Denise Glover on Karma in Tibetan Medicine

board_Board_DeniseThe SOAN department’s own Denise Glover recently delivered a lecture hosted by the Bioethics club here on campus, and the school’s newspaper provided this synopsis of the
event. Great work, Denise!

Compassion and Karma in Tibetan Medicine

By Angela Cookston

Denise Glover in the Sociology and Anthropology department gave a lecture hosted by the Bioethics Club on the concepts of compassion and karma in Tibetan medicine on Oct. 25.

Glover has done research in China’s Shangri-La province on the Tibetan medical industry and local knowledge of environment.

“Tibetan medicine, in particular, pulls a lot from Tibetan Buddhism,” Glover said. “So there are a lot of ideas that come from the religious tradition that are appropriated into the medical tradition. In fact, for a long time they weren’t really separate traditions at all.”

The medicinal tradition is based on indigenous knowledge of environment and written texts.

One of the most central texts is “The Four Tantras,” which was written mostly between the 11th and 12th centuries. “Doctors still use this,” Glover said. “It’s hard to find that kind of parallel in western medicine, for example. Who studies a text that old? They’re considered out of date. But in the Tibetan medical tradition, they’re seen as very central.”

Tibetan medicine uses Mahayana Buddhist figures as ideal images of what doctors should be. The Bodhisattva of Compassion, who are beings that could potentially reach enlightenment but choose to not to in order to help others, and the Medicine Buddha, who has all the knowledge of healing, are used in this way.

“In the medical tradition in Tibet, doctors are supposed to basically emulate this kind of being,” Glover said. “Not only do the doctors imagine themselves as the Medicine Buddha … but the patient will have to do a similar thing, which is to imagine the doctor as intricately connected to the medicine Buddha.”

Next, Tibetan medicine’s doctors see the body as a collection of three “humors.” “These things are considered as a combination of a substance and an energy,” Glover said.

The three humors are wind, bile and phlegm. “Each one of these is responsible for a different function in the body. So, for example, movement: wind is responsible for movement in the body. Bile is responsible for digestion. And phlegm is responsible for lubrication.”

When the three humors are balanced, a person is considered to be healthy. But an imbalance can cause problems.

In addition to causing physical problems, the humors can cause emotional or mental problems. “The humor of wind is linked to desire. Bile is linked to hatred. And phlegm is linked to closed-mindedness,” Glover said.

All of the humors have negative emotional effects on people. “In fact, you could argue from the Tibetan medical perspective that if you have a body, then you are likely to end up with some kind of imbalance,” Glover said. One could have too much desire, hatred and closed-mindedness.

“It’s almost like a very natural thing for people to get sick in this medical system,” Glover said. “It’s kind of different than other medical systems that state, you know, the natural state is a healthy state. Yeah, health is natural but so is illness in Tibetan medicine.”

The three humors can become imbalanced due to physical or emotional changes. Additionally, past negative actions, or bad karma, can cause illness.

“How can you tell if you’re sick because of humoral imbalance or because of karma?” Glover asked the room. “[Karma] is used to explain when things are not getting better. Like, the doctor is trying to figure out, trying to treat the patient and the treatments are not working.”

In Western medicine, this is similar to the concept of an idiopathic disease.

Tibetan medicine uses a slow-acting treatment process which can take months to heal the patient. If, after three different treatment plans, the patient is still ill, the doctor will diagnose their problem as karmic. Tibetan medicine doctors can’t treat karmic problems.

If a person is ill due to a karmic problem, they must go to a religious monk, who will help them attain spiritual balance once more. However, when the illness is due to karma from a past life, it is much more difficult and sometimes impossible to treat, since one can’t go back into their past life and fix the problem.

“To me what’s significant about these two ideas in Tibetan medicine is how both of these concepts really stress the agency of the patient. The patient actually has some responsibility in their own illness,” Glover said. “And then it also stresses, of course, the responsibility that the practitioner has to have good motivation. To really be wanting to help the person and not, for example, to be making a profit.”

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Spotlight on the SOAN Department at UPS

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Hi all,

I was recently asked to pen a description of the SOAN department, our curriculum, and how we go about training students in anthropology, for the newsletter of the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA). As you may know, students from Puget Sound have regularly attended the annual conference of the SfAA, where they’ve received numerous accolades and prizes for their work.

