ANCIENT INDIAN MEDICINE — THE PROBLEMS OF AN UNBIASED PERSPECTIVE


[A Critical Review of Science and Society in Ancient India by Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, Research India Publications, Calcutta 1977].

The task of the historian who will search for elements of 'scientific knowledge ' in the knowledge systems of ancient non-western civilizations is a difficult one. All present-day theoretical reflections—sociological, epistemological and historiographical—on science are based on the assumption that western science in its modern phase is the paradigm for a ‘scientific’ knowledge system. If the historian of science in. ancient civilizations is to go by the tradition of this scholarship on science, he must abdicate his task right at the threshold—he is not likely to find 'knowledge systems' identical with the modern western science anywhere in history. All that the historian of science can then, do is to document the evolution of modern science in the western culture from Galileo onwards. And this is precisely what the historians of science did till recently, till Needham, to be precise.

Therefore, if the historian of science in ancient civilizations is at all to take up his task seriously, he must first free himself of the bias of all modern scholarship on science and must first evolve an unbiased criterion for calling a knowledge system ‘scientific’.

Fortunately, evolving such a criterion is not difficult. One can simply turn back to the school-text definition of science: 'Science is the body of knowledge based on observation of phenomena and their classification under a theoretical framework, which itself is tested in observation .' Thus, all that the historian of science in an ancient civilization has to look for is a knowledge system that has the following methodological characteristics:

M1 It is based on a sufficiently large body of observational data.
M2 It has a sufficiently elaborate theoretical framework to classify the data.
M3 The basis of legitimization of theoretical speculation is based in observation.

The above methodology obviously presupposes the epistemological position that :

El The above method is a legitimate method for acquiring knowledge about reality.

E2 The knowledge so acquired is always limited and subject to modification in the light of new data.

Therefore, the historian of science must also search for evidence., explicit or implicit, in favour of the above two epistemological criteria.'

Since the above epistemological-methodological criteria make knowledge an accretional process—ever increasing and changing through the addition and assimilation of new data—acquisition of such knowledge can only be a corporate activity. Therefore, in order to show that in a society a knowledge system based on the above criteria actually flourished, the historian must also show the presence of a community of practitioners. Thus to the above list of methodological-epistemological criteria, the historian must add the sociological criterion that :

S1 ln the society there was a professional community of practitioners of knowledge in the above sense, well governed by some social norms.

If in a knowledge system of an ancient civilisation the historian can find all the above characteristics, he can have no hesitation in calling such a knowledge system 'scientific'—whether that system fits in with the 'modern science' paradigm or not. The current tradition of scholarship on science—obsessed as it is with the ' modern science' being the only 'scientific' knowledge system that mankind has produced—may not agree, with him, but for any unbiased observer such a knowledge system must have all claims to be called 'scientific'.

Debiprasad Chattopadhaya in the first chapter of his book ' Science and Society in Ancient India' marshals enormous amount of data gleaned solely from the text-books of Indian medicine, in fact from the two major texts Caraka-Samhita and Susruta-Samhita alone, to prove that the system of ancient Indian medicine satisfied all the above requirements. To get an idea of the enormity of data collected, the first part of the book deserves to be read in full. Below, we shall endeavour to give some glimpses of the data collected on the above six aspects.

Methodological Criteria

MI Empirical Basis ; The Ayurvedic texts lay great store by empirical observation. The texts give detailed instructions about how to collect data on drugs, on pathological symptoms, and even on anatomy through dissection of corpses. And the data accumulated on all these aspects is stupendous. To take the case of data on drugs alone: Ayurvedic texts mention drugs of vegetable, animal and mineral origin. The number of drug plants mentioned in the three Samhitas (Caraka, Susruta and Ashtanga-hridaya) is somewhere between 600 and 700 and the number of Sanskrit names (excluding their derivatives) of vegetable drugs is about 1900. 'To this it needs to be added that the medical works do not discuss plants as such. What these discuss instead are the effects on our bodies of the different parts and products of the plants. As the Caraka-Samhita explains, "Root, bark, pith, exudation, stalk, juice, sprouts, atkalies, milk, fruit, flower, ash, oils, thorns, leaves, buds, bulbs and off-shoots are the plant products now in medicine.” (p. 85).

