This article examines the relationship between the practice and theory of medicine and Buddhism in premodern Tibet. It considers a polemical text composed by the 16th–17th-century Tibetan physician and tantric Buddhist expert Sokdokpa Lodrö Gyeltsen, intending to prove the Buddhist canonical status of the Four Medical Tantras, the foundational text of the Tibetan medical tradition. While presenting and analyzing Sokdokpa’s polemical writing in the context of the broader debate over the Buddhist pedigree of the Four Tantras that took place during his time, this discussion situates Sokdokpa’s reflections on the topic in terms of his broader career as both a practicing physician and a tantric Buddhist ritual and contemplative specialist. It suggests that by virtue of Sokdokpa’s tightly interwoven activities in the spheres of medicine and Buddhism, his contribution to this debate gives voice to a sensibility in which empiricist, historicist, and Buddhist ritual and contemplative inflections intermingle in ways that resist easy disentanglement and classification. In this it argues that Sokdokpa’s reflections form an important counterpoint to the perspectives considered thus far in the scholarly study of this debate. It also questions if Sokdokpa’s style of argumentation might call for a recalibration of how scholars currently construe the roles of tantric Buddhist practice in the appeal by premodern Tibetan physicians to critical and probative criteria.
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