Mandala Of Indic Traditions
Medicine in Buddhist and Jaina Traditions
By Pankaj Goyal
Lok Vigyan Kendra
Almora 263601 India
It is believed that Lord Buddha showed
the path of liberation from disease and death and due to this reason he is also
known as the great physician (Mahabhisak). He propounded the four noble
truths that are nothing but medical
logic. These four noble truths include disease, its cause, treatment and its
ways and are collectively known as Aryasatyacatustaya. Diagnosis of
disease and charitable distribution of medicines among the sick people were the
regular programmes of the Buddhist sanghas. Buddhist monks and nuns also implemented the same in Buddha-viharas.
Emperor Asoka who adopted the Buddha religion after the Kalinga war not only
established many hospitals and dispensaries for the treatment of the sick but
also ordered planting of medicinal plants at different places.
P.V.Sharma, the well known historian of
Indian medicinal sciences, summarises the medical practices prevalent among the
Buddhists and the Jainas. We give a summary of his essay here.
in Buddhist Tradition
The oldest source of literature that
gives a glimpse of Indian medicine in the Buddhist tradition is the Tripitaka.
Tripitaka mentions tikiccha in place of Ayurveda and disease is
mentioned as gilana instead of atura as in medical text. This book
also gives some references that suggest that tikiccha was one of the most
important subjects of learning in Taksasila.
P.V.Sharma says that there are five
well-known bhutas, but the Buddhist texts mention only four of them,
excepting akasa. Cullavagga has got enough material that gives a good
view of daily life of monks and nuns, health and hygiene and the arrangements in
the viharas. In the viharas,
there were systematic arrangements for the maintenance of privies and bathrooms.
Personal cleaning as well as cleaning of the surroundings was strictly observed.
A special care was also taken for water. A number of diseases are mentioned in Tripitaka
texts while kustha, ganda, kilasa, sosa and apasmara are said to
be the five prevalent abadhas.
(MV) gives valuable information regarding diseases and their treatment in the
book (vi) on medicaments. This book provides us very useful information
particularly on the treatment of diseases. Some of the treatments contained in
this book are described here in brief. To treat headache the drug was
administered through nose and oil was also applied on the head. In the case of
jaundice, Haritaki impregnated with cow’s urine was prescribed. In the
case of snakebite, four types of filth - dung, urine, ashes and clay were
prescribed. For eye-disease, eye ointments and collyriums were also mentioned.
Similarly a lot of other treatments are described in that book.
Drugs have been classified in the
beginning of MV (VI). Here fat of
animal is first described, and then the vegetable drugs are mentioned in the
turmeric, ginger etc.
(bark?)- nimba, kutaja etc.
patola, tulasi etc.
vidanga, pippali etc.
hingu, sarjarasa etc.
At the end an inorganic substance salt
is also mentioned. A large number of medicinal plants are also referred but in
(viii.1.1-29) contains a detailed account of the renowned scholar Jivaka and his
amazing medical and surgical cures. He performed a large number of miraculous
cures. He was born of Salavati, a courtesan of Vaisali. He learnt this medicinal
science from Atreya at Taksasila. Atreya was himself a renowned scholar of
medicine during the Buddhist period. Later, he became a physician in the court
mentions freedom from disease as the highest gain. It advises to avoid two
extremes - ayoga and atiyoga and to adopt the middle path. In Dhammapada,
the word ‘atura’ has been used for
diseased; although in the Buddhist texts word ‘gilana’
the other name of Apadana. There are many texts on this topic of which avadanasataka
and divyavadana are more popular.
is an interesting text dated about 100 CE. According to this text, cloth, food,
beddings, appliances for diagnosis and treatment of the sick were offered to
Lord Buddha. Several types of diseases, their symptoms and methods of their
treatment are also described in it. The case of pregnancy in terms of drugs,
diet and behaviour is described in a systematic manner. A pregnant woman was
advised to avoid all the six tastes and any kind of unpleasant sound. Once,
while operating a women’s abdomen to deliver the foetus, Jivaka advised the
lady to take five parts of a plant as a drug.
