“A Three-Tier Structure of Knowledge”. Ayurveda Knowledge System – 3

March 9, 2021 Authored by: P. Ram Manohar

The Dynamics of the Knowledge Building Process  

Three pairs of terms used in the classical texts of Ayurveda throw interesting light on the dynamics of knowledge building process that has given birth to Ayurveda.

The first pair of words are prakrta (the first creation or expression) and samskrta(the refined expression). This refers to the spontaneous process by which humans gather knowledge from experiences in life. It is this accumulated knowledge that gets filtered and refined to create the foundation of a culture or civilization. This is the process of knowledge building that originates as folk traditions and then is distilled to make up the classical traditions. 

The second pair of words are sastras (protective guidelines and innovations) and vyavahara (the give and take activities of life). These terms indicate the problem solving initiatives that generate knowledge and specialized applications to make life smooth. When the available knowledge cannot provide a solution to tackle new problems, special effort has to be taken to devise new solutions. Such applications change the course of day-to-day activities in a new direction. 

The third pair of terms are Veda (deep insight) and Loka (superficial perception).Spontaneous knowledge building and application-oriented knowledge seeking cannot satisfy the yearnings of the human mind for long. A thirst for the ultimate meaning of life and the true nature of reality lies dormant in every being. When awakened, it carries one beyond the superficial understanding of appearances to deeper insights on the working of the universe. 

Ayurveda has in the above manner elaborated the dynamic process of knowledge building that operates in human civilization to nurture a symbiotic relationship between the folk and classical traditions, which is bidirectional. In the first instance, the folk stream nourishes the classical, in the second the two streams nourish each other and in the third the classical stream nourishes the folk stream. 

The Three-Tier Structure of the Knowledge of Ayurveda

It is possible to work with the knowledge of Ayurveda in three different ways – (1) Working in altered states of awareness with direct experience; (2) Working in ordinary modes of consciousness with an intellectual understanding and by rational application of concepts developed with reference to experiences encountered in higher levels of awareness; and (3) Working with operational guidelines derived from the experiences gained in non-ordinary and ordinary modes of consciousness without gaining an in-depth understanding or experience.

The knowledge of Ayurveda is organized on a three tier structure from this perspective. The first level of direct experience gained in altered state of consciousness is known as tattva. The word tattva means “that-ness” or the true nature of things. “That-ness” means subjective objectivity and objective subjectivity. To function at the level of tattva, both the intuitive and rational faculties have to be developed to perfection. The second level, which is partly experiential and partly conceptual involves rigorous training of the intellect in ordinary modes of consciousness and is known as sastra. To function at this level, the rational faculty has to be fully developed. The third level of practice is based on deriving operational frameworks and practical guidelines known as vyavahara. At this level, neither the intuitive nor the rational faculty are fully developed. 

The three-tier structure corresponds to the three types of students – the gifted, the mediocre and the dull. The body of Ayurvedic teachings has been structured in such a way that all three types of students can derive benefit from it. The dull witted can practice with the help of operational guidelines and protocols. The mediocre can understand the theory behind these practices and to some extent the experiential ground of these theories. The gifted student can actually experience the teachings of Ayurveda in both altered and normal states of consciousness.

[Source: P. Ram Manohar, “Ayurveda as a Knowledge System” in Kapil Kapoor and Avadhesh Kumar Singh. eds., Indian Knowledge Systems. Vol.1, (Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 2005), pp. 156-170]

Center for Indic Studies is now on Telegram. For regular updates on Indic Varta, Indic Talks and Indic Courses at CIS, please subscribe to our telegram channel !

Centre For Indic studies