Textual Scholarship, Medical Tradition, and Mahāyāna Buddhist Ideals in Tibet

  • Published on

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)




    The physician without a lineageIs like a fox that seizes the kings throne:He deserves no ones respectThe physician who does not understand the textsIs like a blind person to whom you show something:He can discern neither the disease nor the cure.1

    These words of warning from the Four [Medical] Tantras underscore thecentral place of textual learning for the practice of medicine in Tibet.Textual scholarship in its many forms is an integral part of the medicaltradition in Tibet, or more precisely, of certain formulations of the medicaltradition with an emphasis on scholarship. For certain writers the FourTantras were the subject of a heated scholarly debate, centering in greatpart around text critical issues. In this essay I explore what several influ-ential Tibetan writers have said about the role of textual scholarship inmedical learning, about the place of scholarly learning in a field dedicatedin an ideal sense ultimately to practical application, and about the relation-ship between medical scholarship and the bodhisattva ideal of MahayanaBuddhism in Tibet. Specifically, I argue four points: (1) Debates aboutphilological scholarship in pre-modem Tibet were not limited to discus-sions involving Buddhist literature but are found as well in fields such asmedical scholarship (as well as history, poetics, linguistics, etc.). (2) Suchdebates in medical literature were nevertheless were framed by recourseto the Mahayana Buddhist ideal of the bodhisattva and the injunctionthat bodhisattvas study the five arts and sciences, including medicine.(3) Reports of such debates were part of larger efforts to claim authority bycertain groups of medical scholars at the expense of others by casting doubton both their ability to practice medicine and their adherence to bodhisattvaideals. (4) Finally, I suggest that this rhetoric linking the bodhisattva andthe textual/medical scholar was but one part of an attempt to exert directinfluence over the development of learning and culture on the part of thenewly formed Tibetan theocracy, the Ganden Government of the FifthDalai Lama, at the end of the seventeenth century. Though the central part

    1 Yon tan mgon po, Bdud rtsi, pp. 99.899.10.

    Journal of Indian Philosophy 31: 621641, 2003. 2003 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.


    of the essay is dedicated to presenting the actual debates about textualscholarship in Tibetan medical literature we must not lose sight of theselarger issues.

    To this end I will look primarily at the scholarly and editorial activi-ties of Sangye Gyatso (Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho) (16531705) the persontraditionally credited with institutionalizing and systematizing the Tibetanmedical tradition under the auspices of the Fifth Dalai Lama, NgawangLobsang Gyatso (Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho) (16171682)2 and theGanden government during the last decades of the seventeenth century.3 Iwill also look to select figures in the history of the Four Tantras beforehim, including Drangti Paldan Tshoje (Brang ti Dpal ldan tsho byed)(13th/14th c.), Zurkhar Lodro Gyalpo (Zur mkhar Blo gros rgyal po)(1509c. 1573), Darmo Menrampa Lobsang Chodak (Dar mo Sman ram paBlo bzang chos grags) (16381697/1700), and Namling Panchen KonchokChodak (Rnam gling Pan

    .chen Dkon mchog chos grags) (16461718).

    Sangye Gyatsos detailed history of Tibetan medicine, the BerylMirror,4 reveals much about his attitudes toward textual scholarship andits role as a foundation of medical learning and practice, particularly inseveral autobiographical remarks regarding his early study of medicine andthe editing and printing of the Four Tantras. This scholars undertakingsin the philology of medical texts were motivated by an understanding ofthe place of medicine in the traditional Buddhist domains of knowledge:practical arts, medical arts, linguistics, logic and epistemology, and the artof Buddhist learning and realization itself. Like the medieval physiciansof Italy responsible for introducing Greco-Arab medical scholarship toEurope, Sangye Gyatso held medical education to be intimately boundwith these arts and sciences. Thus, the present essay also touches on hismore thematic remarks about the nature of medical learning, and suggestsin the conclusion that his efforts in medical scholarship must be seen as

    2 The Fifth Dalai Lamas activities in this area were largely restricted to patronizingcourt physicians and their work in editing and printing important medical works andcomposing new commentaries upon these works. See Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Dpal,pp. 364372.

    3 For summaries of Sangs rgyas rgya mtshos medical activities, see Meyer (1992),pp. 67; Meyer (1995), pp. 16118; Meyer (1998), pp. 2930; Meyer (2003); Rechung(1976), pp. 2122; Yonten (1989), pp. 4547. Modern Tibetan studies include, Dkonmchog rin chen, Bod kyi, pp. 15121; Pa sangs yon tan, Bod kyi, pp. 136143; Byamspa phrin las, Gangs ljongs, pp. 313317; and especially Byams pa phrin las, Sde srid.See also Lange (1976) for a comparative list of his writings. Wang Lei (1994) is a roughparaphrase of the Beryl Mirror.

