Modern Medicine Vs. Ayurveda

Posted on August 16, 2010


Evaluation of Ayurveda as a Science:

It is well known how Ayurveda was seminal to the birth of the Modern Medical Science. Unfortunately during relatively late times, in the medieval period, when India lost her ancient sciences, more and more emphasis was given by the spiritualists to divine intervention and prayers for cure of various ailments. Hence a false an erroneous impression has been generated among the masses that Ayurveda also probably believes that all the diseases can be cured by the vital force—a spiritual flow within the human body. The fact is that the superstition about the vital force as universal remedy has been generated by the homeopathic medicine and various non-Indian religions especially the Christian changai* missionaries, although later it infected Hindu sects as well. The basis of Ayurveda is firmly materialistic and realistic with minimal or no touch of idealistic philosophy. This becomes obvious from the fact that the Ayurveda explicitly mentions that many diseases were incurable (asadhya) and the physician should leave those cases alone. It also mentions that many diseases were not curable but they could be relieved (yapya) by medicine. Besides this, signs of curability and incurability have been fully enumerated. Moreover extensive use of surgery in Ayurveda clearly emanates from its solid belief in physical basis of disease rather than in vital force or spiritualistic causation of disease.

Far from common impression that the Ayurveda believed imbalance of doshas (humours) as the primary or fundamental cause of disease, it emphasized various internal (sharira) factors and external agents (agantuja) as the root causes of diseases. Other causes could be adhyatmika (psychological), adhibhautika (adverse environmental and climatic physico-chemical influences) and adhidaivika (genetic, dasein* etc.). These various primary causative factors led to derangement in metabolism and other functions of body, which were reflected as imbalance of the three doshas. The three doshas viz. vata (gaseous substances), pitta (fiery or energy rich substances) and kapha (liquid substances) are the products of various physiological and metabolic processes. When they are in a balanced state they are called dhatu, whereas under imbalance they are called prakriti-dosha. To some extent the diseases caused by vata overlap with modern diseases caused by oxidant damage. Pitta in its five types contributes to the process of agnikarma or metabolic combustion, which includes many functions like assimilation of digested nutrients from the food, excretion of metabolic wastes and urine formation. The principal function of kapha or shleshma is promoting strength, health and functioning of the body. Whatever be the cause of derangement of metabolism, symptomatic improvement could be obtained by appropriate intervention. This was one of the methods of treatment and not the only method of giving relief to or curing the patient.

The outcomes of treatment of diseases depended on purusha (patient), vyadhi (ailment), oshadhi (medicine), kriya (procedures like surgery, embalming, heat application etc.), kala (time: season, frequency of medication, timing of treatment during course of disease). The course of disease had three stages: anyalakshana (prodromal stage), prak-kevala (typical manifestation or primary disease) and aupasargika (stage of complications). The goal of the doctor should be to treat the disease before it reaches second or third stage.

Drugs are the material aids to treat a patient. The drugs have two purposes giving strength to the patient and curing the disease or giving relief to the symptoms. Drugs could be plant products, animal products and minerals (inorganic substances). Ahara (appropriate) was an essential part of treatment and all the texts of Ayurveda go into details of diet prescribed for any particular disease. Achara included regulation of activities, like rest, exercise, walking, hygienic practices, body posture, sexual activity, overeating, type of bed, bathing, and temperature of water for bathing etc.

Ahara and achara were also advocated for health promotion and prevention of diseases. In fact Ayurveda laid utmost emphasis to prevention of disease. Details of preventive measures were described. In fact there are whole chapters in the Sushruta Samhita and other Ayurvedic texts on water born diseases and purification of water. Jaundice, indigestion, dyspepsia, dysentery, diarrhea, worm infestation and some breathing and skin diseases (?probably allergic). Features of potable water have been described. Boiling has been recommended for purification of water.

Thus we see that the aims objects and approach of Ayurveda did not differ from those of Modern Medical Science at all.

Ray, P. et al; Sushruta Samhita—A Scientific Synopsis, Indian National Science Academy, pp. 48-49. For some examples of asadhya conditions see: Sushruta Samhita, Nidanasthanam, 7.25; 11.28; 15. 14-15; etc.
Ray, P, et al. p. 48-9.
Sushruta Samhita, I.24.4-9.
Roy, Mira, op. cit. p. 165. It seems that the three doshas were three types of metabolic processes and not the three types of products of metabolism. Vayu or vata was the metabolic processes involving oxygen, like oxidative processes in the respiratory chain in the body. Pitta was probably all other metabolic processes involving breakdown of substances like formation of urea after breaking down of amino acids and kapha was probably the synthetic processes producing macromolecules, mucin, enzymes etc.
Ibid. p. 165.
Sushruta Samhita, Sutrasthanam, 38.
Roy, Mira, op. cit. p. 168.
Ibid., p. 168.
Ibid. p. 169.
Ibid. p. 168.
Shushruta Samhita, Sutra-sthanam, Chapter 45.
Ibid. 45.14-16; 45.21.
Ibid. 45.20.
Ibid. 45.12.

(From : Zero is Not the Only story, by P. Priyadarshi, India First Foundation, New Delhi, 2007)

Posted in: Ayurveda