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date: 29 March 2023

Buddhism and Healing in Chinalocked

Buddhism and Healing in Chinalocked

  • Natalie KöhleNatalie KöhleDepartment of History, Hong Kong Baptist University


The history of Buddhism in China is deeply connected with healing. Some of the scriptures that were translated into Chinese discuss Indic conceptions of the body as an amalgamation of elements, and causes of illness in the tridoṣa, that is pathogenic body fluids and internal winds. Others discuss materia medica, and monastic rules on healing and hygiene in the monastery. Yet others set forth the ritual worship of the Medicine Buddha (Skt. Bhaiṣajyaguru; Ch. Yaoshi fo 藥師佛), the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin pusa 觀音菩薩), and other deities that promise healing. Apart from the translated scriptures, there is a huge body of indigenous works that synthesized the wealth of information on Indic healing which arrived in China between the 2nd and 10th centuries ce. Foremost among those are Yijing’s 義淨 (635–713) account of Indian monastic practices, Daoxuan’s 道宣 (596–667) vinaya commentary, and Daoshi’s 道世 (?–683) encyclopedia chapter on illness. Chinese compositions, such as Zhiyi’s 智顗 (538–597) treatises on meditation, and Huizhao’s 慧皎 (497–554) hagiographies bear witness to the hybridity to which the reception of Indic ideas in China gave rise. With the widening reach of Buddhism into every layer of Chinese society during the Sui and Tang dynasties, eminent Chinese physicians, such as Tao Hongjing 陶弘景 (452–536), Chao Yuanfang 巢元方 (550–630), Wang Tao 王焘 (670–755), and Sun Simiao 孫思邈 (581–682) also began to incorporate Buddhist ideas into their medical treatises. Chinese Buddhist monasteries introduced hospital services to China, and certain lineages of monks continued to provide medical care to the laity in late imperial China. Their healing was based on Chinese medical theories, however, and there is no evidence that they persisted in applying Indic medical ideas.


  • Buddhism

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