’re in pain? Or how do you draw
an epistemic wedge– to use another one
of Janet’s examples. And is whose intelligible space
do we perform the drawing? Is the drawing of the
difference or the relation between medicine and the
rest drawn in medical space? Most of all, I wonder
whether the heroes of Janet’s medical
realism might have been harboring grander schemes
for intellectual reform or harboring deeper doubts. I wonder, in other
words, whether their conservative
opponents were right to be worried that
medicine might always be drawn on top. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Mark. So before opening
it for discussion, we give Janet a chance
to take up points raised by her discussants. So Janet. Well, thank you both for some
really interesting comments and challenging questions,
which I was trying to take in, first of all, what
the questions are, let alone think of the answers. So let me just take a
stab at a few of them. Let me start with Mark first,
because it’s in my mind. What are those questions? The realism
question– so I guess you were talking primarily
about these paintings. One of the interesting things
about the paintings– and I should tell the audience
really what they are. So the Four Treatises
is just really one book with four
main sections. It has something like
over 200 chapters. And each of the chapters is on
a particular branch of medicine or a particular issue. And so in the late 17th
century, this commentator, who is also a very
important person in the Tibetan government
with the fifth Dalai Lama, decided to put together
a team of artists to actually illustrate
all of the knowledge in that whole text. I think primarily his idea
was to illustrate the anatomy. So there’s maybe 15 or more
very detailed illustrations of the bones, the skeleton,
the nervous system, the cardiovascular
system, muscles, certain other distinct
categories of the physiology and the anatomy in particular. And these are
very, very detailed with lots of little
captions, which point out, here’s
this muscle over here, and here’s that
muscle over there. And these paintings are
used in the classroom to actually teach students
about the human body. Secondly, it
illustrates with many, many [INAUDIBLE] all
of the Materia Medica, so especially all
the medical botany– so lots and lots of plants. And here the idea is
that the physician stares at these
paintings in preparation for going out in the field. One of the big parts of a
medical education in Tibetan medicine was actually
going out in the field and being able to recognize
medicinal plants that are growing and to collect them
and bring them back and make your own medicine. That’s what
physicians had to do. And these illustrations–
now what type of realism they’re engaged in,
that’s a question. But they’re meant to be such
that, when you look at them and then you see
something in the field, it’s going to be a guide
to saying, “Hmm, hmm. It’s got four leaves
with a point over there, and that’s that.” And so, therefore, I can say
that’s probably this plant and pick it up. However, they
didn’t stop at that. They also then go on to
illustrate everything in the text, which includes
all sorts of other suggestions about types of remedies, which
includes lifestyle issues. For example, one
delightful example is, how the practice of having
sex affects your health, when to have sex,
when not to have sex, when it’s bad for a
certain health condition, and so on and so
forth, or how to cook certain kinds of broths that
have medicinal value and so on. And in this case, the
visual information doesn’t give them
any more information than the actual text does itself I think rather what happened
is that they’re already making these paintings,
and they take the opportunity to illustrate
a whole bunch of other things also. And that’s where the
medical illustrations become so much fun, because
indeed, you see all kinds of illustrations
of couples in bed together, always with the
blankets over them and stuff. But they’re wearing different
hats while they’re doing it, or they have
different color skins, or all sorts of other things. Or they’re showing people
cooking the broths, and while they’re
cooking the broth, they’re actually having a
conversation with someone else, or they’re having
fun at the same time. So there, it’s not an
issue about realism at all. The real issue– what I was
trying to point attention to– was the every day, the fact
that aspects of everyday life were being illustrated,
which in many, many cases we have no other example of such
activities being illustrated. In all of the very, very
voluminous amount of Tibetan painting that we have,
it’s all illustrated icons. And so this was the first
time that the every day could be illustrated. So to what degree
