08: Dr. Salguero’s Lecture on Chinese Buddhist Medicine

The Buddhist lecture I attended was one that was held by keynote speaker and scholar Dr. Salguero. This lecture functioned as a way to discuss and introduce the scholarly field of his research. Having both background in Thai medicine and Buddhist medicine, Dr. Salguero’s work focused on the medicinal aspects of Buddhism, more specifically Buddhism’s role globally as a vehicle of medical knowledge coming out of India. He introduced two useful dichotomies when looking at the differences in medicine; Indian and Greek, arguing for the possibility of cross-cultural transmissions that may have taken place. This was mostly due in part to the silk route, which not only linked these two types of medicine but also connected the two medical worlds in dialogue.

I will attempt to briefly summarize Dr. Salguero’s main points while placing some emphasis on material I find more relevant to the material discussed and explored in this course. As well I hope to highlight many of the arguments presented throughout the lecture, as well as the categories used to analyze said arguments. The goal of this blog entry is then to elucidate the theoretical frameworks in which Dr. Salguero’s work operates in.

The translation of Buddhist texts into Chinese meant that the medical content Dr. Salguero was interested in, was found in surprising places. There was no distinguishing between sections that covered medical treatises and otherwise. The kinds of information ranged from how monks should deal with medicinal substances within the Vinaya, as well as other texts covered healing deities, the usage of Dharani and other diverse subjects. Hagiographies, (which is also a topic in this course) also focused on the role of the Buddhist monk healer. What is common about these texts as Dr. Salguero points out is the drawing from Indian doctrines, and terminology often transliterated out of Sanskrit. Yet, there is a discrepancy between the Sanskrit term and its eventual application which Dr. Salguero argues is not a problem in translation, rather he approaches it from looking at the reception environment in China prior to Buddhism’s arrival. More specifically is the normative medical language and conceptual system that is prevalent in that time.  By taking into account a fully formed medical tradition in China, he establishes the social context in which these translators are making use of these terms to translate them into meaningful Chinese.

What is also significant in looking at the social landscape is asking trying to figure out how the religiomedical marketplace works. Buddhism presented itself as a therapeutic which was more commonly available which led to social groups competing for patronage. He characterizes the marketplace as these “institutions” competing for patients, fighting over words, proclaiming titles for themselves contributing to an environment which competed for cultural capital. Within this framework, what is at stake for these groups, is the most important body of all in medieval China, that being the Emperor.  Because of Buddhism’s late arrival, there is a long tradition of classical medicine already in existent. Thus, he points that it could be advantageous in that is something new, but as well it could be detrimental to those whom were xenophobic.

This is where he introduces the two categories for translating medical terms. When dealing with any foreign term, the translator in China has but two options; he could approach it with the intent of foreignizing the term, marking it as foreign and thus unique, or he could translate the material in the domestic language using the available normative cultural and linguistic terminology. Dr. Salguero offered the example of the term Burrito which marked it as foreign, or a wrap which would be more domestic. One translation in reference to an actual term such as Dharani needed specialist knowledge for a word that wasn’t part of the normal lexicon but its domestic translation also opened up a whole world for Buddhist practitioners to incorporate knowledge from different groups into their literature under a guise. The questions Dr. Salguero poses is why are translators choosing one method over another? He suggests that for texts targeted towards the Sangha, the treatment of translation would mark the knowledge as foreign, as to be more authentic or esoteric in contrast for texts for external consumption such as the Lotus Sutra for the Emperor in which translations would be more domestic.

This lecture was highly informative, not only in looking at how ideas migrate from one region to another, but also the variances and changes that occur in the texts. As Dr. Salguero is part of a rather small field dedicated to the medical history of Buddhism, he had proposed a collaboration with the other professors and scholars present in the discussion that followed. Being able to trace and reverse this process, perhaps looking back through Tibet would mean trying to single out the regional differentiations in tradition that would be coming from the places of origin. It is both fascinating to think of the interepretation and reinterpretation a text undergos before it reaches its current status, something to keep in mind while reading the texts in this course.


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