David DiValerio

“Food will roll uphill”: Meditative Retreat and the Problem of Sustenance

Photo Credit: Phil Borges

This talk presents material from an in-progress monograph on the history of long-term meditative retreat in Tibetan Buddhism, titled Mountain Dharma: The Culture of Meditation in Tibet. The research for this project grows out of the close reading of more than twenty retreat manuals, composed between the twelfth and the twentieth centuries. By comparing these manuals’ respective prescriptions regarding mundane facets of life in retreat, the project traces a genealogy of the Tibetan ascetic self. This particular talk focuses on the range of approaches that have been articulated concerning the problem of how to sustain oneself bodily during retreat, touching upon such issues as hunger, fasting, begging, and the “extraction of essences” (bcud len). The ultimate aim of this project is to encourage further studies of the cultures of Buddhist meditation in traditional contexts.


Associate Professor of History and Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, David DiValerio is the author of The Holy Madmen of Tibet and translator of The Life of the Madman of Ü.