    4 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Dpal ldan. See Martin (1997), entry 259, for furtherbibliographic information.


    well in relation to his leadership of the Ganden Government (Dga ldanpho brang).

    The basis for much of the present discussion is the final chapter of theExplanatory Tantra, the second of the Four Tantras.5 Chapter thirty-one ofthis tantra, the source of the verse with which I began this essay, proscribesthe qualities of the ideal physician.6 The first lines of the chapter list the sixprerequisites of a physician, which include intelligence, altruism, honor,practical skill, diligence, and knowledge of worldly affairs. Intelligence,the first of these six, is defined at the outset in singular terms: Withgreat, firm, and fine intellect, learn deeply the medical treatises.7 Thesixth prerequisite of the physician, diligence, is in turn divided into fouraspects, the first of which is the following injunction: Learn writing andreading completely, for whether [you] are capable or incapable dependson these.8 In the Blue Beryl, Sangye Gyatso elaborates on these lines bysaying that ones competence in exposition, composition, and debate arebased upon ones ability to read and write.9 The second aspect of diligencein medical training is reliance upon a skilled teacher, who is characterizedin part as someone who has a deep knowledge of medical texts.

    While there are plainly many other qualities required of the well-trainedphysician, chapter thirty-one begins with an explicit emphasis on textualscholarship for both teacher and student. This emphasis may seem proforma, and perhaps somewhat inconsequential in the face of the massivetherapeutic or materia medica chapters of the Four Tantras. This passagefrom the Explanatory Tantra has far reaching implications for the medicalwriters considered in the present essay. Indeed, Sangye Gyatsos BerylMirror can be seen as an extended commentary on chapter thirty-one ofthe Four Tantras, and on these passages of that chapter in particular.

    From the age of eight Sangye Gyatso studied medicine under several ofthe finest medical scholars of the seventeenth century, all under the care of

    5 See Dorje (1992) for a helpful outline of the contents of the Four Tantras.6 Chapter thirty-one of the Explanatory Tantra is represented in plate 37 of Sangye

    Gyatsos medical paintings. See Parfionovitch (1992), vol 1, pp. 8990; vol. 2, pp. 245246.

    7 Yon tan mgon po, Bdud rtsi, pp. 96.296.3: blo che blo brtan blo gzeg gsum ldanpas // gso dpyad mdo rgyas ma lus khong du chud //. See also Clark (1995), p. 223, for analternative translation.

    8 Yon tan mgon po, Bdud rtsi, pp. 98.198.2: rgyu ni dri klog mtha ru phyin parbslab // chod dang mi chod de la brtan par snang //. Quoted in Sangs rgyas rgyamtsho, Dpal ldan, pp. 517.7517.8. See Clark (1995), p. 226. See also the twelfth-centurycommentary on these lines, which employs the same examples; Ye shes gzungs, Grel, f.57a.5.

    9 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Gso ba, pp. 494.3494.5.


    the Fifth Dalai Lama. During his relatively short life of fifty-two years, theregent of Tibet composed three major medical works. In 1687, at the ageof thirty-five, he began a commentary on the Four Tantras known as theBlue Beryl, which he completed one year later, in 1688. Two years afterthis he began his second medical work, an extended commentary on thethird of the Four Tantras, the Instructional Tantra. This extended surveyof medical practice was completed in 1691.

    Eleven years later, in 1702, he began what was to be his last medicalwork, the Beryl Mirror, more commonly known as the Gso rig khogbugs what I have roughly translated as the Interior Analysis of theMedical Arts.10 Sangye Gyatsos Beryl Mirror is explicitly based uponan earlier work by Drangti Palden Tshoje. According to Sangye Gyatso,Palden Tshojes Elucidation of Topics (Shes bya rab gsal) in fact formsthe basis for most medical historiography between the fourteenth and theseventeenth centuries.11

    Sangye Gyatsos survey of the medical tradition is a complex work,integrating medical history, a schematic presentation of the Buddhistteachings, a long prescriptive survey of the qualities of the ideal physician,and several autobiographical passages. The Beryl Mirror is the last of hismajor works, completed in 1703, just two years before his untimely deathin 1705. It is likely, however, that he had been working on this history for anumber of years prior to this. At the close of the work we find a small noterelating the unfavorable circumstances of its creation. Up to age fifty, thatis, until 1702, Sangye Gyatso dictated the work to a scribe. He admits thatthis process of dictation was a major source of error, for his own wordswere often misconstrued by the scribe and written down incorrectly. In1702 Sangye Gyatso considered the work to be only a collection of draft

