Thank God, Ayurveda has lately become very popular in the West. Books and brochures of numerous western and indian authors abound the bookshops and various «super healthy super food» stores, where one can also find different ayurvedic products, churnas, batis, etc. Many popular TV and radio programs on Ayurveda are also there for us.
However the majority of the sources introducing the ancient science of life to us — westerners — miss one of the most important characteristics of this science — the approach to human body as to the dwelling of the SOUL. Besides, Ayurveda is unfortunately often called «the Indian Medicine». This is very misleading at its core. The substantial difference of Ayurveda from the modern western medicine is that Ayurveda lays the responsibility for one’s health on the patient himself! And not on drugs, surgeries and other interventions.
Let’s appeal to one of the basic authentic classical texts on Ayurveda — Caraca Samhita — to shed light on unfairly neglected basic concepts of this science.
WHAT IS LIFE?
According to Caraca Samhita (CS) Ayurveda is «the most sacred and honored» because «it is beneficial to mankind in respect of both the worlds (i. e. this life and the life beyond)» (CS, Sutrasthana, I:43). The word «Ayurveda» is the Sanscrit for «the science of life». How does Caraca, the author of CS, define «life», its very subject? «The term ‘ayus’ stands for the combination of the body, sense organs, mind and soul…»(CS, Sutrasthana, I:42). This is the primordial of Ayurveda, so often missing in the popular literature on the topic. The understanding, that a life of a human being is a life of a SOUL in a temporary body.
«Mind, soul and body — these three are like tripoid […] it is for this that this Veda (Ayurveda) is brought to light.» (CS, Sutrasthana, I:46-47).
Therefore, health and well-being of a human being depend not only on harmonious functioning of all body systems, but also on the spiritual life of this human being — in other words — on how his soul feels in his body.
PSYCHOSOMATICS: BACK INTO THE FUTURE!
In this context the relatively young buzzword «psychosomatics» should be understood literally. It’s well known, that the Greek word «psycho» means «soul» and «soma» — «body». And thus the sloka (verse) describing the «practices, preventing psychosomatic disturbances» appears highly reasonable and logical:
«One should pay respects to the Gods, cows, brahmins, preceptors, elderly people, those who have accomplished spiritual perfection and teachers; one should offer oblation to the fire, one should wear good herbs; one should perform sandhya (a vedic ritual to be performed during dawn and dusk — *or any religious sacrament* — my comment, JS) twice a day; one should clean excretory passages and feet frequently; one should have hair cut, shave and nail cut — thrice every fortnight; one should wear a good apparel; be happy, apply scent, wear good dress, comb the hair, always apply oil to the head, ears, nostrils and feet, smoke, take initiative in wishing, have a delightful face, protect people in affliction, offer oblations, perform religious ceremonies, donate […] be friendly to all creatures, reconcile the angry, console the frightened, be merciful to the poor, be truthful and be predominantly of compromising nature and tolerant towards unpalatable words uttered by others, be controller of intolerance, be of peaceful disposition and conquer the very roots of attachment and hatred.» (CS, Sutrasthana, VIII:18)
How can respect for the gods and cows affect human health? Nothing mystical. If a human being is aware of his place in the Universe, maintaining the connection of his soul with the Creator, or God, and treats all the living beings as particles of the same single organism a cell of which he constitutes himself, then his lifestyle would be naturally designed to his utmost benefit.
MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANO?
Obviously, in the context of Ayurveda, this immortal Latin sentence should mean that sound physical body is granted to those who have a sound sprit (spiritual life). Ayurveda is based on the primacy of the spirit, not the body, although it is engaged in maintaining the health of the physical body. Note, by the way: «Nihilism constitutes the worst of the sinful. […] One who believes in nothing else but in the accidental creation cannot admit any source of knowledge» (CS, Sutrasthana, XI:14-15). Moreover all the innate diseases are viewed as karmic, or to put it more clearly, as reflecting the experience and the goals of the soul in that body.
The Sanscrit for «health» is «swastha», where «swa» means «its own» and «stha» means «place». Therefore the Sanscrit term «health» implies «being in one’s own place» or «being aware of one’s own place», or — even wiser — to be one’s own self. And Ayurveda gives very explicit instructions how to find one’s own path toward one’s own self.
The very first and very important step on this path is the understanding, why we need good health. «The good health stands at the very root of virtuous acts, acquirement of wealth, gratification of desire and final emancipation.» (CS, Sutrasthana, I:15). It should be understood that a human being should perform the virtuous acts, fulfill his duties into world, sustain his normal physical well-being and get some pleasure from life, and then necessarily seek the emancipation, so called moksha.
So one cannot proclaim health to be the purpose of one’s life! Our physical health is a gift from God Himself, and we must sustain it to fulfill our duties, to accomplish our mission on this planet in this body. And only when, indeed, in action we do apply the sense of the term «swastha» in our daily life, only then can we gain wellness and even more energy for settling the things we have to settle in this life.