As far as the drugs of animal origin are concerned, 'Caraka-Samhita (alone) discusses one hundred and sixty-five varieties of animals. Enumerating the different animal products used for medical purposes, it says, "Honey, milk, bile, fat, marrow, blood, flesh, excrement, urine, skin, semen, bones, sinews, horns, nails, hooves, hair goracana—these are the substances used in medicine from the animal world. " (p.86). Again, Caraka-Samhita mentions 64 main minerals used for drugs. Add to these—600 to 700 drug plants with their different parts forming different drugs, 165 varieties of animals again with different products and parts acting as different drugs; and 64 main minerals—the various pharmacological preparations to which each of these drugs could be subjected, and one can have some idea of the enormity of the pharmacopoeia on which Ayurvedic medicine was based. In fact, 'the Caraka-Samhita itself speaks of “six hundred purgatives and five hundred decoctions", besides the eightyfour varieties of wines...'(p.88).

The respect for empirical observation of the Ayurvedic physicians is so great that Caraka-Samhita states, "The entire world is the teacher of the intelligent physician, as it is the fos of the fool. " (p.63). And both Ciraka- and Susruta-Samhitas declare, "No substance is found in the world which is without relevance for medicine.”

M2 Theoretical Framework to Classify the Empirical Data : The Ayurvedic physicians are clearly aware of the need for a theoretical framework to understand empirical data-in order to go b3yond mere empiricism, '...they feel-that something more than the mere knowledge of substances is required for their purpose. This something is the intellectual discipline or Yukti. Hence they claim, "Yukti (rational application) is the ultimate foundation of (therapeutic) success. A physician accomplished in rational application is always superior to one with the mere empirical knowledge of the substances,” (p.9-10). Or "...No one can claim to have a perfect knowledge of pharmacology by the mere acquaintance with the names or even forms of herbs. If one who knows the uses and action of herbs, though not acquainted with their forms, may be called a pharmacologist, what then need be said of the physician who knows the herbs botanically, pharmacologically and in every other respect ?..."(P- 9).

M3 Basis of Legitimization ; In spite of the fact that the physicians laid so much stress upon a theoretical formulation of the problem of medicine, the physicians always insisted that the final test of any hypothesis lay in practice. One can quote any number of verses from those collected by Debiprasad to support this contention. To quote just a few :

"He is the best of physicians who can in actual practice cure people of diseases. "

(From Caraka : p. 103)


"A learned physician must never try to examine on grounds of pure logic the efficacy of a medicine, which is known by direct observation as having by nature a specific medical action. Thus, for example, even a thousand logical grounds will not make the Atnbastha group of drugs have a purgative function."

(From Susruta : p. 83)


" All this is what we prescribe, because all these are based on what we directly observe (sarnyak upadisamah; samyak pasyamah ca iti.)”

(From Caraka : p. 82)


Epistemological Criteria

It is not essential that a knowledge system in order, to be termed ' scientific' must state its epistemological position explicitly—in no text of modern science will one find statements to that effect, and most of the practitioners of modern science are unlikely to be aware of the epistemological position implied by their science. However, in a society wherein more than one knowledge system is allowed to flourish, explicit statements of the epistemological positions of various knowledge systems are expected and it is interesting to find in the texts of Ayurveda verses stating the positions El and E2 unambiguously.

El Faith in the legitimacy of the Method: Ayurvedic texts are very forceful -in asserting that the method they follow is a legitimate method of acquiring knowledge about human health. Thus Caraka-Samhita declares : "The physician starting medical treatment in time and with proper medical knowledge—inclusive of the knowledge of the difference between the curable and incurable diseases—is absolutely certain to attain success.” (p. 36). Again, "In cases of diseases amenable to medical treatment, medicine can never be ineffective.", (p. 195).' And "As a bowman who is a good marksman and given to constant practice, taking up a bow and releasing an arrow does not fail in hitting a big target that is not far off, and achieves his purpose, so does a physician of accomplishment and means who starts treating a curable disease after full investigation, without fail bestow health on the patient ... “(p. 195).

In fact, the texts go so far as to state that any success achieved without following the correct method is sheer accidental success and is to be discouraged. Thus Caraka-Samhita declares, "Like a man without eyes or like a canoe left at the mercy of winds, the ignorant physician gropes about timidly because of his lack of knowledge. However, when he meets accidental success in someone otherwise assured of life (niyatayusha), the pretentious quack gathers courage with which he hastens the death of many others whose lives are not thus assured (a-niyatayusha)." (p. 204).

