Translating Buddhist Medicine in Medieval China

Translating Buddhist Medicine in Medieval China

Translating Buddhist Medicine in Medieval China

Translating Buddhist Medicine in Medieval China


The transmission of Buddhism from India to China was one of the most significant cross-cultural exchanges in the premodern world. This cultural encounter involved more than the spread of religious and philosophical knowledge. It influenced many spheres of Chinese life, including the often overlooked field of medicine. Analyzing a wide variety of Chinese Buddhist texts, C. Pierce Salguero examines the reception of Indian medical ideas in medieval China. These texts include translations from Indian languages as well as Chinese compositions completed in the first millennium C.E.

Translating Buddhist Medicine in Medieval China illuminates and analyzes the ways Chinese Buddhist writers understood and adapted Indian medical knowledge and healing practices and explained them to local audiences. The book moves beyond considerations of accuracy in translation by exploring the resonances and social logics of intercultural communication in their historical context. Presenting the Chinese reception of Indian medicine as a process of negotiation and adaptation, this innovative and interdisciplinary work provides a dynamic exploration of the medical world of medieval Chinese society. At the center of Salguero's work is an appreciation of the creativity of individual writers as they made sense of disease, health, and the body in the context of regional and transnational traditions. By integrating religious studies, translation studies, and literature with the history of medicine, Translating Buddhist Medicine in Medieval China reconstructs the crucial role of translated Buddhist knowledge in the vibrant medical world of medieval China.


With translation there is transmission; without translation there is
but obscurity.

—Sengyou (445–518)

The transmission of Buddhism from India to China in the first millennium of the Common Era ranks among the most significant and most well documented examples of cross-cultural exchange in the premodern world. Although the study of the global spread of Buddhism is most commonly undertaken by scholars of religion, this cross-cultural encounter involved much more than simply the transmission of religious or philosophical knowledge. Buddhism influenced many other aspects of Chinese life, including contributing to the economy, inspiring changes in the sociopolitical order, and spurring the adoption of foreign material culture. This book is a study of one, often-overlooked facet of this Indo-Sinitic exchange: the introduction of Indian medicine to China.

Knowledge about health and illness held a central place within Buddhist thought from the earliest times. Anatomical and physiological terminology was frequently invoked in early Indian Buddhist texts, particularly in descriptions of meditation practices and other ascetic discourses. Medical similes and metaphors were utilized in order to make accessible many aspects of the Dharma, including the most abstruse philosophical positions. Narratives of the healing exploits of deities, monks, and other heroes were a feature of the Buddhist hagiographic literature of all periods. Rites to dispel disease were central to the ritual repertoires of Buddhist clerics across Asia. Many Buddhist scriptures even go so far as to suggest that fully understanding the . . .

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