Influence And Relation Between Buddhism And Ayurveda

Article by Dr Manasa
Buddhism has been spreading the sweet message and fragrance of humanity, brotherhood and spirituality and has been one of the popular religions through many centuries.
Ayurveda and Buddhism co-existed. We can find a lot of references in Buddhism related books regarding Ayurveda and Ayurvedic medicines. This shows that Ayurveda had its impact and influence on Buddhism. 

Lord Buddha

Introduction of Buddhism

Buddhism was propounded by the spiritual leader Gouthama Buddha in the 6th century BC. He was the son of Suddhodhana and Maya Devi. Suddhodhana was the leader of tribes called Shakyas who ruled a small country in the modern day Southern Nepal.

Gautama Buddha was born in a small town named ‘Lumbini’. He was born in the year 563 BC at Lumbini Vana, located at a distance of 24 miles away from Kapilavastu towards Nepal. He was named Siddhartha which meant ‘he who has attained his goals’.

Buddha lived in between 563 and 483 BC
Buddha having lost his mother when he was just 7 days old was brought up by Mahaprajapathi Gouthami. Therefore he was later called as Gouthama Buddha.
Buddha married Yashodhara at the age of 16 years. They had a son named Rahul.

Gouthama Buddha abandoned his house and all riches at the age of 29 years and wandered for more than 6 years with an intention of finding out the root cause of all the miseries and unhappiness of the mankind. He sat under the Aswattha tree at Gaya and had been in a thoughtful state for 7 days. On the 8th day i.e. Vaishaka Purnima day, he radiated with extraordinary quantum of knowledge along with the solution to his problem he had been searching for. Buddha had achieved his enlightenment at the age of 35 years. Since then that tree and the town Gaya were called as ‘Bodhi Vriksha’ and ‘Buddha Gaya’ respectively.


Buddha propagated Buddhism for more than 45 years in and around India.
At the age of 80 years, Buddha informed his friend and cousin Ananda that he would abandon the world very soon. He meditated under a groove of Sala trees and died. This event was called Parinirvana.

Buddhist monks

After Buddha’s death, 500 monks met at the 1st council at Rajagrha under the leadership of Kashyapa. Upali recited the basic code called Vinaya. Ananda recited Buddha’s lessons called Sutras. The monks after debating voted on final versions. These were then committed to memory by other monks, to be translated into the many languages of Indian plains.
Read related: History of Acupuncture Treatment

Arya Satyas:
The 4 Arya Satyas are equated to diseases. Its cause and cure is as follows:
Dukha – Vyadhi (disease)
Dosha – Vyadhi Nidana (cause of disease)
Nirodha – Arogya (health)
Marga – Bhaishajya (medicaments)

4 Noble Truths –
Life is suffering
Suffering is due to attachment
Attachment can be overcome
There is a path for accomplishing this

The Eight-fold Path –
Right view
Right aspiration
Right speech
Right action
Right livelihood
Right effort
Right mindfulness
Right concentration

Pancha Shila (5 moral percepts) –
Avoid killing or harming any living things
Avoid stealing
Avoid sexual irresponsibility
Avoid lying or any hurtful speech
Avoid alcohol and drugs

Branches –
Heena Yana
Maha Yana

Texts of Buddhism
Tripitaka (3 baskets in Sanskrit) is the earliest collections of Buddhist scripture. The texts of Tripitaka are organised into 3 major sections:

Vinaya Pitaka (basic law) – contains rules of communal life for monks and nuns
Sutta pitaka – words of the Buddha, collection of sermons of Buddha
Abhidharma pitaka (philosophical commentaries) – contains interpretations and analyses of Buddhist concepts

Ayurveda in Buddha literature

Ayurveda in Buddha Literature
Spirituality and medicine – Buddhism has played a significant role in uniting spirituality and medicine in the west. Eastern medicinal practitioners never doubted the role of religion in the disease. The two have been integrated for thousands of years.

Buddhism a medication – In the Sutras, we find analogies which describe the Buddha as the doctor, knowledge of Dharma as the medicine, Spartan as the nursing staff and all people as the patients. According to this medical analogy Buddhism in its broader meaning can be considered as medication that can cure the ailments in all aspects of life.

