How the Medical Category of ‘Brown Phlegm’ Came to Tibet (abstract and PPT)

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Drugs, Fluids, and Other Matters: Medical History through the Lens of Things (Natalie Köhle)

How the Medical Category of ‘Brown Phlegm’ Came to Tibet?

This is a modest contribution to ongoing investigation of so-called ‘brown phlegm’ (disorders) in Tibet (Tib. bad kan smug po). The main hypothesis of this long-term research engagement is that the Tibetan medical category of ‘brown phlegm’, which looks to be a Tibetan innovation, may be of Graeco-Arab origin (‘black bile’). This cultural contact thesis was introduced at the ICTAM VII, as a rather tangential concern, and was published as such, with the promise to revisit it.*
The research logic was laid out at the ICAS 9 (esp. the Tibetan side of the equation), while a preliminary survey of the Graeco-Arab side was discussed further at the IATS XIV. The precise historical contact between these medical epistemes has had to remain elusive and speculative, however. For the ICTAM IX, I propose to look into a possible point of contact.
There are two main aspects to this endeavour:
1.We will take a closer look at the history of ideas of ‘brown phlegm’ in Tibet, particularly between earlier and later Tibetan sources.
2.We will examine a possible point of contact in space and time: the so-called ‘Bi ji’, ‘Bi ci’ or ‘Be ci’ lineage and a figure called Tsan pa shi la ha (eighth c. CE), parsed as: Tsan – Pa shi la ha, i.e., Basilius or Bāsil of Tsan.**

* See Blezer, H.W.A., Revue d'Etudes Tibétaines 23 (2012) ), pp.117–168, based on a paper presented at the ICTAM VII, in Thimpu, Bhutan 2009, and see now also an abbreviated or isolated version in Tibetan and Himalayan Healing: an Anthology for Anthony Aris, pp.43–64, Kathmandu: Vajra Publications, 2015.
** See Martin, D.P., “Greek and Islamic medicines' historical contact with Tibet”, in Islam and Tibet: Interactions along the Musk Routes, edited by Anna Akasoy, Charles Burnett and Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim, pp. 117–143, Farnham: Ashgate, 2011.


ConferenceIXth seminar of the ICTAM (IXth International Congress on Traditional Asian Medicines
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  • (Brown) Phlegm; (Black) Bile; Humoral Systems


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