Ayurveda, Can the Western culture really ever understand it?

Āyurveda conceives the body as fluid and penetrable, engaged in continuous interchange with the social and natural environment. It is a living tradition which has provided (and still providing) healing and physical relief to millions of people across the ages. It has its own explanatory model. It is based on unique and specific nature of philosophical explanations and reasonings, the predominant one of which is tri-dosa tattva. Tri-doṣa tattva 
does not need either organ localization of disease or any precise anatomical knowledge, when compared with modern medicine. Nor does it need any physiological explanation (which maps temporal swings within the space of the body) consistent with modern medicine and anatomical knowledge. In its own way tridosa theory explains disease causation, assuming human body (microcosm) to be in harmony with the universe (macrocosm). Similar examples can be had from Greek experiences too. Edelstein,while commenting on “The History of Anatomy in Antiquity”, emphasizes, “in general, they explain disease by the humors in the body and by the way these are combined. Such a theory makes it unnecessary to take the internal organs or their form and character into account” (Edelstein, 1987, p. 266).
 
Two more issues may be put forward for consideration. First, Āyurveda literally means “the knowledge (veda) of the life span (āyus): it teaches how one may utilize the span of life apportioned by nature – traditionally taken to be a hundred years – fully and optimally” (Das, 2003b, p.32).
 Āyus, in Meulenbeld’s note, consists of body, sense organs, sattva, and ātman. This combination, according to P. V. Sharma, finds a parallel in the five sheaths (pańcakośa) of life in the Vedanta philosophy (Meulenbeld, IB, 1999, p.8). Moreover, Āyurveda also teaches how to behave in private as well as public life, even how to conduct one’s sexual activities. For Das, as such, āyurveda has to apply itself mostly to medical matters, and thus it is justified to speak of it as ‘medicine’ provided one regards this term asan approximation and not as an exact equivalent of what one normally understands as medicine (Western medicine) today (2003b, p.32). Meulenbeld notes, “in my view, Indian medicine is thoroughly embedded in the culture of the subcontinent and “cannot” adequately be studied and understood without acquaintance with its history and ways of thought” (1999,IA, p.2). In this sense, to stress, Āyurveda connotes Indian subjectivity (Kakar, 1998). And, here lies a most interesting part of exploration into the history of Āyurveda and its cosquent encounter with modern medicine arriving at this subcontinent in the garb of colonial medicine.
 
Second, Āyurveda is a canvas over which struggle among so many layers of dissident philosophical schools and explanations are inscribed. At its final moment the dominant Brāhminic thought has won over (Meindersma, 1992, p.299-306; Maas, 2009, p.125-162; Zysk, 2000; Wujastyk, 1998, p.20-23). Meindersma argues that characteristic for the older theory (in Caraka) is the idea that psychic functions originate from the four mahābhūtas. “Essential for the latter theories is also that one no longer relied on pratyakṣa (direct apprehension) as only pramāṇa (valid knowledge), but had to apply anumāna (inference) in addition” (Meindersma, 1992, p.300). Philip Maas contends, “in a synchronic perspective on Āyurveda, the diversity of medical contexts accounts for such a broad range. In a diachronic perspective, however, one may safely assume that quite a number of different body concepts were current at the time of the CS’s (Caraka-saṃhitā) composition” (Maas, 2009, p. 140). Heal so makes a hint that Suśruta’s marman-theory to be a synthesis of different and partly overlapping systematic anatomical concepts, among which the theory of bodily constituents as the most comprehensive one served as the model for the specific arrangement of bodily constituents in the marman-theory (Maas, 2009, p.142). It may be useful to mention here that the doctrine of humoral pathology or “at any rate the first beginnings of it can be traced so far back as the time of the Rigveda” (Ray, 1903, p.xxxv).In a most recent article Meulenbeld has made some keen observations regarding Āyurveda – (1) statements that appeared to jeopardize the tridosavāda caught the eye of thecommentators and gave them much food for thought in their effort to avert any danger to the prevailing theory. The obvious meaning of some discordant utterances was twisted until concurring with the system, (2) passages which were ambiguous and susceptible to various interpretations were made to conform, and, more importantly, (3) a conspicuous aspect of the reasonings met with is the tendency to avoid the acceptance of any bodily constituent asa factor capable, independently of dosa-s, of initiating physiological and, more especially of pathogenetic process (Meulenbeld, 2008a, p.16-31).
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: