Aṣṭāṅgahṛdaya of Vāgbhaṭa and the significance of Indian canonical medical texts (Jens Braarvig)

This sub-project investigates the reception and implementation of the Aṣṭāṅgahṛdaya of Vāgbhaṭa in India, Tibet and later Mongolia.

The medical manual Aṣṭāṅgahṛdaya by Vāgbhaṭa (ca. 700 CE) is beside the Caraka and Suśruta traditions, one of the three main Indian medical classics. This important text is still in use today, not only in the scholarly medical traditions of India, but also surrounding regions, such as Tibet (Wujastyk 2003).

The text gives a comprehensive description of the conception of the human being, his/her illnesses and their cure. It builds on the Indian traditions of medicine, but the views on what a human being is, and how he/she is cured, have some similarities with the Classical Greek medical traditions, which were also based on a system of four elements and three humours (fluids) and their balance. Until the 12th century, the Aṣṭāṅgahṛdaya was one of the most important medical texts in Tibet. The work was translated into Tibetan probably in the 11th century, and as such this text became canonical for both Indian and Tibetan medical traditions.

The project studies the text’s function and application in these cultures from the perspective of mainstream and alternative ways of practicing medicine. Currently, Āyurveda and Tibetan medicine are gaining increased popularity in many contemporary societies around the world. While in Asia, their methods and theories are integrated into state health care provision and are a part of popular foodways and homebased care, they face numeral legal and other challenges in Europe and the US, in particular with regard to the import and use of pharmaceuticals. Thus, the project addresses continuities of reception and negotiation of these traditions in new contexts, first within Asia and more recently in Europe and the US. With their importance for modern alternative medical practice, we aim to provide a deep historical appreciation and understanding of the flows of knowledge and people’s negotiations in practice, with due consideration of their socio-political and legal contexts.

Published June 5, 2014 9:38 AM - Last modified Apr. 6, 2017 10:05 AM