Buddha, the Maha Bhishak – Ayurveda existed long before Buddha in the timeline. Buddhism absorbed all previous and prevalent culture and medicine. Lord Buddha was called Maha Bhishak (Great physician) because he showed the path of liberation form disease and death.

Tripitaka literature – oldest source to have a glimpse of Indian Medicine in Buddhist tradition
Navanitaka – one of the Ayurvedic treatises belonging to Buddhist tradition
Saddharma Pundarika – one of the sacred texts of Maha Yana written around 1st century AD has praised Buddha as ‘Maha Vaidya’.

Diagnosis and treatments in Buddha Viharas – The Buddha Viharas were attached to a flower garden and a park and they were furnished, provided food and drinks and equipped with appliances for diagnosis and treatment of diseases
Classification of diseases – diseases were classified into 4 types i.e. Vatika, Paittika, Shleshmika and Sannipatika

Types of plants – 4 types of plants are mentioned as Trina, Gulma, Oushadhi and Vanaspati
Types of administration of medicines – juices, paste, decoction, infusion etc (explained in Saddharma Pundarika)

Dhatu for Mahabhutas – For Panchamahabhutas (5 elements of nature), the word dhatu has been used in place of mahabhuta (in Ardha Vinischaya Sutra of Maha Yana). Ex, Prithvi Dhatu instead of Pridhvi Mahabhuta etc

Dhatu for Dosha – In Maha Yana literature the word dhatu has been used for Vata, Pitta and Kapha instead of Dosha like Vata Dhatu, Pitta Dhatu and Kapha dhatu

Dhatu prakopa and samya – In Buddha Charita it is mentioned that dhatu prakopa (vitiation of dhatus or tissues and doshas) leads to diseases and dhatu samya (balance of tissues or doshas) results in healthy condition

Rutu charya (seasonal regimen) – We can find the description of seasons, their features, diet and regimen to be adopted during those seasons in Suvarna Prabha Sutra

Untimely deaths – 9 types of untimely deaths (which matches with arishta lakshanas of Ayurveda) have been quoted in Maha Yana

Anatomy – references related to Anatomy such as description of body parts, internal organs, number of bones, joints, arteries, veins, tendons, vital organs etc are available
Physiology – the process of digestion and metabolism have been found explained, we can also find the description of quantity of liquid tissues

Vinaya Pitaka References

Ashtanga Ayurveda – Vinaya Pitaka tells us that Ayurveda and all its 8 branches was fully established and flourished in those days

Takshashila – University of Takshashila was familiar in those days. Great acharya (teacher) Atreya had taught medicine to Jivaka for 7 years. Jivaka was the eminent physician and surgeon in those days

Bhaishajya Skanda – In this, different types of drugs, formulations, different types of swedana or sudation therapies, raktamokshana or bloodletting procedures etc are explained

Pancha bheshaja – A combination of 5 substances (pancha bheshaja) namely ghee, butter, honey, oil and jaggery was prescribed as a remedy to treat the vitiated Tridoshas. In this Ghee and butter alleviate Pitta (Pitta hara), Oil will destroy Vata (Vata hara) and Honey and jaggery will pacify Kapha (Kapha hara).

Decoctions or Kashayas – Kashayas (decoctions) and Swarasa (fresh juice) of Haritaki (Terminalia chebula), Haridra (turmeric), Ardraka (Ginger), Vacha (Acorus calamus), Musta (Cyperus rotundus), Ushira (Vetiveria zizanoides) etc have been mentioned as common remedies. Use of decoctions of nimbi (neem), Kutaja (Holarrhena antidysenterica) and Aragwadha (Cassia fistula) were also available.

Anjana and Dhumapana – Treatment procedures like anjana (applications into the eye or collyriums) and Dhumapana (medicated smoking) and the herbs used in the same were mentioned

Shalya – Surgical techniques, post-operative procedures, various types of surgical instruments, procedures of sterilization etc were described

Mahabhutas – Only 4 Mahabhutas of elements of nature are mentioned in Buddhist texts namely, Pridhvi (earth), Ap (water), Tejas (fire) and Vayu (air or wind). Akasha i.e. ether or space has not been mentioned.

