“Buddhist medicine” is a convenient term commonly used to refer to the many diverse ideas and practices concerning illness and healing that have emerged in Buddhist contexts, or that have been embraced and carried by that religion as it has spread throughout Asia and beyond. Interest in exploring the relationship between mind and body, understanding the nature of mental and physical suffering, and overcoming the discomforts of illness goes back to the very origins of Buddhism. Throughout history, Buddhism has been one of the most important contexts for the cross-cultural exchange of diverse currents of medicine. Medicine associated with and carried by Buddhism formed the basis for a number of local healing traditions that are still widely practiced in much of East, Southeast, and Central Asia. Despite the fact that there are numerous similarities among these regional forms, however, Buddhist medicine was never a cohesive or fixed system. Rather, it should be thought of as a dynamic, living tradition with a few core features and much local variation. Local traditions of Buddhist medicine represent unique hybrid combinations of cross-culturally transmitted and indigenous knowledge. In the modern period, such traditions were thoroughly transformed by interactions with Western colonialism, scientific ideas, and new biomedical technologies. In recent decades, traditional, modern, and hybrid forms of medicine continue to be circulated by transnational Buddhist organizations and through the global popularization of Buddhist-inspired therapeutic meditation protocols. Consequently, Buddhism continues today to be an important catalyst for cross-cultural medical exchange, and it continues to exert a significant influence on healthcare practices worldwide.
C. Pierce Salguero
During the 518 years of Korea’s Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910), many things changed and many things stayed the same. After the Yi family established the Chosŏn dynasty, Confucianism became the dominant philosophy. Although Confucianism’s grip on Chosŏn weakened somewhat at the end of the 19th century, it nevertheless continued to provide the basic framework for how government officials and most of the educated elite conceptualized ethics, religion, nature, and technology. This changed when the Chosŏn dynasty was absorbed into the Japanese empire in 1910. Chosŏn-era science, technology, and religion operated within a Confucian framework. This affected astronomical, geographical, mathematical, and medicinal thought and practice. It also affected the role of technology in Chosŏn life and society. Moreover, when Buddhism, folk religion and, from the end of the 18th century even Christianity, were practiced in Korea, it was necessary to maneuver within constraints imposed by a Confucian state and society. Korea’s Confucianism was imported from China. Koreans, however “Koreanized” what they adopted from China to make it their own. When dealing with religion, Chosŏn-era Koreans adopted a much harsher attitude toward non-Confucian religions. When dealing with science and technology, Koreans sometimes made improvements on Chinese models. For example, in the 15th century, Koreans built astronomical instruments that were better than those they had learned about from Chinese astronomers. And, in the 17th century, Koreans produced the most comprehensive encyclopedia of traditional East Asian medicine of pre-modern times. However, none of those changes threatened the hegemony of Confucianism. Chosŏn Korea remained Confucian in its science, technology, and religiosity for over five centuries.
Opium was used as a medicinal herb during the Tang-Song dynastic era, if not earlier, but this medicinal role was transformed during the Ming dynasty as it became an ingredient in aphrodisiacs produced for the Ming court. Small countries in South-Southeast Asia included opium in their tribute items to the Ming. Tribute missions were a form of trade as well as the best way to maintain foreign relations. Opium transformed again in the early Qing dynasty as Southeast Asian Chinese brought the habit of smoking opium mixed with tobacco back to the mainland. This was soon integrated in and promoted by the sex recreation industry in the mid-18th century, and the demand for opium grew rapidly in the early decades of the 19th century. By the 1850s, increasing supply fueled a level of consumption that neither repeated attempts at prohibition, nor two opium wars could stymie; it exploded into a consumer revolution. Opium became vital to the economy as all the polities since the late Qing taxed it to sustain themselves. It also became a symbol of China’s humiliation and anti-imperialist political platform. It has now come back to haunt the country despite the Mao era success in eradication.