Sushruta Samhita, volume 3: Sharirasthana

by Kaviraj Kunja Lal Bhishagratna | 1911 | 36,821 words

This current book, the Sharira-sthana (english translation), deals with anatomy, the human body, cosmology, embryology and various other subjects. The Sushruta Samhita is the most representative work of the Hindu system of medicine. It embraces all that can possibly appertain to the science of medicine. Susruta-samhita is recognized as the first a...

Chapter I - The science of being in general

Now we shall discourse on the Sharira which treats of the science of Being in general (Sarva-Bhuta Chinta Sharira). 1.

The latent (lit: unmanifest) supreme nature (Prakriti) is the progenitor of all created things. She is self- begotten and connotes the three fundamental or primary virtues of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.

She is imaged or embodied in the eightfold categories of

  • Avyakta (unmanifest),
  • Mahan (intellection),
  • Ahamkara (Egoism)
  • and the Five Tanmatras or elementals (proper sensibles of hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell)

and is the sole and primary factor in working out the evolution of the universe. The one absolute and original nature is the fundamental stone house of materials out of which the bodies of all self-conscious (Karma-Purusha) working agents (agents who come into being through the dynamical energy of their acts or Karmas) have been evolved in the same manner as all water, whether confined in a tank or a reservoir, or coursing free through the channels of streams and of mighty rivers, have been welled up from the one and shoreless primordial ocean. 2.

Out of that latent unmanifest (Avyakta) or original nature (impregnated by the atoms or elemental units of consciousness or Purushas) Intellection or Mahan has been evolved, and out of Mahan egoism. This Mahan or intellection should be likewise considered as partaking of the three fundamental attributes (Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas) of the latent (Avyakta) or original nature.[1] Ahamkara or egoism in its turn may be grouped under three subheads as the Vaikarika Taijasa (operative) or Rajasika, and Bhutadi (illusive or Tamasika). 3.

The eleven organs of cognition, communication or sense perception have emanated from the co-operation of the aforesaid Vaikarika Ahamkara with the Taijasa or Rajasa.

They are

  1. the ears,
  2. skin,
  3. eyes,
  4. tongue,
  5. nose,
  6. speech,
  7. hands,
  8. genitals,
  9. anus,
  10. feet
  11. and the mind (Manah).

Of these foregoing organs the first five are intellectual or sense organs (Vuddhi-Indriya); the next five being operative (Karma-Indriya). The mind (Manah) partakes of the character of both the intellectual and operative organs alike. 4-5.

The five Tanmatras or elementals (or the five proper sensibles of hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell) characterised by the Nescience, etc. have been evolved out of the Bhutadi etc. (or Tamasa Ahamkara) concerted with the Taijasa Ahamkara through the instrumentality of the Vaikarika. The gross or perceptible modifications of these five Tanmatras are sound, touch, taste, sight and smell.

From the combination of the aforesaid five Tanmatras (Bhutadi) taken one at a time, have successively emanated the five gross matters of space such as

  1. ether,
  2. air,
  3. heat, (fire,)
  4. fluid (water),
  5. and earth (solid).

These twenty four categories combinedly form what is technically known as the twenty four elements (Tattvas). Thus we have discoursed on the twenty four fundamental principles (Caturvinshati-tattvam). 6.

Hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell respectively form the subjects of the five intellectual (Vuddhi) organs of man, whereas the faculty of speech, handling, pleasure, ejections or evacutation, locomotion successively belong to the (remaining) five operative (Karma-Indriya) ones. The original nature (Avyakta), Mahan[2] (intellection), Egoism (Ahamkara), the five sensibles (Tanmatras), and the five gross material principles in their nascent stage in evolution form what is included within the eight categories of Nature (Prakriti), the remaining sixteen categories being her modifications (Vikara). The objects of intellection (Mahan) and Egoism (Ahamkara) as well as of the sense organs of knowledge and actions are the material principles (Adibhautika) though they are spiritual in themselves and in their nature.

The tutelary god of intellection (Buddhi) is Brahma.
The god Ishvara is the presiding deity of the sense of egoism (Ahamkara);
the moon god is that of the mind (Manah);
the quarters of the heaven, of the ears;
the wind god is that of the skin;
the sun is that of the eyes;
the water is that of the taste;
the earth is that of the smell;
the fire is that of the speech;
Indra is that of the hands;
Vishnu is that of the legs;
Mitra is that of the anus
and Prajapati is that of the organs of generations. 7.

