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Durable Link to this BlogThursday, March 08, 2007

Jeevaka: Physician of Gautama Buddha

Jeevaka: Physician of Gautama Buddha (c. 6th Century B.C.)

Jeevaka, the legendary physician and surgeon, figures in the Buddhist literature and is immortalised because of the traditional account that he treated Lord Buddha and became his disciple. He also donated a arama or resting place for the Buddhist monks. This came to be known as Jeevakarama which existed for centuries.

Jeevaka was the son of a courtesan Salavati and a prince Kumara(Kumara Bhartrika or one brought up by Kumara is another title of Jeevaka in Buddhist tradition). He wanted to cultivate one art or science which could be of eternal benefit to humanity. From Bihar his birth-place in the East, he went to another end of the country's western tip, Taxila (a.k.a. Takshashila, now in Pakistan). University of Taxila was famous for imparting medical sciences along with metaphysics and mathematics. Jeevaka studied medicine for seven years and the time had come to test his proficiency. His teacher gave him a spade and pick axe and asked him to examine every plant growing around Taxila for a Yojana (tweleve miles) and bring a plant which has no medicinal value. Jeevaka obeyed and examined every plant (specified) and reported that he did not find any plant which had no medicinal property. The teacher was satisfied that Jeevaka had become adept. This brilliant student was poor and could not pay fees to his Guru. Instead the Guru himself gave him a petty amount to last for a day or two after which Jeevaka had to subsist on his newly gained knowledge and also undertake journey back home thousand miles away.

On the way, he learnt that a rich merchant's wife was suffering from bad migraine for seven years Jeevaka volunteered to cure her. He boiled certain medicinal roots and leaves in ghee and administered the drug through the nose. Very soon the lady was cured, and her husband gave him 16,000 gold coins along with a coach for further travel. Later he operated on another business man's skull for worms and cured him. A ruler was cured of fistula on way to Benaras. A Shreshthi's son while performing a gymnastic feat had got his intestines entangled and could not digest food or ease himself in the normal way. He looked very pale and his veins appeared prominent allover the body. Jeevaka performed a very difficult and complicated surgery and rectified the condition, put the intestines in correct position and stitched the skin, annointing with soothing salve later. By the time Jeevaka reached his home-town near Sravasti, he had become rich and famous. He became the court-physician of Bimbisara, a king.

If we leave exaggerated portions in many of the legends connected with Jeevaka, certain historical evidence does accrue. That Taxila was a big center of learning including medical science since early centuries BC is an established fact. Students from Middle east and far east came to study there.

Surgery of skull and stomach were common, and many tools and surgical instruments are mentioned in Charaka's and Shushruta's works.

Places through which Jeevaka travelled like Saketa, Benaras, Vaisali and Ujjain were well known for medicinal treatment and he established his proficiency there.

Huge earnings were made by physicians and surgeons of bygone days.

However, Jeevaka is remembered for his big charities. The monastery he dedicated to his guru Buddha lasted for several centuries.

Amma's Column by Jyotsna Kamat

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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