Di, 06.12.2022 17:00

Life Suspended in Death: On Studying the Tibetan Buddhist Tukdam Practice

Hybrid lecture by Tawni Tidwell in the Numata Chair Lecture Series



Since 2013, the Tukdam Study directed by Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin-Madison investigated Buddhist practitioners in India entering a Tibetan Buddhist post-death meditative state called tukdam (thugs dam) where the body demonstrates attenuated decomposition and presents an altered postmortem chronology process. The study is being conducted through the collaboration of Tibetan medical physicians, Buddhist monastics and biomedical researchers. Yet, despite the diversity in outlook among the participants studies of this kind have been dominated by Euroamerican epistemologies and modes of inquiry. When it comes to the tukdam state, Euroamerican biomedical and research communities rely on biomarkers that focus on brain stem, heart and lung parameters to demarcate end of life. Tibetan medical physicians and Buddhist monastics, on the other hand, rely on perceptual cues and their own applied inferences to determine when a consciousness releases from a dying body. This presentation explores how the Tukdam Study has been striving to integrate competing epistemologies and their attendant ontological realities in order to treat the case of tukdam as a biocultural nexus of life suspended in death.


Tawni Tidwell is a Tibetan Medical Physician (Menpa Kachupa) and Anthropologist. She is currently Numata Visiting Professor at the University of Vienna and Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Center for Healthy Minds of the University of Wisconsin-Madison working on the Field Study of Long-Term Meditation Practitioners (FMed) and Tukdam State.


If you would like to attend the lecture on site, kindly register by 2 December 2022 with an e-mail to office.ikga(at)oeaw.ac.at.

For online participation, please register here: https://oeaw-ac-at.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMtduGuqjoiEtZ_xAOAcEp9FOMUeawhVKp1.

The event will take place in compliance with the current valid COVID-19 measures.

Numata Chair Lectures at the IKGA

The Numata Chair in Buddhist Studies at the University of Vienna was established in 1999 as an endowed chair for visiting professors. Lectures at the Austrian Academy of Sciences by Numata Chair holders were introduced in 2019.

The Numata foundation (Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai) is named after Dr. Yehan Numata (1897–1994), chairman of the Mitutoyo Manufacturing Company. A devout Buddhist, Dr. Numata believed that the dissemination of Buddhist teachings would be beneficial to humanity and pursued the promotion of Buddhism internationally. The foundation supports academic programmes in Buddhist Studies worldwide and has endowed several professorships at leading research universities.



6 December 2022, 17:00–18:30

Room 2.25 ("Seminarraum"), 2nd floor, Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia
Hollandstr. 11–13, 1020 Vienna

and online via Zoom (Zoom registration link)

Birgit Kellner