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Ayurveda—the Divine System of Medicine

Introduction

Ayurveda is one of the most ancient systems of medicine in the world. Most literature in Ayurveda is in sutra form. As interest Ayurveda has been increasing, so too has the demand for authentic Ayurveda literature that is suitable for laypeople interested in the study and practice of Ayurvedic medicine.

Ayurveda Medicine: Its Approaches and Principles

All the classical texts of Ayurveda, originally written in Sanskrit, are in the form of an encyclopedia that deals with all aspects of life, health, disease, and treatment. The approach is philosophic, holistic, and humanistic with two major objectives: 1) to maintain the health of individuals and 2) to cure the diseases of the inflicted. Ayurveda is more life and health oriented than disease and treatment oriented, presenting a total life science while holistically visualizing the total health of the total human being.

Ayurveda advocates a complete promotive, preventive, and curative system of medicine and appears to have been practiced in ancient times in the form of eight major clinical specialties of medicine—namely,

  1. Medicine
  2. Surgery
  3. Diseases of eye, ear, nose, and throat
  4. Pediatrics, obstetrics, and gynecology
  5. Psychiatry
  6. Toxicology
  7. Nutrition, rejuvenation, and geriatrics
  8. Sexology

The Fundamental Principles

Ayurveda is based on the laws of nature and the theory of Macrocosm-Microcosm Continuum, which says that individual human beings are miniature replicas of the universe. Individuals and the universe are both pancha bhautika, which is to say they are made up of five basic physical factors.

Table 1. Five Basic Physical Factors
S.NO. Panchamahabhuta Main Function Represented
1 Ether/space To hear
2 Air/motion To touch
3 Fire/radiant energy To see
4 Water/cohesive factor To taste
5 Earth/mass To smell

Ayurveda conceives life (ayu) as a four dimensional entity composed of the physical body, senses, psyche, and soul (the conscious element). Thus, a living being is a comprehensive and highly dynamic psycho-physio-spiritual unit that is in constant interplay with the cosmos.

Tridosha and Prakriti

Doshas are the energy forces on which the life rests. The Tridoshas, or three doshas, are vata, pitta, and kapha, and they form the biochemistry of all living beings and represent the basic molecular mechanisms of the body.

Every individual is born with a combination of all three doshas, but one is preponderant at the time of conception. This preponderance remains throughout a person’s life, forming the person’s prakriti or natal constitution—the genetic character of an individual.

Basic Causes of Disease

According to Ayurveda, the basic cause of all diseases is a person’s failure to maintain harmony with the environment. Fundamentally, the Loka Purusha interaction takes place at three levels.

  1. Time and its chronological influence.
  2. Intellect of humans as the major source of thought information.
  3. Objects of the five sense organs as the source of stressful information from the macrocosm to the microcosm.

Unwanted malfunctions, classically termed as ayoga (absence), atiyoga (excess), and mithyayoga (false), are considered the primary causes of imbalance and thus of disease.

Prevention, Longevity, and Treatment in Ayurveda

Ayurveda advocates a comprehensive regimen of life as the means to preserve normal health. Called Swasthavritta, this regimen can be described in terms of daily, nocturnal, and seasonal routines.

Rasayana is a measure that produces longevity, develops positive health, improves mental faculties, and provides resistance and immunity against diseases. It is a specialized type of treatment influencing the fundamental aspects of the body—dhatus (body tissues), agni (the metabolic activity), and srotas (micro-channels)—and helps prevent aging.

A holistic therapeutic approach is the backbone of Ayurveda. The three classical Ayurvedic therapeutic streams are divine therapy (often practiced with astrology), rational therapy (rationally planned), and psychotherapy. These streams are subdivided. For example, rational therapy is carried out in two parts: Panchakarma therapy, which aims to purify the body to enable the free flow of nutrients, medicaments, and metabolites, and Samshamana therapy, which consists of a rationally planned diet, drug treatment, and lifestyle.

Conclusion

Indian traditions and the divine system of Ayurveda can contribute significantly in managing and preventing various ailments and promoting positive health. This can work on a global scale by adopting holistic, prakriti-based approaches for preventive, promotive, curative, and rehabilitative care with greater emphasis on generating awareness about lifestyle and dietary modifications.