History of Indian Medicine (and Ayurveda)

by Shree Gulabkunverba Ayurvedic Society | 1949 | 162,724 words | ISBN-13: 9788176370813

The History of Indian medicine and Ayurveda (i.e., the science of life) represents the introductory pages of the Charaka Samhita composed of six large sections dealing with every facet of Medicine in ancient India in a Socio-Historical context. Caraka is regarded as one of the pioneers in the field of scientific healthcare. As an important final a...

Chapter 16 - Various Schools of Thought in Caraka’s Times

As has been already stated, the period to which Caraka belongs was an age of great intellectual unrest in India. There were bold and independent thinkers propounding their views in the country beginning with materialists (pratyakṣaparāpratyakṣaparāḥ) and the evolutionists (pariṇāmavādin) upto the theists and the Vedantins

In the Caraka Samhita we find, in addition to the Nyaya, the Vaisheshika and the Sankhya schools which are of course the basic schools on which medicine builds its supports, mention of other schools including the following:

  1. Pratyakṣa-parā—Materialists that recognise only what is observable by the senses as true.
  2. Āgama-parā—Those that believe implicitly in revelation alone.
  3. Śruti-parā—Same as the above.
  4. Svabhāva-parā—The Naturalists that believe that things happen according to some natural compulsion.
  5. Yadṛcchā-pāra. The Accidentalists.
  6. Paranirmāṇa-parā—The Creationists that believe in a creator.

Sushruta describes the various schools of thought prevalent in his time while summing up the various opinions regarding the original force of the world.

[Suśrutasaṃhitā Śārīrasthāna 1.11]

“The broad-visioned philosophers regard Prakriti, the original creative force, variously as nature, god, time, accident, instrumentality and evolutionary force”.

All these schools of thought are referred to in connection with the establishment of the existence of the immortal spirit that is the cause of things and the soul of man.

Rebirth and Destiny

This faith in the immortal soul led to the conclusion that the actions of man must beget a force by which the results of these actions accrue to their author, thus releasing a stream or succession of such causes and effects. This stream is naturally to take effect in a series of births, for we see people dying having initiated actions and before they could reap their fruit.

Then came the question are past actions or their effects called Daiva all powerful so as to leave no scope for escape or counteracting in a succeeding life? Atreya says, “certainly not” Their effectiveness depends on their innate strength and if in this life we can act so powerfully as to counteract the past action we can avert its results. Thus he gives man a message of hope whereby he can be the master of his destiny in a great measure Man can endeavour in this life and perform action (puruṣakāra) that can set at nought the evil force released by past evil action. He can thus also release a beneficent force for the shaping of the future life too. This is a rational basis and justification for the propounding of a science of healing, for if this life was so irredeemably predetermined, no effect of therapeusis would avail in the curing of ailment. But the truth being otherwise, there is scope for fresh initiative in this life and so, therapeutic action commensurate with the causative factor of disease can neutralise it. This is a definite contribution to metaphysical as well as scientific thought. (Carakasaṃhitā Vimānasthāna 3.33)

Sin and Holiness, and Hell and Heaven

The acts of commission and omission either in the present life or in the past which resulted in pain and suffering were known as bad actions (duṣkarma) or sins (pāpa). These led to suffering in this life and to hell after death Similarly, acts that make for happiness here as well as in the after-life were known as good actions (satkarma), religious name for which was holiness (puṇya). If one practised such holy behaviour and actions one was sure to be happy both in this life and in a heaven after life (svarga).

[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 11.33]

“Whatever other actions are there similar to these and such as are not disapproved of by good men, lead to the attainment of heaven”.

Hell is mentioned with reference to men who are so wicked that even converse with them leads to hell

[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 1.130]

“Even by converse with him man falls into hell”.


The belief in rebirth or reincarnation is common to all schools of Indian thought. Even the protestant sects like the Buddhists and Jains believe in Karma and rebirth, though not in a creator Caraka is therefore in line with general Hindu thought and he adduces a proof of it in the experience of the memory of their past lives by some exceptional people. This is recollection of past births (jātismaraṇajātismaraṇam). Cakrapani, the commentator, thinks that a passage referring to this idea means also that men in this very life sometimes come back to life after death, their souls having been taken away by the messengers of Yama (the god of death) by a mistake caused by the identical names of persons.

[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 11.30]

Naturally enough, the corollary is that if a soul can go out of the body and re-enter it in this very life and continue its sense of identity, it can do so within the bodies of its succeeding incarnations too.

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