Saturday, November 5, 2016

Learning methods suggested in Charaka Samhita

Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita are considered as the foremost among the many well-known works that form the foundations of practicing Ayurveda. It is our good fortune that many Ayurveda treatises are available despite ravages of time and upheavals in history. These valuable works have stood the test of times for several centuries, revered and studied even today. Practicing Ayurveda Doctors use these books as reference and source material for treatment of patients. These books contain exhaustive discussions on various aspects of life, apart from treatment of diseases and keeping the human body fit and strong. In fact, there are many chapters that give excellent insight into maintaining the human body to prevent diseases and requirement of their treatment. Some of the areas mentioned in the books are applicable to other walks of life as well.

Charaka Samhita available in present form is believed to be at least two thousand years old. It was originally taught by sage Atreya, later codified by sage Agnivesha, further edited and popularized by sage Charaka. Sage Dridhabala is credited with revising it and made available in the present form. It is a voluminous treatise and requires months of dedicated study to understand its contents and appreciate its intrinsic value.

Modern thinkers also agree that learning and teaching revolves around these four important factors: student, teacher, learning tools and methods of learning.  Chapter VIII of Vimana Sthana (Sthana is a major division of the book, similar to Acts in a drama) in Charaka Samhita discusses, among others, the qualities required in an earnest student and competent teacher. It also deals with the tests to be applied for selecting text books and learning methods. These discussions are basically for learning and practicing Ayurveda, but equally applicable for any other branch of learning. Some key ingredients to make the process of learning and teaching to become successful and achieve the expected goals are summarized below:

Qualities of a student:
  • A student should be peaceful and noble in disposition, not given to mean acts.
  • He should have powers of reasoning and memory, liberal minded and devoted to truth.
  • He must be modest, gentle, capable of understanding nature of things, not irritable and free from addiction of any kind.
  • He should have single-minded devotion to knowledge, both of theory and practical work.
  • He should be obedient to all instructions of the teacher and desirous of welfare of all creatures. 

Qualities of a teacher:
  • The teacher chosen should be one who is thoroughly versed both in theory and practice.
  • The teacher should be skillful, upright, pure, who is conversant with human nature.
  • He should have special insight into the subject he teaches and free from envy, endowed with fortitude, affectionate towards his pupils, proficient in reading and skillful in exposition.
  • Such a teacher can equip the good disciples with all the required qualities just as the rain clouds at the proper season endow the fertile field with best of crops.

Student-teacher relationship:
  • A student approaching such a teacher, with a view to winning his favor should wait on him vigilantly as on the sacrificial fire, as on a god, king or one’s father and one’s patron.
  • The student having learnt the subject from the teacher thus should, for the sake of strengthening his understanding, strive constantly and well to perfect the knowledge so gained.

Selection of books:
  • An intelligent man will appraise the task before him and should first of all select a treatise (a detailed account of the subject – a text book) of the subject.
  • From among the many available treatises, he should choose the one that has obtained great popularity and is approved by wise men, which is comprehensive in scope, held in esteem by those who are worthy of credence.
  • The treatise should be suitable for the understanding of the three grades of students (highly intelligent, moderate and others).
  • The book should be free from the fault of repetition, well arranged with commentary and summary.
  • Words used should be in traditionally accepted sense, concerned mainly with determining the true nature of things relevant to the theme.
  • Topics must be arranged in an orderly manner, rapidly elucidating and enriched with definitions and illustrations.
  • Such treatise illuminates everything like the unclouded sun dispels darkness.

Method of study:
  • The student who has consecrated all his time for study should rise at the dawn or while yet a portion of the night is still left.
  • After his routine, he should sit at ease on clean and even ground and should study with concentration.
  • He should go over the contents again and again, all the while understand their import fully, in order to correct his own faults of reading and also to recognize the measure of faults in others.
  • The vigilant student should apply himself to study in the afternoon and night as well.

Discussion as a learning tool:
  • Discussion with a person learning the same subject is indeed what makes for an increase of knowledge and happiness.
  • It contributes towards clarity of understanding, increases dialectical skill, dispels doubts and enables learning new things in the course of discussion.
  • Discussion brings out the hidden meanings learnt from the teacher in general class session.
  • Discussion is of two types; friendly discussion and hostile method of discussion.
  • Friendly discussion is enjoined with a person that does not get angered, that can be persuaded and persuades, and is endowed with tolerance and pleasantness of speech.
  • In friendly discussions, one should not be afraid of discomfiture, not rejoice at the discomfort of other students and not boast before others.
  • In hostile discussion, a student must investigate beforehand, the points of merits and demerits of the opponent and the difference in excellence between himself and the opponent. 

Here are some definitions on learning issues, given in the book:
  • Doubt is uncertainty of the mind regarding things. 
  • Purpose is that for attainment of which efforts are made. 
  • Imperfect statement is that which is beset with defects of speech.
  • Analogy is that which shows the similarity of one thing to another
  • Question (in a debate) is that which an opponent puts when two persons discuss the subject, in order to test the knowledge, experience and dialectical skill of the other.
  • Further Question is a question about a question for seeking clarity. 
  • Insufficient statement is a statement wherein the proposition, cause, example, application, or deduction are found wanting.

There are many other definitions and advantages of a hostile debate which are explained extensively in Charaka Samhita. There is a need to study all these valuable works of yesteryears and bring out the hidden treasures of knowledge for use by the present  and future generations.



  1. Nice summary. Did not realize the survive treatise has this as well

  2. Keshav Murthy Sir
    I admire your knowledge in divers fields.
    Hats off to you.

  3. Your knowledge is vast and diverse indeed. Feel proud that our ancients had so much wisdom, and identified all of those currently being proclaimed as new discoveries.

  4. Thank you for showing light on the whole process of learning and teaching that has been documented and practiced in India.
    Indeed, captured and presented very well.

  5. Interesting reading understanding is a long process