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Taste and the Art of Tibetan Pharmacology

With Barbara Gerke

Sunday, March 23, 2014
3:30 PM–5:00 PM

“The tongue is our best laboratory.” Barbara Gerke explores the role of the senses in the making of Tibetan medicine, how medicinal qualities are often determined by a plant or other substances’ feel, color, or taste.
“The tongue is our best laboratory,” so said a pharmacologist of Tibetan medicine to anthropologist Barbara Gerke. This talk will explain what he meant and explore the role of the senses in the making of Tibetan medicines, how medicinal qualities are often determined by a plant or other substance’s feel, color, or taste.
Tibetan medical physiology is understood as a continuous process of refining the essences of the food we eat, an alchemical transformation of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and space) and the six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, hot, and astringent). Each taste manifests two of the elements: for example, earth and water generate a sweet taste, water and air a bitter taste. How does this play out in the art of making medicines, where plants and minerals are combined into medicines depending on their tastes and powers? Tibetan pharmacologists take years of training to fine tune and master their senses and to cultivate a sensitive tongue to taste the various tastes and potencies of raw medicinal ingredients.
This talk will include photos and film clips showing Tibetan doctors in Nepal tasting raw ingredients and compounding them into medicines. Examples are also linked to particular ingredients and medicines that are displayed in the “Bodies in Balance” exhibition.
Barbara Gerke, D.Phil. Social Anthropology (2008), M.Sc. Medical Anthropology (2003), University of Oxford, is currently based at Humboldt University of Berlin, where she is the Principal Investigator of a three-year research project on Tibetan pharmacological detoxification practices with fieldwork in India and Nepal. She has taught at universities in the USA and Germany. Her current research interests are the anthropology of Tibetan Medicine and ideas of vitality and longevity in Asian medicines in relation to toxicity and safety debates. Her monograph Long Lives and Untimely Deaths (2012, Brill) analyses vitality and life-span concepts among Tibetans in the Darjeeling Hills. This is her second appearance at The Rubin on the subject of Tibetan medicine.

Bodies In Balance: The Essentials

A full weekend of talks and demonstrations on the rich subject of Tibetan medicine and concepts of wellbeing. Scholars, medical practitioners and experts meet to share their experience in eleven separate presentations. For those who wish to immerse themselves in the concepts of Tibetan medical practice, this is the weekend for you.
A conference to deepen your appreciation of the exhibitionBodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine.

See Full Schedule