Home Institution

Brown University

Publication Date

Spring 2023

Program Name

Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples


What is psychosis? The term itself is relatively recent. Yet clinicians and religious figures have tried to explain ‘psychosis’ from pathological and nonpathological perspectives for hundreds of years. From an allopathic, medical standpoint, psychotic disorders are devastating diseases. Up to 3% of the world’s population struggle with hallucinations, delusions, and cognitive impairments that make it difficult or impossible to function in society. Tibetan Buddhism does not have an exact analogue to the clinical term ‘psychotic disorders’. Nevertheless, Tibetan medicine understands some cases of psychosis as pathological. For instance, the Tibetan word smyo nad (སྡོ་ནད་) roughly translates to madness. Yet in Tibetan society psychosis is not inherently unhealthy. For example, people may purposefully become possessed for religious and ceremonial purposes. Through this project, I hope to investigate Tibetan Buddhism as an alternative to allopathic medicine understandings of psychosis. Based on fieldwork in the Tibetan settlement of Dharamsala, India, I aim to explore Tibetan medicine’s and religion’s conception, and treatment, of psychosis. I will also explore the role of people with psychosis in the community. Finally, I will consider if, and how, Tibetan and allopathic understandings of psychosis can be reconciled.


Buddhist Studies | Cognitive Science | Community Health | Psychiatry and Psychology | Psychology | Sociology of Religion


Article Location