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Essentials of Ayurveda

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Item Code: NAV559
Author: L.P. Gupta
Publisher: Chaukhamba Sanskrit Pratishthan
Language: English
Edition: 2006
ISBN: 817084343X
Pages: 536
Other Details 8.50 X 5.50 inch
Weight 550 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

This book aims to provide a complete background of main Ayurvedic fundamentals, the Indian philosophical basis and the primitive historical aspects of Ayurveda. These are the essential footings for a student of Basic Principles of Ayurvedan .

The first part of the book has been completely devoted to basic components of life, the theory of evolution, the theory of Panchamaha- bhutas, Dosa-dhatu-mala vijnanas, Rasa-guna-virya-vipakas, agni-vyapar, aeteopathogenesis of diseases, vyadhiksamatva or immunity and the phenomenon of rebirth or punarjanma. The efforts have been made to fulfill the purpose in general to have a critical dispassionate and scientific study of above said Ayurvedic fundamentals and doctrines so that they may be understood in a proper way, with a view to apply the same intelligently and withadvantagein practice.

The second part embodies two sections viz., ‘the Indian philosophical aspects and the primitive historical aspects of Ayurveda. Dealing with the philosophical aspects, an effort has been made to incorporate both the theistic and atheistic approaches of Indian system of philosophy. Carvaka, Jain and Bauddha Darshanas have been precisely ascribed with a view to make the subject matter understandable to both the Ayurvedic and philosophical disciplines of students. Nyaya and Vaisesikas, have been dealt with full of their essentials and at the end an endeavour has been made to throw light on the synthesis of both the systems coming up under the heading of Navya-Nyaya system of Indian philosophy. Similarly, in Vedant system of philosophy, besides the Shankara (Advaita monism) and Ramanujacarya (Qualified monism) views, the advaita propositions of Madhavacarya have also been incorporated to aim the subject matter get completed in its all respects.

The section on primitive historical aspects of Ayurveda enlightens only the early phases of western and eastern history of medicine and more emphasis has been given to deal with and to establish a chronological development of Ayurveda with a view to bring it up to the stage of commencement of present scientific era of medicine. Aim behind this approach was to develop a link in between the unrecorded and recorded history of Indian System of Medicine. Details of recorded history of Ayurveda have been knowingly ignored just to avoid the work become more voluminous. It is hoped and trusted that the material presented in all the three parts of small prints will serve the purpose of basic students and research scholars and will be of great value to those who wishes to pursue the subject more deeply.


The science that deals with hita-Gyuh (useful life), ahita- Gyuh (harmful-life); sukha-ayuh (happy-life) and duhkha-adyuh (unhappy or miserable life) along with that (dravya, guna and karma) which is advantageous and disadvantageous to it and the span (short and long) of life, is designated as Ayurveda. Thus, it is clear from this verse that Ayurveda is a science of life which imparts knowledge about life with special reference to its four aspects i.e. useful, harmful, happy and unhappy life, the materials which promote and demote the life and long and short span of life. It covers not only the knowledge of life but also the knowledge of healthy living. Its twin concern have been clearly stated and recognised by the earliest exponents. Firstly, it imparts the knowledge which enables a healthy person to maintain his health. This com- manded no less importance than the other aspect directing and providing the measures to cure the diseases.’ This clearly shows that Ayurveda is not merely a science or knowledge of drugs, herbs or some effective remedies but has a much wider connotation. In support of eternity of Ayurveda, Caraka states that as it has no beginning, as it deals with the things which are inherent in nature and as these natural manifestations are eternal.’

These three factors prove the eternity of the science of life. It is not limited in the books containing the knowledge of science but the very utility of science which is eternal and is being prescribed without interruption. The various aspects of life which are described in this science are eternal. There is continuity of life. Its knowledge and the living beings who know the science are eternal. So much so, that the life itself with its various aspects of good or bad health, the matter and their attributes both are eternal.

