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...

Chapter 9 - Conclusion

Carakasaṃhitā is the first and foremost compendium which has laid a systematic, comprehensive, and consistent theoretical foundation for Āyurveda. It was mainly on the basis of Caraka's theoretical propositions that Āyurveda had its later development. Even though a number of treatises originated in the later period, Caraka outshines all of them since it is revered for its meticulous account of the fundamental principles. The unique characteristics of the fundamental principles lie in the fact that they are basically dependent on a fabulously interwoven philosophy. If we take away the philosophical speculations, then the fundamental principles of Āyurveda will become baseless. The following are some of the important aspects which add to the excellence of Caraka's philosophy.

1. Practical orientation of philosophical tenets

The main characteristic of Caraka's philosophy is the practical orientation of philosophical tenets. Caraka evolved the philosophy with the purpose of the conceptualization and practice of Āyurveda in a jubilant historical context in which the classical philosophical systems were in the making. He made use of the philosophical systems then existed. Even then it was neither a replica of any one of the philosophical systems nor an insulation of fragments of philosophical concepts. It does not also appear as a fringe to the mainstream of pragmatic theories of medicine. On the contrary, it serves as the source of deriving theoretical propositions for the maintenance of heath. In fact, science and philosophy appear as co-ordinate species in Carakasaṃhitā. The distinction between parā vidyā and aprā vidyā is dissolved.

The six categories enumerated in the beginning presume Kaṇāda's categories only for developing the tenets concerning health and cure. He makes a paradigm shift for this. Based on the concept of universal and particularity in the Vaiśeṣika-sūtra he successfully explains the basic cause of equipoise. His new conjecture was that universal and particularity are objective realities which function as the causal determinants of increase and decrease respectively. This ingenious doctrine became the cardinal principle of treatment. The important point to be noted in this connection is that this conceptual transformation does not contradict Vaiśeṣika theory because Caraka takes into account only the “universal particularities”. Neither the highest universal called “beingness” (satta) nor the ultimate particularity (viśeṣa) is taken into account.

It is a fact that Caraka defines substance in conformity with Kaṇāda. But he does not accept the atoms as the substantial cause of the world. On the other hand, in coherence with the pre-classical Sāṃkhyas, he postulates a conscious entity called cetanādhātu at the ground level. This foundational “Self” enveloped by the adjuncts rajas and tamas is called avyakta. It is conceived as the cosmological substrate. In the case of attributes also, he has elaborated the list of Kāṇāda by including many more in the list. The remarkable thing is the addition of the twenty physical qualities. They are common to the five physical substances and have high therapeutic value. The categories of time and space are also described in such a way as to suit the purpose of maintaining of health. Again the idea of inherence refer to the relation of “identity in difference” in the substratum and super stratum

The postulation of the tridoṣa theory which is cardinal to Āyurveda is an original and unique discovery of Caraka. In order to conceptualize this theory he successfully makes use of the theory of five physical elements which is derived from the harmonization the Vaiśeṣika's concepts with the concepts of pre-classical Sāṃkhya. In brief, the enumeration of the six categories is mainly intended to formulate the fundamental principles. He achieves this without contradicting the Vaiśeṣika categories and his own philosophical vision.

2. Methodological excellence

Methodological compactness is another aspect that adds to the excellence of Caraka. With equal importance to conceptualization and practice, he describes a well planned methodology that is to be followed for cognizing and practice. In other words, epistemology, which is the main concern of philosophy, is discussed with utmost care. He has presented a well structured account of the means of knowledge, logic, and dialectical terms capable of generating comprehensive and thorough proficiency in Āyurveda. Even though there exists a dispute regarding the discovery stage of the epistemological concepts, what we see in Nyāya-sūtra is often regarded as a refined form of Caraka's epistemology. The descriptions of different kinds of source of valid knowledge and dialectical speculations are more or less similar. Still there are differences. With the exception of ceṣṭā and anupalabdhi, Caraka refers to almost all means of knowledge without any disregard. At the same time, only verbal cognition, perception, inference, and heuristic reasoning (yukti) are recognized as investigative means. The five member syllogism first appears in Carakasaṃhitā.

The introduction of heuristic reasoning as a distinct source of knowledge is one of the most striking features of Carakasaṃhitā. In no other systems of knowledge yukti is found to be accepted as a distinct source of knowledge. It is the method of arriving at the right judgment of things by an intellectual exercise which involves the right combination of manifold causes or reasons.

There exists a difference in the basic issues concerning the transaction of the instruments of knowledge and the effects of cognizing process on the knower. The conception of the self, mind, and consciousness as spiritual and of sense capacities as physical are something peculiar to Caraka. It is Caraka who puts forth the innovative idea that the sense capacities are different from the end organs which serve as the sites (adhiṣṭānas). He locates the centre of the sense organs as the head. Caraka's epistemology is not limited to the mere description of the different sources of knowledge and defining them. On the contrary, it is one of the deepest thoughts which extends to the association of consciousness. Beyond that, he analyses the basic issues of the relation of awareness and consciousness to the self. He also discusses in detail the transaction of the instruments of cognition, namely consciousness, “I-consciousness”, mind, sense faculties, the role of the inner self as the co-ordinator, the way in which knowledge affects the knower with respect to ordinary experience causing pain, and also the final knowledge that culminates in ultimate freedom.

Caraka always relies on discursive reason in formulating his thesis. But he avoids vāda seen in the form of hair-splitting jugglery which often leads us ultimately to nothing creative. The symposia found preserved in Carakasaṃhitā exemplify the healthy application of dialectics that contributes to the clarity of understanding and dispelling doubts. Observation and intuition were also given equal importance.

