Medical Study in Ancient Times
In ancient times, there was a long list of qualifications required in a student to get admission in a university for the study of medicine. Moral, physical and intellectual fitness were given prime consideration. Of the three, moral fitness was most important because the majority of the pre-requisite qualifications were concerned with ethics. The aim of education in ancient times, including medical education, was to inculcate love for life in a student and not just enable them to earn a livelihood. This aim could not be achieved if students did not have good ethics as a base upon which the rest of education was built upon.
Regarding the practical difficulties in ascertaining whether a student was morally acceptable or not, gurus had the necessary moral equipment. In the Gurukula education system, relation between the teacher and the pupil was as intimate as that between a father and a son. As a matter of fact, during the entire period of education, teacher was actually in the place of the father, as the pupil was being fed, clothed and housed by him. Thus two of the most common names for a "Śiśyā"; or a student are "Antevāsin" and 'Chātra' and both denote this intimate association, while the word "Ācārya" signifies that his primary duty was towards helping his pupils to develop a sound character.
Like the prevailing times, specific care was taken to see that no undesirable candidate got admission to studies. A Chinese traveler named Fa-Hien mentions in his work that in the Vikramaditya University, most erudite scholars were given admission as the entrance examination for this university was very difficult to pass.
The members of the admission committee were aptly called Dwāra Panditas, as their responsibility was to monitor the standard of the University's scholarship which should not be affected by any influences. This theory of strict selection and discipline is supported by Caraka's statement:
"Knowledge like a sword or water requires a clean repository. Weapons, learning and water are wholly dependent for their merits or demerits on their holder."
Subsequent to the strict admission procedures, few and remarkable students only could get admission for studies. If the person possessing knowledge is unworthy of it, it is more than useless and dangerous too. Hence supporting this theory, a prospective student was admitted for studies and had to undergo a probation period which extended from six months to one year.
Vāgbhatta refers saying in the Astānga Sangraha, that only after the teacher is fully satisfied by the character and worth of the candidates, actual schooling begins. This schooling continues till the student masters the subject not only theoretically but also practically.
Required Qualities of a Disciple
A modest disciple, having knowledge in arts and who has served a probationary period of six months, is taught till he gains perfection in theory and practice of science. Thus the possibility of any morally unworthy persons or any incompetent practitioners acquiring the knowledge of medicine is almost negligible. The system of probation period is not absolutely missing in the modern education system as it still exists in certain western universities. Although the probation system being prevailed, the rules governing such probation period are neither too stringent nor thorough compared to those in the medical institutions of ancient India.
Narrative About Satyakām
Jati and lineage were one of the eminent factors to evaluate a prospective student's moral worth. For example, in the well-known story of Satyakāma, the son of a serving woman, the teacher, Uddalaka Aruṇi, was confused regarding the eligibility of Satyakāma to study under his tutelage. When asked, Satyakāma was unable to provide any information on his Gotra or paternal lineage but otherwise he seemed eminently eligible to study under him. Despite this, Uddalaka decided to give admission to Satyakāma because Satyakāma was upfront and honest about his questionable paternal lineage. Uddalaka felt that no one would tell the truth as boldly as Satyakāma did and commanded him to fetch wood for the sacrificial fire, a token signifying that he has accepted him as his student.
Ayurveda could be studied by members of any varṇa:
However, preferential treatment was given to the students belonging to a family of medical practitioners as it was understood that such association from childhood would lead to a better aptitude for medical learning and practice than one who is from non-medical family. Two requirements connected to the morality of a student, may however be noticed in passing. These are:
Both are the utmost important qualities in the life of a student. A student is expected to dedicate his life to the pursuit of knowledge and avoid involving in all the sense-pleasures just like Naciketa, who when tempted by king Yama to give up his pursuit of the Truth said:
Keep thou thy chariots, thy dancing girls and singing; I will have none of them.
Due to this, the great king Yama considered him worthy of being taught, saying:
I know that you Naciketas, are a true seeker of knowledge, for you resisted all the temptations I put before you.
Completion of Studies
On passing of the final test marked the completion of studies for a student. In the end, the student was given a ceremonial bath and then one would become a Snātaka or the Graduate. This was an important milestone in a student's life. It was the period when the graduate had a new life and was known as Trija or thrice-born. Then the student was given the title of 'Physician' as no one is a physician by birth. It is only after the completion of one's studies, the true spirit of revelation and inspiration descends into the student. The word thrice-born is explained as follows:
'The first birth is from the womb of the mother, the second birth is at the time of the sacred-thread ceremony and the third birth is at the completion of the medical studies and when one acquires a comprehensive insight of science. This stage would be known as thrice born.'
Post Graduate Training
Graduation is not the end of education. After graduation, students prepared for postgraduation studies. Post graduation is necessary and is clearly emphasized both in Caraka Samhitā and Śuśruta Samhitā. Student should constantly learn and strive to perfect his understanding and strengthen his scientific skills. After completion of Postgraduation studies, one must strive to get ability for exposition, fuller grasp of the meanings, boldness, dexterity in practice, its constant study and success in the treatment.
Antagnis signifies the student who had completed the routine courses. Besides the ordinary post-graduates, there were research scholars, who avowed to be life-long student. They were called" Naisthika Brahmacāri". Post-graduate studies was not the end. In Medical science one always have to learn constantly and keep himself updated in knowledge and skills. Therefore the intelligent person who is aspiring to be a good physician should always persevere his best qualities of a physician, so that he can save lives and improvise health of people.
Thou shalt act always with a view to the acquisition of knowledge and the fullness of equipment.
