I have been teaching Ayurveda for more than fifteen years and as a teacher I have faced the dilemmas of understanding and teaching Ayurveda the right way. What I have concluded is that, possibly, there exists no single way that is right as well as acceptable to all!
In my experience, the fundamental problem lies with the dual perception of Ayurveda as an ‘Art form’ and also as ‘Science’ – both at the same time! The students who join Ayurveda courses are from the science background, but we expect them to practice Ayurveda in its classical form, which is perceived to be the original and uncontaminated one. This notion, unfortunately, considers classical Ayurveda to be more like an ‘Art form’ and not like Science.
These students are trained to think rationally because of their science education and hence perceive this as ‘Science’ which, in all probabilities, might contain some information which is outdated. One of our studies has also shown that students and teachers often perceive many topics in classical textbooks to be irrelevant. Teachers too, mostly teach Ayurveda as Science. For example, the very translation of the term Ayurveda that is taught in Ayurveda colleges is “The Science of Life”. Therefore, these students perceive Ayurveda to be a science like any other scientific discipline.
But then, the educated and ‘elite’ section of society (where Ayurveda is more popular), treats Ayurveda as an ‘Art form’ (somewhat similar to Bharatanatyam, to make things clear) and likes it to be prescribed in a classical way without introducing any modifications to it. This is because ‘Artforms’ do not undergo perceivable changes over the course of time and are expected to retain their essence in the original form. On the contrary, Science keeps changing because of its progressive and self-correcting character.
Well, this is where the actual problem begins because there is duality. What we conveniently forget is that Ayurveda too, in its classical form, has been open for corrections and inclusions: and that is what makes it different from Bharatanatyam. Therefore, without including the recent advances achieved in biomedical sciences, even Ayurveda remains incomplete! When one tries bridging the ancient and modern sciences, some loss and corrections are obviously inevitable. Even many Sanskrit commentators of Ayurveda textbooks have done the same: to re-interpret Ayurveda in terms of contemporary knowledge of their times!
The problem with the present Ayurveda curriculum is that it spells out nothing clearly as to what is expected of an Ayurveda physician after graduating from a college. If he/she is expected to take up the responsibility of primary health care delivery, how can it be done only through classical Ayurveda, without incorporating the recent advances? The limitations of Ayurveda in tackling serious infectious conditions and other acute clinical conditions that require mostly Allopathic interventions are not acknowledged in the curriculum at present. A rationalist student would obviously want to incorporate these advances in his/her practice if at all he/she is to deliver primary healthcare. It is irresponsible and irrational to expect an Ayurveda physician to either completely miss the diagnosis of early stages of some serious cancers, or not to refer a patient with dissecting aneurysm to a tertiary care hospital and instead to administer enema and purgations. This is what will happen if contemporary sciences are not introduced in Ayurveda curriculum!
Similarly, on one hand, Ayurveda teachers face the pressure to preserve Ayurveda in its original form, and on the other, they also face the challenge of proving it to be a Science! If at all it is to be preserved ‘at any cost’ in its original form, what is the need of validating it and what is the need of pursuing research? These are two mutually contradictory expectations!
The solution to this puzzle is to clearly spell out what is expected out of Ayurveda physicians once they graduate. This is difficult to do because the needs of the different sections of the society have yet not been properly identified and analyzed. For example, the Kerala model of Ayurveda cannot be practiced in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar considering the differences in literacy levels, socioeconomic patterns, population density, awareness, and many more such aspects. A “policy research institute for medical education” if established, maybe through NMC Bill, periodical surveys such as those conducted by NCERT can be conducted and tailor-made policies can be crafted.
Kishor Patwardhan, Faculty of Ayurveda, IMS, BHU
(This article was first published on a personal blog of the author)