Ayurveda, the “science of life,” or longevity, is the holistic alternative science from India, and is more than 5,000 years old. It is believed to be the oldest healing science in existence, forming the foundation of all others. Buddhism, Taoism, Tibetan, and other cultural medicines have many similar parallels to Áyurveda. The secret of Áyurveda’s individualized healing method was preserved in India, whereas it has been lost or superseded in other cultures.
The First World Medicine
Áyurveda (pronounced Aa-yer-vay-da), said to be a world medicine, is the most holistic or comprehensive medical system available. Before the arrival of writing, the ancient wisdom of healing, prevention, and longevity was a part of the spiritual tradition of a universal religion. Healers gathered from the world over, bringing their medical knowledge to India. Veda Vyasa, the famous sage, preserved the complete knowledge of Áyurveda in writing, along with the more spiritual insights of ethics, virtue, and Self-Realization. Others say Áyurveda was passed down from God to his angels, and finally to humans. The methods used to find this knowledge of herbs, foods, aromas, gems, colors, yoga, mantras, lifestyle, and surgery are fascinating and varied.
The sage, physicians/surgeons of the time were the same sages or seers, deeply devoted holy people, who saw health as an integral part of spiritual life. It is said that they received their training of Áyurveda through direct cognition during meditation. That is, the knowledge of the use of the various methods of healing, prevention, longevity, and surgery came through Divine revelation; guessing or animal testing was unnecessary. These revelations were transcribed from oral tradition into written form, interspersed with aspects of mortal life and spirituality.
Originally four main books of Vedic spirituality existed. Topics included health, astrology, spiritual business, government, military, poetry, and ethical living. These are known as the Vedas: Rig,Sama, Yajur, and Atharva. Áyurveda was usedalong with Vedic astrology (called Jyotish, that is, one’s “inner light”). Eventually, Áyurveda was organized into its own compact system of health and considered a branch of Atharva Veda. This upaveda/branch dealt with the healing aspects of spirituality; although, it did not directly treat spiritual development. Passages related to Áyurveda from the various Vedas were combined into separate books dealing only with Áyurveda. Among the Rg Veda’s 10,572 hymns are discussions of the three constitutions (doshas): air (Váyu), fire (Pitta), and water (Kapha). Topics comprised organ transplants, artificial limbs, and the use of herbs to heal diseases of the mind and body and to foster longevity. Within the Atharva Veda’s 5,977 hymns are discussions of anatomy, physiology, and surgery.
There were two schools of Áyurveda at the time of Átreya, the school of physicians and the school of surgeons. These two schools transformed Áyurveda into a scientifically verifiable and classifiable medical system. Through research and testing, they dispelled the doubts of the more practical and scientific minded, removing the aura of mystery that surrounded Divine revelation. Consequently, Áyurveda grew in respect and became a widely used system of healing in India. People from many countries came to Indian Áyurvedic schools to learn about this medicine in its entirety. Chinese, Tibetans, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Afghanis, Persians, and others traveled to absorb the wisdom and bring it back to their own countries. India’s Silk Road, an established trade route between Asia (China, Tibet, etc.), the Middle East (Afghanistan, Persia, etc.), and Europe (Rome, Greece, etc.), provided a link between cultures. On this route travelers first discovered Áyurveda.
Charak and Sushrut are two reorganizers of Áyurveda whose works are still extant. The third major treatise is called the Ashtánga Hridayam, a concise version of the works of Charak and Sushrut. Thus, the three main ancient Áyurvedic texts still in use are the Charak Samhitá (compilation), Sushrut Samhitá, and the Ashtánga HridayamSamhitá. These books are believed to be over 1,200 years old and contain the original and complete knowledge of this Áyurvedic world medicine. Consequently, Áyurveda is the only complete ancient medical system in existence.
Charak represents the Átreya school of physicians, discussing physiology, anatomy, etiology, pathogenesis, symptoms and signs of disease, methodology of diagnosis, treatment and prescription for patients, prevention, and longevity. Internal and external causes of illness are also considered. Charak maintains that the first cause of illness is the loss of faith in the Divine. In other words, when people do not recognize that God dwells within all things, including themselves, this separation of vision creates a gap. This gap causes a longing or suffering for oneness of vision. This suffering then manifests itself as the beginning of spiritual, mental, and physical disease. External influences on health include time of day, the seasons, diet, and lifestyle. An entire section is devoted to discussions of the medicinal aspects of herbs, diet, and reversal of aging.
