Sushruta As A Biologist

In the first chapter of his Sharira Sthanam, Sushruta discusses the question, what is man, wherein lies his individuality, why does he come into being, why does he die at all ? Like all Indian philosophers, Sushruta argues the question down from the universe to man. The factors or laws, that govern the evolution of the universe in its physical aspect, are extended to cover the evolution of the physical aspect of man (organic evolution). There is but one law and one force which run through the three plains of mind, matter and spirit. Physiology, that fails to look into the nature of life and its background and tries to explain away this intelligent, living force as the product of chemical action of the organic cells, is no Physiology at all. Cell is not life, but there is life in a cell. Cells may be called the true bearers of lite. Dr. Weismann insists that it is more correct to speak of the continuity of the general protoplasm than of "the germ ceils." Professors Geddes and Thomson observe that, "the bodies are but the torches which burn out, while the living flame has passed throughout the organic series unextinguished. The bodies are the leaves which fall in dying from the continuously growing branch. Thus although death take inexorable grasp of the individual, the continuance of the life is still in a deep sense unaffected; the reproductive elements (cells) have already claimed their protozoan immortality, are already recreating a new body." But to invest these reproductive cells with immortality, and to deny the same to the individual self, which directs and controls these protoplasms, and is before and behind them, is like the statement of Prof. Huxley when he admits the chance of the physical transmigration of the organic constituents of the human body, and yet denies the possibility of an individual self continuing in any other form. "It is sensibility," observes Sushruta, "that precedes the senses; and self, the sensibility proceeds from the self to which all such conditions are referred as mine."

(I) Journal of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta Vol. VII. P. 261.

Sushruta's Theory of Cosmogony is based on the old Sankhya Duality of Prakriti (Objective) and Purusha (Subjective). The two are coeval and co-extensive realities. Out of the Avyakta (unmanifest) or Prakriti has evolved the Mahal, the animated cosmic matter. Out of this cosmic matter has evolved Ahamkara (the sense of individuality or more correctly egoism) which is divided into three kinds such as the Vaikarika (phenomenal, thought-form), Taijasa (kinetic), and Bhutadi (pertaining to the first form of matter). This Vaikarika Ahamkara in combination with the Taijasa Ahamkara has fathered the eleven sense organs, which, in combination with the Bnutadi, have produced the five Taumatras or proper sensibles of touch, sight, hearing, etc. The material principles of sound, light, taste, smell, etc., are but the modifications of these five Tanmatras, of which Akasha (ethereon), Vayu (ether), light, and sound, etc. are the grosser forms. In other words, these Tanmatras may be defined as the atomic essences of the material principles of sound, light, ether, etc. In addition to these, Sushruta, like Kapila, admits the existence of a kind of atom-like units of consciousness, which he calls Purusha. The combination of the sixteen aforesaid categories and the Purusha is for the expansion and liberation of the latter. A human being (individual), who is the fit subject for medical treatment, is the product of the combination of Purusha with the five primordial material principles (Mahabhutas). The Purushas, real selves of beings, the sources of their vital energy, and the controllers and directors of all organic or mental actions, are extremely subtile in their essence, and manifest themselves only through the combination of the seed (paternal element) or ovum (maternal element). It is the Karma (dynamics of acts done by a person in a prior existence) which determines the nature of the body it will be clothed with, as well as che nature of the womb it shall be conceived in, in its next incarnation.