A few preliminary observations regarding the technique of the Ayurvedic system of medicine are necessary at the outset to correctly understand the aim and scope of the Sushruta Samhita. Who was Sushruta? When and where did he live and flourish? These are questions that would naturally suggest themselves to the readers of the following pages; but they can only be imperfectly answered like all similar questions respecting the lives of our ancient worthies. In a country like India where life itself was simply regarded as an illusion, the lives of kings or commoners were deemed matters of little moment to the vital economy of the race; and all histories and biographies were looked upon as the embodiment of the flimsy vanities of life. Lives of saints and canonised kings had been made use of in certain instances as themes of national epics. But they were intended more to elucidate or enunciate the doctrines of certain schools of Ethics or Metaphysics than to record any historical fact or event. Authentic history we have none beyond chronicles of state events and royal names in some instances; and those which are usually found in the Sanskrit Puranas are strange combinations of myths and legends, which often contradict each other. Hence the utter futility of attempts to explain a historical fact by the light of a votive medal or tablet unearthed perhaps from the ruins of one of our ancient cities. Such an endeavour serves, in most cases, only to make the "darkness visible," and the confusion more confounded.
It is only safe to assert that Sushruta was of the race of Vishvamitra. The Mahabharatam (I) represents him as a son of that royal sage. This coincides with the description given of him in the present recension of the Samhita. The Garuda Puranam (2) places Divodasa as fourth in descent from Dhanvantari, the first propounder of medical science on earth, whereas the Sushruta Samhita describes the two as identical persons. But this apparent anomaly in the Samhita can be accounted for, if we consider that in some parts of India the custom still prevails of appending, for the purposes of better identi fication, the name of one's father, or of a glorious ancestor to one's name, and it is therefore not surprising that Divodasa (the preceptor of Sushruta), who was a firm believer in the doctrine of psychic transmigration, should represent himself as an incarnation of Dhanvantari, and assume his name and style in the usual way. Beyond this meagre genealogy we possess no trustworthy information regarding the life and personalitv of Sushruta, the father of Indian Surgery.
We have no means of ascertaining what the Samhita was like as originally written by Sushruta, the present being only a recension or rather a recension of recensions, made by Nagarjuna (1). All opinions concur in identifying him With the celebrated founder of the Madhyamika school of Buddhistic philosophy - a fact which materially assists us in fixing the age of the present Samhita. A few quotations from the Vriddha (old) Sushruta are all that are preserved of the original Samhita. But their genuineness, is of a problematic character, and we are not sure whether they are the productions of lesser lights, or of ancient though less renowned commentators, attributed to the master to invest them with a greater sanctity and authority - a practice which was quite common amongst the bibliographers of Ancient India.
Mahabharatam - Anushasan Parva, Ch. IV.
Garuda Puranam, Chap. 139. Vs. 8-11.