All the aforesaid (twenty-four) categories or elementals (Caturvinshati-Tanmatras) are devoid of consciousness. Similarly the modifications of the primal cause of Prakriti such as the Mahat etc. are all bereft of consciousness in as much as the cause itself, the Avyakta or the original nature is devoid of it. The Purusha or the self-conscious subjectivity, enters into the primal cause (Mula-Prakriti or original Nature) and its necessary effect (the evolved out phenomena) and makes them endued with his own essence or self-consciousness. The preceptors and holy sages explain the proposition by an analogy that as the milk in the breast of a mother, though unconscious in itself, originates and flows out for the growth and sustenance of her child; (as the semen in the organism of an adult male though devoid of consciousness, flows out during an act of sexual intercourse); so these twenty-four primary material principles (elementals), though unconscious in themselves, tend to contribute towards the making of the self-conscious self or the universal individual (the aggregate of limited or conditional selves) for the purpose of working out his final liberation or emancipation i.e., attainment of the stage of pure consciousness or perfect knowledge. 8.

Now we shall describe the tracts which the Purusha (subjective or self-conscious reality) and Prakriti or nature (passive non-conscious eternity) pass in common as well as those wherein they differ from each other. 9.

Traits of commonalty:—

Both the Purusha and Prakriti are eternal realities, both of them are unmanifest, disembodied, without a beginning or origin, eternal, without a second, all—pervading and omnipresent.

Traits of diversity:—

Of the Purusha and the Prakriti, only the latter is non-conscious and possesses the three fundamental qualities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Prakriti performs the function of the seed or in otherwords she lies inherent as the seed or the primary cause in the latter phenomenal evolution of the Mahat etc. and contributes the maternal element in the conception, development and birth of the primordial cosmic matter (phenomenal universe), fecundated by the Purusha (self-conscious subjectivity) in its different stages of evolution. These stages are called Mahat, Ahamkara etc.; and Prakriti is not indifferent, as the Purusha is to the pleasures and misery of life. But the Purusha (units or atoms of consciousness), devoid of the threefold virtues of Sattva etc. are nonconcerning hence non-producing and bereft of the seed- attributes of lying inherent in all as the primary cause of evolution. They are mere witnesses to the joys and miseries of life, and do not participate in their enjoyment though imprisoned in the human organism. 10

Since an effect is uniform in virtue to its producing cause, the evolutionised effects or products of the Prakriti such as the Mahat, Ahamkara etc. must needs partake of the three fundamental qualities (Sattva, Rajas and Tamas) which are predicated of the Prakriti. In other words, these Mahat, Ahamkara, etc, are but the modifications of the three fundamental qualities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Moreover, certain authorities hold that the Purushas are units of self-consciousness, possessed of the three aforesaid qualities owing to their antecedent conditions or causes (the gross material universe) being permeated with and characterised by them. 11.

Metrical Text (Vaidyake):—

It is asserted in the Ayurveda that it is only the gross-sighted ones and men capable of observing only the superficial appearances, who confound eternal order or sequence of things and events (Shvabhaba), God (Ishvara)[3] Time (Kala), sudden and unlooked for appearances of the phenomena (Yadriccha), Necessity (Niyati) and transformation (Parinama) with the original Nature (Prakriti). The five different forms of matter (such as Ether etc) are nothing but the modifications or transformed states of the original nature and are characterised by the three universal qualities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, and all created things, whether mobile or immobile, should be considered as alike exponented by the same. In the Science of medicine the cause of a disease is the one sole aim to be achieved by means of administering proper medicinal remedies (matter), and hence the properties of matter are the only fit subject to be dealt with in a book on pharmacy. And further, because the immediately prior cause of the human organism is a proper and congenial admixture of the sperm and ovum (matter), the sense organs are the resultants of phenomenal—evolution of matter, and the objects of sense perception are equally material or phenomenal in their nature. 12–14,

Memorable verse:—

A man by a particular organ of his body perceives the same matter which forms the proper object of that sense organ in as much as the perceiving sense organ and the perceived sensible are produced by the same material cause. The matter, which specifically forms the object of a particular sense organ, cannot be perceived by the other. We see a flower with the eyes and not with the nose. 15.

The Science of medicine does not lay down that the self-conscious Selves (Kshetrajna) are all pervading, but on the contrary it asserts that they are real and eternal and are born in the planes of divine, human or animal existence according to their good or evil deeds in life. The existence of these self-conscious entities can be ascertained duly by inference inasmuch as they are extremely subtle in their essence. The self-conscious self is possessed of infinite consciousness, is real and eternally subject to the process of being evolved out into a finite, organic individual through the dynamics of the combined sperm and ovum. The view is further corroborated by a dictum of the Sruti which holds that Purusha (individual) is nothing but a combination of a self-conscious self and the five kinds of matter (Maha- bhutas) formed into an organic body. This Purusha or individual, which is called Individual of action (Karma- Purusha), falls within the scope of the science and art of medicine.[4] 16–17.

