The Story of Jivaka’s Birth.
In the 4th century BCE, Salavarti, a trained dancer and a master of the arts of discussion, served as the official courtesan of a small city Rajagaha. She gave birth to a baby boy but did not keep the child. The abandoned baby was found by Prince Ahhaya, who named him Jivaka Komarabaccha and decided to raise him.
Jivaka became a Doctor.
Jivaka was interested in the field of medicine and was determined to pursue it. During that period, Taxila was a hub of medical education. So, after coming of age, Jivaka traveled to the city. There, he became the apprentice of Atreya, a famous physician who finds mention in Ayurvedic history. He studied medicine with Atreya for seven years. He graduated unexpectedly one day when he returned to his teacher after thinking he had failed when the assignment was to find a plant with no medicinal value.
Atreya then pronounced him a valid physician and declared him fit to practice healing arts.
His Relationship to the Buddha and Buddhism.
There are accounts of him treating the Buddha with dietary changes, gentle purgation, and lotus flowers. He developed a close relationship with Buddhism’s first sangha, a community of Buddhist monks and nuns.
Regarded as a white-robed lay Buddhist who served the sangha through his medical services, a tradition of medicine started in Buddhist monasteries as they expanded outward from India.
As Jivaka’s story became a part of the medical lore across many countries, the story adapted to the audience. For example, the Tibetan story presents him as the illegitimate son of King Bimbisara and a merchant’s wife, while a Chinese version portrays his mother as a mythical virgin who gave birth. One thing that is common to all accounts is Jivaka’s success in performing an open skull surgery.
Some Misconceptions about Dr. Jivaka.
Jivaka was neither a monk nor was he a practitioner of Thai massage. He just supported the monastic order by offering his medical services and served as an inspiration for anyone whose intention is to bring relief of suffering to the ones they touch.
Dr. Jivaka lived in India some 2,500 years ago during the time of Buddha. He never physically traveled to Thailand, and it was the Buddhist legends and texts through which he became a known figure in the country. Moreover, as popularly claimed, he did not create the Thai massage technique.
Then, why is he revered across Thailand by village herbalists, midwives, allopathic medical doctors, and dentists? Because he was a great healer.
This is how he influenced traditional Thai medicine’s theoretical system through Buddhist accounts that migrated to Thailand through travelers between India and China.