Understanding Potency in Tibetan Medicine: Forms of nüpa in the Crystal Globe & Crystal Rosary and Related Texts

01.12.2022 15:30 - 17:00

Katharina Sabernig | University of Applied Arts, Vienna

This lecture will be in hybrid format. All are welcome!

For online participation please register by November 30: barbara.gerke@univie.ac.at

The eighteenth-century pharmacopoeia Shel gong (Crystal Globe) lists the names of individual source materials, which are specified by an elaborate autocommentary called Shel phreng (Crystal Rosary). Both were devised by Deumar Geshé Tendzin Püntsok (De’u dmar Dge bshes Bstan ’dzin phun tshogs, 1673-1743). Together they form one of the most important contributions to the genre of trungpé (’khrungs dpe) literature. While the Shel gong includes the principal indication of the individual substances, the more extensive Shel phreng provides further pharmacognostic details on pharma-codynamic concepts as well as subtypes, substitutes, synonyms, names in local dialects, and descriptions of their visual appearance. The pharmacopoeia expands on the twentieth chapter of the Explanatory Tantra entitled “Effect of medicines” (sman gyi nus pa). In the context of this chapter, the term nus pa is used as an umbrella term involving different pharmacodynamic concepts, including the specific concept of eight “potencies,” (nus pa) as a homonym referring to the qualities that characterise an ingredient. A similar but more complex notion is the concept of seventeen “properties” (yon tan). However, the materials listed in the Explanatory Tantra are not classified according the specific idea of nüpa (nus pa), but following the “nature” (ngo bo) of the respective material. It was Darmo Menrampa Lozang Chödrak (Dar mo sman rams pa Blo bzang chos grags, 1638-1710?) who added the specific qualities to most of the individual names in his Explanation of the effect of medicines in the twentieth chapter of the Explanatory Tantra (Bshad paʼi rgyud kyi leʼu nyi shu pa sman gyi nus pa bstan paʼi tshig gi don gyi ʼgrel ba mes poʼi dgongs rgyan). His text can be considered as an important source and a precursor to Tendzin Püntsok’s work. My presentation will analyse the relationship between these texts and their different manner of dealing with and connecting the pharmacodynamic concepts of nus pa, yon tan and ngo bo.

DR. KATHARINA SABERNIG is a medical doctor and obtained a PhD in Social and Cultural Anthropology and is currently affiliated with the University of Applied Arts, Vienna. She is a lecturer at several academic institutes in Vienna, conducting courses for students of medicine and psychotherapy in the field of transcultural health, medical terminology, and Tibetan medicine. Her previous projects focused on medical murals at Labrang Monastery and historical Tibetan anatomical and pharmacological texts and images. Her most recent research and publications focus on medical metaphors and concepts of categorization, pharmacological terms, body materiality and body perception in Tibetan medicine and neighbouring cultures.

Personal website: www.katharinasabernig.at; https://www.knitted-anatomy.at/

Terminology project: https://crossasia.org/en/service/crossasia-lab/tibetische-medizin-termini/



Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde
Seminarraum 1 des ISTB, Spitalgasse 2, Hof 2.7, 1090 Wien