The buddHa's doctor
Where we survey Buddhist medicine sites around the world.
in collaboration with jivaka.net.global
With its focus on understanding the connections between mind and body, and a whole range of therapies for curing mental and physical illnesses, Buddhism has always been closely interlinked with medicine (Zysk 1996; Hofer 2014; Salguero 2018, 2019, 2020; Triplett 2019). Commonly referred to as the “Great Physician” or “Great Medicine King,” the Buddha is regarded as the healer who cures all human suffering. Buddhist temples, in turn, have served as key sites of health care and social wellness in Asian and Asian diasporic communities throughout history and today.
As an emerging field, “Buddhist medicine” studies how various healing and medical practices have developed in different Buddhist contexts (Salguero 2018). With origins in India, Buddhism has not only spread across East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia, but also worldwide. Though often described as a pan-Asian religion, Buddhism has adapted in countless locally specific ways. From the traditional sectarian division of Theravāda/Mahāyāna/Vajrayāna to modern and nontraditional forms, Buddhism is not a singular religion but a diverse body of ideas and practices. Similarly, Buddhist medicine, as opposed to being a cohesive system, is diverse in how it has evolved according to different local cultures and traditions.
Buddhist conceptions of the relationship between Buddhism and medicine have changed over time (Salguero 2018; Salguero 2020). As observed in their continued attempts to modernize, many Buddhists straddle between reforming how they present and practice Buddhism while also attempting to hold on to certain orthodox Buddhist traditions. In terms of medicine, some have chosen to embrace modern Western biomedicine alongside traditional Asian medicine. For others, approaches to modernization entail the secularization and institutionalization of traditional Asian medicine. Buddhist diasporic communities have also had to navigate how both Buddhist and Asian health traditions intersect with mainstream Western medicine and public health (Wu 2002; Numrich 2005; Salguero 2019).
A growing body of scholarly work has analyzed the key roles that transnational Buddhist organizations have played in the globalization of Buddhism (e.g., Huang 2009; Kloos 2010; Baker 2012; Reinke 2021; Gerke 2021). Many of these organizations perceive medicine as being integral to their missions, and have established worldwide networks of medical and educational institutions, even while adapting each chapter in light of local needs. These institutions have also transformed how traditional Asian medicine is studied and commercialized to expand its influence on a global scale.
Jivaka//Global examines the critical role that Buddhist institutions play in contributing to all sorts of health and wellness practices across different national contexts. We map and identify key sites of interest globally, and feature short essays on the medical activities at these locations using information from both scholarly and online sources. These sources are extracted from a diverse range of languages, including Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Thai, Tibetan, and Vietnamese, among others. Each short essay also includes photographs, videos, external links, and scholarly references that offer additional information about each site, and everything is categorized and indexed to be easily used in teaching and research.
The essays presented on this site are not meant to be comprehensive, but instead are meant to offer a broadly representative perspective of Buddhist medicine and healing around the world today. Jivaka//Global highlights how Buddhist medicine is locally embedded, globally interconnected, and highly relevant to global health in the contemporary era.
- Jason Lee
Baker, Don. 2012. “Constructing Korea’s Won Buddhism as a New Religion,” International Journal for the Study of New Religions 3 (1): 47-70.
Gerke, Barbara. 2021. Taming the Poisonous Mercury, Toxicity, and Safety in Tibetan Medical Practice. Heidelberg: Heidelberg University Publishing.
Hofer, Teresia (ed.). 2014. Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine. New York: Rubin Museum of Art / Univ. of Washington Press.
Huang, C. Julia. 2009. Charisma and Compassion: Cheng Yen and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Movement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Kloos, Stephan. 2010. “Navigating 'Modern Science' and 'Traditional Culture': The Dharamsala Men-Tsee-Khang in India” in Medicine between Science and Religion: Explorations on Tibetan Grounds. Oxford & New York: Berghahn Book.
Numrich, P. D. 2005. “Complementary and Alternative Medicine in America’s ‘Two Buddhisms.’” In Linda L. Barnes and Susan S. Sered (eds.), Religion and Healing in America. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
Reinke, Jens. 2021. Mapping Modern Mahayana: Chinese Buddhism and Migration in the Age of Global Modernity. Berlin: De Gruyter Oldenbourg.