are these realistic? I mean, of the three
types that you mentioned– so that’s what I
really have to think, and I’m going to have
to ask you to give me a copy of your comments. All three of them– they certainly are
meant to be real– well, not so much
the first one– that they look real to us. There are no existing standards
of what looks real or not. It’s not in the vocabulary. It’s not a question
that’s out there. A visual image,
an icon, is meant to inspire certain emotions. It’s not a question of
what looks real or not. However, there is meant
to be a correspondence between what’s on the page
and what’s there in the world. When you look at the
painting, and you say, “OK, this is the place where
you should do moxibustion,” you look at the
painting, and you see it’s halfway between and
under this kind of ridge, and it helps you when you look
at an actual person’s arm. You have more information
than if you were reading a verbal description. So in that sense, it’s
meant to be realistic. The Tibetans were very much
aware of the problem of– what you mentioned–
this notion of the ideal and any particular
individual token that what they are
trying to represent is a typical arm
or a typical plant. So in fact, the technical
term is it’s an example. So this is an example
of this type of plant. And which example do you choose? You don’t choose the ones in my
garden, which are practically all dead, and, therefore, they
don’t even have the fruits that they’re supposed to. You choose a
flourishing one that shows all the typical features. But they’re very much
aware of the fact that any particular
example in the world is not going to
adhere, and it’s not going to look exactly
like this image. Nonetheless, it is very helpful
to have this, much better than just, again, simply
the verbal description I guess real as intelligible,
to the degree that I understood it, is probably most accurate. I have to go back and
read Foucault on this to think more about it. And I do intend to
write more about some of the theoretical
implications of this. Let me just also say, just
in terms of comparison with European medicine and so
on, it’s such a huge, huge area that I really decided
early on that it was quite enough to kind of
just unpack what was going on in these
texts on their own terms. But there’s so much to be
said and, I think, so much to be learned by precisely these
really valuable comparisons. But I do think that, from what
I understood of what you said, it kind of relates to the
second question about the space apart, that part of what
I see the physicians doing is trying to clear away other
traditions, other knowledge, other expectations in a
very practical way of what the physician
needs, so to speak. I don’t know if that is really
what Foucault has in mind. But it certainly is
not so much taking up an issue of the
fantastical or not, that this is not fantastical,
this is more real. It’s rather– I’m reading your questions. What new space of knowledge– what do they ask us to suppose? You know, again, it gets back to
the question of the ideal type. I think one of the things that
they ask the viewer to suppose is that everything is imperfect. Everything is fading. Everything is not
the ideal type. One of the really interesting
things in the illustrations, by the way, were
cases where they’re showing some of the organs
of the body, as an example, or in many of the anatomical
illustrations where you have like a male
naked figure, basically– I should have brought
you slides and shown you, but anyway, I thought that
wasn’t the appropriate thing to do here– so it shows the upper
part of the torso, but then you can see inside. You see the liver and
the lungs and the heart. And then the person is just
sort of standing there like this so that you can look in. In one in the same stroke,
this image on the one hand is showing, OK, that’s
a typical heart. That’s a typical lung. That’s a typical liver. And that’s where
they are with respect to each other in the body. And yet, each of
these illustrations, one after another,
the actual figures, the guys-_ they’re
all men, by the way. That was another thing– but
they’re all totally different. One guy has this really
wild, frizzy hair. The next guy has a huge
handlebar mustache. The next guy is totally bald. Again, it had nothing to do with
what the medical text is about, but what you saw in
one in the same stroke they’re trying to hit both
buttons at the same time. They’re both trying
to give you this sort of typical, common
human predicament that everybody has these
organs and yet saying that actually each and
every individual token is completely different. And it’s trying to
respect that individuality and the commonality
at the same time. And there’s something
about that which is very different
