Empirical medicine


Much of the evidence from this time points to the fact that the empirical-based medical science of Ayurveda and the Indian ascetical tradition both grew up outside the orthodox religious hierarchy. Beyond the confines of ritual and convention, physicians explored the energetics of the natural world; the taste (rasa), energy (virya) and the specific action (prabhava) of plants and minerals.
Meanwhile, the ascetics explored the inner realms of consciousness; the layers of the mind (buddhi, manas, citta), energy centres (cakra) and supernatural
powers (siddhi). These two traditions met in the heterodox realm as they were united by their separation from the mainstream culture. It seems evident that early ascetics used plant medicine and possibly were among some of the pioneers of
Ayurveda. There is some evidence for this; Brahmajalasuttanta of the Dighanikaya 1.1.27 and 1.12 confirms that the s´ramanas (wandering mendicants) used various medical techniques to earn a livelihood. A Greek writer, Strabo
(c.64BCE–21CE), in his Geography, refers to Megasthenes’ comments that these s´ramanas were known as physicians (see Zysk’s works on Indian medicine). Later, these new developments were absorbed into mainstream culture as ayurvedic physicians and ascetic yogis became accepted by
the orthodox traditions. The Sanskritisation of early hathayoga texts, i.e. Goraksas´ataka (c.1300CE), is a good example of this. Despite being heavily influenced by Buddhism, Ayurveda’s primary reference point for the last
2500 years has been Hinduism (Zysk 1991). The two have evolved within the same cultural framework. To summarise the Hindu worldview, orthodox Hindu culture perceives reality as an existence in which the nature of the self (atman) is obscured
by a veil of ignorance (avidya). Individuals are destined to play out the effects of their karma in a perpetual cycle of rebirths. Karma, the causal relationship that effects every action, has a reaction; the results of previous actions determine our



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