No science can stand the test of time and prove its validity in practice without having concrete footings of its fundamentals. Truly, the fundamentals once postulated and verified by various means and measures, when get established, should never face otherwise, in every past, present and future situations. Ayurveda fully justifies this principle, as its fundamentals have been so appropriately expounded that they are ever unchangeable and unaffected by winds of ‘doctrines’, even though there, had been many additions and amendments from time to time to the applications and implications of the original principles, without however altering or changing their essence. Contrary the fundamentals of basic sciences and modern medicine, temporarily stand the test of time and are liable to change with further advances, in the field concerned. The reality and steadity of any science could be easily detected by understanding the themes of its fundamentals which form the basis for all the practical, theoretical applications and benefits of the science.

The ancient medical science requires great practice and cosmic spiritual knowledge to be applied in a proper way. No wonder our ‘darsanas’ which form the fundamental basis of Ayurveda, may become objects of derision to other’s who had not even heard of them. The importance of ‘Nyaya-vaisesika’ and Sankhya-patafijala systems of natural philosophy, for the study of Ayurveda in particular and modern medical science in general (including medicine), needs no stress. Here, the term natural philosophy comprehends all which seek to elucidate and explain the phenomenon of life and life process and lay down the laws and principles that govern them.

The Ayurveda - a science of life, where all the fundamental doctrines have been isolated from ‘darSanas’, teaches us an outlook on problem of health. It has been said that health is the chief basis for the development of religious, economic, worldly and heavenly happiness of man. The wealth of a country depends not merely on its natural resources but also on the vitality of the people. If the people are sluggish, backward and inefficient, they will not be able to develop the resources of the country. Hence it is neces- sary to have basic conceptions pertaining to science of life (Ayurveda) and its approaches for attaining ‘health’- a basis for dharma (religious), artha (economic), kama (worldly hap piness) and moksa (heavenly pleasure) of a man.’

The basic doctrines over which all the Ayurvedic concep-tions of physiology, pathology, pharmacology, medicine and therapeutic have been propounded, is known as doctrines of ‘paficamahabhitas’. If these doctrines are speculated in respect of modern science, it is hard enough to find any fundamental difference in them. There may apparently be some difference, but that is mainly due to difference in line of approaches, to the subject. The modern anatomy may be said to be classified into different tissues and organs and limited to its detail of description. In Ayurveda, in addition to these, it is the ‘atma’, paficamahabhitas’ and ‘nind’ which form essential constituents and ‘dosas’, "dhatus’ and ‘malas’ are regarded to be the fundamental structural cum functional units of the body. Basically, the body is be lieved to be composed of five premordial factors (paficama habhitas) i.e. prithvi (solid components), jala (liquid components), teja (heat or energy components), vayu ( gas eous components) and Gkasa (ethereal components). The whole universe is also believed to be composed of the same and hence, the food we eat and water we drink and the air we breath - all these are to aid the nutrition of our body - are composed of the same five components. This leads to an harmony existing in between the microcosm (man) and macrocosm (universe)."


Before proceeding to discuss the several concepts basic to Ayurveda, it is necessary to secure a clear appreciation of its scope and purport. This is necessary as there is today considerable misunderstanding and confusion about this subject. A very large section of the people in India and abroad - both intellectuals and non-intellectuals - consider Ayurveda as 'herbal medicine'. The American Medical Association, for example, has described it as a "System of Herbal Medicine". There is a popular belief in this country that Ayurveda deals, more or less, with the treatment of chronic diseases, specially those given up as incurable by other prevalent systems, specially the modern medicine.

Many among the politicians, economists and administrators hold the view that if properly exploited, Ayurveda may prove to be a valuable source of cheap medical relief to a large majority of the people of the country, specially those who live in the rural areas to whom the benefits of modern (scientific) medicine are not easily accessible.

