Introduction to Ayurveda
The knowledge of Ayurveda was handed down from Brahma to Daksha Prajapati, onto the Ashwin twins (the divine doctors), then passed to Indra. Sage Bharadvaja volunteered to go to heaven to receive this wisdom from Indra, and so became the first human to receive the knowledge of Ayurveda. He passed it to Punarvasu Atreya,and finally Agnivesha.
Ayurveda, the science of life, or longevity, is the holistic alternative science from India, and is more than 5,000 years old. It is the oldest healing science in existence, forming the foundation of all others. The First World Medicine Ayurveda is the most holistic or comprehensive medical system available. Before the arrival of writing, the ancient wisdom of healing,prevention, and longevity was a part of the spiritual tradition of a universal religion. Healers gathered from the world over, bringing their medical knowledge to India. Ayurveda was passed down from God to his angels,and finally to humans. The methods used to find this knowledge of herbs, foods, aromas, gems, colors, yoga, mantras, lifestyle, and surgery are fascinating and varied. The sage, physicians/surgeons of the time were the same sages or seers, deeply devoted holy people, who saw health as an integral part of spiritual life. It is said that they received their training of Ayurveda through direct cognition during meditation. That is, the knowledge of the use of the various methods of healing, prevention, longevity, and surgery came through Divine revelation; guessing or animal testing was unnecessary. These revelations were transcribed from oral tradition into written form, interspersed with aspects of mortal life and spirituality.
Originally four main books of Vedic spirituality existed. Topics included health, astrology, spiritual business, government, military, poetry, and ethical living. These are known as the Vedas: Rik, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva. Ayurveda was used along with Vedic astrology (called Jyotishm, that is, ones inner light). Eventually, Ayurveda was organized into its own compact system of health and considered a branch(upaveda) of Atharva Veda. This upaveda/branch dealt with the healing aspects of spirituality; although, it did not directly treat spiritual development. Passages related to Ayurveda from the various Vedas were combined into separate books dealing only with Ayurveda. Among the Rig Vedas 10,572 hymns are discussions of the three constitutions (doshas): air (Vayu), fire (Pitta), and water (Kapha). Topics comprised organ transplants, artificial limbs, and the use of herbs to heal diseases of the mind and body and to foster longevity. Within the Atharva Vedaas 5,977 hymns are discussions of anatomy, physiology, and surgery. There were two schools of Ayurveda at the time of Atreya, the school of physicians and the school of surgeons. These two schools transformed Ayurveda into a scientifically verifiable and classifiable medical system. Through research and testing, they dispelled the doubts of the more practical and scientific minded, removing the aura of mystery that surrounded Divine
revelation. Consequently, Ayurveda grew in respect and became a widely used system of healing in India. People from many countries came to Indian Ayurvedic schools to learn about this medicine in its entirety. Chinese, Tibetans, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Afghanis, Persians, and others traveled to absorb the wisdom and bring it back to their own countries. India?s Silk Road, an established trade route between Asia (China, Tibet, etc.), the Middle East (Afghanistan, Persia, etc.), and Europe (Rome, Greece, etc.), provided a link between cultures. On this route travelers first discovered Ayurveda.
Charak and Sushrut are two reorganizers of Ayurveda whose works are still extant. The third major treatise is called the Ashtanga hridayam, a concise version of the works of Charak and Sushruta. Thus, the three main ancient Ayurvedic texts still in use are the Charak Saahita (compilation), Susrutha samhitha, and the Ashtanga hridayam . These books are believed to be over 1,200 years old and contain the original and complete knowledge of this Ayurvedic world medicine. Consequently, Ayurveda is the only complete ancient medical system in existence.
