Between Worlds: Cultural Bodies, Death Processes and Tukdam


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Buddhist Studies




In tukdam, the bodies of meditators do not show usual signs of death for days or even weeks after clinical death. According to Tibetan Buddhists, the practitioners are resting in the luminosity of emptiness and are still in the process of dying. My dissertation will present an overview of Tibetan Buddhist understandings of the death process as it relates to tukdam and juxtapose them with biomedical understandings on death and tukdam, with a particular focus on new scientific research into tukdam. Indo-Tibetan and scientific views are found to be largely incommensurable. Medical and ontological turn anthropology offer ways to think through this incommensurability, which can also be approached as a problem of translation between cultural worlds, bodies, and even death processes.