3. Theoretical proposition of man

The excellence of Caraka's philosophical speculations lies in the theoretical proposition of man. It is without the subordination or super ordination of scientific methods of empirical verification and philosophical consciousness that Caraka constructs his theoretical propositions of man. Human beings are not conceived as mere constitutions of material elements or as body-mind complex. They are regarded as combinations of body, mind, and sense capacities owned by the conscious self. The conscious self is regarded as responsible for everything. The very existence of the Universe is explained on the basis of consciousness. Without consciousness there is no existence. Even the pulses of the heart, which are the dear ones of science, are determined by consciousness. Without addressing consciousness, the propositions about man would be incomplete. So he valued consciousness more since the whole human complex is governed by consciousness. The relation of the body and mind to the self is also not regarded as extraneous or accidental. But there is a causal nexus which binds them together. Above all, he envisages the inner self responsible for the very human existence. The self is bound to a particular body and the mind in a particular birth due to causal and moral reasons. It is the inherent kārmic impressions of the self carried from the previous life that decide it and it accounts for the birth, death, transmigration, and liberation. No science of the world has given us such an all embracing concept of man as Caraka has given.

4. Philosophical vision

In the discrete task of theoretical construction, Caraka naturally transcends the limited sphere of objects and their isolated empirical relations to their innermost unity and the ultimate ground. The entire conceptualization and practice had been shaped on the vision that the manifold world has a true, efficient, and absolute continuance in relation to the enfoldment in the ultimate cause.

Caraka’s philosophy is a representation of extreme realism and monism. The world is a reality and not an illusion. It is a transformation of the ultimate reality. Unity in diversity is a plan of “sṛṣṭi” and it is the one that becomes the many and explains the many. Ultimate reality is self existent (sat). It is without a second at the pralaya state also. That is, pralaya is not the dissolution but the involution of the multitudinous variety of forms and names. Similarly, the origin of the universe is also a real occurence. It is the renewal of the cosmic life and activity, “Being becomes”. The world is a living process sustained by an infinite series of periodic pause and repose alternating with activity. Unity and distinction co-exist and are in intimate relation in his philosophy. There exists no incompatibility of substance, quality, universal, particularity, and part and whole which are known and treated as different or opposed at the empirical level. They can be reconciled in a unity which pervades the diversity.

Caraka’s philosophy can be equated to or called as the philosophy of

“identity in difference” (bhedābheda) or as theory of development (brahmapariṇāmavāda) according to which the ultimate reality is not static but is continually changing and yet maintaining its identity throughout. It has got its own fascination for certain temperament interested in the meeting of the extremes of pluralism and monism.

5. Vision of life and ethics

Caraka puts forth a unique perspective of life. He gives due importance to material persuits and places spiritual goal at their apex. The spirituality envisaged is not in any way opposed to material life. It is counted as an inevitable continuity of the material life. He gives emphasis to the fact that the attitudes and behavoiur of man to his fellow beings, to nature and to himself, must be such that it will not disturb the cohesion of the universe while trying to satisfy the material needs. Otherwise it will cause impediments even in maintaining the positive health of man which is essential for him to contemplate the ultimate goal of life.

Caraka envisages a noble ethical code based on a non-prejudicial holistic outlook. His moral thoughts hinge on the basic idea of micro-macro relationship of man and as such they are enshrined in compassion and noninjury to all living beings. The compassion advocated by Caraka is not to be understood in the limited sense of consideration for human beings and their “well-being”, but the concern for everything, both animate and inanimate, that has evolved from the non-dualistic vision of man and universe. It is the compassion which is the result of the eradication of egoism, the root cause of dual thought leading to love and hate tendencies.

Caraka’s unbiased approach and compassion is reflected even in his explanation of the nature of ultimate freedom. Caraka declares that the attainment of ultimate freedom is possible only through the realization of the micro-macro relationship of man and nature. Caraka has used almost all the terms which connote specific ideas of freedom used in different philosophical systems without prejudice and affirms that the nature of final state of freedom is inexplicable. The philosophy of Caraka is a representation of true intellectual freedom unfettered by the dogmas and doctrines of sectarianism.

Caraka philosophised not for the sake of philosophy nor for personal liberation, but for the well-being of humanity and the world in total. Usually, the concerns sparked by philosophical systems are general in nature. But Caraka has obviously and successfully employed them for the specific and complicated empirical issue of maintenance of human health without ignoring the ultimate goal of life. It has got its own brilliance.

In brief, Carakasaṃhitā is a complete book which contains deliberations and insightful knowledge of the complex man and his environment in its totality. Caraka construes man as a somatic being and spiritual being. It is a compendium in which Philosophical abstractions and scientific observations are found interlocked. It is a synthesis of the subjective and the objective, the two cornerstones of epistemology.

In concluding the thesis, it would not be improper to point out that at least some among the Āyurvedic community too frequently take the attitude of comparing the therapeutic principles with those in the Western medical science which is purely experimental and objective oriented. Consequently, they often forget to give due attention to the philosophical concepts in which the fundamental principles of treatment are rooted. It is unfortunate. If the reason is the risk factor of probability and precision, plausibility and demonstrability in the practice of Āyurvada, it is the same for Western medicine also. So it is not the actual reason. The actual reason is that we are prone to think whatever that is contributed by Western science is faultless. What is needed is that the physicians who are willing to push the limit of the theoretical constructs of Āyurveda have to work along original lines either to show the flaws or to justify them. At any rate, it is essential to address the philosophical abstractions. It would at least help us to bridge the gulf between ethical reasoning and scientific reasoning. Correct philosophical pursuit creates the way for entering the domain of consciousness. A fuller grasp of the philosophy of Caraka could possibly provide improved interpretative perspectives for the understanding of the underlying complex systems of knowledge, archaic notions and values. It offers insights in understanding Āyurveda as a whole.

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