A Synopsis by Amrutha MK (Research Associate, NIAS) – on “Healing the Mind and the Body: The History of Āyurveda” Lecture given by Prof. Dominik Wujastyk on 17 March 2021 Series Title: Sanskrit Language & its Traditions: A Journey Through its History and Contemporaneity Organised by: NIAS Consciousness Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Dominik Wujastyk delivered the ninth lecture titled “Healing the Mind and the Body: The History of Āyurveda” for the series on “Sanskrit Language and its Traditions: A Journey Through its History and Contemporaneity”. He began the lecture with a captivating account of the long-established tradition of Āyurveda from a historical perspective. And he ended the session with an introduction to the Suśruta project run by him at the University of Alberta, and demonstrated the effective use of technology in the editing process of manuscripts as the project focused on the 9th-century Compendium of Suśruta from Kathmandu.
In the talk, he discussed the nature and consequences of modernity to explain the trajectory of the growth of traditional systems of medicine. Further, he elaborated on the key features of modernization focusing on the ancient “scholarly medicine”. While narrating the transition from local to global, he identified “disembedding, globalization, self-referentiality and reflexivity” as key features of modernization.
Prof. Wujastyk pointed out that a tradition must develop novel ways for maintaining trust outside the local space when the traditional medical system transforms itself into a global space. He showed that different networks of trust were developed between the practitioner and the patient before the tradition was disembedded. To elaborate, he suggested that to invoke trust between practitioner and patient several images and ideas were projected as key features of these medical systems. Besides, he observed that the narratives glorifying the potential of Āyurveda were confined to the discussions on antiquity. But he argued that these validating claims popularly adopted for Āyurveda were a “ritual semiotic act” more than a historical one. Indian traditional medicine invoked history as a significant support system, whereas in modern medicine ancient past was not invoked as a validation of medical efficacy, he added. According to Prof. Wujastyk, strategic narration on validation of modern medicine depended on signs of novelty, technology, and professionalism.
Prof. Wujastyk discussed various Āyurvedic literature and the concepts of Āyurvedic body and Āyurvedic system described in that literature. Taking a cue from Tim Maudin’s ideas on formalism, Prof. Wujastyk distinguished formalism from theory. He said, “Formalism enables us to calculate a result. But a theory offers an ontology and a predictive scheme. The theory provides an ontological reality to imagine a predictive scheme.” Prof. Wujastyk claimed that Āyurveda had a theoretical richness that could explain complex phenomena in terms of a set of simple ideas and there was also a predictive system by which it operated. According to him, Āyurveda provided a formal scheme and offered a theory of the human body, on illness and health. The Suśruta project which he detailed in the final section demonstrated the process of manuscript editing aided by technology. The session ended with a lively question-answer session.