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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/4gdf-0434

technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Death and Happiness: Exploring the Temporalities of the Meditated Death and Everyday Life in Tibetan Buddhist Practice of Tukdam





Over the last several decades, the Dalai Lama has championed the preservation of Tibetan cultural heritage and the endowments it offers the global community in greater mental health, well-being and sustained happiness through its rich contributions in contemplative thought and practice. In this effort, he has actively supported and engaged in collaborations with scientists to investigate physiologic and psychologic changes that these contemplative practices engender in order to provide evidence of their benefits and encourage greater integration of practices supporting happiness and well-being globally. He has framed such initiatives under a paradigm of a universal responsibility to support greater global wellness, and a commitment to uncovering the truth of such determinants through rich conversations across different intellectual traditions, epistemological angles, geographic populations and cultural frameworks. One of the phenomena that has gained particular attention is that of tukdam (Tib., thugs dam), a meditative state achieved at the time of death in which the practitioner gains ultimate realization into the nature of mind. In this practice, the practitioner also suspends the normal chronology of physiologic processes at the time of death, including postponing rigor mortis, putrefaction and decay for up to three weeks, and maintaining a suppleness and radiance to the skin and complexion. This panel will explore themes of truth and responsibility through epistemic anthropological angles that investigate different approaches, methodologies and assumptions in the research on tukdam. These different approaches draw from constituencies situated within neuroscience, biomedicine, anthropology, STS, and religious studies fields, as well as those from Buddhist, Tibetan medical and Tibetan cultural communities. Paper presentations will look at how research teams aim to explore a uniquely cultural approach to death and dying, the way it informs understandings of normal death processes, and its potential applications to wider populations and aims. The presentations and discussant perspectives will highlight the competing truths and responsibilities that these multidisciplinary investigations uncover in conceptualizations of an ideal death, a life well-lived, valuing cultural heritage and ‘responsible’ investigations in the sciences and humanities. Presentations will draw upon the ongoing research of the foremost multidisciplinary teams and researchers engaged in the study of tukdam. Panelists will also explore the points of intersection between scientific research on tukdam and the Tibetan lay and religious contexts in which tukdam plays an important structural role in shaping local paradigms and perspectives on wellness, health, and end-of-life care. The panel invites attendees to reflect with them upon the following: to what degree are the various and overlapping constituencies in this research asked to respond, reflect, and incorporate the different modes of evidence underlying such truths? To whom is this research giving evidence and to what ends? And finally, in what ways do the multiple paradigms employed in tukdam research shape the kinds of “truth” that could be uncovered?


Transcript English (automatic)

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