In this brief article, I provide an overview of our program, and also feature our current crop of seniors and the impressive constellation of independent research projects they’ve now commenced.

Please check it out!

Andrew

An Academic Workshop in Singapore

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In early 2017 I received an invitation from Dr Delphine Pagès-El Karoui (INALCO/Sorbonne) to join a small group of scholars in a collaborative workshop concerned with migrants and their experience(s) in the global city. I’ve just returned from the workshop, which was hosted by the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore, and I thought I’d briefly describe the fascinating papers and conversations threaded through this two-day meeting.

IMG_0865The workshop itself was organized around researchers’ and scholars’ effort to grasp how migrants experience global cities and similar conurbations, with a regional focus on cities in Europe, in the Middle East, and in Asia. My own paper, entitled Transnational Labor Migrants in the Urban Landscapes of Contemporary Arabia, considered how the largely western foundations of urban planning have shaped the stunningly modern cities of Arabia, and thereby play a significant role in the experiences of the many foreign workers who build, service, and dwell in those very same cities.

Others’ papers were fascinating. Amongst the most memorable: architect and professor Yasser Elsheshtawy’s exploration of how Bangladeshi labor migrants utilize forgotten and marginal spaces in Abu Dhabi; Laure Assaf (EHESS/Universite Paris-Nanterre) analyzed how Abu Dhabi’s image and its interstitial spaces were a recurring trope in the Arab migrant youth’s hip-hop and rap videos on social media; Masaki Matsuo (Utsunomiya University) reconsidered how Furnivall’s idea of a plural society — a segregated form of ethnic diversity — provides a frame for understanding social relations in many global cities and societies in this era of mobility; Brenda Yeoh (National University of Singapore) and Michelle Foong (Hwa Chong International School) considered how the proliferation of college campuses in East Asia provide a new sort of cosmopolitan contact zone for students. Numerous other papers were equally fascinating, and many were concerned with Singapore itself. And additionally, the series of NUS graduate student presentations and contributions to the workshop were extraordinarily impressive.

IMG_0879On the last day of the workshop, after Singaporean professors K. C. Ho (National University of Singapore) and Brenda Yeoh (National University of Singapore) led us on a tour of historic colonial era portion of the city, we had a memorably fantastic Malay dinner at Mamanda restaurant. Malay cuisine is one facet of the tripartite ethnic and cultural diversity that the Singaporean state seeks to integrate in the city: the city and state actively push to integrate residents of Chinese, Malay, and South Asian heritage. These efforts even shape neighbors and building design in public sector housing, where a majority of Singaporeans live.

I had a fantastic (albeit brief) stay, and I’m looking forward to another visit.

Andrew

Catching up with Sam Carp, class of 2017

We knew Sam was headed out to Vashon Island after graduation, but upon hearing that he intended to remain on the island with another job, we asked for an update. Here’s what Sam had to say.

_DSC2550It’s been a little more than a half of a year now since I, along with 670-odd other students, graduated from Puget Sound in May.  Since then we’ve all gone our separate directions, attempting to tackle whatever we think is supposed to be the next step in our lives.  However while I have close friends living in places as near as Tacoma and as far as India and Australia, we’re connected by the fact that we are all in search of the same things: success, fulfillment, financial stability, love.  Mostly though I think that we’re all just seeking out happiness, which of course comes to us in different ways and through different means.  Not surprisingly, purposefully searching for these things never works out in the ways we might think they will, and oftentimes we seem to stumble upon them accidentally.

IMG_1989My post-grad life began in July on Vashon Island, where I interned for a few months on a small, organic, biodiverse farm called GreenMan Farm.  I guess that I instinctively thought being happy meant becoming a little bit more hipster and a lot more granola…  although I’ll never admit that I’m much of either.  However much I changed though, my time spent on GreenMan was something I’ll never forget, and I’m certainly still in the process of reflecting on all of the experiences I had over the last few months.

IMG_1968In school I had taken an interest in our food system and the ways that it is presently changing, which led me to take a class, The IPE of Food and Hunger, that first introduced to GreenMan Farm when we took a short trip there one Sunday.  I thought interning on GreenMan might be a great way to introduce myself to the sustainable food industry.  Luckily this turned out to be true, and I now have a much clearer idea of the ways in which I can integrate working with food waste, culture, and sovereignty into a possible career.

