Global History of Buddhist Medicine

Medicine is central to the religion of Buddhism, and Buddhism has been an vitally important vehicle for transnational exchange of medicine globally. In all periods and all locations across the world, Buddhism has provided individuals with intellectual tools to frame and understand illness, has shaped health-seeking behaviors in conscious and unconscious ways, and has offered a range of popular therapies and institutional structures for dealing with the sick.

This history is complex, involving multiple intertwining threads. Health and illness were common concerns in the earliest Buddhist texts, which drew heavily on existing medical traditions circulating in ancient India. Carried across geographic, cultural, and linguistic boundaries, these ideas and practices became an integral part of the spread of the religion across Asia in the ancient and medieval periods. The dynamics of reception in each of the cultures that received the Buddhist transmission were different, and consequently, particular configurations of Buddhist healing differed markedly from culture to culture. In the modern period, transregionally transmitted Buddhist knowledge formed the nucleus for the development of local forms of traditional medicine that continue to thrive in many parts of Asia.


Scholarly articles & chapters

  • 2018, “Buddhist Medicine and its Circulation.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Ed. David Ludden. New York: Oxford University Press; doi: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190277727.013.215. [Link]
  • 2017, “Cultural Associations of Water in Early Chinese and Indian Religion and Medicine,” Special Issue: Water and Asia, Education About Asia 22.2: 23–28.
  • 2015, “Toward a Global History of Buddhism and Medicine,” Buddhist Studies Review 32.1: 35–61.
  • 2014, “Medicine,” Oxford Bibliographies Online: Buddhism. doi: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0140 Last update: 2018.

Popular press publications