Amazing Ayurveda

Healing & Meditation

Sarita talks about the origins, philosophy and ways of diagnosis with Ayurveda, a system of medicine from India.

Origins of Ayurveda

The origins of Ayurveda are recalled through an oral myth-based tradition which recounts that this type of healing came directly from Brahma (God) to Vishnu (a God who is the preserver of life). A sage named Bharadvaja learned these secrets of medicine from Vishnu and then taught his compounded wisdom to a group of sages. The sages then taught aspects of it to their disciples.

Punarvasu AtreyaA great rishi and master healer of ancient India, named Punarvasu Atreya, had six disciples who also became masters of healing. One of his disciples, Agnivesha, created a compendium based on the teachings of Atreya. The name of the book was Agnivesh Tantra.

Charaka SamhitaLater, in the 1st Century CE, a physician by the name (or title) Charaka, compiled and edited the original manuscript by Agnivesha and made additions to it. In this format it became known as Charaka Samhita. This massive tome of wisdom has approximately 1,990 varieties of medicinal plants listed, each one having gone through an extremely rigorous process of empirical testing before it was eligible to be included in the book.

SushrutaSushruta, in about 1000 BCE, created a pivotal textbook inspired by the father of surgery, Dhanvantari (also known as the God of Ayurveda). This textbook is known as the Sushruta Samhita. It is astonishing to know that hundreds of years before Ayurveda became a systematized form of medicine, specialists were already performing intricate surgery for many types of medical problems, including head, inner organs, and even plastic surgery to repair ears, eyes or nose.

The Charaka Samhita and the Sushruta Samhita were the two textbooks used as a base for understanding medicine in all its eight forms at great universities in India, such as the two first universities in the world: Takshashila (700 BC-500 CE) and Nalanda (500 CE-1300 CE). The Charaka Samhita recounts a dialogue between many physician sages gathered in the Himalayas who held impassioned debates about the science of healing. Each time they reached a unanimous decision, the finding would then be included in their timeless system of medicine. They decided to call this system, Ayurveda, meaning the Science of Life, or The Art of Living.

Another great name in the history of Ayurveda is Chakrapani Datta (1038) who was King Laxman’s physician. He wrote a compendium called Chakradutta which is thought to hold the very essence of Ayurveda.

There are many more authors of great repute who have added their wisdom to the river of Ayurveda over hundreds of years.

Gautama the Buddha’s influence (beginning 500 years BCE) was supreme in the development of Ayurveda as we know it today. His meditation-based teaching dispelled gods and the cast system. His influence paved the way for the folk medicine of India to let go of the trappings of superstition and be formed into a complete science of healing and wellness.

The 8 branches of Ayurveda are:

1) Kayachikitsa (general medicine, including all organs)
2) Shalakya (treatments for the head and neck including eyes, ears, throat, nose and mouth)
3) Shalya (surgery)
4) Bhuta Vidya (spiritual healing; for mentally-based or supernatural-based phenomena not explainable by normal medical logic)
5) Kaumarabhritya (the healing of children)
6) Agadatantra (using antidotes to treat poisons of all kinds)
7) Rasayana (wellness and rejuvenation treatments)
8) Vajikarana (sexual healing and the enhancement of libido and fertility)

Ayurveda inspired Syrian, Babylonian, Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese, Greek and other medicinal orientations, just as Ayurveda had benefited from streams of wisdom coming from outside of India, such as healing approaches from the Middle East.

A wonderful quote, which sums up the Ayurveda approach to medicine, comes from the teacher of Sushruta:

Ayurveda has two purposes, to release the ill from illness and to serve the health of the healthy.”

The Philosophy of Ayurveda

The philosophy of Ayurveda is eternally relevant. In a nutshell, it is based on the five elements (bhutas) and seasons (ruticharya) and how these influences fluctuate within our body. The wisdom of the Ayurvedic physician lies in his or her ability to diagnose which element may be uppermost in a person’s body and what has to be done to bring balance, so that all the elements find a way to bring forth their essential qualities in harmony. When the eco-system of the earth is balanced, we have a paradisiacal condition on the earth. Likewise, when the eco-system of the body, the microcosm, is balanced, we have health. This state of balance in Ayurveda is called dhatu samya. Dhatu are the various constituents that arise from the five elements that form our body and physical universe.

Charaka says:

The universe and the individual are a continuum. Whatever exists in the cosmos exists in the individual; reciprocally, whatever constitutes the individual exists in the universe.”