Sushruta comes from the Dhanvantari school of surgeons. In America, a society of surgeons named themselves the Sudhruta Society in remembrance of the Áyurvedic father of surgery. This text presents sophisticated accounts of surgical equipment, classification of abscesses, burns, fractures, and wounds, amputation, plastic surgery, and anal/ rectal surgery. Human anatomy is described in great detail, including descriptions of the bones, joints, nerves, heart, blood vessels, circulatory system, etc., again, corroborated by today’s methods of mechanical investigation. From the Sushrut Samhitá, the first science of massage is described using marma points or vital body points, later adapted into Chinese acupuncture. Even the popular Polarity Massage Therapy in America was developed after advocates studied massage in India.
EIGHT BRANCHES OF ÁYURVEDA
The ancient Áyurvedic system was astoundingly complete. In the colleges of ancient India, students could choose a specialty from eight branches of medicine.
1. Internal Medicine (Káyachikitsá). This is related to the soul, mind, and body. Psychosomatic theory recognizes that the mind can create illness in the body and vice versa. The seven body constitutions and seven mental constitutions were delineated here: Váyu (air/energy), Pitta (fire), Kapha (water), Váyu/Pitta, Váyu/Kapha, Pitta/ Kapha, and a combination of all three (tridosha). Although finding the cause of an illness is still a mystery to modern science, it was the main goal of Áyurveda. Six stages of the development of disease were known, including aggravation, accumulation, overflow, relocation, a buildup in a new site, and manifestation into a recognizable disease. Modern equipment and diagnosis can only detect a disease during the fifth and sixth stages of illness. Áyurvedic physicians can recognize an illness in the making before it creates more serious imbalance in the body. Health is seen as a balance of the biological humors, whereas disease is an imbalance of the humors. Áyurveda creates balance by supplying deficient humors and reducing the excess ones. Surgery is seen as a last resort. Modern medicine is just beginning to realize the need to supply rather than to remove, but still does not know how or what to supply. Additionally, there are over 2,000 medicinal plants classified in India’s materia medica. A unique therapy, known as pancha karma (five actions), completely removes toxins from the body. This method reverses the disease path from its manifestation stage, back into the blood stream, and eventually into the gastrointestinal tract (the original site of the disease). It is achieved through special diets, oil massage, and steam therapy. At the completion of these therapies, special forms of emesis, purgation, and enema remove excesses from their sites of origin. Finally, Áyurveda rejuvenates–rebuilding the body’s cells and tissues after toxins are removed.
2. Ears, Nose, and Throat (Shálákya Tantra). Sushruta reveals approximately 72 eye diseases, surgical procedures for all eye disorders (e.g., cataracts, eyelid diseases), and for diseases of the ears, nose, and throat.
3. Toxicology (Vishagara-vairodh Tantra). Topics include air and water pollution, toxins in animals, minerals, vegetables, and epidemics; as well as keys for recognizing these anomalies and their antidotes.
4. Pediatrics (Kaumára bhritya). In this branch prenatal and postnatal careof the baby and mother are discussed. Topics include methods of conception; choosing the child’s gender, intelligence, and constitution; and childhood diseases and midwifery.
5. Surgery (Shalyá Tantra). More than 2,000 years ago, sophisticated methods of surgery were known. This information spread to Egypt, Greece, Rome, and eventually throughout the world. In China, treatment of intestinal obstructions, bladder stones, and the use of dead bodies for dissection and learning were taught and practiced.
6. Psychiatry (Bhúta Vidyá). A whole branch of Áyurveda specifically deals with diseases of the mind (including demonic possession). Besides herbs and diet, yogic therapies (breathing, mantras, etc.) are employed.
7. Aphrodisiacs (Vájikarana). This section deals with two aspects: infertility (for those hoping to conceive) and spiritual development (for those eager to transmute sexual energy into spiritual energy).
8. Rejuvenation (Rasáyana). Prevention and longevity are discussed in this branch of Áyurveda. Charak says that in order to develop longevity, ethics and virtuous living must be embraced.