than the Madhyamaka notion of the conventional
Buddhist truth, which I’ll get to in a second. Just secondly, Mark’s question
about the space apart– fascinating history. Just listening to
that, and again, you’ll hand over to me now. What did I write down? Oh, so what is that space? What was your question again? Where does that space occur? First of all, there
is kind of subterfuge. They really have to
work to get that space. So what they’re trying to
do is get everybody happy. OK, we’ve found a way to
make this the teachings of the Buddha after
all, even though we know that these are not the
teachings of the Buddha. We found a way to
make it somehow work with the yoga idea of the
body, which we know empirically is not the case at all. But in the text, they
kind of cover their butts in 100 different ways. And then finally,
they get everybody to shut up and go home. And then they give
you a detailed account of the thighbone is
connected to this bone, and that bone is connected to
that bone, detail by detail. Physically, where is
that space occurring? It’s in the monasteries, all
on the monastery grounds. It will be a separate
building, I suppose, or a separate room where
these works are studied and then where the
physicians are practicing. But you go inside the
room where the doctor is, and he starts taking your pulse,
and you’re sitting with him. There’s a different discourse. It’s like a different
universe in terms of what’s important, what’s
really being referred to, what can you rely on,
what are your hopes, what are your expectations–
a completely different than in
the Buddhist world. So I don’t know if
that begins to answer some of the questions. So then, back to
David– first of all, thank you so much
for that t-shirt. And believe me– first of
all, it’s nice and big, which I like, but the fact
that it says “whatever,” and also in Sanskrit,
it says whatever it is to that extent such as it
is or some kind of expression like that. Growing up in Philadelphia,
“whatever” is surely one of my favorite expressions. In fact, when I first started
reading these medical works, when I saw that I could
use that word “whatever” and use it in some sort of
technical sense, I said, “OK, that’s why I’m going to
do this project actually.” So I should have actually
title of the book, Whatever. So thank you. That’s unbelievable that you
did that for me with your class. No, I know that it
wasn’t actually for me. But I just wanted
to say– oh yeah, the thing about bringing
the people to life, I’ll just say two things. One of which had a lot
to do with the fact that I was reading these works
with my Tibetan colleague. Normally, when you read
Tibetan work, first of all, you’re trying to figure
out what the thing says and getting through
the grammar and so on, let alone the irony and all
the kind of subtle jokes that are there. But he was reading
and chuckling. He said, “Oh, my God. I can’t believe you
just said that.” This guy is really
a bad-ass dude. I mean, the fact that
he like, you know– So that was one of
the great pleasures of doing the project was
watching his face while I’m reading the text with him. In fact, I’ll just say, in
my entire career, everything I’ve done, all of my work has
been reading closely my sources with various Tibetan colleagues. And that’s been the
greatest pleasure of all. That’s what I learned
the most from is not looking at the text
myself but watching how they’re reading the text. So for him, and he’s in
a kind of live tradition where these works and some of
the debates that are going on are still live debates
inside Tibet today. By the way, let me just tell
you, I went to a conference. When I first started working
on this project in 2000, there was a big conference
on Tibetan medicine in Lhasa, which all of us thought was kind
of a big propaganda machine. It was just going to
be a bunch of garbage. A few weeks before the
conference happened, I suddenly woke up in
the middle of the night, and I said, “What,
are you crazy? You’re not going to this thing? I mean, there was
like a huge conference on medicine in Tibet, you
know, get your butt there. Go.” So I bought a ticket and went. And it was an amazing
conference of medical experts from all over the
country in rooms screaming and debating
out these very issues that are coming up in this. Is this work really the
teaching of the Buddha? How do we know? How can we tell whether
the authorship was? All these other issues. So these are live issues. And so when you’re
reading it with someone who’s in that situation,
where these things really means something, that helped
me to bring it to life. And it was one of
the great pleasures. I’ll also say that a certain
unnamed reader for the press, who I know and you
know, was very critical of some of my language. And he thought I was
