The Meaning of Ayurveda
Traditional systems of medicine like Ayurveda have become popular in recent years. This is part of the renewed ethnic cultures the world over, in their lifestyles and religious beliefs. Medicine may be seen as a living component of an unbroken tradition stretching back to several centuries. In India and her neighbours like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, such systems have long being in existence and studies scientifically and codified, with written texts that have been preserved through the ages. Passed on from one generation to another, they have stood the test of time. Of the many systems Ayurveda is perhaps the best known most widely prevalent.
These systems are unique in that they are deeply rooted in traditional cultures and draw upon their wisdom, knowledge and experience. But at the same time, because they emanate from man’s interaction with the environment or the macrocosm, they are applicable universally. They may be termed as alternative systems of medicine only in relation to modern Western medicine. Ayurveda and other such systems are both supplementary and complementary to modern medicine in helping to provide good health to humanity.
Despite the advances in modern medicine there are many drugs, which often cause toxic side effects. Painkillers and palliative measures offer only temporary relief. This has influenced the need for other kinds of treatment. A visible shift is also evident today from the over specialization which characterizes modern medical science to a more holistic viewpoint in the treatment of diseases. Holistic medicine as in Ayurveda, deals with the body-mind-spirit complex. More than the specific disease, it is the patient who is sought to be treated.
Good health thus becomes a whole way of life, which may be achieved by adopting certain general principles of behaviour and following certain regimens. Diseases may not only be cured but in fact may be prevented by observing these rules. Ayurveda also draws upon other traditional systems of medicines like naturopathy, Tibetan Buddhist medicine and Unani tibb (Graeco-Arabic medicine) since in theory and practice there is a high degree of commonality among them. Practitioners of one system freely use the medicinal products of the other, as they are all products of nature.
The word Ayurveda is made up of two Sanskrit words ayur and veda meaning ‘life’ and ‘knowledge’ respectively. Taken together they mean the ‘science of life’; in a more limited sense, the term is used to imply the science of medicine. The origins of Ayurveda are shrouded in antiquity. Legend say that Brahma the Creator, a part of the holy trinity of gods, first perceived it and taught it to his son, Daksha Prajapati. Subsequently, Lord Dhanwantari, the god of healing and the teacher of the medical sciences passed it on to the prominent Hindu sages Atreya, Bharadvaja, Kashyapa, Sushruta, Parashara, and Charaka. Sage Atreya’s disciple Agnivesha is said to have written the original Agnivesha Sambita around 1000 BC which has come down to us in the form of Charaka Sambita. This text is considered an authoritative pronouncement of Ayurvedic doctrine. Its present form goes back to the seventh century BC. Sage Charaka defines Ayurveda as ‘the science through which one can obtain the knowledge about the useful and harmful types of life (bita and abita ayus), happy and miserable types of life, things which are useful and harmful for such types of life, the span of life as well as the very nature of life’. Ayurveda thus emphasizes on not only leading a happy life from an individualistic point of view but also aims to be beneficial to society as a whole.
Health, according to Ayurveda, is not merely freedom from disease. It is essential that body, mind and soul are in a excellent state so that the individual can perform his functions and fulfil his role in life which in Vedic philosophy is called dharma; and ultimately work towards the final goal of salvation or moksha with the help of wealth, economic means which artha satisfying his legitimate desires of love and sex which is kama. The roots of Indian Culture can be traced back to the Vedic period, from c. 5000 BC or perhaps even earlier. All the four Vedas — Rig, Yajur, Sama, Atharva — contain several references to the digestive system, metabolism, anatomy and s of diseases along with the bacteria that cause them and more importantly, the concept of tridosha or the three doshas. The doshas, according to the Vedas, are subtle elements in the human body responsible for all its functions. According to the dictates of Ayurveda, illnesses occur due to an imbalance in the equilibrium between the three doshas — vayu, pitta, kapha. Roughly translated, vayu (also known as vata) is wind, pitta can be represented by bile and kapha by phlegm.
In India a large section of the vast population depends on the indigenous Ayurvedic tradition, which has deep cultural roots because of its easy availability, accessibility and reliability. The carries of this tradition are the millions of housewives brought up in this culture, the hundreds of birth-attendance, bone-setters, village herbalists, those skilled in eye-care, dental care are in the specialized treatment of mental diseases. Ayurveda is a body of knowledge, which is extremely coherent and logical within itself yet not restricted by any fixed dogma. Like life itself, it is universal and dynamic.
The Basic Elements
|The science of Ayurveda is a branch of Indian philosophy. Although it is deeply rooted in Indian culture, the university of Indian thought is widely acknowledged. Hence, the world can respond to Ayurveda as a science of healing based on man’s response to his environment.|
|Its universal approach emphasizes its applicability and relevance to all, irrespective of their geographical, cultural and religious differences. As a science, it is founded on the rational principles of physiology, pathology, pharmacology and diagnostics, which have been critiqued, systematized and generalized, based on the rigid principles of logic.|
|Being a holistic science of life, it believes that the functioning of the body is closely related to the mind and soul of the individual. Ideally speaking the body should be free from disease, the mind should be happy and the person should be spiritually elevated. It follows that certain regimens regarding diet must be observed as also code of conduct in order to achieve a harmonious life. In prescribing medicines or therapies, Ayurveda takes cognizance of the mind as well as the body.|
In Ayurveda, germs and organism cause diseases are described as secondary factors. The primary factor is the disturbance in the equilibrium of the three doshas. The doshas: vayu, pitta and kapha are three elementary functional units or principles on which the building up and sustenance of the body depends. They may roughly be represented by the terms, wind for vayu, bile for pitta and phlegm for kapha. But the doshas are not actually these substances. Vayu, pitta and kapha are more than that. They are forces that cause these substances to be produced in the body. They are the outcome of the absorption of the basic elements in the universe by the human sensory organs.
They exist in all individual constitutions, in certain combinations, endowing each with a characteristic feature. The body generally maintains an equilibrium in the functioning of these doshas. Ayurveda believes that just as seeds sown over the barren land will not take root, even virulent germs cannot multiply and produce disease if this equilibrium is maintained in the body. Maintaining good health is as important as treating diseases.
|Therapeutic use is made of drugs of vegetable origin, animal products and metals, minerals, gems and semi-precious stones. They are processed only in order to render them non-toxic, palatable and therapeutically more potent. No synthetic additives are used in these processes. The processes themselves have been carefully designed to preserve the therapeutic properties of the medicines’ ingredients. Toxic ingredients such as aconite, mercury and arsenic are made to pass through elaborate processes before they are used. Only minute doses are prescribed after their efficacy has been tried and tested over time. Ayurvedic medicines not only cure the patient of diseases, they also provide immunity against future attacks. In normal healthy individuals, they help to revitalize the body cells and stimulate the immune system.|
|Ayurvedic therapy is directed towards the patient rather than the disease. The line of treatment for two patients suffering from the same disease may differ. The physician prescribes medication and a regimen for each individual patient depending on his/her constitution and mental state. He does not prescribe for the disease alone.|
The whole of nature is included in the realm of Ayurveda. The individual is the microcosm of the universe, which is macrocosm. All the elements of the universe can be found in the individual. Hence, the external world is, in a sense, represented in the individual. Because it is based on the elements existing in the universe and the individual’s awareness of these, Ayurveda as a science must necessarily comply with the laws of nature. Therefore, Ayurveda and the world around it are inter-dependent. Both the healer and the healed are part of the same ecosystem. Ayurveda is an environment-friendly science, which enables the individual to live in harmony with nature as a part of nature.