Blood circulation

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at UCL.AC.UK
Tue Jul 6 11:14:47 UTC 1999

On Mon, 5 Jul 1999, Alok Kumar wrote:

> (From Susruta Samhita, sutrasthana, 14: 19-20)  If this is correct, it
> is easy to assume that the Hindus knew about the blood circulation
> much before Harvey.  I do not have a copy of Susruta Samhita to check
> the validity of the above quotation.

The passage is in fact from SuSu 14:3, and it concerns not blood (rakta,
"sonita), but chyle (rasa), i.e., the juice to which food is reduced by
cooking in the digestive fire, and before it is converted into blood in
the liver and spleen. The passage (Velthuis encoding) runs as follows:


SuSu 14:3

tatra paa~ncabhautikasya caturvidhasya .sa.drasasya
dvividhaviiryasyaa.s.ta vidhaviiryasya vaa
'nekagu.nasyopayuktasyaahaarasya samyakpari.natasya yastejobhuuta.h
saara.h paramasuuk.sma.h sa rasa.h, ityucyate, tasya h.rdaya.m sthaana.m,
sa h.rdayaaccaturvi.m"satidhamaniiranupravi"syordhvagaa da"sa da"saa
dhogaaminya"scatasra"sca tiryaggaa.h k.rtsna.m "sariiramaharahastarpayati
vardhayati dhaarayati yaapayati caad.r.s.tahetukena karma.naa| tasya
"sariiramanu sarato 'numaanaadgatirupalak.sayitavyaa
k.sayav.rddhivaik.rtai.h tasmin
sarva"sariiraavayavado.sadhaatumalaa" rase
jij~naasaakimaya.m saumyastaijasa iti atrocyatesa khalu dravaanusaarii
snehanajiivanata rpa.nadhaara.naadibhirvi"se.sai.h saumya ityavagamyate 3


Apart from the fact that this does not describe blood, but rasa, it is
important to note that it also does not describe circulation, but
uni-directional river-like flow.  I.e., rasa moves from the heart
(ablative) outwards along the 24 pipes (dhamanis, usually the bearers of
vaata).  It doesn't go round; it doesn't go to the lungs (which are not
clearly described in ayurveda).  It doesn't come back.  The verb you get
is "anusarati", but this doesn't mean "circulate", but "seek" or "follow"
(you would want the prefix "pari" to give any sense of going round).  The
general scientific metaphor, which is made explicit elsewhere (SuSa 7.3),
is that of the irrigation of gardens and fields.

Finally, the author actually says that he doesn't know why any of this
happens:  "ad.r.s.tahetukena karma.naa".

You ask about Su's date:

"The upshot, after taking account of these and other arguments, is that in
Susruta's text we have a work the kernel of which probably started some
centuries BC in the form of a text mainly on surgery, but which was then
heavily revised and added to in the centuries before AD 500.  This is the
form in which we have received the work in the oldest surviving
manuscripts today."

                -- Roots of Ayurveda, p.105


I find these questions interesting, and I am not surprised or offended
that people without deep study of these matters assume that everything
must be already pre-discovered in the Sanskrit texts.  This is, after all,
merely an extension of the pure orthodox position that all knowledge is in
the Veda.  Generations of people have been taught this from childhood.
And in fact, there are many surprising and original insights in Sanskrit
texts, which is why they are so enjoyable and interesting.  But blood
circulation does not happen to be one of them.

However, it is true that perhaps beginners should not be posting to this
list, which assumes a university-level acquaintance with original sources.

Dominik Wujastyk

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