being too informal. I was picking up some of
the sarcasm in the works themselves, which
is still there. But I took out a lot
of it, because he thought it was way over the top,
and maybe that was a mistake. I don’t know. So I toned it down. It was far more alive, I
think, in the first draft. Let me just say, because
I’ve talked long enough, I won’t really say anything
about the conventional truth, except that I think that
this is not about Buddhist conventional truth. I think it’s a different thing. I’ll just say that. I just do want to
share with the audience the interesting thing
about the bodhisattva and this whole gender issue. So for those who don’t
know, the bodhisattva is this sort of quintessential
enlightened figure in Mahayana Buddhist tradition of this
sort of enlightened person who does everything
selflessly for others and is completely
available to help others. That’s the purpose
of being alive. So in the pulse tradition– so
one of the interesting things about Tibetan pulse is that
it’s very similar to East Asian pulse systems, except for
the fact that the basic classification of types of
pulse in Tibetan medicine– there’s many types
of classifications. But the most basic one is
into three categories– male, female, and third sex. So first of all,
in Chinese medicine they don’t really classify
pulse as even male or female. In Chinese medicine, the third
sex is not really mentioned. Actually, third sex
ideas come from India and, I think, also
in Tibet as well. So it’s not coming out of China. But otherwise, it takes a
lot from the Chinese system. So what do they mean by
male pulse, female pulse, and third sex pulse? This is actually really just
a classification system. One of the interesting things
that they say right away is that it’s not the case
that all men have male pulses and all females
have female pulses. Male pulse, female pulse,
and third sex pulse are just three kinds of pulse
that any gendered, sexed person can have. So female pulse is a
soft, as you can imagine. It does participate in
these gender stereotypes. It’s soft, gentle pulse. What’s the male pulse like? Rough, tough, boom, boom, boom. And the third sex pulse
is somewhere in between. And they use this funny word,
[NON-ENGLISH] which is a really interesting word, which we have
no idea what the etymology is and where this comes from. However, such is a weird word. But in a couple of texts,
they also gloss it. Another term they use
instead of the word, [NON-ENGLISH] is
bodhisattva pulse. Now, however, [NON-ENGLISH]—-
the notion of the third sex– in Buddhist monastisim,
if you’re a third sexer– and what does it mean
to be a third sexer? A third sex person– it’s apparently not about your
sexual practice or anything like that. It’s about your anatomy. If your anatomy is somewhere
ambiguous between what’s seen to be the
stereotypical male and the stereotypical female,
if it’s for any reason ambiguous in between, you’re
a the third sex person, you’re not allowed
to take ordination. So unfortunately, there’s
a whole chapter in Buddhist thought, which is very much
concerned with normality and abnormality in sexual
, anatomy which are very different than medicine. And then the Buddhist
texts actually go after this third
sex person, who not only can’t take
ordination, but can’t even listen to the dharma, is not
capable of getting enlightened, is not capable of meditating. But the funny thing is that
why is this person not capable of meditating is
because it has something to do with the person is
too even keeled actually. So he’s not one
thing or the other. If you are strongly a female
or you’re strongly a male, it’s clear what you are. And then you meditate to
bring that under control. And then you have a kind of
dynamic or a sort of tension. Something about the
third sex person who’s so flexible and
slippery and can go in and out doesn’t have that tension
to work with apparently. But nonetheless,
the Buddhist texts are very negative on
this person as having something wrong with him. So I said, “Why do they
juxtapose the third sex term with bodhisattva? I asked this to people,
all my Tibetan friends. Nobody wanted to talk about it. They all said, “Oh,
that’s just that– nah, doesn’t mean anything. It’s just– whatever. They just decided to
call it bodhisattva.” Come on. That’s like a highly charged
term– bodhisattva pulse? Bodhisattva is the
third sex person? Wow, whoa, very interesting. Nobody would admit this
was important– not a single person. But I think the
reasons are obvious. For medicine,
actually, this typology of being in between, of being
flexible, being in balance is a picture of health. And that’s well typified
by a person who’s in between these two extremes. So it’s a really
interesting case, again, where different values