Different types of houses for different
seasons (winter, summer and rainy season) are mentioned in Divyavadana. Application of gosirsa
candana is suggested in case of fever with burning sensation. Sammohini
and sanjivani osadhi are also referred to in this text. The Jyotiskavadana
text gives references about Jivaka.
In Sardulakarnavadana, plants are
referred to in a classified way and divided in to seven different groups such as
phalguvrksa, sthalaja vrksa, ksiravrksa, phalabhaisajya vrska, sthalaja
puspavrksa and jalaja puspa. Herbs growing in the villages as well as
in the hills are also mentioned. Some diseases like Apasmara, kilasa and kustha
are also described. At the end there is also a topic based on dreams. According
to this text, constellations (Naksatras)
also play a role and it is said that the collection as well as the
administration of drugs should be started in Satabhisa.
an interesting anecdote about a disease of King Asoka and its treatment with
onion by his wife. Initially, his wife experimentally observed the effects of
onion on intestinal worms.
is one of the non-canonical Pali texts. It originated in northwest India by
about beginning of the Christian era. It holds some precious knowledge about
Buddhist traditions. This text is in the form of dialogues between Nagasena and
king Milinda. This text also holds some significant information about the
Buddhist tradition. According to this text, medicine was one of the most
important subjects of teaching during the Buddhist times. There is also a
reference that king Milinda himself learned cikitsa
along with other eighteen subjects. Treatment of wounds with paste, application
of oil and dressing is preferred for better and early healing of the wounds. In
the case of poisoning, a mixture of ghee, butter, oil, honey and jaggery is
suggested. A very interesting connection of urine with reproduction is shown in
a story where a fakir or ascetic was born by intake of urine of an ascetic or
fakir. According to Nagasena the
disease is caused by eight factors – vata,
pitta, slesma, sannipata, seasonal imbalance, irregular diet, improper
treatment and past deeds. Nagasena further narrates the aggravation of vata,
pitta and slesma in ten,
three and three ways respectively. According to him vata is aggravated by cold, heat, hunger, thirst, overeating,
sedentary habit, anxiety, exertion, treatment and past deeds, while pitta
and kapha are aggravated by cold, heat and irregular diet.
is a work that belongs to first century CE. It is one of the most sacred
Mahayana texts. This text mentions that followers of the Buddhist tradition
established many viharas that were
well equipped with food, drinks, appliances for diagnosis and treatment of the
sick and other comforts. One of the chief characteristics of these viharas
was that these were attached with a flower garden and park. According to this
text diseases were classified into four types- vatika, paittika,
slaismika and sannipatika. Along with the classification of diseases
a large number of diseases are also mentioned such as kustha, kilasa etc.
Deformity in the various body parts and different types of continuous and
intermittent fevers are mentioned too. Plants are classified into four types –
trna, gulma, osadhi and vanaspati. The parts of the plant are
mentioned as nala, sakha, patra, puspa and phala. Drugs
were taken in various forms such as juice, paste, decoction, infusion, after
combining with other drugs, by injecting through needle or cauterization or
mixing with food.
texts contain some valuable information about the Buddhist tradition. Lalitavistara
is one of the important texts that deal with the advent of Lord Buddha and his
teachings. Lord Buddha is mentioned in this text by several names such as the
king of physicians, best among physicians, the great surgeon etc. Several types
of diseases are also mentioned here.
to Suvarnaprabhasasutra, two factors play a vital role in the longevity
of life – avoiding exertion and proper nutrition. Here, four dhatus (bhutas)
are mentioned out of which two are said as moving upwards and the other two
going downwards and thus they neutralize each other. The most interesting and
important medical document in Suvarnaprabhsasutra is chapter 17. In
this chapter, a great and well-informed man in all the branches of Ayurveda
taught Astanga Ayurveda to his son and the discussion between them
exposed some very interesting and valuable information about medicine. Four
different seasons (rainy season, autumn, winter, and summer) and four different
types of disorders (vatika, paittka, sannipatika and kaphaja) are
mentioned that occur in these four seasons respectively. The pacification of
these disorders is also given in the text.
poetic works of Asvagohsa (2nd Cent.CE), Buddhacarita and Saundarananda,
also contain some valuable information related to Buddhist medicine system.
