What is Ayurveda?


Knowledge of Life: Tales of an Ayurvedic Practitioner in Malaysia

‘Ayurveda has hit on something deep in nature. Its knowledge is rooted not in technology but in wisdom, which I would define as a reliable understanding of the human organism gathered over many centuries.’
Deepak Chopra

The word ‘Ayurveda’ can be broken into ‘Ayur’ and ‘Veda’. ‘Ayur’ (which means ‘Life’) is the constant amalgamation and union of body, sense organs, mind and self. ‘Veda’ means ‘Knowledge’. Together, Ayurveda means ‘Knowledge of Life and Longevity’.

The basic principles of Ayurveda trace their roots to the core of Indian philosophy and highlight a noble concept: that man is the microcosm of the macrocosm that is the universe. Man and the entire universe are composed of the same basic elements. There is in man as much diversity as is present in the external universe. Visualising the ‘self’ in the entire universe and the entire universe in the ‘self’ represents the most evolved state of man.

We believe that Ayurveda is eternal; it is in constant flow and has no beginning or end because it is in consonance with Nature’s Law. The theory is that man must have used measures and medicines to promote his health and cure his illnesses. Based on his experiences, he developed an understanding of the causative effects of his illness, how they manifested, prognosis and treatment methods. This information was passed down the generations and, in time, rules were framed to treat a particular ailment. It was eventually distilled into two different schools of thought: Bharadwaja (which focuses primarily on treatment options using medication) and Dhanwanthari (which focuses on surgical methods).

From these two schools of thought – Bharadwaja and Dhanwanthari – eight different disciplines of Ayurveda were developed and cover all areas of medicine. Students of Ayurveda rely on various medical texts to hone their knowledge. These texts are, in essence, Charaka Samhita, Susrutha Samhita and Ashtanga Sangraha.

Ayurveda uses a very common sense approach to treating man. Basically, every individual is a manifestation of cosmic consciousness that consists of earth, water, fire, air and ether. From these five bio-energetic elements, there are three functional and organising principles of life called Tridosha. They are expressed in terms of Vata, Pitha and Kapha. They are made up of a combination of the basic elements and each dosha has acquired a specific character from the elements that rule it.

Vata is the principle of control and regulation within the universe; it is the innate knowledge and order in all beings and substances. It is responsible for proper movement and flow of substances in the body and allows the other doshas to be expressive. It represents the central nervous system.

Pitha is the innate tendency of matter or tissue to be active and to undergo transformation and this depends on the dynamic interplay between water and fire. It begins with the formation of a single cell which is divided into two. One will die and the other will continue to divide. Maintaining the correct number of cells in your body and making sure that the dead cells are removed regularly is the total effect of Pitha in the body.

Kapha provides the cohesion, adhesion and lubrication; it allows things to integrate and attain stability. It keeps everything in a state of equilibrium. For example, assume the following: a mixture of water and earth is thought to be in the state of equilibrium when the two substances are properly mixed. This means that you have to stir the water. If you stop stirring, the earth will separate from the water and sink to the bottom of the glass. The mixture will no longer be in a state of equilibrium. In the human body, Kapha can be described as that act of stirring in the body; it is the force that keeps our bodies in balance.

From the simplest activity to the most complicated of the bodily functions, these three principles of Vata, Pitha and Kapha permit and control all that happens: good or bad. They work as a team and one never appears without the other. Their interplay, harmony and disharmony decide the objective condition of good health.

In a healthy state, doshas support life and when unbalanced, they create ill health. It’s that simple. When Vata, Pitha and Kapha are out of balance with one another, the system is bound to lose its own equilibrium and balance, thus creating diseases. In other words, in Ayurveda, every aspect of our lives is determined by our doshas.

An Ayurveda practitioner will use the language of Vata, Pitha and Kapha to understand how the body works. The practical utility of this line of thinking is tremendous as it not only simplifies the understanding and approach to the disease, but makes it possible to prescribe medication rationally on the basis of symptoms even before the disease becomes manifest.

The aim of Ayurveda, therefore, is for man to maintain good health, cure disease and adopt a sense of eugenics, ethics and philosophy. It is also about teaching man to become aware of what is happening to him. For example, when you have indigestion, it is an indication that your capacity to digest your food is impaired. Why then reach immediately for medication to solve problems associated with indigestion? Wouldn’t it be much easier to give your body the time and space it needs to digest the food properly? In fact, in Ayurveda, the best solution for indigestion is to undergo a fast.

Keeping all of what has been said in mind, an Ayurveda practitioner will always be committed to helping those who seek treatment lead a long, happy and useful life so that they can become noble and selfless citizens of the world.

(11 January 2017)

This story is an excerpt from Knowledge of Life: Tales of an Ayurvedic Practitioner (ISBN 978-967-415-4004) by Vaidya C.D. Siby and Aneeta Sundararaj. It is an enlightening book published by MPH Publishing that dispels the myths surrounding this ancient medical system.

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One thought on “What is Ayurveda?

  1. Hi Aneeta,
    This is one of the most lucid descriptions of Ayurveda that I have come across. Gradually, modern medicine is accepting many of the principles of Ayurveda. And you’re absolutely right: fasting is the best solution to indigestion. I look forward to your next article on Ayurveda.

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