and different aims come to the fore, and
sometimes the language crashes into each other,
and they go, oops, didn’t notice that. Oh, yeah, we use the
word “bodhisattva.” I don’t know. So anyway, all right. That’s enough. But thank you again
for your comments. I appreciate it very much. [APPLAUSE] Hi. Professor Gyatso, I have a
question about your process. I’m curious about how you went
about thinking about similarity and difference between these
different things, Buddhism and [INAUDIBLE]. For example, I imagine that we
could think about practices. Are bodily exercises
similar or different, literary conventions, evocation
of authority, [INAUDIBLE],, circulation, who’s writing
these things, lineages. I can imagine there
are all different ways that we could compare them. In fact, I heard you
say discourse was one of the main differences. I imagine that, if we
look at all these things, it’s not going to be entirely
similar or entirely different. But in some ways, you
selected certain areas that you thought were more
important to determine whether they were similar or
different, like discourse. And I’m curious which
ones you selected and why you thought
those would have been more important
than the alternatives where we might have
seen similarity. Well, that’s because
I’m not coming into this assuming
that there’s these two things called [INAUDIBLE] and
then looking for similarities and differences. I’m starting in the
thick of the text itself and seeing what’s speaking
to me, what’s the emphasis. And I guess, in terms
of my methodology, a lot of what my methodology was
informed by my own background in Buddhist studies– so what I’ve come to expect in
reading texts and being shocked that it wasn’t there. And not that I was
looking for it. I’m sort of reading the texts
and saying, “Wait a minute. Where’s that other stuff? When’s that going to kick in? When are they going to
talk about the Buddha’s dispensation?” and not seeing it
and then saying, oh– so these things are kind
of emerging in front of me. And, I mean, that’s
how I’m focusing on what I was really trying to
bring out, if that helps you. So I guess the material
itself spoke to me. But I’m not assuming that these
are two different domains. This is precisely the
point is that these are very much overlapping domains. But what I’m trying
to say is, just because they are
overlapping doesn’t mean that there’s not
interesting differences to identify. And it’s really important
not to go that route and say, “Oh, no, no, no. Making science and religion
two different things is like a Western imposition. I think that’s a mistake also. So that’s what it’s [INAUDIBLE]. Yeah, thank you. So I really enjoyed the book. Thank you for writing it. One question that
struck me was, I believe you make the claim that
these medical texts, we shouldn’t necessarily think
of them as Buddhist texts but rather that they’re
operating within a Buddhist world. So this question of, if they’re
Buddhist, if they’re not, is that something that you
think that these Tibetan intellectuals were actually
concerned with themselves? Is that getting at the tension
that they’re dealing with? Or is that our own
hang-ups and kind of categories that we’re sort
of stuck on– is is Buddhist or is it not? I want to use an
important phrase, which I have to attribute to
Professor [INAUDIBLE],, which is intercultural
[INAUDIBLE].. As scholars and the field
of Buddhist studies, is in some ways picking
up on dichotomies and ideas and intentions,
which are coming in out of this context as well. And there’s a kind of back
and forth between them. I do think that there is
an explicit discomfort and tension about
the identification of this material as “Buddhist.” What does it mean
to “be Buddhist?” I mean, one of the ways
that they try to make it Buddhist is just slap
on at the beginning, “thus did the Buddha
speak at one time,” which is the way that all
Buddha scriptures begin. So that just ends the question. It’s taught by the Buddha, so
how is that not “Buddhist”? But that didn’t exactly work. It both worked and didn’t work. As I said before, it sort
of shut everybody up. And so everything’s fine. This was taught by the Buddha. It’s one of the reasons why it
didn’t get into as much trouble as it did in Europe. And yet, at the same
time, everybody knew– or a lot of people knew– that there was a
kind of discomfort, because it was clearly– basically, the
Tibetan medical texts draw a lot on the Ayurvedic
tradition in India, which is not quintessentially
a Buddhist tradition and has its own certain
legacy, and Galenic medicine, which is coming in
through Arabic sources into Tibet as well, and
Chinese medicine, which is coming from the east– all
those things– and plus, all kinds of indigenous medical
