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Treating Essence with Essence: Re-inventing bcud len as Vitalising Dietary Supplements in Contemporary Tibetan Medicine

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AbstractBcud len (pronounced chulen) or ‘essence extraction’ practices have been described in classical Tibetan medical and religious texts as an element of rejuvenation therapies and preventive anti-ageing methods. These practices include the ingestion of bcud len pills taken as a dietary supplement or as a substitute for food during meditation and fasting retreats. This paper1 discusses how ideas of bcud len are interpreted by Men-Tsee-Khang-trained Tibetan doctors in India as ‘health tonics’ and ‘dietary supplements.’ What underlies contemporary Tibetan medical ideas of an ‘essence extraction’ in relation to Tibetan rejuvenation therapies and pharmacological manufacturing practices of such ‘tonics’? I argue that not all bcud len are ‘essence extractions’ and that what constitutes an ‘essence’ receives various interpretations by contemporary Tibetan doctors. Ethnographic examples presented are based on postdoctoral fieldwork in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India (2009–2010).


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