Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at
Mon Feb 3 12:16:36 UTC 1997

On Sat, 1 Feb 1997, claude setzer wrote:

> At the conference in Bangalore, there was the claim that traditional (does
> this mean ancient?) Ayurveda had no claim to a holistic system of spiritual
> development that included meditation for perfection of the body. As I
> recall, this book was one of many references I remember seeing that
> disagree with that claim.

There are many, many books written in recent decades which conflate
ayurveda with yoga, tantra, and the author's personal philosophy.  It is
an interesting trend, and part of the history of ideas relating to the
interpretation of Indian culture this century.  It is certainly related to
the commercialization of ayurveda, and the popularity of yogic clinics of
various types, what Zysk has usefully termed "New Age Ayurveda."

However, if one reads the actual Sanskrit texts, a different picture
emerges.  Ayurveda in pre-modern times was self-consciously not the same
as yoga, tantra, or even dharmasastra.  (There is a nice passage in
Cakrapanidatta's c. on Caraka where he makes this point explicitly: 
ayurveda is for attaining health, not for attaining dharma directly;  but
health is a prerequisite for the pursuance of the purusarthas.)  Ayurveda
sought to help people who were suffering through illness and injury, and,
if possible, to prevent these conditions from arising.  Ayurveda has
always included discussions of longevity treatments, aphrodisiacs, and the
exorcism of demons.  But the classical texts stay clear of mercury and
other metals by and large, until the fourteenth century. 

The earliest Sanskrit text to try to bring ayurveda and yoga into some
sort of direct relationship is the yogic text called "Ayurvedasutra".  Its
date is obscure, but probably not earlier than the sixteenth century.  It
is a yogic text primarily, and it's version of ayurvedic theory is very
skewed compared with the classics (it sees ama, crude matter, as the
single cause of all disease, not a classical position at all). 

"Was ayurveda holistic?" is an essay title I give my undergraduates from
time to time.  There is quite a lot one can say on both sides of the
argument, but it is pretty clear that ayurveda was not holistic in the
strong sense in which most people take that term.  Incidentally, the word
and modern concept "holism" come from the philosophical writings of the
South African general J. C. Smuts, who first coined the term in his 1926
book _Holism and Evolution_, and subsequently popularized the term by
writing about it in the Times newspaper.

Not a lot of people know that.

Best wishes, 

Dominik Wujastyk               Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine
email: d.wujastyk at          183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, England
<URL:>                    FAX: 44 171 611 8545

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