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Medicine in India

Systematic Medicine

Structured systematic thought about medicine in India can first clearly be detected in sayings of the Buddha. In the Samyuttanikaya (4.230–231), part of the Buddhist canon (c. 250 B.C.E.), the Buddha is represented as contradicting the view that suffering is caused only by the effects of bad karma. He says that it is caused by eight factors: bile, phlegm, wind, and their pathological combination, changes of the seasons, the stress of unusual activities, external agency, as well as the ripening bad karma. This is the first moment in documented Indian history that these medical categories and explanations are combined in a clearly systematic manner, and it is these very factors that later became the cornerstone of classical Indian medical theory, or ayurveda (Sanskrit, "the knowledge for long life"). Great encyclopedias of medicine were composed in India during the centuries before and after the time of Christ, and these works brought together not only treatises on anatomy, including embryology, diagnosis, surgery, epidemics, pharmacology, and so forth, but many reflective philosophical passages discussing, for example, the origin of the human being, the rules of medical debate, methods for the interpretation of technical terminology and scientific expression, and so forth.

The two best-known compendia to survive from this era go under the names of their editors, Sushruta and Caraka. All this work was synthesized in the early seventh century C.E. into the great work The Heart of Medicine by the Sindhi author Vagbhata. This work became the textbook par excellence for ayurveda, the Sanskrit equivalent of Avicenna's Canon, and every bit as influential as that work. The later history of Sanskrit medical literature is a mixture of further works of grand synthesis and the proliferation of works on specialized topics and manuals for the working physician. Innovation took place both in the content and the form of the medical literature. By the nineteenth century, when European medical education and practice began to have a decisive impact in South Asia, Indian students who chose to specialize in medical studies were being exposed to a tradition of sophisticated medical reasoning and theory almost two thousand years old. This tradition was embodied in its practitioners and the literature they preserved through energetic and wide-ranging manuscript copying, which included multilingual dictionaries of materia medica, allegorical medical dramas, toxicological manuals, and veterinary texts, in addition to more predictable reference and teaching works. Hindu and Muslim physicians sometimes worked side by side, though their practices remained distinct.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Mathematics to Methanal trimerMedicine in India - Systematic Medicine, Medical Concepts And Therapies, Surgery, Modernization And Globalization, Bibliography