Bodies In Balance


The first major exhibition to present the origins, history and practice of a millennium of visual history, Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine opens at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, 14 March and runs through 8 Sept. 2014, exploring the guiding principles of the Tibetan science of healing represented in medical paintings, manuscripts, and medical instruments. A multi-media installation showing how Tibetan medicine is used today, invites visitors to relate what they discover to their own lives through interactive experiences within the galleries and throughout the Museum including the Café Serai and the shop.


Tree of Diagnosis, Copy of Plate 3 of the Lhasa Tibetan Medical Paintings; Lhasa, central Tibet; date unknown; Pigments on Cloth and Brocade; Private Collection, Chicago, Courtesy Rubin Museum.

The relationship of Tibetan medicine, Buddhism, and the visual arts has been integral to the development and transmission of this medical tradition. Approximately 140 objects dating from the 9th century to the present day demonstrate the advancement of Tibetan medical knowledge as it was codified in medical texts, illustrated in art, demonstrated by medical tools, and made evident by examples of medicines compounded from natural ingredients and applied in practice. Bodies in Balance provides audiences an opportunity to have a personalized exhibition experience.

The Tibetan science of healing is based on an analytical system in which three forces -wind, bile, and phlegm- govern physical and mental aspects of being. They are associated with colors in Tibetan imagery: pale blue, yellow and white, depicting imbalances that create illnesses that are then treated with medications or through modifications in behavior or diet. Using a brief questionnaire, visitors can determine which of the three forces is dominant in their constitutions and follow a color-coded pathway that highlights the exhibition components most relevant to them. The do-it-yourself approach even incorporates a video station where visitors learn to take their pulses in the Tibetan fashion, counting, for example, beats per breath. Also included in the exhibition is a touchscreen that provides additional information and interactive experiences of select elements of these practices.

Bodies In Balance: The Essentials

Keynote by Theresia Hofer: Friday March 21, 2014 @ 7:00 PM

A conference to deepen your appreciation of the exhibition -a full weekend of talks and demonstrations on the beneficial subject of Tibetan medicine and concepts of wellbeing. Scholars, medical practitioners and experts meet to share their experience in eleven separate presentations. As interest in healthy living and a holistic approach to healthcare gain popularity in Western societies, age-old healing traditions from the East are being re-examined as new sources of knowledge. In a keynote to open the weekend’s conference, exhibition curator Theresia Hofer outlines the rich and integrated medical, spiritual, and artistic dimensions of Tibetan medicine, providing audiences with a new perspective on the relationship between mind, body, and sustained wellbeing.

Expressions of the Inexpressible: The Dictionary of Buddhism

With Donald Lopez: Saturday March 22, 2014 @ 6:00 PM

A presentation to launch the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, in which the author highlights the entries on the Medicine Buddha.


The new Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, by Donald Lopez, in 1,304 pages and 1.2 million words, is the most authoritative and wide-ranging reference of its kind ever produced in English. Its more than 5,000 alphabetical entries explain the key terms, doctrines, practices, texts, authors, deities, and schools of Buddhism across six major canonical languages and traditions: Sanskrit, P?li, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean; the dictionary also includes selected terms from Burmese, Khmer, Lao, Mongolian, Newar, Sinhalese, Thai, and Vietnamese. The entries take an encyclopedic approach to the religion, with short essays that explore the extended meaning and significance of the terms in greater depth than a conventional dictionary. At this book launch event, both authors will be present to discuss new and emerging trends in Buddhist Studies that are covered in the dictionary and highlight the entries on the Medicine Buddha. They will also present a Top Ten list of misconceptions about Buddhism, and will examine how these issues are addressed in the dictionary.

For information on presentations See Full Schedule


Hofer has a dual training in anthropology and medical history, holding advanced degrees from the University Vienna, Brunel University and University College London, UK. She currently works at the Section for Medical Anthropology at the University of Oslo, with her research and teaching focusing on cross-cultural understandings of health, illness and disability, and the history, art and contemporary practice of Tibetan medicine. She has carried out extensive fieldwork in the Tibet Autonomous Region (P. R. of China), Bhutan, India, and Nepal. She spent a year in Lhasa and rural central Tibet researching Tibetan doctors’ work in transforming and developing Tibetan medical traditions in the latter half of the 20th and into the 21st century. The result of almost five years of research and international collaboration is this first major exhibition that examines the guiding principles of Tibetan medicine through its diverse visual history, illuminating how this healing system has been passed down across a millennium and remains relevant to our 21st-century lives.

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