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Medicine of the Gods

by Chris Morgan
Âyurveda means literally the 'science (Veda) of longevity', but because of its divine origins I have
entitled this article 'Medicine of the Gods. It was originally a Hindu medical system and had its
beginnings more than two and half thousand years ago in the sixth century before the present era (or if
you prefer BC.). Ayurveda soon developed outside of the strictly Hindu community and was taken up
and adapted by Buddhists and other religious groups. It has survived until the present day and is in fact
undergoing a renaissance both in India and throughout the western world, which sees it as a necessary
compliment to the Clinical model.
Âyurveda developed at about the same time as Buddhism and Hinduism and replaced earlier ideas
on disease and Healing that were written down in religious texts such as the Atharva Veda. Until
Âyurveda came on the scene, disease was usually explained in terms of possession by various demonic
disease entities. This earlier 'system' was perhaps successful because disease was less frequent. But
with the growth of cities and a more settled way of life, new diseases arose and as a response a new
medical system was needed.
Âyurveda is basically a humoural medical system that maintains that there are three essential
humours which cause disease if they become imbalanced. These three humours are usually translated in
English as Wind, Bile and Phlegm. Occasionally in the surgical tradition a fourth humour - blood - was
added. Surgery and physical Âyurveda became two separate traditions, surgery being more important
amongst the Buddhists, who for one reason or another are less hung up about ritual purity and contact
with taboo bodily products such as blood.
According to Ayurvedic medicine most people are born in a state of equipoise but quickly loose it,
either through bad diet, bad treatment or moving away from the physical location most conducive to
their natural constitution and temperament. Everyone is recommended to discover for themselves what
the optimum conditions for them might be and to try to keep themselves on an even keel. The primary
method for returning and maintaining the humours to a state of equipoise is diet. There are general
recommendations of diet such as always eating hot food in the cold season etc. etc. However, more
serious illness must be treated by a qualified Ayurvedic physicians, who has undergone at least seven
years of training. He or she will recommended a more finely tuned diet as well as special therapeutic
techniques to attempt to redress serious imbalances of the humours.
There is an ancient story, recorded also in the medical texts that explains the advent of these new
diseases in mythological terms. It is called the Myth of Daksha's sacrifice. In this story, the god Shiva
in revenge for not being invited to Daksha's wedding sacrifice, sacrifices Daksha! Sometimes it is said
that Shiva was angry because Daksha's feast was an incestuous wedding sacrifice. In the ensuing chaos
the following diseases were engendered: gulma (tumours), prameha (diabetes), kushtha (leprosy),
unmâda (insanity), apasmâra (epilepsy), raktapitta (haemorrhage) and râjayakshma (consumption).1
Medicine has a long association with the way of the warrior. Shiva, the god blamed for spreading
so many new diseases is often associated with war. Another warrior god called Indra, is said to be have
given 'the science of longevity' - Âyurveda to humanity in order to rid them of these same diseases. So
one god gives another takes away. In fact Shiva and Indra are very closely related, like two sides of the
same coin. Perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that those who are most skilled at inflicting pain are also the
very ones to remove it again. {plato says a similar thing in the Republic)
The warrior god Indra has an earthly son called Arjuna. Arjuna is the archetypal martial artist and
participated in the long and bloody war that according to Indian tradition marks the beginning of
human history. His story is told in the epic poem the Mahabharata. In one very suggestive episode,
Arjuna is forced to hide his identity and is able through his physical skill to hide his masculinity and
assume the form of a eunuch. This episode has always reminded me of the supposed ability of some
male martial artists to raise their testicles into their abdomen and thus protect them from injury. But be
warned, although Arjuna eventually recovered his masculinity his was permanently barred from
assuming the role of King. [As a Eunuch Arjuna talk dancing - another important link with MA]
Another more obvious, connection between Âyurveda and the martial arts comes through its
doctrine of vital points. It is perhaps more well known that Indian sexology describes a system of
1 CS.II.8,11.
Medicine of the Gods

erogenous zones (candrakalas in Sanskrit) or points of arousal. These points are enumerated in texts
such as the Kama Sutra and Ananga Ranga, erotic texts which take many of their source ideas from
the medical tradition. However perhaps less well known is the counterpoint to the erogenous zones ;
these are the points of vulnerability or marmas. Sushruta, who was an ancient surgeon who lived about
2000 years ago, identified about 140 marmas and some of these have been matched with corresponding
pressure points in jujitsu and other martial arts. The following diagram, taken from a recent translation
of Sushruta's medical textbook, shows some of the important marmas in the arms and legs.
Martial arts tradition has it that Buddhist missionaries travelling from Indian in the first few
centuries of our era took with them some early forms of martial arts, ideas that became the precursors
of the Chinese and Far Eastern variations. There is therefore a direct link between the surgeon
Sushruta, whose work was widely studied by Buddhists and the highly developed system of pressure
points and meridians. The terms may have changed but the underlying concepts of Âyurveda and the
fighting arts of Asia are surprisingly similar.

If you would like to know more I have written a short book on Ayurveda called Medicine of the
Gods published by Mandrake of Oxford at £6.99 paperback,