Bhesajjakkhandhaka (Chapter on Medicine)

by Hin-tak Sik | 2016 | 121,742 words

This study deals with the ancient Indian Medicine (Ayurveda) in Early Buddhist Literature and studies the Bhesajjakkhandhaka and the Parallels in other Vinaya Canons. The word Bhesajja means “medicine” and is the sixth chapter of the Khandhaka, which represents the second book of the Pali Vinaya Pitaka. Other works consulted include the Bhaisajya-s...

[Note: Jatu refers to exudate of plant, either gum or resin. It does not distinguish between the two. Gum is soluble in water and resin is usually insoluble. Thus a compound term “gum-resin” is used as the translation here to embrace both.]

Gum-resins are another group of medicines allowed for use in a monk/nun’s whole life.

Most of the versions of the Chapter on Medicine contain a list of such medicines.

Theravāda:—“… the gum-resin medicines [are]: asafoetida,[1] hiṅgujatu, hiṅgusipāṭikā (gum-resin of gummy cape jasmine?),[2] taka, takapattī, takapaṇṇi, resin of Indian copal tree,[3] or whatever other gum-resin medicines there are; neither they serve as hard food among the hard food, nor as soft food among the soft food. Having accepted them, [one has] to take care of [them] for the duration of one's life, [and] to use [them] when there is a reason.”[4]

Dharmaguptaka:—“At that time a sick monk needed incense-medicine. The Buddha said: ‘[I] allow for the use. Herein, incense is: asafoetida, [gum-resin of] gummy cape jasmine, shipolituobu 尸婆梨陀步 (benzoin-or storax-resin?), tiyepoti 梯夜婆提 (a variety of bdellium?), [or] resin of Indian copal tree. A monk with a reason of sickness should use [it] for the duration of one’s life.’”[5]

Sarvāstivāda:—“There are five kinds of tree gum as medicines: asafoetida, resin of India copal tree, diye 帝夜 (bdellium?), diyeboluo 帝夜波羅 (a variety of bdellium?), [and] diyepanna 帝夜槃那 (another variety of bdellium?). [They are] for the duration of one’s life [and one can] stay with them in the same room overnight.”[6]

Mūlasarvāstivāda (Sanskrit):—“The five gum-resins [are]: asafoetida, resin of India copal tree, taka, takakarṇī, and tadāgata. Therein, asafoetida is the exudation of the asafoetida tree. Resin of Indian copal is the exudation of the sal tree.[7] Taka is a lac. Takakarṇī is beeswax. Tadāgata is the exudation of trees other than those.”[8]

Mūlasarvāstivāda (Chinese):—“Five kinds of sticky medicines are: asafoetida, wukang 烏糠, [gum of the tree named] flame of forest, [9] beeswax, [and] Persian incense (benzoin).[10] The medicine asafoetida is the gum coming from asafoetida tree. Wukang means the gum from the sal tree.[11] Gum of flame of forest is the sap from the tree branch. Beeswax means the remnant out of honey[-comb]. Persian incense (benzoin) is a tree gum.”[12]

Certain gum-resins are named in the Chapters on Medicine, but for some of these we are not sure of the exact substances. The Samantapāsādikā gives a brief explanation of the gum-resins in the Pāli source: “hiṅgu, hiṅgujatu, and hiṅgusipāṭikā are just kinds of asafoetida; taka, takapatti, and takkapaṇṇi are just kinds of lac.” [13] The Mūlasarvāstivāda Bhaiṣajyavastu includes some self-explanations for the mentioned gum-resins and these help the identification of those substances in this text. Besides, as the Dharmaguptaka source has shown, these medicines can be prescribed in the form of incense.

Gum-resins are utilised in Āyurveda. They are of vegetal origin in the form of exudation or lac of plants. These substances did not comprise a distinct group in the materia medica of this medical tradition, for individual gum-resins are described amongst other groups of drugs (Suśruta Saṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 38). Asafoetida would probably have been a commonly used one, not only as a drug, but also as a food (Suśruta Saṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 46. 228; Aṣṭāṅga Hṛdaya Saṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 6. 152-153). Other gum-resins are chiefly described as medicinal substances (Caraka Saṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 1. 115; Vimānasthāna 8. 151).