E2 Recognition of Limitations : Since the scientific method itself demands continuous accretion of data and continuous checking of the theoretical formulation against this data, it is essential, for a knowledge system based on such a method, to recognise the limitations of the knowledge available at any given time. In the western epistemological tradition these limitations of the scientific knowledge have been recognised to some extent only since early twentieth century. Therefore, it is interesting to find statements in Ayurveda explicitly recognising these limits. They recognise these limits at all levels.

(a) Limits on the domain of applicability of knowledge acquired : The recognition of this is clear in the distinction, made in the above quotations, between curable and incurable diseases. The physicians are willing to recognise that there are diseases which are not curable, and in those cases their medicine will not be effective. Thus Susruta states: "Having made these observations, the physicians will try to cure diseases that are curable, adopt palliative measures in cases where palliation is all that can be offered, and should not take up a case which is beyond all medical treatment ..." '(p. 102).

(b) Limits on the completeness of theoretical apparatus : The physicians not only recognize the limits of applicability of their science, they also recognise the incomple of the theoretical apparatus developed to classify and understand empirical data.

Thus, when they fail to classify all substances and their actions on the basis of their observed qualities alone, they introduce the category of vipaka—that of post-digestive changes in qualities of the substance. And when they still find that some substances agreeing with each other in all the categories developed so far do not agree in their action, they introduce the concept of prabhava. 'Here is what Caraka-Samhita says about –prabhava: "When, in spite of the similarity between taste (rasa), potency (virya) and post-digestive change (vipaka), two substances are actually observed to differ in their actions, such difference is to be accounted for by prabhava" ......But what is meant by prabhava? The Caraka-Samhita comes out with the frank admission that at the stage of knowledge represented by it, prabhava is something beyond the comprehension of doctors : prabhavah acintyah ucyate.’ (pp. 173-4). This willingness to add new theoretical categories in the face of new data, and willingness to admit the incompleteness of the current theoretical apparatus is the very essence of scientific method, and is rarely to be found even in the outlook of modern scientists.

(c) Limits on the domain of applicability of the method: Flourishing in an epoch and a society in which a number of knowledge systems prevailed, Ayurveda seems to admit the possibility of other methodologies in other contexts. Since Debiprasad is not looking for data on this aspect of Ayurveda, we cannot give any direct statement to corroborate this proposition. However, there is sufficient evidence to the effect that the Ayurvedic physicians do conceive of other methodologies in other contexts in the fact that wherever an assertive epistemological or methodological statement appears, it carries the qualification that the assertion holds is the therapeutic context alone. Thus Caraka-Samhita 'declares, "In this discipline (viz. medicine), everything is viewed as made of matter in five forms.(p.66), and Susruta-Samhita adds, "It is claimed that knowledge of matter in its different forms is alone relevant for medicine, because in the therapeutic context it is impermissible to conceive of anything transcending matter." (p. 74) [emphasis added].

This realization, that different contexts may require different' methodologies and categories', and that the scientific methodology is essential for acquiring knowledge specific to certain contexts, is very important—especially today when the undisputed legitimacy of the scientific method in the domain of natural sciences is given as a proof of the illegitimacy of all other knowledge systems devoted to the 'ethical', 'social' etc. contexts.

Sociological Criterion

Even a cursory reading of Debiprasad's book is sufficient to convince oneself that Ayurveda is the product of an active community of physicians that had well-established norms to govern it. Large parts of the texts seem to be accounts of symposia held at various places in which physicians from various schools participated. The fact that there were well-defined norms governing this community is obvious from the fact that the text insists that there are certain rules which are unanimously shared by all schools of medicine : sarva-tantra-siddhanta. For example Caraka - Samhita states, " Among these (conclusions) those are called the unanimously admitted ones which have reputation in each and every treatise on the subject (viz. medicine). Such are : there are causes, there are diseases, there are ways of curing the curable diseases." (p. 22).