The votaries of modern medicine - both in India and Abroad-hold the view that the rich material medica of Ayurveda represents a veritable gold mine - an El - Dorado -for, was not the wonder drug Sarpagandha discovered from this source and, is it not possible that there may be many more such 'gems' in this system? In this view, the drugs described in Ayurveda and/or are prescribed by Vaidyas and Hakims with considerable benefit in their practice should be investigated on a priority basis and made available to international medicine. This view is, no doubt, true in part but not wholly for, without a proper and prior appreciation of the Ayurvedic concepts of drug composition, drug action and pathogenesis, a proper evaluation of these drugs may prove to be difficult, if not impossible. The experience gained in the field of 'indigenous drug research' during the last five or six decades has shown that drugs which have been employed with success by Vaidyas and Hakims in their practice were summarily rejected as useless by earlier scientific workers in this country. This, it is seen, is largely due to the fact that the selection of drugs for researches was made on a random basis and the reason why a drug was or a group of them were projected in the treatment of a particular disease syndrome by Ayurvedists, the Ayurvedic concepts of drug composition, drug action, the identity of the diseases for which they were meant etc., were completely ignored.

As regards the physical, chemical, physiological, pathological and therapeutic concepts of Ayurveda, the enlightened scientific opinion in the country has held that they are antideluvian-fit only to be studied as a part of history of medicine and/or exhibited in a museum of antiquities.

Among the votaries of Ayurveda, there is an orthodox section which is strongly of the view that Ayurveda is a complete science, perfect, sacrosanct and good for all times, this section considers that the fundamental and applied concepts of the system, derived as they are from divine sources, are beyond the scope of modern (materialistic) methods of scientific research. They, therefore, urge that the concepts of Ayurveda should be accepted as such, in good faith and without question.

Neither the one nor the other of the two extreme views, referred to in the foregoing, have to my knowledge, sat together to enquire, with a scientific open-mindedness, if the fundamental and applied concept of Ayurveda are of value today or are not. It has, however, to be stated that a few outstanding and brilliant scholars o modern sciences and medicine, who made a deep and critical study of Ayurveda were convinced that there exists in Ayurveda an excellent core of science which is capable of bearing a critical scientific scrutiny. They recognised Ayurveda as a science an as an art both-

As a Science-The Indian systems are undoubtedly scientific; their general principles and theories (both in subjects or preliminary scientific study like physics, physiology and the like, as also in the subjects of medical science proper, like pathology, medicine and so on) are quite rational and scientific.

As an Art- As practised at present, Indian systems are not self-sufficient. If we divide Medical Science broadly into two sections, viz., Medicine and Surgery, the Indian systems are, in the main, self-sufficient and efficient in Medicine, while in Surgery they are not.

As regards the basic concepts of Ayurveda them selves, viz., the pancamahabhutas, tridoshas and rasa, guna, virya, vipaka and prabhava, considerable confusion exists, largely due to the literal translation of these words prthvi, ap, tejas, vayu and akasa by the earlier European Orientalists and some of their contemporary Indian scholars, as earth, water, fire, air and ether respectively, and rasa, guna, virya, vipaka and prabhava as taste, quality, potency, special transformation and specific action respectively. In rendering these highly technical terms, in the manner referred to above, many among the early European Orientalists and some contemporary Indian Scholars had at the back of their mind, the Greek concepts of matter, humours, etc. in the view of these scholar, the physical, chemical, physiological, pathological and therapeutic concepts of Ayurveda represented the Indian version of the concepts of Aristotle, Leucippus, Leucritiuus, Hippocrates, Galen and other early Greek philosophers and savants of medicine - concepts which have since been exploded.