Charak represents the Atreya school of physicians, discussing physiology, anatomy, etiology, pathogenesis, symptoms and signs of disease, methodology of diagnosis, treatment and prescription for patients, prevention, and longevity. Internal and external causes of illness are also considered. Charak maintains that the first cause of illness is the loss of faith in the Divine. In other words, when people do not recognize that God dwells within all things, including themselves, this separation of vision creates a gap. This gap causes a longing or suffering for oneness of vision. This suffering then manifests itself as the beginning of spiritual, mental, and physical disease. External influences on health include time of day, the seasons, diet, and lifestyle. An entire section is devoted to discussions of the medicinal aspects of herbs, diet, and reversal of aging. Sushruta comes from the Dhanvantari school of surgeons. This text presents sophisticated accounts of surgical equipment, classification of abscesses, burns, fractures, and wounds, amputation, plastic surgery, and anal/ rectal surgery. Human anatomy is described in great detail, including descriptions of the bones, joints, nerves, heart, blood vessels, circulatory system, etc., again, corroborated by todays methods of mechanical investigation. From the Sushruta samhitha, the first science of massage is described using marma points or vital body points, later adapted into Chinese acupuncture. Eight Branches of Ayurveda The ancient Ayurvedic system was astoundingly complete. In the colleges of ancient India, students could choose a specialty from eight branches of medicine.
1. Internal Medicine (Kayachikitsa).
This is related to the soul, mind, and body. Psychosomatic theory recognizes that the mind can create illness in the body and vice versa. The seven body constitutions and seven mental constitutions were delineated here:
Vaatha, Pitta , Kapha ,
Vaatha/Pitta, Vaatha/Kapha, Pitta/ Kapha, and a combination of all three (tridosha). Although finding the cause of an illness is still a mystery to modern science, it was the main goal of Ayurveda. Six stages of the development of disease were known, including aggravation, accumulation, overflow, relocation, a buildup in a new site, and manifestation into a recognizable disease. Modern equipment and diagnosis can only detect a disease during the fifth and sixth stages of illness. Ayurvedic physicians can recognize an illness in the making before it creates more serious imbalance in the body. Health is seen as a balance of the biological humors, whereas disease is an imbalance of the humors. Ayurveda creates balance by supplying deficient humors and reducing the excess ones. Surgery is seen as a last resort. Modern medicine is just beginning to realize the need to supply rather than to remove, but still does not know how or what to supply.
Additionally, there are over 2,000 medicinal plants classified in Indias materia medica. A unique therapy, known as pancha karma (five actions), completely removes toxins from the body. This method reverses the disease path from its manifestation stage, back into the blood stream, and eventually into the gastrointestinal tract (the original site of the disease). It is achieved through special diets, oil massage, and steam therapy. At the completion of these therapies, special forms of emesis, purgation, and enema remove excesses from their sites of origin. Finally, Ayurveda rejuvenates rebuilding the bodys cells and tissues after toxins are removed.
2. Ears, Nose, and Throat (Shalakya Tantra). Sushruta reveals 76 eye diseases, surgical procedures for all eye disorders (e.g., cataracts, eyelid diseases), and for diseases of the ears, nose, and throat.
3. Toxicology (Vishagara-vairodh Tantra). Topics include air and water pollution, toxins in animals, minerals, vegetables, and epidemics; as well as keys for recognizing these anomalies and their antidotes.
4. Pediatrics (Kaumara bhrithya). In this branch prenatal and postnatal care of the baby and mother are discussed. Topics include methods of conception; choosing the childs gender, intelligence, and constitution; and childhood diseases and midwifery.
5. Surgery (Shalya Tantra). More than 2,000 years ago, sophisticated methods of surgery were known. This information spread to Egypt, Greece, Rome, and eventually throughout the world. In China, treatment of intestinal obstructions, bladder stones, and the use of dead bodies for dissection and learning were taught and practiced.
6. Psychiatry (Bhata Vidya). A whole branch of Ayurveda specifically deals with diseases of the mind (including demonic possession). Besides herbs and diet, yogic therapies (breathing, mantras, etc.) are employed.