How anxious the physicians are to have a professional community is also obvious from the minute care with which both Caraka- and Susrutn-Samhitas describe the qualities of men entitled to seek medical studies. The following about the seeker after medical studies from Caraka-Samhita is worth quoting in full:

"He should be peaceful (prasanta), noble in disposition, incapable of any . mean act (a-kshudra-karman), with straight eyes, face and nose, with slim body, having a clean and red tongue, without distortion of teeth and lips, with clear voice (i.e., with voice neither indistinct nor nasal), persevering, without egotism, intelligent, endowed with powers of reasoning and good memory (vitarka-smriti-sampanna), with broad mind (udara-sattava), inclined to medical study either because of being born in the family of physicians or by natural aptitude, with eagerness to have the knowledge of truth (tattva-abhinivesin), with no deformity of body and no defect of sense-organs, by nature modest and gentle, contemplating on the true nature of things (artha-tattva-bhavaka), without anger and without addiction, endowed with good conduct, cleanliness, good habits, love, skill and courtesy (sila-sauca-anuraga-dakshya-pradakshinya-up apanna), desirous of the welfare of all living beings, devoid of greed and laziness (alubdham analasam sarva-bhutahitaishinam) and having full loyalty and attachment to the teacher." (p.218-9).

In fact, from within the data collected by Debiprasad, one can find evidence for all the four norms for a scientific community—universalism, communism, disinterestedness and organised scepticism—prescribed by Merton.

Universalism implies that truth claims in the community be subject to impersonal, well-defined criteria of validation. As we have seen above, Ayurveda lists the criteria of validation of knowledge In so many words. And even for those who are permitted to pursue medicine as a career, it prescribes clear impersonal qualities as obvious from the verse quoted above. However, unlike the Mertonian analysis, the Ayurvedic physicians do not go further to claim that the impersonal criteria for validation of knowledge established by them in the therapeutic context are the only criteria by which any knowledge in any context can be validated. But that, in any case, is an impermissible and biased extension of the criterion of universality.

Communism essentially means that there be free flow of information amongst the practitioners. In Ayurveda, it is ensured by laying a strong stress on debates within the community. The Caraka-Samhita advises, "A physician must enter into debate with another physician (bhishak bhishaja saha sambhashote).” Explaining the desirability of it, the text adds: "Debate with one belonging to the same discipline contributes in the perfection of one's knowledge and clarifies one's understanding...... Those who are wise, therefore, strongly recommend intra-disciplinary debate." (p. 208)

Disinterestedness : In Ayurveda, disinterestedness in the Mertonian sense of willingness to discard theories that do not face up to the data and willingness to add new categories to the theoretical framework is clearly borne out by the discussion on prabhava given earlier. However, in preaching disinterestedness, Caraka-Samhita goes much further than any present-day scientific community. The Samhita declares: "(Among physicians) he surpasses all who practises medicine neither for the sake of money nor for the sake of sensual gratification in any other form, but is motivated only by the compassion for living beings......One who practises the healing art with compassion for the living beings as the noblest of all duties is .a person who really fulfils his mission and thereby gets entitled to the highest form of happiness." (p. 210).

Organised Scepticism : The Ayurvedic texts are clearly sceptical about any knowledge that is not acquired in pursuance of the scientific method. Thus, in a colloquium described in Caraka-Samhita, when a participant, Rajarshi Varyovida, waxes eloquent abot the importance of Wind (Vayu) in sustaining life quoting the various qualities of the Vayu god, Maricit another participant in the colloquium, leaps to attack : "Even if all these were true, what is the point of saying all this in the medical discipline ? Whatever is said here must be said in accordance with the requirements of medicine." (p. 265).

However, this scepticism, as emphasized earlier, is conscientiously restricted to the medical context, where alone it is relevant to the requirements of science. The physicians show no inclination to state that nothing is sacred in any context. Thus, while analysing the cow in the medical context as to its place in the general zoological
classification of animals', and describing the properties of cow's flesh and other parts as drugs, they find no contradiction in declaring in other contexts that, "One should worship the gods, cows, brahmins, preceptors, spiritual adepts and teachers." (p. 15).

In the above, basing entirely on the data collected by Debiprasad Chattopa-dhayaya in his" book, we have tried to prove how by an unbiased criterion the knowledge system of ancient Indian medicine was entirely 'scientific'. The analysis above is necessarily limited, because, firstly Debiprasad is not using the categories of analysis we have defined above secondly we cannot do full justice to the enormous amount of data 'collected in his book within the format of this review. To get a more complete idea of the scientificity of the ancient Indian medicine, the first chapter of the book must be read in full. However, this recommendation we make with a proviso—a lot of statements that Debiprasad makes and contradictions that he finds must be discounted. This is because Debiprasad is not looking for the 'scientific' in ancient Indian medicine for its own sake, but only to prove that Indian medicine had tendencies which could be called 'proto-scientific' and which, given an alternative (western-liberal) civilization, would have bloomed into modern science. The reasons for and the inadequacies of this position we discuss in the second part of this review.

