Authority—A Definition and Its Importance


Early Vedic thinkers pondered the conditions of life and concluded that they were either pleasurable or painful. It seemed to them that most of existence, however, was framed in terms of the painful or unpleasant. Overcoming this duality of existence became their obsession. Many concluded, and these thoughts are embodied in the 6 systems of Indian philosophy (called the shad darshanas or upangas), that the quality of life formally depends upon the state of knowing of the person. The scope and depth of knowledge fundamentally determine one’s ability to successfully, happily, healthily move thru the vicissitudes of life. The manner in which one acquired right knowledge, pramanas, was formally detailed also—perception through sensory experience and inner vision, inference, authoritative statement, and comparison were those means accepted by Ayurveda.


One of the early written Texts of Ayurveda, Caraka Samhita, offers two visions of authority—one spiritual--rishi--and another professional/technical--vaidya. For early thinkers in all philosophical traditions, knowledge was not segregated into compartments of science and philosophy, for example. The problems of life were real and thinking had a practical, and descriptive quality to it. The modern concept of “model” was hardly appropriate to early thought, as one was trying to understand and describe what existed, not how one might understand it abstractly. But because life was framed around spiritual concepts an expert in spiritual matters was regarded as the highest authority. For Caraka, however, one who embodied technical proficiency, was also one who, necessarily, embodied spiritual values and knowledge. Let us examine Caraka’s criteria.


Caraka describes the ultimate authority in the following verses (Su. XI.18-19):

Those who are free from rajas and tamas (states of mind) and endowed with strength of penance and knowledge, whose knowledge is without defect, always consistent/indisputable, and true universally in past, present, and future are apta (those who have acquired knowledge), shishta (expert in the discipline), and vibuddha (enlightened); their word is free from doubt and is true because, being free from rajas and tamas, they can never speak a lie.

Caraka describes rajas as a quality of movement, agitation, turbulent, painful, unstable, etc. and a person of this mental status is described by Caraka (Vi. 8.111 & Sa. 4. 37 ) as a person who is brave, violent, back-bitter, vain, deceitful, fierce, cruel, self-praising, etc.


Tamas is described as non-enlightenment, darkness, inertia, concealment. inertness, heedlessness, confusion, ignorance, obscuring knowledge, promotes attachment to negligence, negligence, indolence, sleepiness; fruit of tamasic action is ignorance and in rebirth is born in the wombs of the deluded. .  In  Ca. Sa. 4. 38 we learn that the tamasic psyches include—repudiating, devoid of intelligence, having despicable behavior and food habits, indulging in sexual act and extensive sleep.


The converse of both these attributes has been described by Caraka (Vi. 8.110 ) as sattvic--person endowed with memory, devotion, gratitude, learned, pure, courageous, skillful, resolute, prowess, anxiety free, well–directed, serious intellect and activities, and engaged in virtuous acts. Persons are strong, happy, enduring, confident, benevolent, firm and balanced body and movements, resonant, melodious voice, supremacy, wealth, honor, slow aging and pathogenic processes and give rise to similar progeny. In Sa. 3.13 it is said that this person has memory of previous birth. In Sa. 4.36 we learn of the combinations and permutations of psyche including the highest—Brahma: clean, true to his word, having controlled his self, generosity, learned, understanding, speaking and contradicting, good memory, devoid of passion, anger, greed, conceit, confusion, envy, exhilaration and intolerance, equal to all creatures. Other modifiers for sattva include: calm, pleasing, illuminating, buoyant.


From the above descriptions it should be clear that only a sattvic person embodies the virtues of authority. This person has perfect memory, clear perception, even temperament, and truthfulness, etc. In the present day a person having technical acumen need possess only knowledge of his science or discipline so Caraka defines a medical expert thusly:

·        Those should be regarded as the knowers of Ayurveda who are able to deliver tantra (treatise), sthana (section), adhyaya (chapter), and prashna (topics) distinctly by the way of textual statement, textual interpretation, and recapitulation. (Ca Su XXX.16)

·        Excellence in theoretical knowledge, extensive practical experience, dexterity and cleanliness are the qualities of a physician. (Ca Su IX.6)

·        He is the real physician who knows the timely application of reducing, promoting, roughening, uncting, sweating, and checking measures. (Ca Su XXII.4)

·        The physician who knows the entire body always from all aspects knows the science of life in its entirety—thus promoting happiness in the world. (Ca. Sa. VI.19)

·        Having memory, being proficient in rational management, self-control, and presence of mind is the physician capable of treating with combination of drugs (Ca. Su II.36).

·        The most comprehensive statement of the physician, is given in (Ca. Su. XXIX.7): The Lord Atreya said—The physician of high descent, well-versed in scripture, having practical knowledge, expert, clean, skillful, self-controlled, well-equipped, having all the sense organs (normal), knower of constitution and course of action, be regarded as promoters of vital breath and destroyers of diseases... (Caraka further lists in this verse what the competent physician should know by heart—essentially all details of the entire 8419½  verses of the Caraka Samhita.)


Another ancient Ayurvedic text, Sushruta Samhita,  (Su Ut XIX.15) states the science of medicine is as incomprehensible as the ocean and not for the feeble of mind. Moreover, Sushruta says in another verse that a true expert of medicine is knowledgeable in many fields (Su. IV.6 ):

“By the study of a single shastra a man can never catch the true import of this (science of medicine). Therefore a physician should study as many allied branches  (of science or philosophy) as possible. The physician who studies the science of medicine from the lips of his preceptor, and practices medicine after having acquired experience in his art by constant practice, is the true physician, while any other man dabbling in the art, should be looked upon as an imposter.”


The true exponent of Ayurveda is called a vaidya—meaning one who knows. From the above verses at least some persons must acquire the status of apta--those who possess knowledge devoid of any doubt, indirect and partial acquisition, attachment and aversion, shish»a (expert in the discipline),  and vibuddha—enlightened/Self-realized. These are the only ones who can be counted upon to possess right knowledge—knowledge of life, happy or unhappy, good or bad, its measurement, and means of promotion. Sushruta declares in another verse (Su. 15.38) that one needs to be happy and balanced physiologically for true health. One who knows life as a spiritual existence within a physical body is most likely to be able to provide good counsel about life. It can be assumed that apta’s know and live this value of life. In modern life we grant this status of authority (apta) too easily and too often. In the field of health there is controversy over which “pathy”  (allopathy, naturopathy, homeopathy, etc.)has “right knowledge.”  This article has tried to show the nature and extent of what constitutes authority. We should ask the question: “Do modern standards of authority measure up to the ancient Ayurvedic ones?” If the answer to this question is : “NO,” how can modern life ever be truly happy and healthy? This is the true importance of the meaning of authority.



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