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Accepted Paper:

Tibetan medicine: saviour of Tibetan culture, salvation for the western mind  
Susannah Deane (University of the West of England)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the impact of outsiders' interest in the indigenous Tibetan medical tradition on Tibetans' own understandings of it, as it acquires new meanings as a "spiritual" healing tradition for westerners and becomes a facet of cultural preservation for the Tibetan community.

Paper long abstract:

Often billed as the "spiritual medicine of Tibet", the indigenous and diverse Tibetan medical tradition has recently gained popularity in the west. Marketed as an alternative to a soul-less "Big Pharma" of biomedicine, with western-oriented books on the subject often in the new age and spirituality sections of bookshops, the tradition has been commodified and re-packaged as a salvation for the ills of a capitalist/consumerist west by both non-Tibetans interested in "alternative health" and by the Tibetan Government-in-exile. For outsiders, this is perhaps an extension of a long-held western yearning for a mythical Tibetan "Shangri la"; for the Tibetan Government-in-exile, this discussion of a "holistic" Tibetan healing system is part of its drive to garner interest and support for Tibetan culture more broadly amidst fears of cultural degradation both inside and outside Tibet. This paper explores some of the effects of these interests and the resulting tensions on a long-standing healing tradition, and on those Tibetans who practice and utilise it, as Tibetan medicine comes up against both the biomedical tradition and western "spirituality". With westerners' interest in a particular form of Tibetan medicine and healing driving a focus on the "spiritual" elements of this indigenous tradition as an antidote to the "scientific" biomedical tradition of the west, I argue that practitioners and patients alike may feel under pressure to emphasise and even utilise only certain aspects of their own medical theory and practice, altering the very way in which they view their own tradition.

Panel P088
Dialogue among indigenous traditions and health
  Session 1