Having overcome the first bias of modern scholarship on science that modern science is the only scientific knowledge system that mankind ever produced, and having shown the existence of an alternative knowledge system which had claims to be called scientific by any unbiased criterion of 'scientificity', the historian is immediately faced with the question : 'Why did this knowledge system not evolve into modern science?'

An unbiased historian will answer: There is nothing in the criterion for scientificity of a knowledge system which dictates that all scientific knowledge systems must evolve into modern science. Having actually observed a scientific knowledge system that was and remained in its content and form quite different from modern science through centuries of evolution, the unbiased historian will have to conclude that, like all other knowledge, science is also a cultural product, and the content and form of science in different cultures are therefore different. He will then have the interesting task of looking for differing socio-cultural elements in different societies that make their scientific formulation of the same natural phenomena so different. Thus, in answer to the above question, the historian of science will have to make a comparative analysis of the concepts of human health, of social organization, of health-care system etc., in the ancient-Indian and modern-western societies, to see why their scientific formulations of the problem of medicine are so different.

However, taking up such a position will amount to a head-on confrontation with all modern scholarship on science, which insists not only that modern science is the only scientific knowledge system evolved in human history, but also that modern science is the unique formulation of reality. [And incidentally since modern-western culture alone has been able to produce this ' unique formulation of reality', modern-western culture is the model to be followed by other cultures if they want to have any genuine knowledge of reality]. Denying this bias will amount to denying the whole basis of modern cultural-imperialism of the West.. That needs intellectual courage of a high order.

Standing on the shoulders of Needham, Debiprasad takes the first step towards evolving an unbiased view on science: that of allowing that other societies at other times may have produced scientific knowledge systems. But, like Needham, Debiprasad cannot take the next step of allowing that these alternative scientific knowledge systems, flourishing in different cultures, had a right to their independent evolution; and the fact, that these systems in their evolution showed no tendencies of becoming identical with modern science, is no argument to prove that these systems died a natural death. Instead, Debiprasad acquiesces in the current bias that modern science is the unique formulation of reality. All that he wants to claim in favour of the enormous theoretical and empirical knowledge of the ancient physicians is that it was some sort of a proto-science*, which had the potential of evolving into modern science. If it did not do so, it can only be because there must have been elements in the ancient Indian culture which inhibited the evolution of science. And, as if to atone for the sin of having discovered in Chapter 1 a scientific knowledge system in a non-western society, Debiprasad immediately sets for himself the task of finding these elements in the cultural environment of ancient India. Here is what Debiprasad himself has to say about his task in the remainder of the book:

".........it is impossible for the historian of science in its restricted sense—and even for the historian of ideas in general—to ignore the significance of a number of theoretical achievements of the ancient physicians. But it-Ms equally, impossible for the historian to overlook the basic fact that the promises of science remain unfulfilled in ancient and medieval India. These do not lead to the creation of science in the modern sense as expected of the normal course of their development. Evidently there is also something in ancient India which inhibits or injures science, wanting even to destroy what is once achieved by it. Since, as Needham says, the inhibitory processes concern the historian of science as much as the adjuvant ones, an attempt will be made in the present chapter to identify the former." (p. 212).

In this attempt to search for the 'inhibitory processes', Debiprasad collects data from the Indian legal literature in Chapter 2, and from Caraka-Samhita itself in Chapter 3. Before evaluating this data, we wish to remark on a curious feature of this attempt.

When a historian of science undertakes an attempt to find the processes which inhibited the development of a scientific knowledge system, one expects him to first adduce some evidence that, in the period under consideration, the knowledge system was indeed inhibited in a way that it failed to flourish. Debiprasad adduces no such evidence against ancient Indian medicine.-On the contrary, the impression one forms from the data collected by Debiprasad is that of a medical system which continuously flourished during the whole period of about ten centuries covered by his analysis, and which was apparently very efficacious. Let us give some evidence of these two features of ancient Indian medicine—using again the data collected by Debiprasad himself:

