Talk:Atreya as a teacher

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia


As a teacher of medicine, Atreya is of a very high order judged from the methods he adopted to instruct his disciples and of the arrangement and classification of the subjects and medical concepts. All the parallel treatises such as those of Kasyapa, Harita and Bhela refer to him as the accredited teacher and authority on medicine. It is therefore necessary that we learn the methods of instruction he pursued in achieving this supremacy as a teacher.

Preface of Teaching

At the beginning of each lesson, he categorically announces the definite subject he proposes to expound. Then, often it happens that the disciples headed by Agnivesa put inquiring questions in order to spot-light the salient points of the subject proposed. The teacher while expounding these salient points covers the whole field of the proposed subject.

Occasionally, there are intelligent interjections by Agnivesa asking for clarification on points. For example, when the teacher commends the real physician to be against the quack, Agnivesa asks,
How should we know the real physician from the quack?
The most impressive delineation of the difference between the quack and the real physician is given by Atreya.

Again after proposing the subject to be expounded, the various disciples or the sages and learned men assembled around the teacher, are invited to offer their individual views. The great discussion on the subject of Vāta and of Rasa are supreme examples of this kind. After listening to the views of each of the learned men participating in the discussion, Atreya sums up his opinion which is sometimes categorically offered and sometimes elaborated by arguments and illustrations.

Teaching Method of Atreya

Though in later days, there was a Socratic method known as teacher-disciple dialogues yet Atreyas did not use this method. It is in its form more ancient and related to the Brahmanical method of discussion. Only, it is milder in spirit without the bravado and vehemence that characterizes the part played by exponents like Yajnavalkya in the debates conducted under the patronage of king Janaka. It is quite evident in the discussions that there is a true spirit of inquiry and a desire for discovering and accepting the truth on a subject. It does not even desire to assert oneself and score a victory in debate. This became the spirit of a later day though it was condemned by Atreya as unworthy of good men.

In a hostile debate, one should speak the statements having logical reasons and skills. Even one should never object to the statements backed by authority. The hostile debate, which is serious, enrages some people. There is nothing that an enraged man may not do or say and wise men never commend a quarrel before an assembly of good men.

Throughout, in these discussions, Atreya conducts himself with great dignity, composure and understanding. He listens to the expositions of the different views of the scholars assembled and after duly weighing them, gives out his own considered opinion which is invariably accepted as final by the assembly. Occasionally he warns his disciples against getting into any type of arguments or disputes. For example he warned his disciples and others present against falling into any arguments as done by Maitreya and others on the question of treatment and non treatment being equal in their results.

Reverence Towards Atreya

The spirit of reverence with which his disciples approach him as he is seated amidst sages and scholars occasionally including the learned rulers of neighboring kingdoms or foreign scholars and the finality his discussions acquire in the discussions among these sages, scholars and also the shifting scene of such assemblies from the northern Himalayas to the eastern part like Kailasa and the southern plains of Kampilya are indubitable indications of the popularity, wisdom and supremacy among his contemporaries of Atreya, as a teacher of medicine.

Commendations of Atreya

Besides, for us the significance lies in the hallmark of methodical and scientific exposition, he imparted to the mass of medical lore that perhaps lay till then in amorphous heap of drugs and data. The stage of rational or scientific medicine began with Atreya. Though the concept of the three controlling forces of the body and of the universe is contained in the Vedic literature, that medicine owes it's full elaboration of the Tridosa concept in a consistent method based on a logic of elemental combinations and physico-chemical transmutations. This whole credit goes to Atreya. With the theory of taste and its influences on metabolic and physiological functions and its application in therapeutics, the concept of the Rasa, Guna Virya and Vipaka and Prabhava of drugs. Medicine passes from the empirical stage to a scientific stage, based and supported on the bio-physical and bio-chemical concepts.

Though Caraka and Dridhabala may be given credit for the present arrangement of the various sections and the order of the chapters etc, yet the essential rationale running through the entire length of the treatise and the basic concepts and generalization on drug, disease-factors and methods of therapeutics, belong to Atreya and have been kept intact. Perhaps it have been embellished by details of illustrations by the redactors.

The rational spirit of the teacher is so strong that even maladies which admitted of a religious or demoniac origin and were actually believed to be such by others, were put down by Atreya as due to purely physical and physiological causes and to volitional transgression and were exhorted to be treated like other diseases. While describing insanity, Atreya lays down that neither the gods nor the demons have anything to do with it and must be known to result from wrongful behavior and must be countered by suitable remedies.

Neither gods nor the Gandharvas, neither the goblins nor the demons, nor aught else, torment the man who is not tormented of himself. It is remarkable that in similar fashion does Hippocrates of Greece explain 'epilepsy' which till then was named a 'sacred disease. He says, 'It is thus with regard to the disease called sacred. It appears to me to be no wise more divine nor more sacred than other diseases but has a natural cause from which it originates like other affections. The cause is no longer divine but human.

Period of Atreya

It is therefore natural to surmise that the time of Atreya coincides with that in which the general tendency in Indian life and thought became rational, when inquiry into the original causes of things was initiated and pursued i. e. in the Upanisadic or the Brahmana period, that succeeded the age of revelation and intuition to which the Veda belongs.

Thus in the heyday of lndian speculative thought, Atreya taught his elaborations of the theory of drug and disease and ushered in the age of scientific medicine. He gave it the framework of a metaphysics of medicine, a basement of theory that could sustain the elaborate edifice of pathology and therapeutics so minutely evolved and completed at a time when humanity in general was still cradled in its infancy with regards to scientific thought and practice.

Succeeding the glowing demi-god Bharadwaja, who brought down the beneficient lore from the king of the gods, Atreya stands supreme among the teachers of the Science of Life among men, a teacher conspicuous for sweet reasonableness, breadth and comprehensiveness of wisdom and of vision and clarity of definitions and above all, expert in the correlating of drug to disease. Thus he is supreme as a therapeutist and has earned the immortal name of being the originator of medicine.


Atreya is a name, immortal in Indian medicine and will remain so as long as the science of life is studied and practiced in the light and spirit of his principles and basic theory. His attachment to reason and the happy results flowing from scientific understanding as against fads and unreasoned faith, which make for ignorance, is borne out by his exemplary definition of knowledge and happiness. All suffering, with its resort in the body as well as in the mind has for its basis ignorance, while all happiness has its foundation in pure scientific knowledge.


  • The Caraka Samhita published by Shree Gulabkunverba Ayurvedic Society, Jamnagar, India