III.5. Ayurveda, the World�s Medicine for the Next Millennium
Ayurveda, the World�s Medicine for the Next Millennium
������ In 1989 I attended a conference on medical applications of Yoga in Mumbai.� There were a number of Indian medical doctors on the panel but, strangely as a westerner, I was the only Ayurvedic speaker. After my talk promoting Ayurveda, someone in the audience remarked, �We in India believe in something only once it has been reimported.� While most Indian medical minds are busy pursuing modern medicine, Americans are increasingly looking into alternative medicine including Ayurveda, and see India as the homeland of Ayurveda and yogic spirituality.
������ India�s cultural medical genius has recently gone into modern medicine. Families traditionally devoted to Ayurveda have switched over to modern medicine and forgotten their roots. Indian allopathic doctors are often opposed to Ayurveda which, with their western education, they consider to be primitive. I have found doctors in America to be more interested in Ayurveda than doctors in India who have a na�ve faith in modern medicine such as was typical during the fifties and sixties in the West.
������ Unfortunately, Ayurveda is not adequately funded in India today, receiving only a small percentage of the medical budget. This amount is only enough to pay a low wage for Ayurvedic teachers. While the government funds allopathic treatment, people generally have to pay out of their own pockets for Ayurveda. This poor funding of Ayurveda is responsible for the backward state that occurs for Ayurvedic schools and hospitals, not anything necessarily inferior about the medicine itself.
Today there are several hundred Ayurvedic schools in India and thousands of practitioners. Ayurveda remains popular in the villages and has its place in urban life as well. Ayurvedic herb stores can be found in most communities, offering a wide variety of health care products from soaps to special formulas for boosting the immune system or improving memory and concentration. Modern Ayurvedic schools teach Ayurveda along with allopathy and the average Ayurvedic doctor knows a lot about modern medicine, including many of its diagnostic methods. Ayurveda is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and is the subject of much modern medical research. Therefore, in spite of poor funding, Ayurveda is still flourishing and spreading anew.
������ A new modern Ayurveda is starting in India and in the West with Ayurvedic health spas that can be quite upscale in terms of facilities and treatment. This is not confined to the TM (Transcendental Meditation) movement, which first emphasized it, but includes hotels in South India and other Ayurvedic centers throughout the world sponsored by various groups and organizations. There is nothing necessarily archaic or poverty-based about Ayurveda. The new Ayurveda, like Yoga, is attended by those in pursuit of the spiritual life and many affluent people from the West. The western interest in Ayurveda is helping to revive Ayurveda in India and makes it more respectable, showing it as an important medical system in its own right, not just a poor alternative for those who do not have access to modern medicine.
History of Ayurveda
������ Ayurveda has a long and glorious history in India, going back to Vedic or Indus-Sarasvati times over five thousand years ago. The Vedas mention the healing, rejuvenative and consciousness-boosting power of special plant preparations called Somas that were made from a variety of mountain plants prepared in ghee, milk, yogurt and other natural substances. Classical Ayurveda includes the three great classics of Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Ashtanga Hridaya. No other culture in the world, not Europe or China has preserved such extensive medical texts of great antiquity that are still used today. They cover all aspects of health and life-style including foods, herbs, mantra, massage, meditation, daily and seasonal health regimens and clinical methods like Pancha Karma and surgery.
Ayurveda is mentioned in the Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharata, Puranas, Tantras and Yoga Shastras, sometimes in great detail as the complementary medical system to Hindu culture and yogic spirituality.� It was used by the Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs as well as Hindus, and forms the basis of Tibetan medicine. For example, the great Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna, to whom was attributed the Shunyavada or Voidness school of Buddhist philosophy, was also a great Ayurvedic teacher. Many great modern Yogis like Sri Aurobindo, Swami Shivananda of Rishikesh and Paramahansa Yogananda spoke highly of Ayurveda and used it with their students. Most Yoga centers in India and the West now offer Ayurvedic classes or treatments.
Ayurveda and Modern Medicine
������ Modern medicine is recognizing that we must consider the nature of the individual in health and disease. It is not enough to give the same treatment to everyone suffering from the same disease. Their individual makeup should be considered because it causes the symptoms and development of the disease to vary considerably.
