Dr. C. Pierce Salguero, “Chinese Buddhist Medicine, Global and Local Perspectives on a Tradition of Religious Healing”

The Buddhist Studies lecture that I attended outside of class was given by Dr. C. Pierce Salguero. The lecture was based on the topic of “Chinese Buddhist Medicine, Global and Local Perspectives on a Tradition of Religious Healing”. As Dr. Salguero is interested in Buddhism around the world as a vehicle of medical knowledge coming out of India and text coming out of Asia, this lecture was focused on explaining Dr. Salguero’s research of Buddhism’s role in medical exchange. Dr. Salguero looks at different strategies of reading the texts to determine how outside communities and countries are receiving and working with the Buddhist medical doctrines and perspectives.

Indo-European humoral medicine contains a similarity to Persian, Greek and Indian texts. I found it fascinating how ancient Greek text has a relationship with ancient Indian and Persian text. There was cross-cultural transmission through trade routes. There is still a difference between the discussed medicinal texts and classical Chinese medicine. There is a distinction between the two in the East and the West philosophically and through practice. Buddhism for the first time connects these two practices in a sort of dialogue.  The Silk Road and the Maritime Route (2nd century BCE-2nd century CE) allowed a movement of ideas to become more direct and fast. We see records of the movement of Buddhist medicine.

Pharmaceuticals, which consist of material objects being traded as well as ideas such as deities involved with medicine, are being traded along the routes by traveling practitioners. Medical texts also move along the trade routes. This is what Dr. Salguero is interested in. He is studying medical texts moving into China and how they are being translated by the Chinese.

The sources on Indian medicine preserved in Chinese consist of canonical sources such as the Vinaya texts, ritual manuals, travel logs, and treatises of curing diseases, and extra-canonical texts such as lists of lost texts in imperial biographies, texts on pharmaceuticals, narratives, historical accounts and miscellaneous writings.

The usage of specific Indian medical doctrines such as anatomy and physiology, humors, medicinal flavors, and disease causing demons, are seen in China. The ideas that disease is an inescapable suffering and nursing as merit making, are different than that of ancient Chinese thought. These texts are being translated into Chinese over 800 years. The Chinese texts differ in how the medical application is done, yet they still use Sanskrit terms. This could be a regional variation of tradition coming to China.

Pertaining to Dr. Salguero’s main interest in how we can read this Chinese material and reconstruct what is happening in India, as well as how the Chinese are receiving this material and working with it, he explains that we must ask a specific series of questions. What are the normative medical languages/models prior to Buddhism’s arrival? How does the religious medical marketplace work in China, and what are the social roles in the medical market place? As claiming titles and the environment of competition over words is important, who are the players in the market place, and what are the terms of debate? The most important “patient” in China is the state and the body of the emperor, as the primary importance of the emperor is to protect his own health and keep epidemics out. Groups that can achieve this receive the highest patronage.

Dr. Salguero shows us that the Buddhist translation strategy works as a sort of web. Any foreign medical term, idea, or practice, can be presented through Foreignizing Translation, or through Domesticating Translation. Foreignizing Translation presents the text in a unique and exotic way, marking it as a foreign language. It is unfamiliar to the reader. Domesticating Translation uses terminology that is normal and familiar to the reader, therefore making it less ‘foreign’. Between these two types of presentations, there is a structural component showing how cultural linguistic structures mutually interact and change. As Dr. Salguero states, through the medical knowledge spreading, it is not the text or idea that is staggering, but the intended audience.

This lecture opened my eyes to a new field in Buddhist studies. Dr. Salguero poses many interesting questions, questions I could never imagine trying to answer. His approach to the research in order to answer these questions is fascinating. As I had always known about the trade routes and that not only objects but also ideas traveled amongst them, I had still never thought about how big the role of translation mixed with social structure was within medicine. I cannot wait to read about his findings.

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