In the art of surgery, it was necessary to have regular practice if one wanted to achieve success in the profession. Success is always achieved by a physician who is expert at practice. Hence he should constantly handle the instruments to keep up his efficiency.
Remuneration to the Perceptor
After completing the studies, a student would be initiated as a graduate, by his Guru. The student would request the Guru to name the Guru Dakśinā which he could pay anytime. After paying the final respects, he would take permission to go home. He would remember the Guru and offer respects to him throughout his life.
The spirit of education has always been universal. It has never known the barriers of caste, creed or country. There is no word like foreign in the realm of knowledge. This is the spirit of universality that is imbibed by the students in the university education. Aryan civilization has emphasized on the importance of this spirit in clear terms. Caraka says:
The entire world is the teacher to the intelligent and the foe to the unintelligent. Hence, knowing this well one should listen and act according to the words of instruction of even an unfriendly person, when they are worthy and brings fame, long-life, strength and prosperity to you.
Reasons for Travelling
Travelling was considered as an essential part of education. There were plenty of occasions when travelling became an absolute necessity. They were:
- For joining the universities.
- Accompanying the teacher on his travels during the period of training.
- For acquiring post-graduate learning or special knowledge in certain thing.
- For attending the medical conferences.
- Medical camp tours.
- When called for consultations.
Obstacles in Travelling
Parents of the students including royal and wealthy families too, sent their children at the age of 16 for pursuing higher studies to places located hundreds of miles away. The journey to Gurukul included the following hindrances:
- Scanty means of communications in those days
- Travelling to a distant place took months and it was very tedious
- Risky, in the absence of adequate protection, during the journey
- Full of inconveniences and lack of modern amenities
Duration of Studies
Taxila and Benares were the two main centers of learning in those days and students from all the parts of India went there to acquire higher qualifications just as the present students go to Europe and America. By the time boys returned home after their studies it took them minimum of 5 to 7 years. As narrated in Jatakas, parents considered themselves lucky, if they could live to see their sons come back home after finishing their studies. There is a vivid description of how the parents became happy and proud with joy when their son returned home from Taxila after graduation.
Travels Mentioned in Caraka Samhitā
The text of Caraka Samhitā begins with the description of Bhāradwāja volunteering to travel to the abode of Indra for the acquisition of the science of life. This shows, that the students were willing to undertake the hazards of adventurous travel, for the sake of knowledge.
From Caraka Samhitā, it is evident that the great teacher Punarvāsu Atreya was in the habit of touring in the company of his disciples, through the neighboring regions of Pancāla, the woodlands of Caitraratha, Pancagangā, the environs of the home of Dhaneśa, Kailāśa, the northern slopes of the Himalayas, Trivistapa etc for the sake of healing the sick, the dissemination of the science of Ayurveda and also for the sake of enlarging his own knowledge of the medicinal herbs and plants.
Benefits of Travelling
During the course of studies, the whole class of Guru and pupils, traveled together around the country in the land of the basins of the Indus and the Ganges and the area around the Himalayan mountains. Learned scholars attended the classes of scholars from distant places like Kankayana from Bāhlika, the modern Baikh in the north-west, Nimi Videha from the east and Vāmaka from Kāśi. These tours greatly enhanced the practical knowledge in botany, climatology, constitutional studies of the peoples of the various countries and clinical discussions. After the completion of the studies, the student was enjoined to travel to give a finishing touch to his training at the university, as theoretical as well as practical knowledge was essential in the medical science.
It is clear from the story in the Chāndogya Upaniśad that Brahmanas were given preferential treatment when it came to medical education. But during the course of time, Kṣatriyas, Vaiśyas and Śudras were also admitted in increasing numbers. If found worthy even a Śudra possessed of good lineage and qualities, withholding the instruction of Mantras and the sacred thread were given admissions then. Though the Aryans had differentiated themselves from others in other respects and general routine of life, but when it came to knowledge, each intelligent mind was honored equally, the Aryan as well as the non-Aryan.
Historical records show that a number of students from middle Asia, Persia, Assyria, Greece, China, Tibet, Ceylon etc. visited India either for study or to take part in the assemblies or conferences of learned people. Similarly records are found from which we learn that Indian scholars visited Persia, Greece, Alexandria, Tibet, Burma, Siam, Java, East Indian Archipelago, Ceylon, China etc. mostly to disseminate the knowledge they had obtained or to act as promoter of the science of physical and spiritual health. The spread of Buddhism played an evitable part in giving the stimulus to the learned scholars to visit various countries as propagators of this field.
From the available Chinese records, we find that more than 100 Indian scholars of medicine and philosophy visited China beginning from the 1st to the 5th century A. D. In the 5th to the 8th century A. D, Vaidyās were called to Jundishapur and Baghdad for consultations as well as for their service.
- In support of this statement, Dr R. K Mookerjee says in his "Ancient Indian education" that Social psychology has proved that every individual has his own set of emotions, action, attitudes and ways of thinking, which is the gift of the traditions and social environment in which he is brought up. Each segment of training must therefore consider the concrete individuals, a product of biological gifts and social heritage. A neglect of this basic situation renders the process of education less fruitful and sometimes even more risky to the personality.
- The investigation of Haggerty, Nash and Goodenough show further that the educational status and vocation of the parents have a significant correlation with the level of capacity of the children as indicated by the intelligence quotient. For instance, the children of professional parents of those of a higher academic standing possess a higher value of I. Q on a whole.
- A person who has conquered over his senses.
- Guru means teacher.
- Śuśruta and Kaśyapa Samhitā denote that later on even the worthy and eligible Śudras were given admissions in the schools.
- The Caraka Samhita published by Shree Gulabkunverba Ayurvedic Society, Jamnagar, India