The attributes of an organic individual:—

Longing for pleasure, shunning of pain, enemity, energetic undertaking of work, respiration (Prana), emission of flatus (Apana), closing and opening of the eyelids, intellect (Vuddhi), sentiment (Manah), deliberation, discretion, memory, knowledge of art, perseverance, sensation and perception, are the attributes of an organic individual. 18.

Distinctive features of the different classes of mental temperaments:—

An absence of all killing or hostile propensities, a judicious regimen of diet, forbearance, truthfulness, piety, a belief in God, spiritual knowledge, intellect, a good retentive memory, comprehension, and the doing of good deeds irrespective of consequences, are the qualities which grace the mind of a person of a Sattvika temperament. Feeling of much pain and misery, a roving spirit, noncomprehension, vanity, untruthfulness, nonclemency, pride, an over winning confidence in ones own excellence, lust, anger and hilarity are the attributes which mark a mind of the Rajashika cast. Despondency, stupidity, disbelief in the existence of God, impiety, stupification and perversity of intellect, lethargy in action and sleepiness are the qualities which mark a mind of a Tamashika stamp. 19,

The distinctive traits of the five material of Elements of the world:—

  1. The properties of akasha (ether) are sound, the sense of hearing, porosity and differentia evolution of the veins, ligaments etc. into their characterised species (Viviktata.)
  2. The properties Vayu (etherin) are touch, the skin, all functional activities of the organism, throbbing of the whole body (Spandana) and lightness.
  3. The properties of Teji (fire or heat) are form, the eyes, colours, heat, illumination, digestion, anger, generation of instantaneous energy and valour.
  4. The properties of Apa (water or liquid) are taste, the tongue, fluidity, heaviness, coldness, olioginousness and semen.
  5. The properties or modifications of Prithivi (the earth matter or solid) are smell, the nose, embodiment and heaviness. 20.

Of these the ether or Akasa abounds in attributes of the Sattvika stamp, the Vayu or etherin (ether?) in Rajashika, the Teja in Sattvika and Rajashika, the water in Sattvika and Tamashika and the earth in Tamasha attributes. 21.

There are Memorable Verses:—

These qualities are found to characterise and enter into the successive elements in the order of their enumeration. The specific attributes of these elements are manifest in the substances which are respectively originated from them. The term Prakriti or original nature connotes the eight categories (of Avyakta, Mahan, Ahamkara, and the five Tanmatras) and the rest of the twenty four fundamental principles are its modifications. The Purusha forms the twentyfifth principle. These twentyfive fundamental principles of cosmogony have been dealt with in the present treatise (Shalya-Tantra) as well as in the other treatise (Shalaky-Tantra and Sankhya Philosophy). 22–23.


Thus ends the first Chapter of the Sharira Sthana in the Sushruta Samhita which deals with the science of Being in general.

Footnotes and references:


Sattva, Rajas and Tamas:—Adhesion, cohesion and disintegration in the Physical plane; affection, love and hate in the moral; emancipation, spiritual affinity and sin in the Psychic.

Simply phenomenal or the simple outcome of the phenomenal evolution without being by other specific attributes of matter and hence Sattvika or illuminating or quasi-spiritual.


Mahan, Ahamkara and the five Tanmatras, though but modifications of the original Nature in themselves, have been included within the category of Nature (Prakriti) in asmuch as they form the immediately prior or antecedent conditions of the evolution of the phenomenal universe.


The second factor according to Sankhya, in the order of cosmic evolution, which as the seed of the universe, was hid in the burning disc of the central, primordial Sun, out of which the different solar systems have come into being.


Here lies the difference between Sankhya and Ayurveda. While the former discourses on in material character of the soul, the latter commences to discuss on the questions how the material environment in which the soul is said to inhabit is evolved, and how the inclusion of the spiritual within the material organism is effected.

Hence Sushruta’s Physiology, like that of Charaka, is in the strictest sense of the word molecular and his science of life is an attempt at explanation of consciousness from the materialistic standpoint, which agrees with the views of modern western science. Intellect according to Sushruta is material and belongs to the same category which the Sankhya system of philosophy in its explanation of evolution enumerates originally as seven. The soul, according to Sushruta, is an independent existence and is often associated with what is called life. Where there is life, there is a soul, and it is not everywhere the same. The soul in Sushruta is individual rashija(?) puruṣaḥ and takes cognisance of sorrow, disease and death by its union with the body (paraṃ mahabhūte shariri samavayaḥ puruṣa ityucyate). Hence the living frame together with the soul that ia said to inhabit it forms the subject-matter of Ayurvedic medical treatment, Ed.

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