Traditionally, ayurveda has been taught orally, with reference to ancient texts like the works of Charaka, Sushruta and Vagbhata; references that are still used today. These writings, which are believed to date thousands of years, contain the eternal and universal principles of the natural science of ayurveda; however they also contain therapies and lifestyle prescriptions which are hopelessly archaic; and materia medica which are no longer accessible (e.g. opium and camel's urine!). With the spread of ayurveda to the West, there emerged a great need for a text that not only catered to the western mode of thinking and education, but that also made connections between the ayurvedic view of anatomy and physiology, and that of the West. This book attempts to do just that.
Dr.Vasant Lad is in the forefront of Vaidyas (ayurvedic practitioners) who have made ayurvedic education available to the West. He started teaching ayurveda in the USA in 1980, and has produced many prominent writers and educators on the subject. His previous books include the popular Ayurveda; The Science of Self-Healing; and The Yoga of Herbs, co-written with Dr. David Frawley, a groundbreaking book introducing the concepts of ayurvedic herbology to the western public.
This Textbook of Ayurveda comes as more in-depth ayurvedic education programmes develop in the West. It contains the necessary foundation for the understanding of a medical model far removed from the western allopathic paradigm. To understand and practise ayurveda, one literally needs to adopt, to immerse oneself in, a completely different perspective. Dr.Lad's book contains chapters on the Six Philosophies which underpin ayurveda, from the unthinkably ancient Sankhya philosophy of creation, which also forms the basis of Buddhism and some aspects of Yoga; to the Nyaya science of logic; to Yoga itself, the profound science of psychology and human potential.
Then we explore the system of 20 qualities of nature; the five elements; the three humours (Doshas) and their 15 subtypes; the concept of Agni or Digestive Fire; the Dhatus or body tissues; the Srotas or body channels; Ojas, Tejas, and Prana or the subtle humours; and Digestion and Nutrition. Each aspect is explained and related back to western anatomy, physiology and pathology. The important connection is also made between each aspect and the mind, which in ayurveda is considered a distinct but interdependent part of the body. There are copious appendices and tables on the various systems, ayurvedic properties of food, and other useful information.
A notable feature is the high quality of production. This is refreshing - and I would say necessary, if ayurvedic education is to be taken seriously by mainstream medicine. To be frank, I am fed up of poorly written, edited, designed and produced books from India. Even so-called textbooks are appallingly arranged, sometimes with no indexes or useful means of finding information. This book is clearly illustrated with line drawings, attractively designed, and printed on good paper. Two of the book's editors are ayurveda and Sanskrt instructors in New Zealand. If such talents were used more often in the editing and production of ayurvedic books, the credibility and reputation of ayurvedic education and publications would no doubt increase.
But does the book really deliver the goods? In my opinion, a lot of the correlations with western anatomy and physiology are speculative, and Dr.Lad should admit they are so. A lot of the material, while interesting, is simply not standard ayurvedic training, traditional or otherwise - and therefore misleading. If, instead of trying to pass off these wishy-washy correlations, Dr.Lad had worked on better translating and elucidating the traditional texts and principles, I believe the book would have more usefully served the growing interest in ayurveda as a clinical medical system. I feel that, while the book is insufficiently academic and credible for serious students of ayurveda, it still serves as a good introduction for the intelligent western reader.