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Longevity Practices and Concepts in Tibet

Introduction

This major research project, 'Longevity Practices and Concepts in Tibet: A Study of Long-Life Practices in the Dudjom Tradition', is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and is part of a wider programme of research initiatives within the BAHAR research group.


Aims of Project

A long and healthy life is a major objective for Tibetans as for other peoples, and Tibetan Buddhism, as a central resource for Tibetan life, provides many techniques and procedures for achieving this desired goal. Tibetan concepts of long life and good health, and the techniques and procedures used to achieve them, are of great interest both in their own right and for the light they throw on human endeavours in these areas more generally. They involve complex and sophisticated processes of mental and bodily cultivation, intended to restore and strengthen the individual's life-energy and to counter negative influences, along with the use of herbal and natural substances. They have, however, received little attention in comparison with aspects of Tibetan religion which are focussed on enlightenment and other-worldly goals, and which perhaps fit more easily into Western concepts of "religion".

This project examines a body of 19th and 20th century texts, rituals and techniques of long life associated with two major visionary lamas, Dudjom Lingpa (1835-1904) and his recognised rebirth Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-87). These lamas had many students and followers, and the associated tradition is now widespread among Tibetans and overseas Chinese, and increasingly also in the West. A detailed study of these texts will provide an entrée into the wider sphere of Tibetan concepts and practices relating to health and long life. It will also provide a firm basis for systematic comparison with approaches of neighbouring cultures, particularly India and China. While there has been extensive mutual borrowing and sharing of approaches between these cultures, each has individual features and has developed its own characteristic approaches. Of the three, Tibet is the least studied. Here we will build on significant recent work on Indian and Chinese approaches to health and the human organism by scholars such as Joseph Alter, Shigehisa Kuriyama and Elisabeth Hsu.The principal investigator, Samuel, has worked extensively on the social, cultural and medical anthropology of Tibetan societies, as well as on wider issues of 'shamanic' and ritual healing. The two other researchers, Mayer and Cantwell, are established Tibetan scholars in their own right, with extensive experience working with Tibetan Buddhist texts. Additional assistance will be provided by three month-long visits to the UK by Ven. Tanzin Rinpoche, a senior Tibetan lama with close links to the Dudjom tradition, and three visits by Samuel to Kalimpong in India, the residence of Dudjom Rinpoche for many years, and a major centre for the Dudjom tradition today.This project forms part of a research programme that Samuel, who was appointed as a research professor at Cardiff University in January 2005, is developing on Asian medical and yogic practices aimed at healing, and on Western adaptations and developments of such practices within the field of complementary and alternative medicine. Individual projects will include both textual approaches (as here) and work in medical anthropology and related social science disciplines.

The programme builds on the established interest in medical humanities at Cardiff, and the presence of other scholars working on Indic religions and Buddhist studies in Religious & Theological Studies, which received a 5* in the last RAE. Debates about the nature of good health, the role of mental and physical factors and of the environment, the extent to which public resources should be directed towards various aspects of health care, and the place of complementary and alternative medicine are increasingly significant within British society. We see this project, and Samuel's wider research programme, as potentially making a significant contribution to the ongoing rethinking of these issues. We aim to bring relevant findings from our research to the awareness of the wider public that has an interest in these questions.

Outputs

For further information, please see the Project Website.




Project Value

£206,000

Duration

Sept 06 to Aug 09