Gums and resins are well explained in modern medicinal botany. The following is extracted from van Wyk and Wink’s book (2004, 17):

“Gums are solids consisting of mixtures of polysaccharides. They are water-soluble and partially digested by humans. Gum sometimes flows from a damaged stem, as a defence mechanism of the plant to stop wood-boring insects and to seal off wounds so that wood-rotting fungi and bacteria are kept out. An example of such an exudate gum is gum arabic … Resins are excreted by specialised cells or ducts in plants. They consist of a mixture of essential oils and polymerised terpenes, usually insoluble in water. Examples are frankincense … myrrh … balsams …”

Names of gum-resins recorded in various versions of the Chapter on Medicine are organised in the following table:

  Original name English name Botanical name
Theravāda hiṅgu asafoetida Ferula asafoetida
hiṅgujatu a variety of asafoetida ?
hiṅgusipāṭikā gum-resin of a variety of gummy cape jasmine (?) a variety of Gardenia gummifera (?)
taka ? ?
takapatti ? ?
takapaṇṇi ? ?
sajjulasa resin of Indian copal tree Vateria indica
Dharmaguptaka 馨牛 asafoetida Ferula asafoetida
  馨莪婆提 gum-resin of gummy cape jasmine Gardenia gummifera
尸婆梨陀步 benzoin-or storax-resin (?) Styrax species (?)[14]
梯夜婆提 a variety of bdellium (?) Balsamodendron species (?)
薩闍羅婆 resin of Indian copal Vateria indica
Sarvāstivāda 興渠 asafoetida Ferula asafoetida
薩闍羅茶 resin of Indian copal Vateria indica
帝夜 bdellium (?) Balsamodendron species (?)
帝夜波羅 a variety of bdellium (?) Balsamodendron species (?)
帝夜槃那 a variety of bdellium (?) Balsamodendron species (?)
Mūlasarvāstivāda (Sanskrit) hiṅgu asafoetida Ferula asafoetida
sarjarasa resin of Indian copal Vateria indica
taka a lac —-
takakarṇī beeswax —-
tadāgata exudation of some trees —-
Mūlasarvāstivāda (Chinese) 阿魏 asafoetida Ferula asafoetida
烏糠 gum-resin of sal tree Shorea robusta
紫礦 gum of flame of forest Butea monosperma
黃蠟 beeswax —-
安悉香 Persian incense (benzoin) Styrax species

Footnotes and references:


This term can refer to both the gum-resin and the plant from which it is obtained. See Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed, s.v. “asafœtida” [accessed February 9, 2015,].


The Pāḷi term hiṅgusipāṭikā may correspond to hiṅguśivāṭikā in Sanskrit, which is a variety of hiṅgupatrī (gummy cape jasmine, Gardenia gummifera) according to Dash (2008, 151).


Apart from hiṅgu (asafoetida) and sajjulasa (resin of Indian copal tree), the exact substances of the other gum-resins in the Pāli list are not certain.


Theravāda Vinaya Piṭaka I. 201-202: “... jatūni bhesajjāni hiṅgu hiṅgujatu hiṅgusipāṭikaṃ takaṃ takapattiṃ takapaṇṇiṃ sajjulasaṃ yāni vā pan’ aññāni pi atthi jatūni bhesajjāni, n’ eva khādaniye khādaniyattaṃ pharanti, na bhojaniye bhojaniyattaṃ pharanti, tāni paṭiggahetvā yāvajīvaṃ pariharituṃ, sati paccaye paribhuñjituṃ.”