Even the well- known Indian scientists and patriot, late Sir P. C. Ray who was very critical of the attempts made by the earlier European Orientalists and some of the Indian contem-poraries to equate the ancient Greek theories of medicine with those of the Indian (Ayurvedic), cold not avoid the use of the terms wind, bile and phlegm to signify, vata, pitta and kapha respectively. It should, however, be said to his credit that he strongly felt that "Too much has been made of the resemblance between the Greek and Hindu theories and practice of medicine. The analogy is merely superficial and does not seem to bear a close examination. The Hindu system of medicine is based upon three humours - vata, pitta and kapha - whilst, that of the Greek is founded upon four humours, viz., blood, bile, water and phlegm - a cardinal point of difference. Quoting the high authority of Dr. Hoernale who disposed off the view that "the ancient Hindus borrowed their notions of humoral doctrines from Greek", as "an elaborate joke", Sir P. C. Ray observed that "These views are advanced by persons who cannot and will not see anything in India which can claim originality and authority". Stated in brief, the several and often conflicting views on what Ayurveda is, expressed by different groups of scholars in the recent past should remain one of the description of an elephant by the five proverbial blind man.

I submit that the correct approach to an intelligent understanding of the content and purport of Ayurveda is to refer, in the first instance, to the definitions and descriptions of the word Ayurveda furnished by the authors of the ancient Indian medical classics and the available important authoritative commentaries thereon.

Definition And Description of Ayurveda

The word Ayurveda is composed of two terms, 'Veda (knowledge/science). The word biology, which is also composed of to terms - 'bios' (life) and 'logos' (knowledge/science) conveys nearly the same idea. Susruta has defined Ayurveda as a science in which the knowledge of life exists or which deals with the knowledge or science of longevity.

Dalhana, an authoritative commentator of Susruta, has clarified this definition as under:-

  1. Ayuh (life) is a combination - complex of Sarira (body/soma), indriyas (senses - cognitive and conative), sattva (manas/psyche) and atma (soul/spirit). Ayurveda is, therefore, a science in which exists the knowledge of Sarira, indriyas, sattva and atma.

  2. in the alternative, Ayurveda is the science that throws light on the phenomenon of life.

  3. Ayurveda is a science which has analysed, discussed and described ayuh (life) in its different aspects.

    it will become obvious, from the extracts above, that although life as such is a complex of body, senses, mind and soul, still each one of the four factors can, for convenience of study, be treated as separate and specialized fields.


In so far as Sarira (body/soma) concerned, the authors of all the ancient medical classics have described it as the basis of life and animation and that, it is composed of substances belonging to the five different species of matter - pancamhabhutas. In this view, the pancamahabhutas, in their several affectations, combine in different modes, under specific conditions, to compose the different basic structural and functional factors of the body - saptadhatus and tridoshas. Not only is the body, the material basis of life but the food that nourishes it is also similarly composed of the pancamahabhutas. After being properly digested and metabolised the pancabhutic elements of corresponding pancabhutic elements present in the body. Post-mortem disintegration is stated to result in the separation of these elements of the physical/material environment, i.e., the body is stated to attain pancatva. In a broad sense, therefore, the study of Sarira at a fundamental level, relates to what we call today as physics, chemistry, biology (including biophysics and bio-chemistry).


The second important factor of life is represented by the indriyas - five each of the jnanendriyas (cognitive organs) and karmendriyas (conative organs). This aspect of the science of life has been given the status o a speciality. I may, in passing, mention that, while according to Ayurveda, indriyas are considered to be composed of pancamahabhutas, the Darsana schools of thought, viz. Kapila Samkhya and Patanjala Yoga Darsana have treated the elements of indriyas as evolutes of ahamkara and sattvika ahamkara respectively. It may be noted, in contrast, that according to these important Darsanas, the pancamahabhutas represent the final evolutes of ahamkara and tamasika ahamkara respectively and they represent the matter-stuff that composes the manas and indriyas are qualitatively different from those that compose the dosas and dhatus. An important and significant point to note, in this connection, is that sattva, is an organs or apparatus, and it is composed of matter - extremely subtle in nature. Both Samkhya Darsana and Susruta have correlated the two sets of indriyas with sattva or manas. The latter is stated to determine and regulate the functions of the former.

