Fate Book Review

Tibetan Buddhist Medicine and Psychiatry by Terry Clifford
Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach, Maine, 1984, 268 pgs., $15.95

Terry Clifford's Tibetan Buddhist Medicine and Psychiatry comes as a welcome surprise. Unlike so many works on the East, which tend to quote or cross-reference each other, Clifford's book breaks new ground in our understanding of how Tibetan Buddhists have practiced medicine. Her work is basically a scholarly overview of the history of Tibetan healing, with special emphasis on Buddhist psychiatry.

What emerges from Clifford's elaborate study (undertaken as part of a doctoral program in psychology and religious studies) is the glaring fact that much of our medical practice, including our westernized technological version, is as much a cultural artifact as our social habits, hairstyles and clothing. Indeed, in our own hemisphere practices depicted as "scientific" or "hygienic" in many cases turn out to be religiously-based; an obvious example is circumcision. Thus it is foolish to dismiss foreign methods of healing as "primitive," simply because their approaches to the body and its functions are different from the American Medical Association's.

Unlike modern science, which tends to view disease as an enemy to be fought, Tibetan medicine sees illness as an opportunity wherein the patient can realize his fundamental relationship with life. The real culprit in Buddhism is not a germ, a cancer or physical pain but the false presumption of an independent ego or self. True medical practice therefore involves not only bodily cures but mental and spiritual remedies as well.

In the most valuable section of her book Clifford examines demons and their influences. She includes a translation of three chapters of the Gyu-zhi (possibly the oldest written and complete tradition of medical psychiatry in the world). The parallels between the ancient Tibetan work and Carl Jung's are readily apparent, albeit in different language and form.

I highly recommend Clifford's book. Besides being a much-needed study of Tibetan medicine, it also serves as an excellent introduction to Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism.
--David Christopher Lane