Yet, «the soul is essentially devoid of all pathogenicity» (CS, Sutrasthana, I:56), that is why the goal of Ayurveda is «the maintenance of the equilibrium of the tissue elements» (CS, Sutrasthana, I:53). Why does the temple of the soul («devoid of any pathogenicity») suffer from various disturbances, disorders, deceases?
Caraca Samhita enumerates the following causes of the illnesses, both physical and mental: «three-fold-wrong utilization, non-utilization and excessive utilization of time, mental faculties and objects of sense organs» (CS, Sutrasthana, I:54). Therefore we can conclude, that any illness is always an urge to think one’s own lifestyle over, whether it meets the needs and tasks of the soul and correspond with the resources of the body.
This does not mean of course that a physical disease should be treated by meditation on the purpose of life. Nevertheless, such contemplations do help a great deal, especially in search of motivation to follow the doctor’s indications concerning the lifestyle, day regimen and diet.
ANALYSIS + SYNTHESIS = LIFE
According to Ayurveda, «dosa, dhatu and mala» constitute the basis of the human body. «Dosa» means a pathogenic factor, «dhatu» means — the «tissues», and «mala» means the «excretion». Obviously enough, that it’s impossible and doesn’t make much sense to discuss each of these three element in detail. What is crucially important — is to understand the underlying principle: analysis (separating into constituents) precedes synthesis (uniting, interconnecting the parts of the singe system) in Ayurveda. It is absolutely the same way in our life, as in the nature. So, for instance, the proteins are splitting into aminoacids and the carbohydrates — into monosaccharides and only then from those the tissues of our body are formed.
This should be understood very clearly when considering the elements and the formation of dosas. Doctor A. G. Mohan speaking of Ayurveda, writes in his book «Yogatherapy»: «the basis of the theory is not that there five elements or forms of matter that make up the world, each having the listed qualities. Rather, the world has myriad qualities and functions that we group under these five categories for convenience. We name these categories after the most common examples of objects in which these qualities are combined. For example, consider this statement: Oil has predominance of the water element. Oil, as we know, does not mix with water at all. Oil most certainly does not contain water. So, what does this statement mean? It means only that oil has some qualities listed under the heading of the water element. These include the tendency to bind and stick and the quality of liquidity. […] To work with the qualities and functions of our body, we have to group them in a manner that takes into account the way in which they are related within the body, and to the way they are related in the world outside.»
Moreover, Ayurveda also distinguishes the so-called «dosas of the mind»: rajas (passion) and tamas (ignorance). By the way the term «dosa» means literally «a possible source of disorders» or in more scientific manner — «pathogenic factor». At that, any condition of a patient should be viewed in the context of the both: his/her state of mind and body condition. When a person’s mind is free from dosas (rajas or tamas), i.e. attained sattvic state, this person will be naturally inclined to a healthy diet and lifestyle. «Sattva is mind and it regulates the body because of its associasion with the soul» (CS, Vimanasthana, VIII:119). And vice versa — if the body is ill, the signals which it sends into the brain in the form of craving for certain food or activity, are distorted. The mind in this case is under the influence of rajas or tamas and can not be relied on, therefore one should rely only on the knowledge derived from authentic texts.
An ayurvedic doctor referring to his knowledge would give his advice to a patient taking into account a unique condition of the patient at this very moment, under these certain circumstances, in this very place. The doctor also analyzes which systems of the organism are disturbed and what was the cause of it, as well as examines the co-relation of different constituents of the patient’s current life: his/her constitution, day regimen, activity, diet and his mental condition. Thus the doctor actually uses both analysis and synthesis, by concentrating on the material side of life, bearing in mind though that the material is the reflection of the spiritual.
Let’s sum up. Ayurveda is a very practical science. Describing the laws of functioning of the human body, grouping some common qualities and processes, it always calls for awareness of the fact that everyone is absolutely unique. Needless to say even a fingerprint is unrepeatable! And not only just unique combination of the primary elements in the human body, but also experience of the soul visiting in this body.
Being the science of life, and not just about health, Ayurveda does not elevate health to the rank of purpose of life. Rather it invokes us to bear in mind that health is necessary in order that our soul can fully realize the task facing it in this incarnation.
The applied nature of Ayurveda is evident in the treatment methods, where the patient’s lifestyle and diet are on the first place. And this is in the patient’s own hands only! This is the responsibility of the patient to change his/her lifestyle and diet according to the needs of his body and soul.
Caraca defines a disease as dukha, i.e. suffering. Obviously, each of us wants to reduce all dukha symptoms in our lives. And this is caused by the desire for health and well-being.Caraca Samhita gives the following unpretentious recommendation how to maintain a perfect health:
«One who resorts to wholesome diet and regimens, who enters int action after proper observation, who is unattached to the pleasure drawn from the satisfaction of sensor objects, who is given to charity, impartiality, truthfulness and forgiveness and who is at service of learned people, seldom gets afflicted with diseases.
Diseases do not afflict an individual who is endowed with excellence of thoughts, speech and acts which are ultimately blissful, independent thinking, clear understanding? knowledge, observance of spiritual prescriptions and love for meditation.» (CS, Sarirasthana, II:46–47)
Here we go! We are bound to be successful! 😉