Why the Caraka-Samhita is (not) a manual for practice

Dr. med. Ananda Chopra

“The textbook is a light providing brightness, eye is your own intellect” – Why the Caraka-Sahitā is (not) a manual for practice.

The Caraka-Saṃhitā is without doubt one of the most important texts of Āyurveda. In the present syllabus for the study of Āyurveda in India (the “BAMS-Syllabus”) the Caraka-Saṃhitā is the only traditional text which the student has to study in full. A short glance into the work, however, reveals that the Caraka-Saṃhitā is a work of many voices and many layers. The 120 chapters, distributed over 8 books, are anything but a systematic primer or a handbook for practice. The work is full of redundancies and at times even contradictions. Specific recipes for medicinal preparations are found side by side with philosophical discussions e. g. on the training and practice of physicians. No wonder then, that over many generations the Caraka-Saṃhitā did not serve as a primer of Āyurveda. Students interested in learning the fundamentals of Āyurveda or pracitioners interested in everyday diagnosis and therapy used other works. Specific historical and cultural processes in 19th and 20th century India, especially the rise of a “Renaisaance-ideology”, lead to the Caraka-Saṃhitā acquiring its present position of prominence. Reflecting on the nature of medicine, especially the fact that medicine is a practical art and not an exact science, one finds that the Caraka-Saṃhita does indeed offer a wealth of inspiration and instruction for today’s practitioner of Āyurveda! Taking form and contents of the present Caraka-Saṃhitā as a point of departure, all these aspects will be discussed concisely.

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