The third and no less important ingredient of life, the sattva (mind), is a highly developed speciality of Ayurveda. The outlook and scope of Ayurveda is basically, psychosomatic. Ayurveda has repeatedly emphasized the role of mind in the maintenance of health and causation of disease. The examination of sattva in the diagnosis of diseases is one of ten 'musts' - the remaining nine being the dosa (function triad), dusya (tissues and tissue-nutrients), bala (the capacity to do physical work/exercise on the one hand and resistance to disease, on the other, kalam (time of the day and season), Prakrti (constitution and temperament), anala (the state of digestion and metabolism), vayah (age), satmya (Conditioning to food, place and climate) and ahara (food habits).

The darsanika and Ayurvedic concept of sattva can be described as essentially epiphenomenal in their outlook. It has been described variously as the eleventh indriya (sense-organ), antahakarana (internal instrument), etc. according to Kapila Samkhya, sattva is a direct evolute of ahamkara. This is also the case with the two sets of indriyas. The Patanjala school of darsanikas hold that both manas and indriyas represent the final evolute of satviki ahamkara. Caraka, like finite substance possessing atomic dimension. He is, however, one with Samkhyas and Susruta that though discrete and finite in nature, manas shares the characteristics of the two sets of indriyas. Regardless of the differences between one school and another, all schools darsanic and medical - agreed that manas is a material substance which is extremely subtle in nature. A whole science of mind exists in the darsanic and Ayurvedic literature.


The science of atma borders on the spiritual. While, according to both nirisvara (atheistic) and sesvara (theistic) schools of Samkhya, atma is held to be the element of animation. Without it, the evolution of matte is not possible which by implication means that every aspect of evolution - the inorganic and organic - microcosmic and macrocosmic - requires the presence of atma. Atma is present in the so-called non-living inorganic substances as it does in the living organic substances. The postulation of atma as an essential and invariable constituent of matter, regardless of whether it is a tanmatra, anu or, in modern parlance, atomic particles, atoms, molecules - inorganic or organic etc., becomes a logical necessity to explain the phenomenon of life. It will be agreed that the ultimate unit of matter of the living substance - protoplasm - is composed non -living mater - about 16 in number, viz. Hydrogen, Sodium, Potassium, Chlorine, Iodine, Calcium, Magnesium, Sulphur, Oxygen, Copper, Iron, Carbon, Silicon, Aluminium, Nitrogen and Phosphorus. Whereas the living protoplasm exhibits properties ascribed to life, its non - living constituents taken out separately do not.

This is based on the Samkhya postulate that "The effect is existent (in its cause), sine the non- existent cannot be produced; since everything cannot be produced from everything; since a potent cause produces that of which it is capable and, since effect is of the same nature as the cause?" According to Vijnana Bhiksu" nothing which was not already implicit in the causal gunas (karana gunas) can arise in karya gunas or effects. The manifestation of an effect is only its passage from potentiality to actuality - a stage in the process of parinama or transformation/evolution, from a possible future existence to an actual present existence.

The presence of atma even in the so-called non-living material substance is a logical necessity to explain the emergence of living things from the non-living. In this view, the process of evolution observed at the biological level is merely an extension of the process that has been going on all the time at the physical level. Life, consciousness, intelligence, etc. are neither accidental nor erratic but are only the actualization of the vital properties which were in a potential state in the less evolved forms of life and in the so-called lifeless matter that composes the matter-stuff of life -the protoplasm, i.e. the atoms, atomic particles, mass, energy, etc. the role of atmalpurusa in the evolution of the non-living and living can be compared to that of a catalyst. It will thus be seen that the postulation of atma as an essential ingredient of life becomes a greater necessity to explain the phenomenon, specially of the higher forms of life - the homosapiens - which are not only physical but also biological, they are not only biological but also psychological and, last but not the least, they are not only psychological but also spiritual. The integrated human being standing on the top rung of the ladder of evolution is a complex o the physical, sensual, mental and spiritual. An interaction among each one of the four components determines the behaviour pattern, health and disease o an individual. However, according to Ayurveda, atma does not come under the purview of chikitsa (therapeutics) a it has been posited as an immaterial or a non-mechanical factor which is independent of and contemporaneous to prakrti (matter). It is neither affected nor influenced by the things of the universe and functions, among others, as a saksi (witness).

