This article is a chapter from the book “Practice of Ayurveda”.
In addition to the methods of experiment and observation, which are the sources of knowledge in the Modern Sciences, Ayurveda accepts concentrated meditation and intuition (Yoga) as a method of acquiring knowledge. He who relies solely on observation, thinks more of differences than of similarities. The methods of investigation in Ayurveda are more synthetic leading to oneness, Adwaita, whereas the tendency in Modern Medicine is more analytical leading to dissipation of ideas.
The mechanistic view of man prevailed progressively during the last two or three centuries, and any disease was considered to be a breakdown in the machine, which should be set right by adjusting or repairing the damaged parts. The attention to the part or organ assumes greater importance than the consideration of the whole man. Ayurveda considers man as a complex and inseparable combination of the material body, the senses, the mind and the soul.
Happiness in life depends upon the control of the senses and contentment. (Charaka Sutra-I)
Unlike the machine, man has mind, Manas. Manava is one who has a mind. He has the power of thinking and deciding his future conduct. The decision depends upon the personality of every individual, which is unborn in all living creatures and persists as long as the organism lives. It is often transmitted to the offspring.
Constitutional traits or inborn tendencies or qualities are classified in Ayurveda into three categories called Trigunas. The constitutional factors leading to emotions are due to Rajoguna. The constitutional factors leading to inertia are due to Tamoguna. The constitutional factors leading to equilibrium or harmony are due to Sattwaguna. The mental and physical characteristics of every individual in health and disease are determined by the predominance of one or the other of these three qualities, Trigunas.
Vata, Pitta and Kapha are the nutritive fluids that feed the living organisms through the nervous, digestive and lymphatic systems respectively. Vata is constituted predominantly of Rajas, Pitta of Sattwa and Kapha of Tamas. Their equilibrium is health and imbalance is disease.
Clinically, these theories are very helpful to the diagnosis and successful treatment of the multifarious diseases of the mind and the body. These theories represent the synthetic psychosomatic conception of man, which deals with his mental and physical states including the effects of the vitamins, hormones, toxins, antibodies and all factors relating to the self and the environments of time and place. The physiology of Ayurveda begins where the physiology of Modern Science ends. This means that the Ayurveda deals with both the known and the unknown as well, through its philosophy.
The theories of Ayurveda have not been so far verified by modern research, because the instruments of Science have their own limitations, when they have to deal with living matter. Further research is sure to establish the truth of these assumptions, which are like axioms as Ayurveda is concerned. Even the illiterate people and particularly women in India understand theories which they apply in their daily life. The practitioner of Modern Medicine refuses to understand them, because he has lost his moorings in the Indian Culture on account of the bias that he has been taught to acquire by his new education.
It is not always that the aid of the physician is sought in our country immediately after the appearance of the first symptoms of disease. The people are able to classify the symptoms of the predominance of Vata, Pitta and Kapha respectively and apply some domestic remedies such as ginger, pepper, garlic, Neem, asafoetida and musk, whose properties are well-known to them, to check the respective fault in the earliest stage (Kriyaakaala) of the disease. This brings about the equilibrium which makes the invading agent powerless to grow in the unsuitable soil. Immunity is thus acquired in many instances. Modern Research should help to enlighten us on the rationale of these domestic remedies, some of which are not yet recorded in the text books on Ayurveda.
According to Ayurveda, there is nothing in this world which may not be used as a medicine–Na Jagati Anoushadham (Charaka). It all depends upon the capacity of the physician to discover and utilise the available material as a medicine or as an article of diet or otherwise. Modern Medicine appears to be concerned with advertisement of more and more medicines of doubtful value to cure diseases, whereas the long term purpose of the medical science should be to empty the hospitals. For this reason, Ayurveda was traditionally taught to every man and woman in India. Valuable aids to health such as massage, sweating, oil baths, regulated exercises and walks, Asanas, manual labour, games, recreation and prayer are in Ayurveda, included in the daily routine (Dinacharya) of every citizen. Physiotherapy which promotes positive health is badly neglected in modern hospitals.
