Ayurveda’s bane

The peculiar difficulty of a serious student of the ancient branch of medicine

April 15, 2018 12:15 am | Updated 02:05 pm IST

My friends often ask me why I didn't pursue post-graduate studies in ayurveda. This is a detailed reply to the question. Although somewhat autobiographical, I suppose it serves the public interest by highlighting the inadequately recognised intellectual crisis in the field of ayurveda — a crisis that can be career-smothering to a sensitive student. May we see!

Although I was the college-topper all through my undergraduate course in ayurveda, I discovered towards the end that I had not quite understood the fundamentals of ayurveda’s theoretical framework. Scholarly expositions on the subject are, frankly, contradictory, and popular versions, ludicrously confusing. I therefore decided to take some time off the formal university schooling with a view to conduct an independent study all by myself.

Given that ayurvedic theories have their roots in Indian philosophical systems, this endeavour would involve a first-hand study of the ayurveda classics alongside a perusal of the Nyaya-Vaisheshika, Sankhya-Yoga a nd the vedanta systems. Books on western medicine and the modern scientific method also required careful reading. Most importantly, the study had to be conducted with a simple-minded devotion to truth. At the end of this extremely fulfilling exercise, I did come to acquire a clearer grasp of ayurveda, its theories and their contemporary relevance. I could also see clearly that the central bane of ayurveda education today is the grossly unscientific approach the academia have unwittingly adopted to its study.

Deriving usable patient care information from centuries-old medical treatises first requires a dispassionate sifting of their contents. This sifting should aim to remove the obviously discernible pseudoscientific vestiges on the one hand and to enhance the scientific compatibility of the relevant portions on the other. The current approach of the ayurvedic academia to the study and teaching of the ayurveda classics is characterised by a woeful ignorance of this vital need. They hold, seldom declaring it expressly, that the ancient ayurveda texts, having been 'divined' by yogis and sages, are perfected products relevant almost in their entirety. This gross superstition is often presented pretentiously as the "epistemological distinction" and the "trans-scientific" nature of ayurveda.

While aspects of clinical medicine contained in the ayurveda classics might reasonably be expected to retain relevance, their conjectures relating to the basic sciences of anatomy, physiology and pathology forswear, for obvious reasons, all such claims. This is a simple truth that the academia appears pitiably uncomfortable with. Outdated medical facts are held current and imperfect hypotheses, eulogised as perfect laws. This process is aided by laboured misinterpretations of ancient aphorisms to suit contemporary scientific findings. Add to this the extremely crass New Age fancy of 'discovering' the ideas of quantum physics in Indian philosophical literature, the Procrustean bed of laboured misinterpretations achieves its lethal completeness. This dangerously flawed approach leads to un-understandable theorisation, imperfect clinical application and a complete smothering of innovative spirit.

Getting back to the university to pursue post-graduate education in such an atmosphere of intellectual inertia and scientific dullness was out of question. Taking the post-graduate entrance test, for instance, would mean toeing the established line of untruth and negating all that I had come to genuinely understand during the course of my independent study. I therefore started with my private practice; alongside, I wrote essays for popular journals — essays that were meant primarily to expound the strengths of ayurveda while red-flagging the irrational approach that has been adopted to its study today.

I love this work and shall continue with it in spite of the career-smothering academic ambience I’m surrounded with. My inspiration comes from those noble and selfless vedic sages, who for the singular cause of alleviating human suffering, worked untiringly to bless us with immortal classical knowledge systems such as ayurveda and vedanta.


Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.