Concept of health and hygiene – including cleansing of surroundings, personal cleanliness such as nail cutting, tooth brushing etc were strictly observed

Milinda Prasna References

References from Milinda Prasna –
Medicine and basic principles of Ayurveda have been mentioned
Tridoshas – Concept of Tridoshas, their disturbance, the causative factors for dosha morbidity, production of various diseases, impact of seasons, irregular diet and dietetics over tridoshas, trividha ayatanas (3 types of causative factors) etc were detailed.

8 factors causing the diseases – Nagasena says that the disease is caused 8 factors such as Vata, Pitta, Kapha, Sannipata, Seasonal imbalance, Irregular diet, improper treatment and Past actions

Embryology – development of foetus is indicated in terms of kalala, arbuda, pesi and Ghana (different shapes of foetus at various stages of implantation and early development, sex determination)

For treating poisoning – mixture of ghee, butter, oil, honey and jaggery
Tastes – 6 tastes can be perceived namely sweet, sour, salt, pungent, bitter and astringent
Animals – 4 types of animals namely andaja, jarayuja, swedaja and aupapatika were mentioned

Therapeutic procedures – including sneha (oleation), sweda (sudation), vamana (emesis), virechana (purgation), Vasti (enema), nasya (nasal medication) etc were described

Gomutra haritaki – herbal remedy for jaundice has been mentioned
Visuchika – excessive eating has been mentioned as one of the causes of vishuchika or cholera
Samsarjana – specific restricted diet given after purification of the body with Vamana, Virechana etc has been mentioned as in Ayurveda

Maha Vagga references

References from Maha Vagga –
References regarding diseases and treatment can be found in Maha Vagga
Taila and Nasya for Shira Shoola – Headache can be managed by application of oil on the head and also by administration of medicaments through nostrils i.e. Nasya
Sneha pana – or intake of medicated oil is advised in case of the distension of abdomen
Swedana – sudation therapy is indicated in rheumatism
Swedana and Virechana – it is said that once Lord Buddha had undergone sudation therapy. He was also given purgative medicines sprinkled on lotus flower which exerted its purgative effect on smelling.

Gomutra haritaki – formulation prescribed in Anaemia and Jaundice
Lotus stalks – for treatment of jwara or fever
Raktamokshana – or bloodletting in malarial fever
Snakebite – was dealt with by administration of 4 kinds of filth i.e. dung, urine, ashes and clay

Gomaya rasa – or juice of cow dung was administered as emetic medicine
Surgery – of wounds and abscess were done and they were treated with bandaging, dusting and fumigation
Bhagandara – or fistula was treated with surgery
Classification of drugs – as vegetables, animal products and minerals

Classification of vegetables – roots (example haridra or turmeric, ardraka or ginger), bark (example nimbi or neem, kutaja or Holarrhena antidysenterica), leaves (example, patola or pointed gourd, tulasi or holy basil), fruits (example, vidanga or Embelia ribes, Pippali or long pepper) and latex (example, hingu or asafoetida)
Detailed account of Jivaka and his miraculous medical and surgical cures have been mentioned in Maha Vagga

Chulla Vagga references

References from Chulla Vagga –
Pitta remedy – Pitta dosha is usually aggravated after rainy season. Hence the combination of 5 substances (ghee, oil, butter, honey and jaggery) was prescribed as a remedy.

Useful components of drugs for medicinal purposes – roots, barks, leaves, fruits and latex
Aromatic herbs – were used for treating skin diseases, scabies was treated with powders
Collyrium – for eye diseases, eye ointments and collyrium were applied with collyrium rods
Bhaspa sweda – steam fomentation was indicated in Amavata or rheumatoid arthritis

Lord Buddha was not only a philosopher but also a physician practically and served humanity. Medicine proved to be an effective tool for spread and expansion of Buddhism. Buddhists offered medical service in their Viharas. Along with Buddhism, Indian Medicine and Ayurveda traveled far and wide and thus had sown its seed in other countries also.

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