PHILOSOPHY OF AYURVEDA
Dr K A Latheef
Medicine is as old as man and must have come into being with the first awakening of human consciousness. It was practiced by priests who were considered next to only a king and the practice itself was a mixture of magic, rites and rituals.
The post ‘Upanishad period’ (800 BC to 1000 AD) may be considered as the ‘The golden age of Indian Medicine’. Ayurveda evolved during this period.
Ayurveda is the ‘upaveda’ (the branch) of Adharva Veda. ‘Veda’ means knowledge. The word came from Sanskrit language and is derived from the root ‘Vid’- to know. Vedas are a sort of manuals showing how to use this world and how to live in it. Indian philosophy is based on Veda.
There are six schools of thoughts in Indian philosophy. Nyaya, Vaishesika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta.
Accoriding to Nyaya, obtaining valid knowledge was the only way to get release from the sufferings. Its followers therefore took great pain to identify valid source of knowledge from mere false opinion.
According to Nyaya School there are four sources of knowledge:
Perception (Prathyaksha), Inference (anumana), Comparison (upamana) and Testimony (shabda or apthopadesha).
This methodology is well used in Ayurveda and helps even in differential diagnosis of diseases. Nyaya is probably the closest Indian equivalent to contemporary Western analytical philosophy.
Vaisheshika postulates an atomic pluralism that differs from modern atomic theory in that the function of atom was guided or directed by the will of Supreme Being. Developed independently from Nyaya Sutra, it accepted only Perception (prathyaksha) and Inference (Anumana). It is the teaching of ‘Highest good’ – Dharma – or Merit which springs elevation (Moksha). From this particular kind of merit (Dharma) springs true knowledge of certain ‘Categories (Padartha). These categories embrace the whole realm of knowledge.
The word Samkhya means to know the truth. This reflects its origin in preliterate systematic theory. The ‘Rishis’ (The scholar Saints) perceived, in close relationship between man and universe, how cosmic energy manifests in all living and non-living things. They also realized that source of all existence is cosmic consciousness, which manifests as male and female energy.
The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’ meaning to bind, join, and attach. It means the disciplining of the intellect, the mind, the emotions, and the will. Pathanjali describes Yoga as ‘chitta vritti nirodhah’. This may be translated as the restraint of mental modifications or as suppression of the fluctuations of consciousness. The word chitta denotes the mind in its total or collective sense as being composed of three categories: Mind (mana:) - the individual mind having the power and faculty of attention, selection and rejection; it is the oscillating indecisive faculty of mind. Intelligence or reason (budhi) – that is, the decisive state which determines the distinction between things, and Ego (Ahamkara) – literally the I-maker, the state, which ascertains that ‘I know’. The word Vritti is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Vrit’ meaning to turn, to revolve, or to roll on. It thus means course of action, behavior, mode of being, condition or mental state.
A person’s mental and physical health depends on brain and body chemicals. Regular practice of yoga alters the brain chemistry. It slows down the action of the sympathetic nervous system. In practical terms it means that our body do not get flooded with stress hormones as quickly, our blood pressure do not rise every time we have an argument and our heart does not start pounding for fear of missing the bus. Regular practice of yoga also improves the functioning of Parasympathetic system that controls our ability to relax. Even after a period of stress we are able to relax and normalize quickly.
Emotions are very difficult to define and difficult to measure. But we now accept the idea that emotions and other experiences influence people’s illness and pattern of recovery. Stress too, like emotion, is hard to define and hard to quantify. According to Hans Seyles (1979) stress is the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made up on it. Meditation is the medicine to both.
Psychoneuroimmunology deals with the ways in which the experiences, especially stressful ones alter immune system and how it in turn influences the Central Nervous System.
Mimamsa is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘investigation, inquiry, discussion’. It is for ‘the investigation of the proper interpretation on the Vedic texts.
Dharma might be considered the way of higher truths. It is the way of living. The way to the truth is knowledge. According to John Locke (1632-1704), what we know is always properly understood as the relation between ideas. All our ideas – simple or complex- are ultimately derived from experience. The consequence of this empiricist approach is that the knowledge of which we are capable is severely limited in its scope and certainty.
Vedandanta is a combination of two words: “Veda’ means knowledge and ‘anta’ means ‘the end of’ or the ‘the goal of’. Here the goal of knowledge is not intellectual- the limited knowledge we acquire by reading books, but the knowledge of God as well as the knowledge of our divine nature. Vedanta, then, is the search of Self-knowledge as well as the search of God. According to Vedanta, soul is eternal and was never produced or came in to existence at a particular time in the history. It does not die when the body is put to death.
The basic foundation of the Ayurveda also is the same. Such knowledge (Veda) makes the term ‘Ayurveda”, the knowledge of life. A healthy body is where the soul dwells long! Vedanta is universal in its application and is equally relevant to all countries, all cultures, and all religious backgrounds.
Throughout antiquity and in to the Middle Age there was a nexus between medicine and philosophy. Scientists in the world often were philosophers as well as physicians, and the distinction between the two fields was often blurred. Even in late Antiquity, when the philosopher-physician Galen reigned supreme, philosophy was considered to a necessary part of medicine training and rational medicine and faith healing existed side by side, never fully divorcing themselves from one another.
The intrusion of hypothetical philosophers in to the medicine cannot be blamed because it was the only means of explaining the cause of diseases; but following the hypotheses still in the medicine can never be justified. For example, as per the Hindu tradition cutting the dead body was forbidden. Unlike philosophy and medicine, which worked in harmony, the tension between medicine and religious belief often shifted or impeded physiological research.
Archeological excavations from the ancient period (3000 BC) show clear evidence of knowledge of comparative anatomy. The two proponents of Ayurveda who practiced it were Susruta and Charaka. Sustrutha lived in 2 BC. Charaka’s writings (Charaka Samhita) can be dated back to 1 AD. During this period, anatomy was studied on dead body. After removing excretes, the body, wrapped in grass and placed in a case was hidden in river. The thoroughly decomposed body was taken out and slowly scrubbed with a whisk made of grass roots (Kusa) to study the internal parts!
The unique concept of life in Ayurveda contains two inseparable entities, ‘health and ‘intelligence’. We, in pursuing the modern goals of life with Kama - the pleasure and Artha, the material wealth understand only the need for the health. The true purpose of Ayurveda is to develop intelligence. This ‘intelligence’ is not the capacity to deal effectively with ones environment capacity to think rationally. It is the cellular consciousness that make you aware of your physical body. Ayurveda teaches that man is a microcosm, a universe within himself. He is a child of the cosmic forces of the external environment, the macrocosm. His individual existence is indivisible from the total cosmic manifestation.
It views health and disease in holistic terms taking into consideration the inherent relationship between individual and cosmic spirit, individual and cosmic conscious energy and matter. This is well explained by Tridosha principle of Ayurveda.