The following authors representing the
Buddhist tradition are significant in the field of Ayurveda:
Vagabhata composed the Astangasangraha and the Astangahrdaya. These
books not only contain the Samhitas
of Caraka and Susruta but also include many Vidyas and mantras as well as a
large number of medical formulae prevalent in the Buddhist tradition.
Ravigupta, a Buddhist scholar, composed the
Siddhasara that also contained a nighantu
at the end. The date of Ravigupta is fixed as 650 CE, viz. after Vagbhata
and before Madhava. The Siddhasara contains 31 chapters and the Siddhasara-nighantu
as appendix. First four chapters of this book are based on Tantra,
dravyagana, annapanavidhi and arista, while chapters 5 to 25 deal
with individual diseases. Further chapters are based on Varna, Salakya,
Visa, Rasayana- Vajikarana, Kumaratantra, Pancakarma and Kalpa.
A large number of works was produced by Nagarjuna in different periods. Yogasataka
is such a work by Nagarjuna that represents work of this tradition. Apart
from Yogasataka following works of Nagarjuna are incorporated into
the Tibetan Tanjur:
Arya raja name vatika
The following works of Candranandana are incorporated in the Tibetan Tanjur:
Medicine was a popular subject of
teaching in the curricula of the Viharas and mahaviharas as
Buddhists treat it as an important tool for missionary service to humanity and
animals. Medicine was an important and compulsory subject in all the
universities. The University of Taksasila was famous for this subject where
Atreya was a renowned teacher. Jivaka was a famous student of this university,
who got proficiency in medicine as well as surgery. The Nalanda University had
also medicine as one of the compulsory subjects of teaching. Medicine was also
taught in Vikramasila University. Tantras as well as Rasasastra
also flourished there in theory and practice.
During the periods of Kings Asoka,
Kaniska and Sri Harsa, the Buddhist tradition flourished side by side with the
Vedic traditions. These kings established many viharas
in various parts of the country as well as far off places. As a result of this
Buddhism spread to other Asian countries along with which Indian medicine also
reached out there. Some valuable accounts given by Chinese travellers like
Fahian, Huan Chwang and Itsing give a detailed view of Buddhist tradition in
Medicine in Jaina Tradition
The Jainas had a well established
tradition of medicine that was known as pranavaya. It dealt with mental
disciplines, dietetics and drugs and covered all the eight angas of Ayurveda. It
was the science of vitality maintaining the health of body and mind.
It mainly dealt with mental disciplines, dietectics and drugs and covered
all the 8 angas of Ayurveda. The Jaina saints looked after their health
and their sickness themselves. In the field of medicine the Jainas were very
strict and had forbidden alcohol, honey and meat and as a result the Jaina
physicians had to adjust the formulations accordingly. The Jaina physicians used
plants and minerals mainly as a source of drugs. These physicians were very
practical and believed in curing the diseases with tried and tested medicines
rather than going into beliefs and fundamental doctrines.
in Jaina Tradition
According to Acarangasutra, the nature of plants and animals is similar. Both
plants as well as animals are born, grow old, have animation, fall sick, require
food, decay and die. It mentions that the animate beings are produced as
eggs (as birds etc.)
a foetus (as elephant etc.)
a foetus with an enveloping membrane (as cow etc.)
fluids (as worms etc.)
sweat (as bugs etc.)
coagulation (as ants etc.)
sprouts (as butterflies etc.)
regeneration (as man etc.)
