Ayurveda and the Buddha

What do you think the relation of ayurvedic medicinal practises are to the Buddha in his time?

What roots of ayurveda do we see substantiated in the EBTs, if any?

I know that by the time we have vajrayāna Buddhism, the mastery of ayurveda is considered one of the activities of the bodhisattva, one of those masterings necessary for complete awakening, but this is at a much later stage of Buddhism. Certainly some degree of ayurvedic thinking can be found in Abhidharma scholasticism and particularly influences some commentaries.

How much ayurveda do we find in EBTs, though?


Part of the problem with dating ayurveda is this mindset:


There is a lot wrong wit the above article but it seems to be the norm for claiming that the Buddha and Buddhists traditionally practised ayurveda.

Here you go:

Studies in Traditional Indian Medicine in the the Pāli Canon:

"Ayurveda Pali.pdf (1.1 MB)


There’s mention of the four - bile, phlegm, etc causing disease, and we know Jivaka was the Buddha’s physician, but I’m not sure if there is much more, though in the EBTs’. People seem to be using their own immune system and going through much pain when they were struck down by illness, and often death seems imminent. I suppose death was much more of a reality to them. This often means there’s less of a ‘fear of the unknown’ when it comes to death as it would have been commonplace and highly visible. I also noted that Buddha said medicine was one of the occupations deemed not suitable for monastics, and it is set alongside various supernatural arts.

I think we could speak of proto-Ayurveda as found in the texts. There is a lot of traditional Thai medicine that comes straight from the Pali canon and are practiced today by traditional Thai medical doctors. India and large swaths of Southeast Asia share some of this Proto-Ayurvedic (for lack of a better term) roots and I know of traditional doctors that study this under the rubric of “Buddhist medicine.” So this is a complex issue.

Yet there are medicinal practices allowed by the Buddha. Just not the full study of medicine.

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I was thinking the same thing TBH. The basic herbalism and humours found attested in the Pāli Canon seems far from the fuller-developed medicinal-philosophical systems of medieval India, replete with cakras, nadis, etc.


I can recall there’s a chapter in the Vinaya pitaka which describes the Buddha going through some sort of proto-Ayurvedic like treatment. I cannot remember exactly where it is now… :smile: