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Home sjmtoc Ayurvedic Ayurveda in Depth

II Introduction to Ayurveda in Depth

God requites our actions according as they are good or bad, weighing them in the scale of his judgement; the doer reaps the fruit of his own doings: such is the Vedic principal and the verdict of mankind.

There is nothing good or bad in Ayurveda. Ayurveda is not an endless repetition of curries and rigid yogic practices. It is simply a very ancient, practical method used to understand life. Ayurveda begins by helping people understand themselves, their unique individual nature. Then it helps teach people how different natures affect their nature. This can take the form of food, climate, people, or career. Ayurveda can be seen as an uncomplicated formula: A+B=C. In other words, it shows the result of combining our nature with other objects and places. My personal experience demonstrates this fact for me.

Some years ago I returned to the West to live and work after living in India for many years. On my return I found out what stress, anxiety, aspirin and frustration equals - a duodenal ulcer and a trip to the hospital. I asked myself, “How could someone who had been meditating for twenty years, who had done years of Western therapy, who worked as a therapist and healer, give himself an ulcer”? Easy. I hadn’t learned to fully accept the reality of my body and the emotional relationship of mind to the body. Most importantly, I did not understand my particular constitution - my nature. I also failed to change what I could in my external affairs to reduce stress. The Ayurvedic system has taught me these essential lessons and how to understand my individuality - its strengths and weakness.

By continuing to do activities that over-stressed my back (I have idiopathic kyphoscoliosis and osteoarthrosis of the spine) I put myself in tremendous pain and started a degenerating disease cycle. Wrong action and ignorance were the root causes. Instead of stopping the aggravating activity I took aspirin to stop the pain - sound familiar? I did this because I needed the money that the activity provided. Combined with mental worries about living in Western society, in addition to other personal frustrations, the aspirin burned a hole through the wall of the duodenum (small intestine). Although it may seem extremely stupid to inflict this on myself - it certainly feels stupid to inflict this on myself - it certainly feels stupid to write it - economic scarcity, emotional unfulfillment, and mental stress are not uncommon today, nor are they stupid feelings.

Unfortunately, stress caused by something or other is the reality of many people. My failure was that I didn’t change my situation, nor did I change how I dealt with it mentally and emotionally. Because I managed to do nothing effective about my condition, everything went wrong at once, and I finally collapsed on the kitchen floor after bleeding internally for almost two months. Tests revealed a red blood cell count of six- normal should be thirteen to fifteen for a man my age. I was white as a ghost!

All the time I kept thinking that I must have a low threshold for pain. The direct refusal to acknowledge the pain in my body - not accepting the reality of my body- led to a stay in the hospital and several months of convalescing. This is the other side of will power, and we can use it to kill ourselves, as I almost did by ignoring my body. This experience forced me to apply Ayruvedic methods to recover. And now I use Ayurvedic methods to prevent any future reoccurrence, and to also prevent disease in general.

Should you be interested in a medical system that dates back at least 5000 years? Is there really any practical use in using ancient methods of health care? Can the Ayurvedic system help you in your busy everyday life?

The answer is definitely, yes, to all the above questions. I found out through personal experience that the Ayurvedic medical system is very applicable today. Had I understood my Ayurvedic constitution I could have a avoided all the problems I mentioned. I have now been able to cure myself of a duodenal ulcer, reverse deterioration of the kidneys, correct chronic intestinal problems, and alleviate continuous back pain through Ayurvedic methods. The natural therapies I use have left me healthier, happier, and with a greater knowledge of myself and the universe; and most importantly, of my relationship to that universe. Over the last several years I have been able to share the system with others.

A woman came to me in Paris, where I live, with a combination of several physical problems. She was primarily concerned with her menstruation. After using Ayurvedic diagnostic methods I explained to her the Ayurvedic view of disease and imbalance relating specifically to her constitution. I then suggested that she take a formula of several herbs and avoid eating certain foods. We talked about the psychological implications relating to the present imbalance, and with these guidelines, I sent her to the pharmacy to but the correct herbs. I didn’t hear anything form her for several months. When I did finally hear about her, it was through another friend whom she sent to me for consultation. All her problems had cleared up within a month, and she had changed certain aspects of her life that were the underlying cause of her physical problems. She was now healthy and happy.

She has taken positive steps to recover her personal power, and has taken responsibility for her health. Her physical disturbances were painlessly and easily alleviated with a formula of eight herbs and KNOWLEDGE - the knowledge of how nature functions and how her body functions in relation to nature. Her problems were easily corrected because she applied that knowledge. What is that knowledge? It has been called Ayurveda, the knowledge of life, for thousands of years. This book is about that knowledge, its origins and the most fundamental component of all life - prana.

Another woman came to me recently because she had been constipated for three days. She had tried everything available - and in France that is a lot of products! - and nothing worked. This had been an ongoing problem for several years and had become quite disabling for this woman of about sixty. Her pulse showed a debilitated liver and an imbalance in the humor that controls movements in the body. She also had a large quantity of toxic accumulation in the body. I recommended two well known Ayurvedic formulas and she received instant relief that same evening. She called me the next day. She was very happy, and now is back on the road to good health. Several weeks of treatment has given her more energy and she is enjoying life again.

Traditional forms of medicine, like Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, were developed by ancient sagas. Their astute observations of the universe resulted in the development of “constitutional medicine”. The ancients perceived the universe as a constant play of energies, which when imbalanced in the body, lead to discomfort for disease. The role of the ancient doctor was to restore harmony to the body-mind environment. The ancient Vedic culture in India took this concept of constitutional medicine to its highest development in the form of Ayurvedic medicine.

The Chinese and Ayurvedic traditions have developed very sophisticated systems of medicine in the 5000 years of their existence. In fact, Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, still treats one third of the world’s population. The United Nations Organization estimated that 70 percent of India’s 900 million people are treated by Ayurvedic medicine. Therefore, we can draw the conclusion that constitutional medicine still treats a huge segment of the world’s population, even in modern times.

The ancients perceived the universe as different forms of manifested energy; they saw these same fundamental energies in our food and herbs. The unique classification of food and herbs according to their individual actions (or “energies”) is how Ayurveda and TCM restore balance to the body. In china a doctor was considered poor or inferior if his patients became sick; for this showed his inability to maintain the harmony of the body with food and herbs. In fact, people only paid the doctor as long as they did not get sick! In Ayurveda medicine was considered inferior to food and herbs ingested on a daily basis. Actually, medicine was a “last resort” that showed the irresponsibility of the patients’ life-styles and habits.

Traditional pharmacology is very highly developed in both the Ayurvedic and TCM systems. They are able to render toxic substances into material safe for human ingestion with relatively simple mens. Lacking the technological ability to extract the “active ingredients” of a plant or herb led the ancient doctors to combine several plants that had specific therapeutic effects. Formulas often have fifteen to twenty ingredients in order to achieve the desired therapeutic effect and eliminate any negative side effect. The continuous utilization of these methods of pharmacology attest to their efficiency and safety when administered correctly.

Many ancient cultures traveled to India to learn from India’s medical professionals. Traveling Chinese scholars have given us historical records of constitutional medicine in India, although both Ayurvedic and Chinese medical theses still exist from before 1000 B.C. The Four-Humor Theory of the ancient Greeks came from India. We find the Greeks using Ayurvedic theories and herbal formulations after 400 B.C., When they were known to have studied the Ayurvedic system extensively. Hence, it is possible historically to say that constitutional medicine is the foundation of the modern allopathic medicine that evolved from the ancient Greek system. We are actually beginning to come “full circle”.

Ayurveda is the mother of all forms of modern medicine, from body work to surgery. Every Occidental and Asian civilization has borrowed Ayurvedic knowledge and applied it to their own cultural context and medical system. Plastic surgery, acupuncture, disease classifications and medical schools all stem from the Ayurvedic tradition. In view of this, Ayurveda, and the information about Ayurveda presented here, should be viewed as complementary to modern allopathic medicine. Ayurvedic therapies can be seen as both physical and psychological preventative measures. In fact, such a view is necessary for the continual growth and harmony of both systems, and for the newly developing concept of global medicine.

This book is based on the oldest surviving medical text of Ayurveda, the Caraka Samhita. Samhita means “text” or “thesis” and Caraka is the name of the doctor who put the text into its present form. Caraka literally means “one who moves around”, implying a doctor who moved throughout the country teaching and practicing medicine. The Caraka Samhita primarily covers internal medicine, but it also includes all the basic principles of Ayurvedic medicine.

The Caraka Samhita is a direct transmission of Ayurveda from God or the Creator (Brahma) to a series of enlightened sages ending with the sage Atreya (lit. “Son of Atri”, who was one of the seven immortal Vedic sages). In the Caraka Samhita, Atreya teaches a group of six principles, and one of them, Agnivasa, is the actual author of this Samhita. Caraka came a few hundred - or few thousand - years later to actually write down the ancient oral teaching of the saga Atreya. Because of this lineage, historically direct from Brahma, the creator, Ayurveda is considered to be beginning less and endless, therefore an immortal science. Ayurveda’s continued relevance today attests to this vision.

It is important to note the modern historical view of Ayurveda versus the far older tradition of ancient India. The modern view, according to Christian historians, is that the Caraka Samhita was composed around 1000 B.C. By Agnivasa and then actually written down by Caraka (the person) around 800 B.C. However, ancient oral tradition places the sage Atreya around 5000 B.C., As he is the son of the great immortal seer Atri. Atri is a contemporary of the Vedic seer Vasistha, and of the epic poem, “The Ramayana”, in which the avatar Rama destroys Shri Lanka in a war with the evil forces of ignorance. This then places the Caraka Samhita as a 7000-years-old document.

The modern Christian view of history places the first book of Vedic times, the Rig Veda, at about 1500 B.C. There are four of these “books” collectively called the Vedas or the “books of knowledge”. Ayurveda (ayur+Veda = the knowledge of life) is considered a sub-Veda, or the branch of knowledge that is concerned with physical health and happiness on Earth, and therefore, very important for all of us. The Vedas are the basis of the Vedic culture of which Hinduism is a much later manifestation. The oral tradition states that the first of the Vedas was composed about 40,000 years ago. It is not the purpose of this book to determine the correct view or the scientifically more accurate view; however, it is necessary to point our that Ayurveda traditionally has very old roots, long before “recorded history”.

The oral tradition is still very much alive in India, but unfortunately much of the most valuable information on Ayurveda is passed orally from teacher to student. Due in part to this oral tradition, Ayurveda can appear, at our Western first glance, disjointed, complicated, or simplistic at the same time. However, after deeper study the almost amazing harmony and complete inter-relatedness of the manifested existence become apparent.

The purpose of this book is threefold; to explain Ayurveda to the average person in everyday language; to show the relation of the basic unit of life, prana, to the Ayurvedic system; and to clarify the true spiritual orientation of Ayurvedic healing. It took me some time to grasp the fundamentals of Ayurveda. This was not due to the inherent difficulties of the system, but rather to the language - the presentation and cultural metaphors. Once I was able to surmount these problems it became just a mater of learning any other interesting subject, such as nuclear physics. Hopefully this work will facilitate others in learning Ayurvedic methods, how to apply them in daily life, and how to apply the great spiritual insights of the original founders.

In the United States, several proponents of traditional eastern medical systems have begun a movement to create a global form of medicine that treats individuals with natural means. This kind of constitutional approach is applicable to everyone throughout the world, and will eventually form the basis of a new global medical system. I wish to thank these persons for helping me learn and assimilate Ayurveda through their writing: Dr. David Frawley, Dr. Vasant Lad, Michael Tierra, Dr, Robert Svobodha. Dr. Frank Ros and Dr. Subhash Ranade, among others.

While this book is another commentary on Ayurveda, the primary focus is to re-examine the role of prana in the healing process. Prana is the most fundamental force in healing, regardless of the tradition. However, Ayurveda fully understands the role of prana. It is the best overall method we can use to promote health and long life. It is with considerable humility that I present this work. I hope that its publication will stimulate the Ayurvedic community in India to release some of the deeper, more profound information on prana that is available there. I hope this information will help to end the commercializaion of Ayurveda that turns it into just another form of “symptomatic relief” so prevalent in modern times. If we do not address the total being, and its spiritual source, Ayurveda is nor Ayurveda.

I feel that without a deep understanding of our innermost nature, the secrets of Ayurveda are not revealed. What often passes for Ayurveda in India and in the West is nothing like the real Ayurveda that the great sees of ancient times lived and taught. While my teacher is not trained formally in Ayurveda, stories abound of his great healing powers that stem not from intellectual knowledge, but rather from the eternal abidance in his primordial Being or Self. It is in this abidance of Being that the true essence of Ayurveda is revealed.

May all beings be at peace.



All the quotes at the chapter openings in this book are taken from the Motilal Banarsidass version of the Ramayana by Tulsidass, the “Sri Ramacharitamanasa”. This version is from the 15th century and is therefore quite recent according to the oral traditions which place th events of the Ramayana at 7000 years ago. Tulsidass rewrote this epic poem to make it more accessible to the ordinary people of India. From the time of writing until today his version is the most popular with the people. Tulsidass was qualified to write or rewrite the story of Rama because he, himself, was a great devotee. I have heard that his own story goes like this:

“Tulsidass was married young, as was the practice of the time; his wife was pretty and younger than he. Tulsidass was obsessed with sex. He was so full of lust that not one day could pass without the desire overwhelming him. For the first several years his young wife did not complain, but soon she became fed up with his endless passion, and asked to cross the river to pay a visit to her family. It was customary for the husband to give permission for his wife to visit her family periodically. Tulsidass refused; he was distressed by the fact that he could not make love for several days while his wife was gone. The young woman, as women will, kept after him until finally he agreed,. Tulsidass prolonged as long as possible the inevitable, but , finally one day he had to let her go across the river to visit her family.

The chosen day of departure was in full monsoon and, leaving early in the day, his wife made it across the river. By evening the rains had the river so flooded that the ferry could not cross, nor was there a bridge nearby. Night came and Tulsidass was consumed with lust. He became so mad that he went to the river as one in a dream. Wading out into the raging torrent he began to lose his footing. Flailing his arms he grabbed what, in his delirium, he thought was a tree trunk thrown into the river by the floods. It was, however, the dead body of a villager drowned by the rains. Using the body as a raft, Tulsidass crossed the flooded river and reached the house of his inlaws, who lives not far from the river. Desperately struggling through the rains, mud and wind, he began to climb the wall to reach his wife’s window.

His wife heard someone outside and opened the shutters There was her mad husband besmeared with mud and wet to the bone! She called out to him to ask how he had managed to cross the river in flood. At that very moment the clouds parted and the moon shown on the river bank, illuminating Tulsidass, the river, and the dead body. The woman cried out in horror, “Tulsidass because of your lust you have used that dead body as your raft! May God have mercy on us! If only you had used one tenth of your lustful desire for God you would now be a saint instead of being cursed!” When Tulsidass heard his wife’s words, he awoke from a dream and looked back to see the dead body, as if for the first time.

Struck by his own blind desire, he ran madly into the night. One day, two years later, a saint came to the house of Tulsidass. His wife lives there alone, for Tulsidass had vanished into the storm on that fateful night. She heard a call, and answered it, finding a luminous man patiently standing outside the house. After a moment of silence the saint called her by name and began to bless her. Startled she realized that it was bone other than her husband, Tulsidass, coming back to bless her for turning him toward God.

The chapter quotes given here are from Tulasidasa’s Sri Ramacharitamanasa, edited and translated by R. C. Prasad (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1990) as follows: Introduction, p. 248; Chapter 1, p. 645; Chapter 2, p.189;Chapter 3, p. 290; Chapter 4, p. 210; Chapter 5, p. 656; Chapter 6, p. 100; Chapter 7 p. 622; Chapter 8, p. 657; Chapter 9, p. 657; Chapter 10, p. 301; Chapter 11, p. 625; Chapter 12, p. 272; Chapter 13, p. 649; Chapter 14, p. 662.

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