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“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.

Article

Buddhist practice transformed the religious landscape in China, introducing new forms of mental cultivation and new ritual technologies within an altered cosmology of spiritual goals. Buddhist practice was carried out by individuals, but was equally as often a communal activity. A basic unit of religious practice was the family; Buddhist cultivation was also carried out by communities of practice at monasteries, which were also sites of large-scale rituals. Forms of religious practice included meditation, oral recitation, ritual performances including confession and vow making, and merit-making activities. Meditation encompassed following breath and exercises that recreated Buddhist images in the practitioner’s mind. Meditation could be carried out while sitting, or while walking, and might also incorporate recitation of scriptures, names of the Buddhas, and dhāraṇī. Indeed, meditation practices were most often embedded in liturgical sequences that included confession, vows, and merit dedication. The goal of these religious practices might be personal spiritual development; through the concept of merit transference, religious activities also worked to benefit others, especially the dead. The fundamental of components of Buddhist practice were present very early in the tradition’s history in China, and over time these elements were combined in new ways, and with reference to changing objects of devotion. The four major bodhisattvas of Mañjuśrī (Wenshu 文殊), Samantabhadra (Puxian 普賢), Kṣitigarbha (Dizang 地藏), and Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin 觀音) were especially important as objects of devotion, and also were emplaced in the Chinese landscape, where they were incorporated into pilgrimages.