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Explaining Conception to Women?

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Buddhist Embryological Knowledge in the Sanshō ruijūshō 産生類聚抄 (Encyclopedia of Childbirth, ca. 1318)

image of Asian Medicine

Recent findings by Japanese and Western scholars specializing in Buddhism have cast light on a variety of theories of conception and gestation that were known within the religious and cultural milieu of medieval Japan. In the early fourteenth century, these ideas about the origins of life and the human body were incorporated not only into the esoteric Buddhist rituals and theological treatises that shaped the religious landscape of medieval Japan, but also into medico-religious writings focusing on women’s health. This article discusses the theories of conception and gestation seen in the Encyclopedia of Childbirth (Sanshō ruijūshō 産生類聚抄, ca. 1318), a hand-written manuscript preserved at Kanazawa Bunko, one of Japan’s surviving medieval temple archives. This manuscript is a rare source on women’s health from medieval Japan, which describes the issues of conception, infertility, and childbirth from the Buddhist and medical perspective. It explains conception through the ideas found in certain Chinese translations of Indian Buddhist treatises such as the Daodijing 道地経 (one of the extant translations of the Yogācārabhūmi) and Jushe lun 俱舎論 (Skt. Abhidharmakośa bhāṣya, Jpn. Kusharon), Buddhist scriptures, as well as Japanese Buddhist and medical treatises, including a collection attributed to the Tendai monk Annen 安然 (841–889?) and Tanba Yasuyori’s 丹波康頼 (912–995) Essentials of Medicine (Ishinpō 醫心方, ca. 984).

Affiliations: 1: Universität Heidelberg


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