Buddhist Healing Beyond the Modern: Circulation, Authenticity, and the Contested Territories of the Body-Mind
1: On the Fallacy of Thinking Atoms: Map and Territory in Late 20th Century Tibetan Monastic Rejections of the Biomedical Mind
Friday, March 25, 2022
3:30pm – 5:00pm EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 313C
Matthew W. King
University of California, Riverside, United States
For over a century, scholarly and popular writing across Eurasia and NorthAmerica has promoted the commensurability of biomedicine with Buddhist models ofembodiment, consciousness, and self-cultivation. In recent decades, the most globallyrecognizable context for such interactions has been the Mind and Life events (1987-present). In the shadow of the rationalist and naturalized “neo-Buddhism” fashioned in those dialogues, however, are dissenting voices among the Tibetan monastic elite. Their refusal of biomedicine is in effect a braided critique of globalizing physicalist medicine and the epistemic sovereignty of “Western science” (Nub pa’i tshan rig). This presentation is focused on the writing of Lobsang Gyatso (Blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1928-1997), a vehement critic working in the very institutional nexus that birthed the Mind and Life movement. Gyatso’s work emphasizes the incommensurability of biomedicine with Buddhist body-mind cosmologies described in Tibetan medicine (sman rig, gso ba rig pa), tantric physiological models of “gross” and “subtle” bodies, and the polemical strategies of classical Indian treatises. His extended dialectic shows the extent of religious, medical, and intellectual innovation among even the most conservative of Buddhist interpreters of globally circulated brain sciences. An example is Gyatso’s use of empirical experimentation to supplement his polemical appeals to logico-epistemology (tshad ma) and authoritative scripture (lung). Using Gyatso’s treatises to trouble the triumphantalism of the Mind & Life dialogues, this presentation examines how exiled Tibetan monastic scholars have subjected the brain sciences to logical and moral critique and transformed brain scientists into dialectical opponents of Buddhist disciplinary practices.