What’s funny is that, to my surprise, once my job on GreenMan Farm ended, I found that I was not in fact going to be leaving Vashon like I had expected, but would actually be taking a job there that would make me a full time resident on the island for the next year.  I’m home on break right now, but for the next twelve months or so I’ll be working for the Vashon-Maury Food Bank and the Vashon Island Growers Association in helping to build lasting programs that seek to decrease food waste and increase food sovereignty for residents of the 20526123_10211637266864385_6307743579979352283_nisland.  There are about 9,500 people that live on Vashon full time and many are in need of community support to access a consistently available and healthy source of food.  Fortunately this position fit well with what I became interested in while at school, and it just about fell in my lap right around the time that I was starting to look for what I wanted to do following the summer.  In all honesty, it was simply pure luck and chance that I would be working on Vashon right around the time this position would open up, but like I said before, sometimes we can’t see in advance what our next step is going to be.  I stumbled upon this position, but if this is where stumbling gets me, I’ll be happy to keep on doing it for a long time coming still.

Professor Struna’s Talk Tomorrow!

struna 2The McIntyre Seminar Series


Inside the Human Exclusion Zone: Present and Future Landscapes of work and Automation in Warehousing and Logistics.

Jason Struna, Assistant Professor of Sociology

struna 1Wednesday, October 25
12:00 Noon
McIntyre 107

Are you intrigued or concerned by the increasingly common automation of human tasks via robotics in the workplace? Should you be? Professor Jason Struna will speak tomorrow about his research, which explores the social impacts of technologies used in the direction and management of work, and touches upon the labor process, the movement of goods, and social class dynamics in the global era.

Please join us! Bring your lunch — we’ll provide cookies for dessert.

Anthony Hoffman’s Senior Thesis Project

[Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]

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The US Prison System is a complex web of relationships between various state institutions and private entities. These diverse actors–from private companies who make specialized goods for use in the prisons to legislators to prison guards–have overlapping goals and intentions, and different understandings of how and why the system exists in the first place. Is the prison’s primary purpose to punish, to rehabilitate, to turn a profit, or something else entirely? It really depends who you ask. More importantly, how does this network of considerations manifest in practice? How these tensions play out directly impact the lives of people in prison; these individuals experience the final product of so many political choices, of all of these systems, institutions, private entities, and other forces, coming together.

But what happens when prisoners reenter society? The vast majority of people who are currently incarcerated will eventually return to their communities but they do not leave the system unchanged. Those who have been incarcerated are likely to be impacted by the experience itself but on the most basic level, they return to society with a publicly accessible criminal record. This alone has a huge impact on employment opportunities and often their visibility in the community to law enforcement. It seems punishment doesn’t cease entirely when citizens physically leave the walls of the prison.

On the other hand, incarceration can also interrupt destructive cycles in the lives of individuals. We are familiar with redemption stories of people who go to prison and begin educating themselves or encounter something fundamentally life changing that leads that person to refocus their intentions, the Malcolm Xs so to speak. It is not my intent to romanticize this, because these stories are truly the exception rather than the norm. The US Criminal Justice System has incredibly high rates of recidivism. But surely these cases occur, and I think it’s fair to say that most people involved with “Corrections” would like to find meaningful ways to lower recidivism rates.

What factors allow a select few to break the “revolving door” cycle? Should we expand access to therapeutic programs? Educational programs? Vocational training? Does the system need to be harsher still to deter people from committing crimes? What actually makes a difference in people’s lives on the inside and beyond and what is the system accomplishing? At what point does punishment stop? Does the system criminalize behaviors or does it criminalize people, marking them permanently as second class citizens? The public accessibility of a criminal record alone could be considered a form of punishment that follows a person long after their formal sentences have ended, though some would argue a person’s criminal record is important public knowledge related to public safety.

Through an ethnographic study of formerly incarcerated citizens, I will explore how this experience impacts life outside the prison. In addition to semi-structured interviews, I incorporate participant observation, drawing upon my experiences volunteering with at least one organization that operates a program for prisoners outside the prison walls in conjunction with a local corrections facility. Though I am involved with one organization that operates within a local prison, for specific reasons I will not incorporate any experiences I have had volunteering with any programs that operate inside the walls of the prison into my research. I examine the consequences of being labeled an “ex-con” and whether or not various kinds of programs within prisons can improve opportunities for individuals upon reentry, counteracting some of the social handicaps that come with the legal status as a felon.