Even after the advance of Science, our ignorance of the secrets of nature is colossal. Many medical practitioners do not seem to realise the vastness of their ignorance. Instead of feeling humiliated by his utter powerlessness in many situations in his daily life, the proud young doctor is full of egoism (Ahamkara), due to his materialistic mentality.
Emotions like anger, greed and hurry are potent sources of disease. Desire produces anger. Anger results in infatuation; both have their origin in Rajas (Gita). The senses, mind and intellect are the seats for these emotions. Therefore one should develop control over these emotions which are the worst enemies of man. Otherwise, all material and spiritual knowledge will be useless–Jnana Vijnana Nashanam. In Ayurveda prevention of disease is effected through strict discipline of man to develop self-control. Ayurveda teaches not only how to live a happy life, but also how to die a happy death with detachment, contentment and peace.
Ayurveda advocates Varnashrama Dharma, a system of organisation of the whole human life into definite self-adjusting socio-economic units, so that, all people may be happy without any strife for selfish ends and may reach the supreme goal of spiritual progress–Paramaartha. Every man has to strive his best for the full attainment of the four values or aspirations of life namely, Dharma–Virtue or duty to self and society, Artha–acquisition of wealth or power, Kama–satisfaction of desires and Moksha–liberation from the bondage or attachment. Life has thus the great purpose of progressive spiritual evolution.
I have great respect for the truly scientific research worker, untouched by commercial interests. But, I shudder to think, that a third-rate practitioner of Modern Medicine spreads into the villages of India, to replace the ennobling system of Ayurveda by materialistic and outlandish ideas quite unsuitable to our habits. It is the spirit of Ayurveda that saves the Indian civilisation.
The physician should develop an inquisitive outlook towards the less obvious signs of ill-health so as to warn the patients from getting ill.
The causes of diseases are beautifully summarised in Ayurveda into three groups, viz., (i) Unsuitable use of the senses–Asaalmya Indriyaartha Samyoga, (ii) faulty judgement–Prajnaa Aparaadha and (iii) The effects of time–Parinaama. Research should be conducted on the incidence of the seasons (Ritus) in India and their influence on the onset of diseases and of the pharmacological properties (Rasa, Guna, etc.) of food-materials and drugs. Today, the methods of investigation of diseases are lop-sided giving no real attention to the man as a whole. The physician who depends too much on instruments and laboratories is unable to develop the most valuable faculty of intuition. Charaka says:
“A physician who cannot enter into the innermost soul of the patient with the bright light of the lamp of his own knowledge cannot successfully treat any disease.” (Charaka Vimana IV-14)
We should conduct research in Ayurveda in order to make it the best system of treatment in the world. As the word Ayurveda implies, it is the Science of Life. It has no limitation of race, climate or country. Its door is open to all true knowledge from any source. The application of Modern Methods of Pharmacological technique conducted in collaboration with experienced Ayurvedic scholars is sure to result in the advancement of both Ayurveda and Modern Medicine. Literally, pharmacological, biochemical, clinical, psychological and philosophical research should all be conducted side by side.
The methods of research in Ayurveda should not be to imitate what is done in other countries. The research should be based upon the fundamentals assumed by Ayurveda. Ayurveda has a good working hypothesis which has helped the successful practice of Ayurveda through the centuries and it is still a living force today with the Ayurvedic physician and the patient.
The Siddha and Unani systems also follow the same fundamental principles and are popular with certain sections of the people.
Herein, I have laid emphasis on four points which are fundamental to the study of Ayurveda.
(i) Ayurveda is superior to modern science in some respects and can incorporate all the advances of Modern Science, but Modern Science, cannot adopt all that Ayurveda teaches, unless it accepts the existence of the soul in man as the Director of the several processes of life.
(ii) Man is not to be treated as machine. The factor of personality is greatly responsible for the happiness or misery of the individual.
(iii) Modern Medicine should not be extended into the villages, unless it is integrated with Ayurveda by adopting its basic principles of self-control to prevent disease
(iv) Research in Ayurveda should be conducted by adequate personal of the right type, proficient in Ayurveda, with the co-operation of modern Scientists.
The scope of Ayurveda is endless. Although ancient, it has the capacity to grow and be ever new, Puranama cha Punarnavam (Charaka Siddhi).