Origins of Ayurveda – Vedic Cognition

Summary: This article examines the origins of Ayurveda  and the process of Vedic cognition. It identifies the great Vedic Seer Charaka as the ‘father of Ayurvedic Wisdom’.

Origins of Ayurveda

Ask any Western Doctor about the origins of their subject and they will give you a chronological account of how medical knowledge passed from country to country and from culture to culture. Western thought modes find this comfortable because it agrees with our sense of history. We enjoy quantifying the past with names, dates, timelines and places. Medical knowledge advanced hand in hand with the advancement of science.

Ask any Ayurvedic Doctor about the origins of their subject and they will tell you ‘it came from God[1].  According to tradition, the knowledge of  how to maintain perfect health – Ayurveda, and all the rest of the Vedic Science literature was ‘revealed’ or ‘cognized’. It was not discovered – neither was it invented by mankind, nor developed experimentally over many centuries.

The Process of Vedic Cognition

We have no clear parallels in Western thought to the mechanics of Vedic cognition. The closest we can get is perhaps to consider flashes of artistic or creative genius, or scientific insight, where all the ‘information’ for a great work of art or theorem came into someone’s mind ‘in an instant’.

All the great Vedic works involved ‘revealed knowledge’ or ‘cognition’ in the consciousness of highly evolved sages, seers and rishis in a bygone age. They spent lifetimes practising yoga and meditation to facilitate this. A modern day analogy would be like using the Internet to connect our personal computer to a remote server (or even ‘The Cloud’) and downloading into our PC all the information we required. Of course, we must know how to operate our local PC correctly and have the right password (maybe the ‘right mantras’) to access the data on the remote server!

If we examine this analogy further, it is obvious that the information on the server exists whether or not it can be accessed by our remote device (PC, tablet, phone, etc.). The situation is exactly the same with the knowledge of Ayurveda. The information in the ‘Cosmic Computer’ is there all the time waiting to be accessed. In certain ages it may available to a few enlightened individuals. In the present ‘Dark Age’ of Kali Yuga [2] it is totally unavailable by direct cognition. So we have to now rely on the cognition of saints from past ages.

The Sage Charaka

The Vedic Sage (or seer) who is regarded as the ‘father of  Ayurveda’ is Charaka. His Sanskrit text  theCharaka Samhita [3] is a key work in Vedic Healthcare. Exactly when or where he lived does not matter. If his knowledge (or the knowledge he collated from other sages, such as Atreya or Agnivesha) became lost over the long passage of time, that would not matter either, simply because it was not ‘his’ knowledge in the first place! Other rishis would be born in future Ages and the whole of the knowledge of Ayurveda could be re-cognised for the benefit of mankind.

In addition to the work by Charaka, there also exists another sanskrit text giving details on surgery  – it is called the ‘Sushruta Samhita’. However, over the millenia much of the practically useful knowledge associated with surgery in this text has been lost.


[1] The Vedic concept of God is very different from that of the remote, judgemental God of the Abrahamic religions. The Vedic tradition perceives the all-pervading ‘GOD’  as a three letter acronym representing key principles of nature: G – Generator (personified as Brahma), O – Operator (personified as Vishnu), D – Destroyer (personified as Maheshwara or Shiva). These principles are present in every living cell in our body.

[2] The Vedic literature identifies four major ages or great time periods, each of which has a predominant characteristic. Currently most (but not all) scholars say we are in the age of Kali Yuga, although exactly when it started (some estimate around 5000 years ago around 3102 BCE when Krishna left his incarnation on earth) and how long it will last (some say another 19,000 years) is a matter for debate. Some have also proposed there are minor cycles, each with their own characteristics, even within the major time periods.

[3] Further information on Charaka Samhita can be found on Wikipedia

Additional resources on Ayurveda