traditions, which are in Asia. We can talk about it afterwards. But I thought I tried to show
places where they, themselves, are aware of is this
really “Buddhist” or not. And they’re using
terms that they invent to get at that problem. Time for one more question? Yes, thank you
very much for this. I really want to buy your
beautiful book today. I have [INAUDIBLE]
three questions. They’re actually unrelated. OK, you have one second. The first question is,
we know that the medicine and the religion from the East,
actually they are correlated. So each medicine system
actually linked to a philosophy of the religion. But I want to ask you, what
is actually the philosophy behind the Western medicine? That is the first question. Maybe your colleagues can
also answer this question from European medicine area. And the second is, we know
that, in Western medicine area right now, the biggest
challenge is gender, because since the beginning, all
the tests and examinations are not done based on gender. So right now, we find out down
the big side effects actually happens on female. That is a contradictory to
the Eastern medicine system. But also, it’s very
difficult to Western medicine right now to change. So this is a fundamental
methodology fraud that already Western
medicine acknowledged. So I want to ask you, how
you convince your colleagues from the medical school
to believe this– Eastern medicine,
[INAUDIBLE] medicine, methodology philosophies. I hate to say it, but I– You have time. [INAUDIBLE] Well, I just didn’t
exactly understand. First of all, where those three
questions or two questions? Actually, three questions,
but I combined the two. So the first one– The one about the philosoph– I’m not sure 100% that there
is a one-to-one correspondence, that every single medical system
links to some religious system. I think– The philosophy system. Yeah, or a philosophy system– I’m not sure that’s
so easily so. And we would have to
talk a lot about that. I’m not exactly sure
that that’s true. Certainly, in terms
of modern medicine, it’s not so easy to say exactly
what philosophical system it links to or not. And I don’t think it
would be this one system. OK, here’s this
tradition of medicine, and it relates to this
particular philosophical system. I don’t think so. I don’t think that stands. We know, for example, in
Indian Ayurvedic writings– so for example, the
notion of the three humors in Indian medicine connects
very much to Samkhya philosophy. That’s true. But that’s not everything that
you can say about Ayurveda. So it’s not true that
the entire “system,” even if it is one single coherent
system, medicine in itself then can be connected to
any given so-called coherent philosophical system. So I think that that’s a very,
very complicated question. And you’re making assumptions
I’m not sure that can stand. And then what was
the other question? About gender? Yeah. And so what is the
question on that? So there is no gender category
in the Western medicine system, but– What do you mean
there’s no gender category in Western medicine? Because when you did in
the Western medicine, you actually tested
based on the age. So there is only
two categories– One is children and then adult.
So all the medicine actually developed based on the age,
not based on the gender. Drugs and treatment– is that
what you’re talking about? – No, actually every
medicine, the dose to put is actually based on– the testing is based on male
not female, because a female’s hormones will complicate– Yes, that’s true. Yeah. That has been a huge problem. This is [INAUDIBLE]
methodological problem. So how can you convince
your colleagues from medical school to believe– Based on Tibetan medicine? Yeah. I think I’m just going to
have to go with it, sort of the obvious empirical
problems of the side effects that you’re talking about
and different hormonal– bringing my book to
them is not going be the thing that convinces
them– unfortunately. And unfortunately, we should
bring our formal session to a conclusion by
thanking today’s guest. [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING]


  1. thanks so much for sharing the video. I look forward to reading this book in near future. On the other hand, seeing the title for the first time reminded me the words of my spiritual teacher: "All of the problems in our society stem from a lack of understanding, a fear of the unknown. When we challenge this ignorance through logic, through reasoning, through tapping into our boundless internal resources of wisdom and compassion, we manifest hope – not just for ourselves, but for our world. Understanding fear implies that we understand ourselves. If we understand fear, then we understand more about compassion, about what it means to be human." : )

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