Buddhism and the medical treatment of women in the ming dynasty: A research note

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Ming dynasty women sought various types of medical treatment when they became ill. Women from the upper classes who could afford to do so often consulted orthodox "Confucian" or literati doctors, usually in the privacy of their own homes; women from the lower rungs of society often turned to folk medicine as well as various "superstitious" practices for relief. For women from all levels of society, whether monastic or lay, Buddhist medicine often offered an important medical alternative. While Buddhist temples and Buddhist monk-doctors offered medicinal help, often free of charge, the main reason that Buddhist medicine was such an attractive alternative is that it placed a much greater emphasis on the mental and karmic origins of illness. This in turn allowed for the possibility of cultivating an unwavering trust in the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and engaging in religious practices (such as keeping a vegetarian diet or sutra-chanting) to purify the mind, and in so doing either cure the illness, or at least make the suffering more bearable. For many women, whether monastic or lay, poor and wealthy, and especially for those suffering from seemingly incurable illnesses, this view of illness offered a viable explanation for their illnesses, which for many helped alleviate their distress. Even more importantly, it offered women the opportunity to actively participate in their own self-treatment by engaging in religious practices of various kinds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-303
Number of pages25
JournalNAN NU
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008 Nov 1

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gender Studies
  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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