What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is the art of good life and gentle healing. It is made up of two Sanskrit words, ayus, meaning “life” and Veda, meaning “knowledge” or “science”.
When this theoretical wisdom becomes a part of our day to day life, a part of our very self, it matures into an art.
Ayurveda should progress to an integral part of our life and will thus guide us at every stage of our existence and while following will provide us with the highest quality of life.
Ayurveda has never been shrouded in mystery or written down in coded language. It was meant for the benefit of all living beings. So why should it have been kept a secret? Only in recent history, when foreign invaders repeatedly tried to force their own cultures on the people of the Indian subcontinent, had Ayurveda and other Vedic practices gone underground. But since the middle of the nineteenth century a revival of this antique science of life has taken place that developed side by side with the national consciousness and struggle for independence.
Its unorthodox philosophy, contains elements of theism as well as materialism and roots in the ancient pre-Vedic, matriarchal teachings of the Tantra, Shamanism and principally of the six Vedic Systems of thought: Shankya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, Yoga and Vedanta. That’s why I call Ayurveda here the mother of medicine. This adaptability has helped make it part of the Chinese, Persian, Tibetan, Greek, and Arabian culture.
Medicine is not considered an exact science. Caraka, the author of the famous 3500 year-old treatise on Internal Medicine, was well aware of this fact and encouraged physicians to acquire knowledge from all sources as there is no finality to Ayurveda. And, that an endeavor must be made to the point of accepting the truth even from one’s enemy. Further he says, that the whole world consists of teachers for the wise and enemies for the fools. Anything that is conducive to maintain health, longevity, fame and excellence should be received, understood, and earnestly utilized.
Above statements are ample evidence of the non-sectarian nature of Ayurveda and that it should not be looked upon as belonging to a particular race, period, culture or religion. It deserves to be appreciated for it’s universal and scientific character of which all can benefit.
The simple, yet complex thesis of Ayurveda is based on the fact that everything in nature, including us, consists of the same building blocks, the proto-elements. Too much or too little of any of these substances may disturb the natural equilibrium of our organism and eventually lead to disease or decay. The general rule is, that adding elements that are of opposite qualities to the weakened elements, will restore the homeostasis or healthy balance.
This sounds amazingly simple. In fact, it is quiet easy to maintain good health by following this principle. However, in diseased conditions it requires great skill of the physician to analyze the exact state of the elements and to apply a therapy which does not cause any unwanted effects. That is why patients with the same disease have to be treated with a specific course that may differ from case to case. The advice given in this book consists of a general outline and practical examples - just as in a student’s textbook of mathematics some formulas are given. That is not to say, that those formulas offer a solution to every mathematical problem. Similarly, a good physician must apply his skill and knowledge to invent an individualized course of treatment for every single patient.
As opposed to modern medicine that constitutes primarily a healing science, Ayurveda serves a threefold function:
1. Preventive - a concept of health care and personal hygiene meant for every person.
2. Psychological - a philosophy of life dealing with essential aspects of human existence.
3. Curative - a medical science with a comprehensive approach to the concept of health and disease, offering extensive methods on cure.
The concept of health care in Ayurveda possesses a unique significance, as it presents a code of conduct that would be suitable for every person. Reference is made to control the emotional urges such as anger, hatred, jealousy and passion, but not to control somatic urges such as sneezing, urination, defecation. Further, there are useful guidelines for a disciplined way of daily life in various habits such as eating, sleeping, exercise and sexual activity, with specific advise for different seasons of the year. The usefulness of a disciplined daily life is also recognized by the psychological medicine of the present day in preventing stress and depression.
According to Ayurveda, diseases often start in the mind and later manifest in various somatic organs or systems or as psychic disturbances. The role of the external environment is recognized in the afflictions caused through infection or through accidental phenomena. The necessity of improving internal resistance, according to the structure and function of ones own constitution, is repeatedly stressed for maintaining health and prevention of diseases. Thus, there exists a parallel between modern concepts of immunology, especially psychoneuroimmunology and Ayurveda.
As a medical science Ayurveda is based on an elaborate theory and extensive clinical practice right from the beginning of its existence. This is a very unique feature. Therefore, Ayurveda should not be called an “Erfahrungsmedizin” (empirical or traditional medicine).
It also emphasizes that the well being of human individuals does not depend merely on sustenance of somatic health and freedom from diseases, but includes the necessity of maintaining mental, spiritual and social harmony.
By philosophical contemplation and following a daily discipline in respect of psycho-somatic hygiene, every individual should be made responsible for her or his own body-mind-soul health. In this connection, it is important to recognize ones constitution that is based on the representation of the Dosha and gives certain individual characteristics, not only from the point of psycho-somatic structure, but also in view of vulnerability to diseases. Thus, understandings of ones own constitution plays an important role in preventive medicine. This forms a very significant aspect of public education and brings the concept of medicine nearer to the people.