When a person carries a state of imbalance, this is called dosha. A dosha condition will arise according to the basic constitution of a person (which is believed to be activated at the time of conception) and how their food is being assimilated and waste is being processed. Normally, waste elements are released through sweat, urine and bowel movements. However, if there is mental, emotional and physical stagnation, the normally smooth process of waste elimination may be slow, leading to imbalance and disease.

There are three dosha states, vata being air and ether (including wind), pitta being fire, and kapha being earth and water. If someone carries an aggravation of one or more doshas, this needs to be balanced using the opposite element. This is achieved through dosha-balancing food, herbal medications, massage, acupressure points (called marma), detoxing and purging.

A quote from Sushruta is a good reminder to physicians of our contemporary world:

In the absence of a sound understanding of food, its varieties, preparations and functions, physicians would neither be able to maintain the health of the healthy nor control the disorders of the ill.”

(Buddha is recounted as saying that there were originally three diseases: desire, hunger and ageing, which then multiplied to ninety-eight as a consequence of slaughtering animals.)

Food in Ayurveda is of prime importance for the maintenance of health and the cure of disease. Foods are divided into three categories, tamas (inertia), rajas (fiery) and sattvic (essence, or wisdom foods).

An example of this in today’s world would be:

meat and junk food = tamas
over-stimulating, highly seasoned food = rajas
a well-balanced diet of organic vegetarian or vegan food = sattvic

Ayurvedic Diagnosis

One of the mysteries in Ayurveda, at least for Westerners, are the methods of diagnostics. Some parts of diagnosis can be understood through logic, and some can only be explained as the art of telepathy. A doctor who is a master of Ayurveda is able to read the pulse, tongue, eyes and other indications in such a way that he knows everything about the person within a matter of seconds, including all the diseases they have ever had and will be prone to have. It is said that 20 years of dedicated study is needed in order to be able to read the pulse in this way. But even then, it may be ingrained for some persons to be able to do it, while others may strive for years without ever mastering the technique.

During British rule in India, Ayurveda was thrown aside for modernization. Now, ironically, people from the West flood to India seeking Ayurvedic cures while the ‘Medical Mafia’ in the West rakes in huge profits at the expense of the sick and dying, a result of the non-holistic approach of modern medicine.

Charaka states, very practically:

By treating diseases with medicines endowed with virtues opposed to their originating causes, we succeed in fully restoring the patients to their normal condition.”

The Science for a Joyous and Fulfilled Life

At one time, Tantra, Yoga and Ayurveda were three branches of the same Tree of Life, offering health, equilibrium and spiritual expansion for a life of joy and fulfilment. It has been my experience that for true health and wholeness to be experienced, we need to have in balance body, mind, emotions, soul and spirit. All of these aspects within us need to be in harmony, otherwise disease will be the result. In this sense, Ayurveda has really captured the essence of healing because it focuses on the art of living a balanced, healthy and joyous lifestyle.

One of the most potent ways of achieving balance and wellness is through the Ayurvedic process of Pancha Karma, which is advised as a residential retreat for either 7, 14, 21 or 28 days.

VagbhataVagbhata, an Ayurvedic physician says:

Doshas which pervade the gut, tissues, body channels, limbs and bones are loosened by lubrication and liquefied by fomentation; they enter the gut to be eliminated by purificatory measures.”

A Glimpse into the Era of Compassion

Hiuen TsiangI quote here a very poignant passage written by a Chinese traveller named Hiuen Tsiang (aka Xuanzang) who visited India in the 5th century CE. (This passage is recounted in M S Valiathan’s excellent book, An Introduction to Ayurveda.)

“The nobles and householders of this country have founded hospitals within the city, to which the poor of all countries, the destitute, cripples and diseased may repair. They receive every kind of help, gratuitously. Physicians inspect their diseases, and according to their cases, order them food and drink, medicines or decoctions, everything in fact that may contribute to their ease. When cured, they depart at their convenience.”

This glimpse into the past can certainly offer inspiration for our society today, showing us a world where wisdom, love and compassion rule.

Ayurveda: The Art of Being (documentary)
An Introduction to Ayurveda by M. S. Valiathan
Forever Young; Unleashing the Magic of Ayurveda by Reenita Malhotra Hora
Timeless Secrets of Health and Rejuvenation by Andreas Moritz

More articles of the same author on Osho News

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Experiences of a Pancha Karma Retreat – Sarita, and some of her friends, share their experiences of a 5-week long Ayurveda Pancha Karma Retreat in India.

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