It will now be seen that the concepts basic to the study of Ayurveda relate to (i) the sarira (body) including indriyas (sense organs), reflected in dosa, dhatu and mala Vijnana, (ii) sattva (mind) and (iii) atma (soul/spirit). For the convenience of study, specially the visista or specialised aspects of sarira (body/soma), it would be necessary to consider the physical - including chemical aspects - or in other words, the pancamahabhuta theory and certain aspects of Nyaya vaisesika system of natural philosophy. As regards the former, the concept of sthulabhutas and their constituent tanmatras, and in regard to the latter, the concept of paramanus, anus, and their samyoga and vibhaga together with different kinds of pakas have to be studied. It will further be seen that such a study will involve an analytical approach, starting with the body as a whole, than its different aspects viz., dosas, dusyas, malas, avayavas, bhautic constituents of the above - anus, paramanus, tanmatras, trigunas, namely, sattva, rajas and tamas.

This approach can be appreciated by taking into consider-ration some of the recent trends in the field of modern biology which can be summed up in the words of Paul Weisz thus; "Within the language of science, biology is an important dialect, permitting travel in the domain of living gations have been pushed into smaller and smaller realms. Some 100 to 150 years ago, when modern biology began, the chief interest was the whole plant or the whole animal, how it lived, where it could be found, and how it was related to other whole living things. Such studies have been carried on eversince, but in addition, techniques gradually become available for the investigation of progressively smaller parts of the whole, their structures, their functions and their relationships to one another. Thus, it happened that, during the past few decades, the frontiers of biology were pushed down to the chemical level. And while research with larger biological units continues as before, the newest biology attempts to interpret living operations in terms of the chemical which compose living creatures.

"Biology here merges with chemistry. Today there are already many signs that the next frontier will be the atoms which in their turn compose the chemicals, and biology tomorrow will undoubtedly merge with atomic physics. Such a trend is quite natural. For ultimately, living things are atomic things. Penultimately, they are chemical things, and only on a large scale are they plants and animals. In the last analysis, therefore, biology must attempt to show how atoms, and chemicals made out of atoms, are put together to form, on the one hand, something like a rock or a piece of metal and, on the other something like a flower or a human body."

Scope of Ayurveda

In the foregoing heading, the definitions and descriptions of Ayurveda has been dealt elaborately. But as regards its scope which refers to its practical utility, a reference to the discussion that is stated to have taken place between Dhanvantari and his disciple Sustuta will be to the points. Dhanvantari is stated to have told Susruta that the utility of Ayurveda can be grouped under two distinct heads viz. (1) the cure of disease in the afflicted and (ii) the protection of health in the healthy. Dalhana has amplified the above: thus (1) the cure of the disease in this context refers, in main, to both somatic and psychic ailments and also to the management of diseases which are not curable (yapya) and (iii) the promotion of longevity in the healthy by the use of rasayana. Caraka has, on the other hand, stated that the utility of Ayurveda lies in the maintenance of health in the healthy and the affording of relief to those afflicted with disease. Vagbhatta has observed that those who desire to live long to perform dharma (duties), artha or the benefits accruing out of duties well performed and sukha or enjoy pleasure, should earnestly practise the teaching of Ayurveda.

It will be seen from the foregoing that the scope of Ayurveda is not only curative but also preventive. It is also a way of life which ensures health.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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