(i) Evidence showing that ancient Indian medicine was a flourishing system : According to Debiprasad's testimony, Indian medicine acquired the status of a scientific knowledge system sometime before Buddha. 'Indian medicine takes the step from magi-co-religious therapeutics to rational therapeutics sometime before the Buddha.' (p. 341). And the extant Caraka-Samhita, on which the analysis of Debiprasad is based, is a revised version of the earlier texts, the revisor being Dridhabala about whom 'on a very rough estimate, however, it may be permissible to assume that he belongs to the Gupta period or sometime near the sixth century' (p. 32). In the extant Caraka-Samhita Dridhabala claims that the text he is revising is itself a revised version of an earlier text, the intermediate reviser being Caraka. Then there is the presumption (according to Debiprasad) based on the textual evidence that there are 'eminent ancient authorities through whose hands the compilation passes before reaching its intermediate editor, whom Dridhabala calls Caraka'. (p. 33). The extant Susruta-Samhita seems to have a similar history. Thus over the period of ten centuries, about which the medical compilations offer historical data, the canonical works of Indian medicine are being repeatedly revised, or reconstructed—as Dridhabala prefers to term his revision. Who will imagine this happening in a knowledge system that has failed to flourish?

And what does the reconstruction of these medical compilations involve? Dridhabala, the final reconstructor of the Caraka-Samhita relied upon by Debiprasad, claims to have 'completed this treatise by adding to it seventeen chapters on therapeutics, the Siddhi-Sthana and Kalpa-Sthana...’ (p. 31). Thus, in this one reconstruction, the Caraka-Samhita acquires 41 new chapters out of a total of 120. What are these new /'additions? The first seventeen chapters are added to Cikitsa-Sthana which deals mainly with therapeutics, the newly added Kalpa-Sthana contains '12 brief chapters, evidently supplementing the pharmacopoeia of the earlier books' (p. 21) and Siddhi-Sthana contains '12 Chapters on enema, purgation, urinary diseases etc, mainly supplementing what is discussed in other books (of Caraka-Samhitay (p. 21). Thus the reconstructor is evidently bringing the text up-to-date by adding to it the new information acquired on therapeutics, pharmacology and diseases and techniques since the earlier compilation. Does a science that is becoming decadent generate such a vast amount of new data, requiring a supplement one third as big as the earlier compilation?

(ii) Evidence showing that ancient Indian medicine was an efficacious system :
In favour of this proposition there is, of course, the evidence of the faith in their medicine of the ancient physicians themselves (quoted earlier in the first part of this review). It is difficult to imagine the practitioners of a medicine that did not work stating categorically, 'In cases of diseases amenable to medical treatment, medicine can never be ineffective (na hi bheshaja-sndhyanam vyadhinam bheshajam akaranam bhavati)’ (p. 195). However, this is not the only evidence we find in the book about the efficacy of Indian medicine. Debiprasad quotes Vinaya-Pitaka (a Pali canonical work of Buddhism) describing how Buddha allowed all sorts of freedom to the sick bhikkus in consideration of medical requirements (pp.328-333). According to Vinaya-Pitaka Buddha goes to the extent of saying, 'I allow, oh bhikkus, in the case of a disease not human, the use of raw flesh and the blood.' (p.332). If Buddha with his ethics of non-injury (ahimsa) allows his bhikkus the use of raw flesh and blood, in case of medicinal need, it could only be if the medical practice (had acquired sufficient authenticity through its efficacy. In fact, the general belief in the efficacy of medicine at the Buddhist time seems to be so great that sick lay-men are tempted to join the samgha merely to get entitled to the services of a famous physician, Jivaka Komarbhacca. (p.328). In the end we must add that the Indian legal literature) which according to Debiprasad is frankly anti-science, itself pays a tribute to the efficacy of medicine by recording the story of Asvins—the medical gods—having acquired the right of getting libations drawn for them during the sacrificial ritual, by having repaired the head of the sacrifice (Vedi) which had got severed. And the story is repeated on and on in the various Vedic texts (pp. 242-250). If the medical practice is so efficacious that even gods, who do not like the medical men, can be in need of it, it must have been really efficacious for mere humans.

