Translating Ancient Chinese Wisdom into Medicine for Today

Q&A Forum

Q&A Forum for Imperial Mentorship members

Examples of medicinals that came in with Buddhism?

Question from a highly esteemed colleague who shall remain unnamed: “Do you know of any examples of medicinals that came in with Buddhism? I cannot seem to find any.”

Quick answer: “Mhhhhhh. My immediate answer is, well, of course, Sun Simiao's writings are full of Indian substances and treatments. But how long would it take me to actually prove that they came over with Buddhist monks as opposed to just traders etc? So I hate to admit it but I can't think of one that we could easily prove to be brought by Buddhists. Pierce Salguero would be the one to ask. He edited a large volume called Buddhism and Medicine. An Anthology of Premodern Sources. You may find some gems there, but I just looked through the table of contents and it's more doctrinal than pharmacological. There was no easy answer to be found quickly.

Lo and Cullen, eds., Medieval Chinese Medicine, has a chapter by Wang Shumin on "The Dunhuang MSS and Pharmacology," which I thought would provide helpful information, since Dunhuang material is notorious for the Buddhist influence. Wang Shumin does state that the first c. CE Shennong bencao jing has 365 substances, Tao Hongjing's Bencao jing jizhu (5th century) has 730, and the Tang xinxiu bencao (completed in 659) has 850. Many of these would obviously be foreign substances and, given the early Tang activities on the Silk Road and the cultural influence and interest in medical practice by Buddhist monks, likely imported by them. But I can't give you clear proof. So very sorry!

Sabine WilmsComment