7. Aphrodisiacs (Vajikarana). This section deals with two aspects: infertility (for those hoping to conceive) and spiritual development (for those eager to transmute sexual energy into spiritual energy). 8. Rejuvenation (Rasayana). Prevention and longevity are discussed in this branch of Ayurveda. Charak says that in order to develop longevity, ethics and virtuous living must be embraced.
We have discussed Ayurveda, the science of life as the original world medicine. YetAyurveda is more than this; it is a spiritual science. This is the most important aspect of Ayurveda. Around 1500 B.C. the book, the Charaka Samhita discussed these spiritual principles. It said that even if Ayurvedic doctors had a complete knowledge of Ayurveda but could not reach the inner Self or soul of the patient, they would not be effective healers. Furthermore, if the practitioner were more concerned with fame and fortune, and not with spiritual development (Self-Realization), they would not be effective healers.
To understand the spiritual nature of Ayurveda, we must know something about the Vedic roots of philosophy, spirituality, and universal religion. According to the ancient Vedic scriptures of India there is a goal to life. We are not simply born, to live, and then to die without some meaning or purpose. Albert Einstein reflected this idea when he said God does not play dice with the universe. Order and reason exist in life. According to Vedic philosophy life is Divine and the goal of life is to realize our inner Divine nature. Ayurvedically speaking the more a person realizes their Divine nature the healthier they are. Thus it is the responsibility of the Ayurvedic doctor to inspire or help awaken the patients to their own inner Divine nature. Positive thinking or love is the best medicine. When patients are taught they have this Divinity within themselves, they feel a connection to life and God (however each patient defines God). For atheists, we speak of the greater mystical power, which is synonymous to God. This connection allows patients to feel they have a handle on life and an ability to develop their own inner nature. After this, secondary therapies of herbs, diet, meditation, etc. are offered.
Even modern medical doctors are finding a link between their healthy patients and the patients degree of spiritual faith. Spirituality changes the definition of health, giving it an added dimension. Two types of health can now be seen diagnosed health and true health. Often when a patient is diagnosed as healthy, they still may not feel healthy or alive. This is due to psychosomatic conditions where a troubled mind affects the health of the body. The deepest level of mental agitation is the longing for a deeper spiritual connection. Ayurveda suggests true health is based on the healthy functioning of four areas of life; physical/ mental health, career or life purpose, spiritual relationships, and spirituality. First one needs to be physically and mentally able to do work and play. Then persons need to work to support themselves and afford a social life. Work however is defined as making a living doing something meaningful or purposeful. To do this type of work one needs to use their innate or God-given talents; they need to work at something they love to do. It is this love that cultures spirituality. All too often we find people working at jobs that they dislike. Often people are forced into a practical career by parents or societal beliefs. Other persons lack the self-worth and confidence to challenge themselves to find and live their dreams. Working in meaningless, unfulfilling jobs can create mental and physical disorders. The most extreme example of illness caused by lack of purpose is cancer. Ayurveda considers cancer an emotionally caused disease. By not having a purpose in life (i.e., suppressing life) people create life within their body cancer. When seriously ill people discuss what they would love to do (instead of what they are told to do) life returns to their eyes. As they begin to follow up on these ideas, some remarkable recoveries are seen. Purposeful career is then an aspect of this new definition of health.
The third realm of health is spiritual relationships. When persons are healthy and purposefully working, they can now begin to truly enjoy their social life. These days we have become acutely aware of the emotional and physical abuses that exist in many peoples relationships. Co-dependency and enabling are often used terms to describe relationship diseases. From the spiritual standpoint if one is dependent on anything other than God, co-dependency exists. People look for something lasting or permanent; only God is eternal and everlasting. Spiritual development directs one to focus inwardly to discover their eternal nature instead of the ever-changing outer realm of life. For relationships to be healthy all people must continue to develop their individual inner spiritual lives. Then they are able to share their growing spiritual fullness with their spouse and others.
