Philosophy of Charaka-samhita

by Asokan. G | 2008 | 88,742 words

Ayurveda, represented by Charaka and Sushruta, stands first among the sciences of Indian intellectual tradition. The Charaka-samhita, ascribed to the great celebrity Charaka, has got three strata. (1) The first stratum is the original work composed by Agnivesha, the foremost of the six disciples of Punarvasu Atreya. He accomplished the work by coll...

The importance of the philosophy of Carakasaṃhitā

Āyurveda, in its early days, was an unrefined science consisting of etiology (hetu), symptomatology (liṅga) and therapeutics (auṣadha).[1] The all embracing categorial knowledge gained by intuition was synthesized with its corpus later on.[2] Thus, Āyurveda derived its theoretical sustenance from the philosophical systems particularly of the Sāṃkhya, Nyāya, and Vaiśeṣika for the harmonious existence of the individual within and outside. It vindicates that until the incorporation of the intuitive philosophical or dārśanic knowledge it was a morbid science of treatment which contained camouflaged ideas gathered from empirical observation. The intuitive knowledge had been incorporated in Āyurveda probably from the realization of the essentiality of the knowledge of the ultimate reality behind the phenomenal existence of man, the world around him, and their interrelationship in cherishing the purpose of eradication of diseases and maintenance of positive health.

The synthesis of the intuitive knowledge of the trans-empirical realities with the knowledge derived from empirical observations found in Caraka marks a paradigm shift in the history of Indian intellectual tradition, since it showed how spiritual knowledge can be applied to improve the life conditions. The historicity of Caraka lies in the fact that it is the only monumental work which contains this synthesized knowledge.

Suśrutasaṃhitā keeps a different outlook. Suśruta declares that, there is no need of knowledge other than that of the physical world, for the knowledge of the physical world is enough for therapeutics.[3] What is implied is that Suśruta places primacy on the external world. He sees man more as a somatic being than as a spiritual being. In other words, the objective world is taken into consideration and the subject pole is eliminated. On the contrary Caraka discusses the inner and outer world with out leaving anything as irrelevant and taking into consideration the prevailing knowledge systems. He himself has stated that “What ever that is in the Saṃhitā is everywhere and what ever that is not in it is in nowhere else”.[4]

Carakasaṃhitā has got a dual status. On the one hand, it constitutes a corpus of logical and practical knowledge of health and longevity and on the other hand, this knowledge traces its roots to an original and unchanging vision and seeks to help the liberation of man. It deals with the physical and the metaphysical. In it we see the harmonization of both the pragmatic and transcendental knowledge.

The concept of puruṣa, pañcabhūtasiddhānta, tridoṣasiddhānta, and the symptomatic diagnosis principles are the fundamental aspects which make Āyurveda an autonomous system of medicine. Puruṣa is construed at the evolutionary, empirical, and spiritual levels based on the vision that subjectivity and objectivity are not independent realities, but they depend upon each other. The trans-empirical elements are analysed in detail. The theorization of the pañcabhūtas, the tridoṣas (vāta, pitta, and kapha) that constitute the body, and also the constituents of mind, namely sattva, rajas, and tamas are based not merely on empirical generalizations but on the intuitive insight of the holistic state of psychophysically conditioned human being through its symptomatic manifestations. The doṣas can be known when specially manifested in specific physiological and biochemical phenomena but cannot be identified with them. It may seem that the entities like matter, mind, physical world, life, and consciousness, are very closer to the empirical observations of the world. But, as has been pointed out by R. C. Pradhan, none of them is an empirical concept because none of them is product of our experimental encounter with the world.[5]

Caraka’s endeavor was not limited to the inquiry of the origin of diseases, the ways of their ascertainment, cure, and engendering health and longevity, but aims at human perfection. In this great enterprise, he ensures that reality is not fragmented. He recognizes the invisible ground reality which causes and governs the world of experience. Everything concerning the phenomenal world is being interpreted in terms of the underlying unity palpable in the concept of Brahman and dharma. Even disease and health are conceived as being abided by the cosmic law. Hence he conceived that disease as a change of state called imbalance (vaiṣamya) and health as a return to the natural state called equipoise (sāmya). His theoretical formulations on health and cure were built on the basic vision that all phenomena arise from a common matrix and are governed by a common universal law and this fact of their unity and order is reflected in life. Thus, the lower level of statements of health and cure is made dependent upon the higher level of trans-empirical concepts.

Caraka presents a categorial scheme and discusses in detail the philosophical subject matters of the reality in human experience as whole ultimate being, cosmology, various sources of knowledge, underlying assumptions of thought and knowledge, and human conduct and character from the aspects and standpoint of health and moral values.

The discussion of the methodology of thought and expression is also significant. Caraka gives a precise and elaborate description of the different ways of knowing integrating observation, reasoning, testimony, and intuition. He himself patterns data by experience, reasoning, testimony, and intuition without giving undue importance to any one of them which may lead to distortion of the quest for knowledge or which may be reduced to empirical commonsense, abstract speculation, dogmatism or superstition. Natural phenomena reached by both experience and intuitive speculative thought are equally recognized as valid.

Thus, Carakasaṃhitā is not a treatise on an incoherent area of unconnected discipline which deals with the morbid science of disease in the Western style. On the other hand, it is a complete book which contains deliberations and insightful knowledge of the complex man and his environment for health and human perfection. Caraka construes man as a somatic being and spiritual being. Philosophical abstractions and scientific observations are found interlocked. In brief it is a synthesis of the subjective and the objective, the two cornerstones of epistemology. Hence the philosophical speculations of Carakasaṃhitā are of prime importance.

Footnotes and references:


hetulingauṣadhjñānaṃ svasthāturaparāyaṇaṃ trisūtraṃ śāśvataṃ puṇyaṃ bubudhe yaṃ pitāmahaḥ, CS, Su, I. 24.


CS Su, I. 28—29.


tasyopayogo'bhihitaścikitsāṃprati sarvadā bhūtebhyo hi paraṃ yasmānnāsti cintā cikitsite, Suśrutasaṃhitā of Suśruta., Śārīra - sthāna, I. 13.


yadihāsti tadanyatra yannehāsti na tatkvacit, CS, Siddhi-sthāna, XII. 54.


R.C. Pradhan, “Structure of Philosophical Knowledge: In Defence of the Metaphysics of First Principles”, HSPCIC, Vol. XI, Part—I, p. 276.

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