Thus there is sufficient evidence in Debiprasad's book to show that Indian medicine, in the period considered by him, flourished continuosly and worked effectively. Therefore, it appears that he takes up the task of finding the processes which inhibited the growth of science only because the theoretical formulations of ancient Indian medicine during their evolution did not ' lead to the creation of science, in the modern sense, as expected of the normal course of their development' (p.212). And what are the inhibitory factors that he finds ? Debiprasad collects two types of evidence to show the presence of inhibitory factors. We shall discuss these two separately :

1. Evidence (in Chapter 2) from literary sources—especially from what he calls the Indian legal literature : He shows that in this literature there is intense contempt for the knowledge acquired by observation, and for the rational method. Also, the legal-literature assigns a low-caste status to the physicians, and even the medical gods are not quite at par with other gods.

We are no authorities on Vedic literature to discuss how far this evidence is reliable. So we shall assume that all that is said about the Vedic literature is correct. All that this evidence proves is that in the socio-ethical-religious context the scientific method was not considered suitable ; and that the physicians did not belong to the ruling classes. These two are; just not sufficient to establish that scientific method in the medical context could not have survived.

Then, there is the related question that, as far as historical evidence is available, the-legal literature and the rational-medicine flourished at the same time. Obviously, there must have been sufficient realization of the relevance of alternative systems of knowledge in alternative contexts (as emphasized by the physicians in the canonical texts of medicine themselves) to allow for the simultaneous flourishing of two different knowledge systems. Debiprasad does not accept this hypothesis (pp.273-274). Instead, he seems to propose to explain this historical fact of the simultaneous development of Upanishadic philosophy and rational-therapeutics, by claiming -that the latter developed outside Upanishadic India—the development of the two was spatially separated if not temporally. In support of this he quotes the story of Uddalaka Aruni who is born in Kuru-Pancala but has to go out of his native place to the physician Saunaka, 'who lives in some comparatively unknown place outside the stronghold of Upanishadic culture', in order to pursue his interest in medical questions (pp. 303-304). The hold of Upanishadic literature must have been rather limited to allow the Indian medicine to continuously flourish for ten centuries outside its strongholds!

2. Evidence (in Chapter 3) from Caraka-Samhita : In this section Debiprasad lists evidence from within Caraka-Samhita which goes against its expressed reliance in the scientific method. Debiprasad's hypothesis is that these extra-scientific statements in Caraka-Samhita are in the nature of tributes, paid by the physicians to the dominant anti-scientific ideology, to save their science from being entirely banned. While avoiding going into the merits of this hypothesis, we only wish to point out that most of the extra-scientific statements quoted by Debiprasad from Caraka-Samhita are in the nature of ethical statements. Thus a very large portion of Chapter 3 is devoted to showing how Caraka-Samhita, in spite of taking a very scientific interest in the cow, recommends, at other places, that the cow should be worshipped; and how the text, while giving a very scientific description of alcohol and listing 84 varieties of wines, insists at other places that celibacy (brahmacharya, which includes avoidance of alcohol) is a virtue. It is difficult to see why a scientist, while realizing the importance of a scientific understanding of the cow and alcohol in the medical context, is not allowed to hold the cow worshippable and alcohol obnoxious, ordinarily. If Buddha with all his piety and all his insistence on ahimsa can recognise the medical need of eating flesh and thereby lose nothing of his ethics, why must the scientist recognizing the ethical need of worshipping the cow and avoiding alcohol lose all his science?

Debiprasad believes that the ancient physicians, by taking an interest in the ethical-social questions, stopped ancient medicine from evolving into modern medicine. He may well be correct. But he does not prove that this interest in the social-ethical questions stopped ancient medicine from flourishing, in the period under consideration, or from curing sickness—and that is all that matters.

It is a belief of the modern scholarship on science that recognition of the ethical and social needs in a knowledge system is anti-scientific. Thus, we hear Needham saying about Confucius:

"To neglect man and speculate about Nature was, he (Confucius) believed, to misunderstand the whole universe. And so it was that he struck a blow at science by emphasizing its social context too much and too soon." [The Shorter Science and Civilization in China, abridged by C. A. Ronin, Vol. 1, p. 83].

Debiprasad, by acquiescing in this belief, loses the opportunity of finding how the ethical-social views that the ancient physicians held effected the content and form of their science and made it so different from modern science, whose unstated ethics is the ethics of the market and of unbridled exploitation of both nature and man for the sake of profit.

However, let us state that if this denial of all ethics except the ethics of the market is essential for the development of modern science, as both Needham and 'Debiprasad seem to imply, then let us not have modern science. We shall still have a science, just as the ancient physicians had a medicine, that was scientific, that flourished and that cured.



Author:J. K. Bajaj



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