Medicine (bhesajja) is a substance applied or ingested to cure sickness. According to the Sàgaramatiparipçcchà, the famous Buddhist physician Jãvaka said: `There is nothing in the world that cannot be a medicine.' Ancient Indian pharmacology was based on the idea that medicines could be categorized according to their taste (rasa), their post-digestive effect (vipàka), their potency (viriya) and their specific action (parabhàva). The Buddha was knowledgeable in drugs and remedies and skilled in prescribing medicines. In the Vinaya he recommended numerous types of medicines and classified them as tallow, roots, astringent decoctions, leaves, fruits, resins, salts and ointments (Vin.I,198-250). Some of the medicines he recommended have been shown by modern research to have therapeutic value. Once, when the Buddha was suffering from an imbalance of the bodily humours, his physician Jãvaka prescribed for him oil massages and inhaling the perfume of water lilies (Vin.I,279). On another occasion when he had wind, he took molasses (phàõita) in hot water (S.I,174)
The Saddharmapuõóarãka Såtra mentions a physician travelling through the Himalayas collecting medicinal herbs. These herbs could be, the såtra says, prepared by being pounded, parched, boiled together with other substances, or mixed with other drugs without boiling, and they could be chewed, taken together with food, or introduced into the body with a needle.
In ancient times, providing medical care for the sick was considered a most meritorious act. When the Chinese pilgrim Faxian was in India in the 5th century he wrote this of the Buddhists of Patna.`The nobles and householders of the country have founded hospitals within the city to which the poor, the destitute, cripples and the sick of all districts come. They are freely given help. Physicians inspect their diseases and prescribe for them the correct food, drink, medicine and treatment that will restore their health. When they are cured they depart whenever they like.'
What medicine is to health the Dhamma is to happiness and freedom and thus it is not surprising that the Dhamma is often compared to a potent restorative medicine. `The Buddha is like a skilled physician in that he is able to heal the sickness of the defilements. The Dhamma is like a rightly applied medicine, and the Saïgha, with their defilements cured, is like those restored to health by that medicine'(Pj.I,21). See Healing.