Too often individuals are attracted to one another because they see a quality that they think they do not have. In reality each person has all the human qualities within themselves because inner eternal Divinity, by definition, contains everything. Further, if one can see a quality in another they must have it within themselves in order to recognize it. When the main focus in peoples lives is the Divine, then troubles that seemed like mountains are seen as molehills. Thus the third dimension of health involves healthy spiritual relationships. Once people are sound in body and mind, work in a purposeful career and have fulfilling spiritual relationships, life develops a state of grace. People then become eager to devote more time to spiritual development, the final dimension of health. Personal spiritual development is seen on many levels. The body becomes more relaxed, the mind more calm and alert; and one becomes more personable in relationships. Yet the most profound developments take place inwardly; Divinity grows within. Gradually one also begins to see the Divinity in others and all of life. This is the multi-dimensional definition of health according to Ayurveda. Life is composed of many elements; it is not seen as independent parts. If one aspect of life becomes imbalanced all the other aspects are affected. Rather than merely treating a symptom, Ayurveda looks to the root cause or underlying reasons of illness. The body may be sick because of mental or career stress. Rather than instruct the patient to merely take a drug or an herb to heal the physical condition, the practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine looks to restore balance within the patient (e.g., calming the mind or finding a more purposeful job). The deepest root level is spiritual development. Thus, all four areas of life must be cultivated; mind/body, career, spiritual relationships, and inner spiritual development.
Self-Healing & Self-Realization
The main theme of Ayurveda is that people can adequately educate themselves to take control of their own health. This is achieved by monitoring and balancing ones nutritional and lifestyle habits to heal, prevent illness, and develop longevity. Ayurveda teaches that people are their own best healers. Ones intuition is better at discerning subtle health imbalances than relying on another person. All that is needed is some basic guidelines offered by the Ayurvedic practitioner. The ability to take control of ones health inspires self-worth and self-empowerment. Faith in ones intuitive abilities is further engendered when persons actually see the positive results from their efforts. Realizing one has the ability to take control of ones own health is itself a key factor in healing. Self-reliance is also the most important component in spiritual development. Individuals can learn to rely on their own intuition [along with guidelines laid out by ones spiritual mentor or guru and from the scriptures]. As one begins to see positive results developing in their spiritual life, doubts begin to vanish: clarity, confidence, and mental peace begin to dawn. The mental peace of Self-Realization is said to be the true state of life because it is eternal, nonchanging.
Vedic Shastras (scriptures) speak of the three legs of truth; what the scriptures say, what the guru or spiritual guide says, and what one experiences for oneself. Only when all three sources are found to be saying the same thing is something accepted as truth. But it is personal experience that must also be known; it is not enough to follow something dogmatically with blind faith. Doubts are mental agitation. When doubts are dispelled the mind gains a state of peace. In Self-Realization one knows truth in its eternal nature; they cannot be swayed or agitated. The first step towards Self-Realization is developing the ability to not be swayed by others if you experience things differently. The American poet Thoreau, after reading the Vedic scriptures, expressed it this way: If a man cannot keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears the beat of a different drummer. Let him step to the beat he hears, no matter how measured or far away. The Ayurvedic practitioner instills this philosophy in the patient, who then experiences and respects inner intuition and Divinity. When patients see that the practitioner believes they have such Divine qualities, they usually respond in kind.
A psychological study highlights the value of expectation. Two teachers were given classes of students with average abilities. One teacher was told their class was above average while the other teacher was told they had an average class. The first teacher went to class expecting exceptional work from the students and treated them accordingly. The other teacher just taught the average curriculum. The supposed above average class performed above average. Thus, when the Ayurvedic practitioner treats patients with respect, recognizing their inner intuitive abilities, the patients automatically develop a greater sense of self-worth and faith that they can take control of their health. As self-worth develops, people are not as easily swayed by peer pressure, whether pressed to take drugs or lead an unethical life. Low self-esteem causes people to abuse themselves. Having someone recognize ones inner Divinity and self healing abilities develops confidence. Experiencing positive results from self-healing and spiritual development further generates confidence, health, mental peace, and Divinity.
Kotakkal Ayurveda - Mother land of modern ayurveda