Monday, August 4, 2008

Human Destiny and an Ethical life

Dr. M.S. Valiathan

38th Founder Memorial Lecture 2002
Shriram Institute For Industrial Research, Delhi
The Yoga Vasistha insisted that our fate is in our hands and all our experiences could be controlled by a determined effort of the human will. This view or Paurusheya claimed that human will was all-powerful, and fate could be overcome. At the other end of the specturm, several schools held that fate (daiva) controlled our actions and human destiny was no more than its plaything. Charaka took an intermediate view which was novel in Indian philosophy. According to him, while the effects of acts of enormous wickedness could not be prevented by good conduct, those of all others could be countered or modified by conscious action based on good conduct. An illness which resulted from one’s improper Karma could be prevented or cured by non-moral actions such as proper health care. One could not contend that relief from illness under those circumstances had nothing to do with health care, and that it was a consequence of one’s past good deeds. If the effort of the patient and the physician could achieve nothing and the entire course of life was predestined, the endeavour of Ayurveda would lose purpose and significance. It was reasonable to claim that ‘fate’ came into play only when one’s best efforts failed to arrest the consequences of abominable actions. Vagbhata too echoed the Ayurvedic belief in the possibility of the triumph of human action over fate.
The motivations of all human actions are the desire for long life, the desire for wealth and the desire for the future life. In adopting this clear-cut view, Charaka differed from the traditional systems of Indian philosophy. The Vaiseshika looked upon the attraction to pleasure and aversion to pain as the motivations for human action; Nyaya went beyond attraction and aversion and traced their mutual source to delusion (moha); yoga of Patanjali held that virtuous actions arose from the tendency towards emancipation and sinful actions from ignorance and egoism; Advaita Vedanta insisted that all actions arose from ignorance (avidya). Charaka departed from all these views which identified false knowledge as the cause of all our troubles and upheld the realisation of the higher truth as the ultimate answer to the pain of existence. He urged that evil and suffering arose through our errors in judgement and imprudent conduct (Prajnaparadha) which had no philosophical significance. It was entirely within our non philosophic capability to give up errors and adopt virtuous conduct (Sadvritta). Ayurveda – the science of life – was always more than medicine and spoke of life which is good (hita) or bad (ahita), happy (sukha) or unhappy (dukha). A good and happy life is nothing without good health, but it is far more: it demands prudent and virtuous conduct that is conducive to the good of the individual, his surroundings and the society of which he is a part.
At the experimental level, what are doshas which constitute the central doctrine on which diagnosis and treatment are based in Ayurveda? Charaka says in no uncertain terms that doshas are substances. As they have never been chemically identified, there have been suggestions to regard them as concepts. This may be a mistake and giving up on an ancient doctrine too soon. Plant formulations which oppose the properties of the three doshas are well known and used regularly for Ayurvedic treatment. If the plants with properties opposed to each dosha could be characterised in terms of biological activity – antimitotic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immuno-modulatory etc., and they showed characteristics fingerprints, the first step in identifying the doshas might have been taken. These are merely examples of the kind of exciting work which calls out to be done in what could be called Ayurvedic nosology and biology.
For detail of the article go to:India’s Medical Legacy,dated:०५-०८-2008