By Arun Deva
Ayurveda is much more than a medical codification. It is the knowledge of life and best suited to address our wellbeing
June 26, 2017: Like all things whose origins are shrouded in the mists of time, the foundation of ayurveda is rooted in a mythological past. A myth is not necessarily a lie. Very much like a parable, it usually expresses a higher truth. It is believed that the Ashwini twins gave the secrets of ?the science of self-healing? to Indra, the king of devas, who in turn, passed it on to Bharadwaja, one of the seven seers of the Rigveda. As Indra represents prana, and the Ashwini twins represent the duality of all cosmic creation, this myth can be seen symbolically as the natural progression of the eternal life force into the two sustaining forces of the universe: inhalation and exhalation?the cosmic spanda or pulsation of all life. Bharadwaja represents the ability of man to access deep truths when in a state of full awareness or samadhi.
Similar to this are other myths with other persona?some divine, some mystical and some human. What is easier for us to comprehend is the belief that the great rishis of India, moved by compassion for the welfare of all living beings, went into a deep state of Samadhi (absorption) from which they extracted and made available the ?science of life?.
The science of life
To comprehend ayurveda as a medical science is to limit its scope. The root words for ayurveda are ayu and veda. Since ayu refers to all life and veda is knowledge or science, ayurveda is much more than a medical codification; it is actually the knowledge of all life. As all healing arises from the knowledge of health, ayurveda is best suited to address our wellbeing and the lack of it.
The beauty and simplicity of ayurveda arises from the belief that all in the universe is woven from the same fabric. Everything contains the same energies and is built with the same elements. It contends that everything in life is connected. It is in the different combinations of these forces that sentient life forms differ from non-sentient forms?plants from animals, animals from human beings and you from me.
Since all forms are the coalescing of energies, we divide them into five elements ranging from subtle to gross: ether, air, fire, water and earth. Each of these elements expresses a different combination of the three energies: movement, heat and stability; or catabolism, metabolism and anabolism.
In the physical body, these three energetic forces exist as vata, pitta and kapha. Vata is predominantly composed of air and ether. Therefore, vata represents subtlety, creativity and energetic movement. Pitta, composed composed primarily of fire and water, represents transformation, drive and the ability to digest. Kapha, the most stable, made primarily of water and earth, represents cohesion, stability and growth. In our mental makeup, these forces are formed as sattva (clarity), rajas (motivation) and tamas (inertia).
Prakruti creates personality
We are all born with our own peculiar ?blueprint?, like a charting of our own topography, similar to DNA/RNA. This ?blueprint? is called prakruti and it represents our individual nature. It is in the organic mix of vata, pitta and kapha with the flavourings of sattva, rajas and tamas that our own personality is created.
Like a well-tuned violin, when we are in our harmonious prakruti, we play a beautiful song but when we are out of tune, we are discordant. This discordant state is known as vikruti. Once we are in this state, we are potentially headed towards disease. (Ayurvedically we are already ?dis-eased?.) It is at this stage that ayurveda becomes a medical science, attempting to take us back to perfect health.
As a medical science, ayurveda is very comprehensive, similar to other holistic systems, such as traditional Chinese medicine. It uses herbs for healing as well as marma point therapy, which is like acupuncture but generally without the use of needles. It also addresses issues like diet, lifestyle and exercise very specifically, using these modalities as tools for healing. Ayurveda also utilises some very powerful cleansing and rejuvenating modalities like Pancha Karma, which has become quite popular.
Ayurveda has been around for thousands of years, and has in itself very powerful testimony to its effectiveness. While the various invasions of India affected its place in our society, most notably the British rule, which banned its practice, ayurveda has continued to flourish and is gaining recognition once again as the most complete and well documented form of healthcare we have ever had, if not the oldest.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about ayurveda is that it is a living science and that it adapts to the changes that have come with the evolving of society into its present form, thus making it as valid today as it was 5,000 years ago. Ayurveda has and continues to evolve to meet the needs of all people at all times.
Photo caption: Apsaras of Rigvida period
Arun Deva lives in Los Angeles where he studies, practices and teaches yoga and ayurveda.
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