Modern medicine & Ayurveda – Appreciating fundamental differences



Ever since I began to study Ayurveda, I have noticed a strange phenomenon among much of the Ayurvedic fraternity (not all of them) and many of the contemporary books to try and explain the concepts of Ayurveda using the concepts and terminologies of Allopathy (modern medicine). Regardless of how good the intentions may be, these explanations leave the students endlessly confused (or in an illusion of having understood Ayurveda). Such a study undermines the ability of any student to analyze the presenting complaints of a patient from the Ayurvedic perspective and formulate an Ayurvedic treatment plan. (without which it is impossible to practice Ayurveda!)

Many have argued that this method makes it easier for the students to understand Ayurveda. It reduces the alienation towards the subject and puts them at ease, it helps to integrate both the sciences, it helps to explain the disease and treatment plan to the patients, we have to start some where and so on. If we think hard enough, we will agree that none these arguments justify the end result.

Both are valid sciences but it is injustice to both sciences to interchange the concepts. It is like asking a carpenter to fix the plumbing using his carpenter tools.

The answer lies in understanding the differences between the origin and development of the fundamental concepts of Ayurveda and Modern medicine. They are:

1. Modern medicine progresses from first observing and understanding the structure of the body, organs, tissues, cells etc and then project this understanding to explain they way they might function in the body. (i.e. How the structural understanding can explain the functions)

2. Ayurveda progresses from observing the functioning of the body, organs, tissues, cells etc towards building the the conceptual understanding of how their structure might be in the body. (How the functional understanding can help understand the structure) This is why sometimes a word that expresses a structure in Ayurvedic parlance may correspond to more than one physical part of the body. eg. Hrdaya can mean mind, anatomical heart, cardiac region and head.

Though both may appear to be the same, they are so very much different.

This can be observed in their methods of diagnosis:

Allopathy relies more on sophisticated machines to evaluate the structural aberrations in the body in order to try and explain the short comings in the function. All observations of function and subjective experiences cannot be accepted as valid unless they are explained by the means of a structural aberration.

Ayurveda, on the other hand, relies on the observation by the physician into the subtle changes in the functioning of the organs through a detailed history of the issue to understand the subjective functional aspect of the story. All the structural findings are subordinate to the observation of changes in function.

Both the aspects are present in both sciences. But with the passage of time, the fundamental concepts upon which they are built becomes more and more apparent.

This is why their treatment orientations are also different.

Modern medicine tries to influence the structure in the hope of trying to consequentially influence the functions. Hence we can see sometimes that structural corrections are made though they may not carry out the function. (eg. Operation is successful but patient is dysfunctional.)

Ayurveda tries to influence the functional aspect in the effort to try and consequentially influence the structure. Hence we can see sometimes that functional corrections are made though they may not have fully restored the structure. (eg. Pain is gone but MRI still shows aberration)


The ideal scenario would be to use Allopathic concepts and terminologies to explain the diagnosis and treatment used in Allopathic medicine. And it will be best to use the Ayurvedic concepts (siddhanta) and terminologies (pada) to explain the diagnosis (nidana) and treatment (cikitsa) used in Ayurvedic medicine. Thank you for reading.

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