A list including mango, grapes, ginger,
mustard stalks, asvattha, kadamba, coconut,
kaseru, lotus, sugarcane, bilva and
garlic etc. is described. Cleanliness of body, speech and mind was greatly
preferred and special care was taken of it. This also gives an idea about the
behaviour of the Jainas towards cleanliness. At certain places some methods of
treatment are mentioned. Surgical operation with sharp instrument, treatment by
charms (pure and impure) and drugs were prevalent. There are sixteen diseases
enumerated at one place:
Sutra accepted sickness as one of the troubles. An
account of eye disease and fever is mentioned, but in the form of a story.
Different methods of treatment like spells, roots, emetics, purgatives,
fumigation, anointing of the eye are mentioned in detail. Plants are classified
as vrksa, gaccha, gulma, lata, valli
and trna and various plants related to
this classification are described. Use of inorganic substances such as metals,
except mercury, stones, mica, and sulphur are mentioned. Similarly, animals also
held a position in this text along with their classification.
is another text in which certain body parts, substances used in cosmetics and
some domestic devices are specified. Seeds are described as of four different
types – those generated at the top of a plant, at its root, at its knot, and
at its stem. Different parts of plant like bulb, stem, root, branches, twigs,
leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds are mentioned.
is the only authoritative text available on the pranavaya
tradition of medicine. It was composed by Ugradityacarya who was
contemporary of Amoghavarsa I, the Rastrakuta king (815-877 CE) and disciple of
Srinandi. He has mentioned the authors in different branches of Ayurveda as
– Visa and graham (bhuta)
– Rasayana – Vajikarana
– All the eight branches (Astanga)
The text includes 20 chapters. The first
three chapters are based on the basic concepts, while the fourth and the fifth
deal with food and drink including anupana.
The sixth chapter includes the topics related to personal hygiene. The seventh
chapter is based on groundwork related to medicines, arrangements in the
hospital and patient’s examination. Kayacikitsa begins from the eighth
chapter. The eighth, ninth and the tenth chapters cover topics associated with vataroga,
pittaroga and kapharoga. The chapter based on pittaroga
includes raktapitta, pradara, visarpa, vatarakta, jvara and atisara.
Chapters 11th, 12th and 13th deal with great
diseases (mahamayas) and the 14th chapter deals with upadamsa, slipada
and ksudraroga. Chapter 15th
is based on salakya and 16th to 18th are again
based on Kayacikitsa. Visaroga is described in the 20th chapter and 21st
chapter covers some general things about medicine. Chapter 21st is
based on the application of ksara, agni,
and jalauka, while chapters 22-23 deal
with pancakarma. Mercury and its processing are described in detail in
the 24th chapter. The last chapter is based on Kalpas.
According to the author, there is no penance greater than cikitsa. He
says, “Cikitsa is for destroying sins and promoting virtues”.
Medicine proved as an effectual tool in
the expansion of Buddhism. There
are certain examples where people adopted Buddhism only for being treated by
renowned physicians like Jivaka. In Buddhist Viharas medicine was one of
the most important programmes in their daily activities. Indian medicine
travelled far and wide and spread to other countries along with Buddhism. A
feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow as well as great service towards the sick
was a unique feature of Buddhism and because of this reason the sick had a
feeling of great respect for Lord Buddha. Like Buddhism, the Jaina tradition
contributed a lot in the field of health and medicine. There is a huge amount of
Jaina literature from which we can get quite
a vast material related to medicine. It was the common belief of the Jainas that
diseases resulted from sinful acts. They were passive recipients of medical
treatment rather than active promoters of the same like Buddhists. However, the
basic foundation of the Jaina tradition is the same as of the Buddhist medicine.
Sharma,P.V. 1992. Medicine in Buddhist
and Jaina traditions. In History of
Medicine in India. P.V.Sharma (Ed). New Delhi: INSA. Pp. 117-135.