������ Ayurveda contains perhaps the world�s best system of constitutional types that helps us treat each individual appropriately. It classifies people according to the three doshas or biological humors of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, (which correspond roughly to the air, fire and water elements energized by the life-force). From these three main types derive many subtypes and conditions, resulting in a unique analysis of each individual�s specific health condition. This typology is not the product of any single factor like the current popular blood types in naturopathic medicine, but reflects the whole range of biological manifestations including body frame and weight, facial features, digestive tendencies, disease tendencies and psychological indications of emotional temperament and mental acuity. Ayurvedic books contain such typology tests and Ayurvedic doctors spend much time determining the individual nature and needs of each patient based upon these considerations.
������ Ayurveda treats the individual more so than the disease, which it sees as a by product of imbalances within the person. It makes the individual important and strengthening his or her vitality the goal, regarding the disease manifestation as secondary and derivative. It says that the same individual will be prone to various diseases that reflect their individual make-up and energies. Therefore, Ayurveda can provide treatment that covers not only a specific illness but all the potential diseases that the individual is likely to fall prey to over time.
������ Modern medicine is realizing the importance of disease prevention. It is not enough to treat diseases after they arise. This is like trying to put out a fire after it has already started and done some damage. Real treatment consists of preventing the disease from arising in the first place. And many diseases that are difficult to treat once they are fully developed can be prevented, if caught early enough.
������ Ayurveda is based upon a firm foundation of disease prevention, which is not simply a matter of regular medical check-ups but requires a healthy lifestyle in harmony with one�s own individual constitution and unique life-circumstances. Disease arises mainly from a breakdown of the balance of internal energies in a person, not merely from external pathogens, however powerful these may be. Ayurveda�s main method of long term treatment is to strengthen our internal energy (ojas). This is similar to modern medicine�s effort to strengthen the immune system, which is the energy of our body to defend itself from outside attacks. But Ayurveda has a better understanding of this internal energy and its connections with mind and consciousness. It views our vital energy not merely as a biochemical phenomenon but as a product of the mind and prana and includes how we think, breathe and use our senses in its methods of healing.
Ayurveda and Consciousness
������ In the modern world we are gradually discovering the importance of the mind and emotions in the disease process. Ayurveda is inherently a mind-body medicine. Its doshas or biological humors are not simply physical pathogens, elemental imbalances or dietary indiscretions but include the effects of impressions, emotions and thoughts. The doshas reflect the consequences of emotional toxins like anxiety, anger and attachment on our physiology.
What junk food does to the body, junk impressions, such as our mental diet of violent movies, does to the mind, rendering it dull and heavy. Negative emotions impact our health by adversely disturbing our internal organs, weakening the liver and heart which carry emotions. Disturbed thoughts impact our health through unbalancing the flow of energy through the nervous system. Disease always has a psychological component, and psychological disorders impact our vitality in a negative way.
Ayurveda emphasizes the role of consciousness in health and disease. It understands the workings of the mind on an organic and energetic basis just as it does the workings of the body, so that we can provide proper nutrition and exercise for the mind as well. It teaches us to be conscious how we live, what we eat, how we move and how we think so that we can bring the healing power and insight of consciousness into our existence. Whatever we give consciousness to, we help improve, just as exposure to sunlight helps plants grow. This spiritual side of Ayurveda is not a matter of religious dogma, occult hocus pocus or New Age fantasy but part of the sophisticated spiritual sciences of Yoga and Vedanta, with which Ayurveda is intimately connected.
Ayurvedic Treatment Methods
������ Ayurveda prescribes individual life-style health regimens designed with regard to age, sex, climate, vocation and other factors. We cannot expect to be healthy if we don�t have a good diet, if we lack proper exercise or if we are filling our minds with disturbing influences. We create our own health or disease by our daily actions. So too, without changing these habitual activities, we cannot improve our health in a lasting manner.
������ Ayurveda shows the health benefits of the Indian style of cooking, like how the right spices can help us digest food. It teaches us the dynamic effects of each food article for health and disease. While modern medicine is only now beginning to accept the role of food and disease through an examination of phytochemicals, Ayurveda has long regarded diet as the basis of health. We are not only what we eat but also how we eat and with whom we eat. Food preparation is as important as food types.