Taishō Tripiṭaka 1428. 867b19-22: “爾時病比丘須闍婆藥,佛言:「聽用。是中闍婆者,馨牛、馨莪婆提、尸婆梨陀步、梯夜婆提、薩闍羅婆,比丘有病因緣盡形壽應服。」” 闍婆 seems to be dhūpa (incense). 馨牛 should be hiṅgu and 馨莪婆提 should be hiṅgupatrī. 尸婆梨陀步 may be śīvala-dravya: śīvala is benzoin or storax; dravya means substance, medicinal substance, or lac/gum/resin according to A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (s.v. “śīvala” and “dravya”). It is intriguing to note that the Pāli word for dravya is dabba, which is close in pronunciation to tuobu 陀步, implying the possibility that the Chinese term may have come from a Prakrit source. We are not certain what 梯夜婆提 is. It possibly corresponds to takapatti in the Theravāda Bhesajjakkhandhara and to 帝夜槃那 in the Sarvāstivāda Bhaiṣajyadharmaka. 梯夜 may be divya, which is bdellium, a gum-resin extracted from several trees and shrubs chiefly of Balsamodendron species (A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, s.v. “divya”; Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed, s.v. “bdellium” [accessed February 9, 2015,]). So 梯夜婆提 may refer to a type of gum-resin relating to bdellium or to a plant from which it is obtained. 薩闍羅 should be 薩闍羅, and it is then sarjarasa (Pāli: sajjulasa).


Taishō Tripiṭaka 1435. 194a12-14: “有五種樹膠藥:興渠、薩闍羅茶、帝夜、帝夜波羅、帝夜槃那,盡形壽 共房宿。” 興渠 is hiṅgu. 薩闍羅茶 is sarjarasa. 帝夜 may be divya, 帝夜波羅 divya-phala, and 帝夜槃那 divya-paṇṇa.


Sarja is Indian copal tree (Vateria indica) whereas sāla is sal tree (Shorea robusta). Khare (2007, 696) says that related species of the latter are equated with the former tree. It then explains why the Mūlasarvāstivāda Bhaiṣajyavastu regards that the resin of Indian copal tree is the exudation of sal tree.


Gilgit Manuscripts III. 1.iii-iv: “pañca jatūni| hiṅguḥ sarjarasaḥ takastakakarṇī tadāgataśca| tatra hiṅguvṛkṣasya niryāsaḥ| sarjarasaḥ sālavṛkṣasya niryāsaḥ| tako lākṣāstakakarṇī sikthaṃ tadāgatastadanyeṣāṃ vṛkṣāṇāṃ niryāsaḥ|”


According to Yiqiejing yinyi 一切經音義 (Pronunciations and Meanings in All Discourses), 紫礦 is the sap of palāsa (波羅奢) (syn. kiṃśūka). See Taishō Tripiṭaka 2128. 566c23; 577c20-22.


安悉香 (or 安息香) literally means Persian incense, which is benzoin. See Digital Dictionary of Buddhism, s.v. “安悉香” and “安 息 香” [accessed January 25, 2015, and, respectively].


Wukang 烏糠 thus should correspond to sarjarasa.


Taishō Tripiṭaka 1448. 1b21-24: “五種黏藥者,所謂阿魏、烏糠、紫礦、黃蠟、安悉香。阿魏藥者,謂阿魏樹上出膠。烏糠者,謂娑羅樹出膠。紫礦者,樹枝上出汁。黃蠟者,謂蜜中殘出也。安悉

香者,樹膠也。” If the Sanskrit list is identical with the Chinese one, then taka would correspond to 紫礦 (the gum of flame of forest), and tadāgata to 安悉香, the Persian incense which is a benzoin resin. Taka then would be a synonym of palāśa or kiṃśūka. But we cannot be sure whether the Sanskrit and Chinese lists are exactly the same.


Samantapāsādikā V. 1090: “hiṅguhiṅgujatu jiṅgusipāṭikā hiṅgujātiyo yeva, takatakapattitakapaṇṇiyo lākhājātiyo yeva.”


See Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed, s.v. “benzoin” and “storax” [accessed January 26, 2015,, and].

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