GASA02H3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Fetus, Kashyapa, Miscarriage
DepartmentGlobal Asia Studies
Week 2 Formation lecture notes
This week we will look at embryologies. We will see this small field of
study shaped by niceties of larger belief. The materials we will examine are all
historical, coming from India, Tibet and Japan. We will see sound observation,
superstition and religion; plus transmission of information from region to region in
We will begin with portions from 3 medical texts: readings 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3.
Then we shall move away from medical material, turning, first to Buddhist
expositions (reading 2.4), then to Japanese mythology (reading 2.5).
The A„ÊÅÙgahŸdaya (The Heart of Medicine) of VÅgbhaÊÊa (6th-7th century).
This text is one of the three principal texts of Äyurveda (the science of long
life), the Classical South Asian medical tradition (the other two are the
CarakasamﬁhitÅ and the Sus´rutasamﬁhitÅ).
Before we begin, we should take note of an important concept in the
system. There are three forces in the body, wind, bile and phlegm. These pervade
the body, sustaining it when in balance with each other, harming it when out of
balance. Such is the harm that they can bring that in Äyurveda they are termed
Early Indian embryology was quite aware that the fetus develops over time.
This text gives a clear and succinct account.
Garrett reports on the embryological pages of the Blue Beryl Treatise, a 17th
century illustrated commentary to the Four Tantras, a text which presents the teachings
of the Bhai„ajyaguru, Medicine Buddha.
Here, conception is considered to be due to primary and secondary causes.
The primary causes are the simultaneous conjunction in the mother's womb
of a consciousness inclined to birth, the father's semen and the mother's uterine
The secondary causes are the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and
space), without which development could not occur.
The account is detailed.
Wujastyk discusses an Äyurvedic medical text of about 7th century, the
Kas´yapa SamﬁhitÅ. In a section on demons, we read of JÅtahÅriœ≠, the childsnatcher
Week 2 Formation lecture notes
demoness, occupied in causing harm to pregnant women and the fetuses they
This demoness will capture her victim, cause the victim to lose her child,
only if the victim in some way draws attention to herself – by misbehaviour, or
carelessness, or contact with another victim. What is most striking is that, in the
last situation, that of the danger of coming into contact with another victim, there
is a real sense of fear of something like contagion.
But Kas´yapa offers his reader a protective tool, a ritual for warding off this
hateful demoness. With much procedure and care, the utterance of the She-
Elephant Magic spell, and the endowment of a protective amulet, a woman's birth
canal can be sealed until the time for childbirth.
Kritzer, in the passage I have given you, examines a Buddhist text, the
GarbhÅvakrÅntisâtra (The Account of the Descent into the Womb, older than its
first translation into Chinese in 3rd century CE). Kritzer compares this record with
a standard Indian medical text, the CarakasamﬁhitÅ (Caraka's Compendium,
approx. 2nd century CE), and also with other religious materials, some Brahmanic,
Kritzer's particular interest is in showing "how the Buddhist and medical
traditions draw on a common store of information about the facts of life for their
very different purposes" (77). Overall, the religious texts treat birth as defiling; the
medical texts treat it with approval.
Kritzer points out that the texts he examines show an epigenetic account of
development in the womb, as opposed to the preformationist proposals of even
17th century European thinkers. He comments that the accounts are remarkably
like those of modern genetics, save that they do not see as rapid a development in
the earliest stages that is now discernable through technologies such as ultrasound.
As you read Kritzer, think about what the two principle texts he describes,
the Buddhist GarbhÅvÅkrÅntisâtra and the medical CarakasamﬁhitÅ are doing,
what readership they were aimed at, and how that readership changes their nature.
Law discusses mythological accounts of miscarriage and the fudging of
paternity in 8th century Japanese mythology.