Salguero, C. Pierce. 2018. “Buddhist Medicine and Its Circulation.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History, edited by David E. Ludden. New York: Oxford University Press.
Salguero, C. Pierce. 2019. “Varieties of Buddhist Healing in Multiethnic Philadelphia.” Religions 10 (1): 48.
Salguero, C. Pierce. 2020. Buddhism and Medicine. An Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Sources. New York: Columbia University Press.
Triplett, Katja. 2019. Buddhism and Medicine in Japan: A Topical Survey (500-1600 CE) of a Complex Relationship. Berlin: De Gruyter.
Wu, Hongyu. 2002. “Buddhism, Health, and Healing in a Chinese Community.” http://pluralism.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Wu.pdf, last accessed 10 Feb. 2018.
Zysk, Kenneth. 1998. Asceticism and Healing in Ancient India: Medicine in the Buddhist Monastery. Corrected edition. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Shivagakomarpaj Thai Traditional Medicine School, Chiang Mai, Thailand
by Pierce Salguero
The Shivagakomarpaj Thai Traditional Medicine School or “Old Medicine Hospital” has been instrumental in developing and popularizing Thai Traditional Medicine in Chiang Mai, a city that has witnessed rapid growth in the number of massage clinics, foot massage stations, spas, and schools over the past 25 years.
Keywords: biography, Buddha, charity, Dhamma, herbal medicine, massage, non-profit, Pāli, political history, politics, Sangha, sauna, school, shrine, state, Thai Traditional Medicine (TTM), traditional medicine
Tuệ Tĩnh đường Hải Đức in Thừa Thiên Huế, Vietnam
by Summer Nguyen
The organization Tuệ Tĩnh đường Hải Đức operates four free medical clinics in the Thừa Thiên Huế Province of Vietnam. Under the umbrella organization Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, these clinics have medically trained monks and nuns that use a combination of traditional Vietnamese medicine and Western medicine to treat hundreds of patients a day.
Keywords: acupuncture, biomedicine, charity, community outreach, dermatology, free clinic, gynecology, Huế Province, internal medicine, Mahāyāna, obstetrics, otolaryngology, politics, thuốc Bắc (Northern medicine), thuốc Nam (Southern medicine), traditional medicine
Jivitadana Sangha Hospital, Yangon, Myanmar
by Brandon Ba
The Jivitadana Sangha Hospital in Yangon, Myanmar, serves as a free health organization primarily for monks and nuns. It is managed by laypeople according to Buddhist principles regarding caring for the sick.
Keywords: biography, biomedicine, charity, COVID-19, dentures, ear nose and throat (ENT), eyes, free clinic, hearing aids, military history, orthopedics, political history, specialized care, surgery, Theravāda, urology, World War II
Sitagū Buddha Vihāra, Austin, Texas, United States
by Brandon Ba
The Sitagū Buddha Vihāra is a temple in Austin, Texas that has been instrumental in advancing Theravāda Buddhist practice in Texas and surrounding areas, promoting health through common Buddhist practices and community outreach, and maintaining Burmese culture.
Keywords: community outreach, COVID-19, cultural events, eight precepts, food offerings, healing rituals, meditation, monastery, morality (śīla), Theravāda
Tzu-Chi Headquarters, Hualien, Taiwan
by Jason Lee
Tzu Chi is a transnational humanistic Buddhist organization involved in medical charity, disaster relief, and environmental advocacy worldwide. In Taiwan, Tzu Chi has also established a network of hospitals, each tailored to the needs of its specific location, as well as educational institutions in Hualien where it is headquartered.
Keywords: "green hospital," biomedicine, COVID-19, environmentalism, high school education, humanistic Buddhism, Mahāyāna, modernization, museum, refugee camps, stem cell transplants, university education, vegetarianism
Wat Pho, Bangkok
by Pierce Salguero & Jason Lee
Wat Pho is one of the most prominent Buddhist royal temples in Thailand due to both its religious and cultural significance. With one of its key roles being to preserve and teach traditional Thai culture, Wat Pho has been critical in standardizing and promoting traditional Thai medicine.