Food is the first form of God, the Anna Brahma of the Upanishads. Without honoring this form of divinity, the other forms may not be able to manifest in our lives. In this regard Ayurveda recommends vegetarian foods to promote higher (sattvic) qualities of compassion and understanding, under the idea that food not only nourishes the body but also the mind and emotions.
������ Ayurveda contains many important herb and mineral preparations that reflect the botanical wealth of the Indian subcontinent and thousands of years of experience with plants. It has what is perhaps the most complex and intricate herbal pharmaceutical industry in the world with pills, powders, resins, extracts, confections, and oils not to mention Ayurvedic cosmetics, toothpastes and soaps. Such Ayurvedic products can improve our lives in many ways.
������ Ayurveda works along with Yoga to prescribe helpful asana, pranayama, mantra and meditation methods for optimal health and spiritual development. The asanas that are good for one person or good for one season, just like the food articles, may not be good for another. Pranayama has its energetic effects. By strengthening Prana or the life-force we can improve perception and circulation and add more energy to counter all diseases. Indeed Prana is the second form of God, the Prana Brahma of the Upanishads.
Mantra and meditation practices have their energetics that should be adjusted according to individual needs and capacities. Mantra helps us energize the mind and clear the subconscious. Meditation helps us open our higher awareness potentials so that we can deal with our lives with more insight and detachment.
������ Ayurveda has an extensive system of detoxification called Pancha Karma. Pancha Karma includes a system of oil massage, sweating therapy, and various internal cleansing processes to remove the doshas from the tissues, which can effectively eliminate disease-causing toxins from the body so that they can no longer promote the disease process.� A number of Pancha Karma centers are now functioning in the West and most Ayurvedic clinics in India offer this service.
������ Ayurveda has a special science of rejuvenation or rasayana. It recognizes that the body contains a secret potential to renew itself in old age, just it does daily in the state of deep sleep. Ayurveda contains specific exercise, diet, and meditation regimens to facilitate the rejuvenation of body and mind. As the baby boomer generation gets older, which has been very active physically and has pioneered the new interest in alternative medicine, this rejuvenation approach is bound to become much more sought after.
Perhaps most importantly, with its broad basis, Ayurveda provides a good model for integrating all the worlds different medical systems in a harmonious manner. It recognizes the importance of surgery, particularly for larger tumors, but also its limitations, its weakening of our internal energy. It recognizes the importance of drugs, particularly for acute pain relief, but also their limitations, their tendency to dull the mind and depress our energy. It accepts the healing power of food, herbs, massage and other natural healing methods and shows their applicability and long term healing power.
Yet while respecting all healing modalities Ayurveda also shows us how we can heal ourselves. What we do for ourselves on a regular basis, through the food, thoughts and lifestyle we choose creates who we are and shapes where we are going in life. To think that an outside force, person or treatment can suddenly heal what has taken perhaps years to create, is a delusion. It is an abdication of responsibility for our choices moment by moment. In Ayurveda, the practitioner can make recommendations, but it is up to the client to implement them on a regular basis.�
The Future of Ayurveda
Ayurveda is one of the main world systems of natural healing and mind-body medicine, with a popularity spreading to America, Europe and East Asia, a trend that has been steadily developing over the last fifteen years. However, in America Ayurveda is mainly being taken up by the general population. Few Indians, particularly the many medical doctors, are supporting it or even adequately informed about it.
The current Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has mentioned the importance of Ayurveda for proper medical care in India, particularly for disease prevention. The same comments extend to the West where acute disease is no longer the main issue but rather how to improve our vitality and awareness for more creative and fulfilling lives.
������ As we move into a new millennium and a global age, Vedic knowledge of all types, with its universal vision, is becoming increasingly important. This includes Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedic Astrology, Vedanta and Sanskrit. But as we are first of all physical creatures and as our health needs are radically changing in the computer world, Ayurveda may be the main vehicle through which Vedic knowledge expands again today. Through the Vedic approaches of Ayurveda, Yoga and Jyotish (Vedic Astrology) we have an elaborate system for self-healing, self-understanding, and self-realization. This marvelous heritage should not be forgotten, particularly in India.