    10 In the opening verses of the Beryl Mirror Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho elaborates on thetitle of his work, describing it as an exposition (legs bshad) that penetrates (bugs) theinterior (khog) of the medical tradition. See Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Dpal ldan, pp. 78:dpal ldan gso ba rig pai rgyud kyi khog / sman pai rgyal pos [8] bzhin du bugs byedpai // legs bshad dri ma spangs pa baiduryai // me long tshe rig drang srong dgyespai bzhin //. Although the implications of the Tibetan term khog bugs/dbug, the nameof the genre of writing in which Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho places his work, have not beenexplored fully, it seems to refer primarily though not exclusively to the historical workson the lineages and texts of the medical tradition, including the presentation of the idealphysicians education and qualities. Indeed, these subjects make up almost the whole ofSangs rgyas rgya mtshos Beryl Mirror. Yon tan mgon po, Khyung, f. 3a.58a.4 offers anearly analysis of the term. The parameters of the genre as delineated by Tibetan scholarsdeserve separate study.

    11 Although this work does not contain the word khog bugs in its title, and Sangs rgyasrgya mtsho does not cite it as such, it is structured in much the same way as both the BerylMirror and Zur mkhar Blo gros rgyal pos Khog dbug (Blo gros rgyal po, Gang).


    notes. Unfortunately, in this same year Sangye Gyatsos eyesight beganto fail. It became difficult for him to see fine objects in the morning andevening, and his ability to write for himself waned. His scribe, ChakarwaPema Sonam (Cha dkar ba Padma bsod nams), thus completed his work. Ispeculate that the work is unfinished as it stands.12

    Perhaps the most interesting passages in the Beryl Mirror are autobio-graphical remarks about Sangye Gyatsos medical education and activities.His reminiscences lead us through some of the most important years in thetextual history of the Four Tantras. From an early age, Sangye Gyatsoexhibited skill in the five arts, and wondered if he might not be the reincar-nation of some former scholar also skilled in the arts.13 Between the agesof thirty and forty this early preference began to produce results. He boaststhat he delighted in whatever textual traditions he encountered, and in addi-tion to running the kingdom found the time to compose twenty volumes onlinguistics, logic, practical arts, medicine, and even Buddhism.14

    Before this time he had memorized the three smaller of the FourTantras, the Root, Explanatory, and the Subsequent Tantras, and hadalready began making his own contribution to medical literature. SangyeGyatso spent a good deal of time engaged in text-critical work on the FourTantras themselves. The textual history of the Four Tantras was of greatconcern for him, and he relates both his and his predecessors efforts toimprove the text. The print of the Four Tantras made at Dratang (Grwathang) in 1546 by Zurkhar Lodro Gyalpo had been used by the court physi-cian to the Dalai Lama, Jango Nangso Dargay (Byang ngo Nang so darrgyas), as the basis for new printing blocks in 1662. Nangso Dargyay feltthat this Dratang print was an authoritative witness ideal for reproduction.Thus, according to Sangye Gyatso at least, he made no effort to use othertextual witnesses for his new print.

    In 1670 Sangye Gyatso began to look at various recensions of the FourTantras himself, and decided that the Dratang print was not as reliableas his elders believed. He became convinced that his master and his courtphysician had made a mistake in relying exclusively on the Dratang print.15He tells us that he thought the version of the Dratang print edited by

    12 This is no more than a rough impression. The Beryl Mirror does not have the highlystructured nature of works such as the Yellow Beryl, the White Beryl, or the Blue Beryl.There are no chapter headings, and though the progress of the work does have a generalcoherence to it, certain subjects receive scant attention in comparison with others.

    13 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Dpal ldan, pp. 372.4372.5.14 Sangs rgyas rgya rntsho, Dpal ldan, pp. 376.2376.7.15 According to Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Dpal ldan, Nang so dar rgyas and the lesser

    physicians were convinced that the Byang and Zur traditions were quite different. ButSangs rgyas rgya mtsho felt that the two differed only in minor points, and therefore textual


    Nangso Dargyay to be filled with gaps and confused sections. He there-fore took a chance and told the Great Fifth that his colophon to NangsoDargyays 1662 print was inaccurate when it heaped praise only on theDratang print. Because this most recent edition of the Four Tantras wasprepared under the auspices of the Fifth Dalai Lama, criticizing that textwas tantamount to criticizing the Dalai Lama himself. Sangye Gyatsoseems acutely aware of thi...