Keywords: acupressure, arts and sciences, Bangkok, biomedicine, energy-line theory, massage therapy, medical curriculum, medical standardization, military history, modernization, national licensure program, phra vihara, phutthawat, political history, Reclining Buddha, rishis, ruesri dat ton, sangkhawat, temple, Theravāda, traditional medicine, yoga therapy
Won Buddhism Headquarters, Iksan, South Korea
by Jason Lee
Won Buddhism is a modernized Korean Buddhist religion and transnational organization with a global network of temples, educational institutions, and medical institutions specializing in traditional Korean medicine and modern Western biomedicine.
Keywords: Dongui Bogam, Gwangju, jesaeng euise, Mahāyāna, moral illness, New Religious Movement, South Korea, state, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), traditional medicine, Treasured Mirror of Eastern Medicine, Wonkwang University
by Jason Lee
The Men-Tsee-Khang is currently the most prominent institution of Tibetan medicine and astrology. Though originally reestablished in Dharamsala, India to preserve Tibetan culture, its development over the past 60 years has modernized Tibetan medicine and contributed to its popularity worldwide.
Keywords: astro-science, astrology, Central Council of Tibetan Medicine (CCTM), cultural department, Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, institutional history, medical tours, modernization, political history, Sowa Rigpa, Tibetan medicine, traditional medicine
Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, Los Angeles, CA United States
by Sriya Kakarla
Tzu Chi Medical Foundation (LA) serves its community by providing disaster relief and medical care to those in need. They have established a network of charitable clinics, mobile locations, and health fairs tailored to the needs of the community.
Keywords: acupuncture, biomedicine, dentistry, humanistic Buddhism, outreach, volunteering
Taichung Tzu Chi Hospital
by Jason Lee
The Taichung Tzu Chi Hospital was initially built in response to the lack of access to healthcare in Taichung’s Tanzi District and its surrounding areas. In addition to community health outreach, the hospital currently focuses on a wide array of medical services, ranging from preventive care to long-term care.
Keywords: biomedicine, ceremony, COVID-19, geriatrics, hospice, humanistic Buddhism, Long-term Care 2.0 (LTC 2.0), Mahāyāna, neurology, nursing home, oncology, preventive medicine, Tanzi District, year-end blessing ceremony
Lý Triều Quốc Sư Pagoda in Hanoi, Vietnam
by Summer Nguyen
The Lý Triều Quốc Sư Pagoda is an ancient Vietnamese Buddhist pagoda and landmark in Hanoi dedicated to the monk Nguyễn Chí Thành, famous for healing King Lý Thánh Tông and teaching medicine.
Keywords: biography, French colonialism, Mahāyāna, Nguyễn Chí Thành, Ninh Binh province, Northern Vietnam, pagoda, politics, shrine, state
Tibetan Medicine and Holistic Healing Clinic, Boulder, CO United States
by Pearl Zhang
The Tibetan Medicine and Holistic Healing Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, provides disease prevention and healing through diet, herbs, lifestyle choices, meditation, and Buddhist rituals, all individually tailored to each patients’ needs and attributes.
Keywords: Tibetan Medicine, Sowa Rigpa, Tibetan Medicine Doctors, meditation, massage, mindfulness, mental health, biomedicine
Hospital Los Ángeles, Ciudad del Este, Paraguay
by Jason Lee
Hospital Los Ángeles was established by Foguang Shan, a transnational humanistic Buddhist organization based in Taiwan. Currently, Hospital Los Ángeles is one of the most prominent hospitals in Ciudad del Este that specialize in maternal and neonatal care.
Keywords: Alto Paraná, biomedicine, Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA), Canindeyú, charity, community outreach, Foguang Shan, free clinic, free medical service, humanistic Buddhism, Mahāyāna, maternal health, Paraguay, pediatrics
Seongmyeong Sa 聖明寺, Namhae, South Korea
by Brandon Ba
Seongmyeong Sa 聖明寺 is a temple and pilgrimage site in Namhae, Korea. The abbot uses Korean and Tibetan Buddhist medicine in his teachings and occasionally treats patients.
Keywords: Bhaiṣajyaguru, empowered water, exercises, healing rituals, natural spring, oral teaching, physical exercises, tea, temple