Tracing the Paths of Ancient Buddhist Healers

A trio of international students mapped the movements and intersections of medical monks and their practices in ancient Asia.

By: Regina Broscius
The Penn State Abington student researchers embarked on a journey through medieval China, painstakingly translating sacred texts to reveal the impact of Buddhist healers.

Meizi Chen, Kaiyuan Huang, and Weiqian Sheng set out to deepen the understanding of this unique aspect of Asian culture while documenting and visualizing the data through mapping technology. C. Pierce Salguero, assistant professor of Asian history and religious studies, shared his expertise through the Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities (ACURA). 

The trio focused on six monks whose remarkable medical contributions were documented in a series of texts called "Memoirs of Eminent Monks (高僧傳)," written between the sixth and 10th centuries. They translated the biographies into English, working individually and as a team, and peer editing throughout to verify data.

 

Ancient Chinese Text

Sharing History

Dr. Salguero owns historic texts related to Buddhist medicine and monks, who had superb medical skills and translated and wrote valuable medical documents.

 

Although Chinese is their first language, the women still found translating the texts challenging. The memoirs they examined were written in classical Chinese, sometimes in Sanskrit, and were often technical.

"The language included some specific Buddhist terminology nuances, and these students aren't Buddhists." — C. Pierce Salguero, assistant professor of Asian history and religious studies

They pinpointed the coordinates of medical-related events in the monks' lives using a geographic information database based in Taiwan. Frequently, the names of towns or regions changed over centuries, and the students needed to track down the precise locations, sometimes resorting to paper maps.

After months of intense work, they visualized the movements and connections of these medical monks and practices in ancient Asia, revealing clusters of activity from the data. They ultimately synthesized their research into a display for the annual ACURA research competition.

 

Dr. Salguero in his office

Where Religion and Medicine Intersect

Dr. Salguero focuses on the role of Buddhism in the cross cultural exchange of medical ideas. He integrates methodologies from history, religious and literary studies, and anthropology in his teaching and research.

Image: Regina Broscius

“The development of Buddhist medicine had a profound influence on Asian history. It integrated Indian and Western medicine into Chinese medical systems and also introduced new principles of medical science and regimen." — Dr. Salguero

Customize Your Education

Students can choose from an array of minors and research programs to customize their degrees and career paths at Penn State Abington.  

Abington Undergraduate Research Studies (ACURA) and the Asian Studies minor are options that cross disciplines including languages, history, philosophy, and religious studies.