Foreword To A Topical Survey of Ayurvedic Herbology

 This Handbook was conceived in order to fill a perceived need for a survey course in Ayurvedic herbology. At the time this writer was charged with designing and teaching the course. When I began to think about what scope and content would be appropriate for an introductory course in herbology I began brainstorming a listing of topics I deemed appropriate. Prior personal experience as a student and as a teacher of Ayurvedic theory led me to think that two criteria were important: 1) A broad, but somewhat, superficial treatment of many topics relevant to herbalism, in general, and to Ayurvedic herbology in particular, would be desirable; 2) when and where ever possible the classical literature could be cited, it should be.  

On the first point, it seems to me that Westerner’s approach a topic, indeed, need a picture of the whole field or subject. This need contrasts with the traditional teaching method of India, which is sutra-oriented. Sutras are threads of wisdom which are intended, only when many are learned, to present the detail and the big picture. The fact that one must learn all of the sutras before one can confidently say that he has the whole picture of a given topic is somewhat of a drawback for Westerners, who want to learn everything right away, or at least want to know where all this study is going. Thus this Handbook was designed to present as many relevant topics as practical, within the time allotted as given by administrative constraints. It starts with a discussion of our historical roots and concludes with such practical issues of law, ethics, and resources. 

On the second point, the tradition of Ayurveda is largely an oral one. While it’s impossible to know exactly how much is written and how much is oral, one thing is constant—the need to have, to learn from, and to quote accepted authorities. In this light much of the material in the Handbook quotes translations of the Ayurvedic classics: Caraka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, Vagbhata’s Ashtanga Hridayam & Sangraha, Madhava Nidanam, Sharngadhara Samhita, Bhavaprakasha of Bhava Mishra,  Bhela Samhita, and Kashyapa Samhita. I am indebted to their translators: PV Sharma for Caraka and Sushruta Samhitas (sometimes Bhishagratna), Tewari for Kashyapa and to Shri Kantha Murthy for translations of the rest. On this point it must be acknowledged that the English renderings of a given Sanskritic text by different experts often yield significant differences of meaning. The consciousness of the translator is often an important element in the final rendering. There is a significant difference between technical Sanskrit and literary Sanskrit. One must be familiar with both and with the scientific discipline at hand. Further, a clinical and scholarly appreciation of the science is valuable as well. Nonetheless, for the purposes of this Handbook, this area of controversy has been ignored mostly; at times it has been dealt with by including alternative meanings at this author’s discretion.

Another point is that for the compilation of such a wide-ranging book, many books, sources, and authors were consulted. At the outset of this task, requested on short notice, and fulfilled in equally short time, I must confess that strict attribution of sources, sadly, is deficient. In this light, however, it should be stated that those contributing to this Handbook have been acknowledged, generally, albeit often only in the Bibliography of each section / module. Because this work rests solidly on the work of others, except in rare cases, the reader of this Handbook should automatically assume that I have merely compiled and edited the works of others. Notable exceptions are clearly labeled.

 Another point on the content of this Handbook—because of the initial constraints of time, etc., I felt that a mere presentation of ideas would be sufficient for this Handbook to be useful. Specifically, many quotations and statements contained herein may be inscrutable to the novice. Thus this text was deemed to be more a guide for the teacher than a textbook for the student. The latter typically has much explanatory material and in many respects is capable of standing alone, without a teacher to explain and elaborate. As time and resources become available, however, I continue to make this work more self-sufficient. Thus one should be aware of the version printed on the cover.

 One important element of this presentation is the use of Sanskrit (in its transliterated form). This feature helps maintain the tradition, as translations may vary but the Sanskrit is forever fixed. There is another value in including and studying the Sanskrit—as a mantric language its meaning is easily comprehended by our own inner Consciousness. As a mantric language it structures coherence in the reader, speaker, or listener. It is hoped that the student will attempt to learn many of the terms of this science. 

This Handbook has been written with diacritical marks consistent with the International Congress of Orientalist’s guidelines for transliterating Sanskrit. This will enable the student to reconstruct the Devanagari of the original word. 

Some final remarks--The Table of Contents has been created to be both a listing of topics and an index, crude as it is. Please note that page numbering is limited and specific to one section only. With only two exceptions, each module or section has a concluding page of questions, which, when correctly answered, are intended to be a review of the material. Only in rare cases are these questions of the thought provoking character. As a teaching device certain sections also include a page of individual or group exercises / activities.

 Michael Dick   November, 20, 2003