Yoga is a renowned science today. However, yoga has a lesser-known sister science called Ayurveda. Ayurveda is a 5000-year-old Indian traditional medicine system that has survived into the modern world. It has protected the health of people for thousands of years, through its simple yet effective approach. Multiple scientific pieces of research support the Ayurvedic herbs like Ashwagandha, Shatavari. Ayurvedic body cleansing techniques like panchkarma have proven to boost immunity and improve stamina in the body. But what exactly is Ayurveda? Is it a folk medicine that emerged through centuries of trials and errors? It is a pseudoscience, based on myths and superstition? Let us explore Ayurveda through this series of articles, in the light of authentic Sanskrit text.
What is Ayurveda?
The Sanskrit word Ayurveda is a combination of two words – ayu (age/life) and Veda (knowledge). Ayurveda signifies the knowledge of life. It is not a medicine system that cures after you fall sick(it is the traditional medicine system that not only cures after you fall sick but also preventive measures to keep healthy body disease-free. Ayurveda is the art of staying healthy, both mentally and physically.
Ayurveda forms from two words – ayu + veda. Both these words have very elaborate definitions.
The definition of Ayurveda originates from the word ayu(age/life) and is an elaborate and interesting concept. Like most Sanskrit words, the word “ayu” (age/life) has multiple meanings and uses. “Ayu”(age/life) means life, age, duration of life, quality of life.
According to the Ayurveda, ayu(age/life) is defined as the duration for which the soul, the mind, and the (physical) body are in connection with each other. This is the most comprehensive meaning of the word ayu or life because even if one of these 3 components is missing, the person cannot be called living. For a similar reason, sleep is called “pralay” or partial chaos (death) as the connection of the body and the active mind loosens a little during sleep.
This definition of ayu also makes a lot of sense for people in a coma or an invisible embryo inside the mother’s womb. It makes sense for not only humans but also animals, birds, and plants. They all are defined as living in the Vedic tradition as they all have the involvement of the soul, mind, and matter. And the soul in a plant is no less precious than the soul present in a human being.
This is the reason why Ayurveda is not only for human beings. It embraces all life present on earth.
Ayu(age/life) starts when the sperm (Shukranu) and the egg (Andanu) unite and provide a harbor for the soul to descend. As the soul accepts the incarnation, the mind forms and serves as an interface between the soul and the body. Therefore, ayu(age/life) is the duration, that starts right from the formation of the embryo to the death of a creature. Ayurveda covers all the knowledge or wisdom required for survival, growth, and maintenance of the embryo, the baby, the child, the adult, and the aged.
“ayu” is the duration where the soul, mind, senses, and body come together to form the phenomenon called life. Therefore, Ayurveda is applicable to all beings with ayu; humans, animals, birds, and trees.
The word Veda is formed from the root “vid” which means realization. Ayurveda is not merely structured information about the physiology, pathology, and treatment of the body. Instead, Ayurveda aims to achieve the final aim of human life – salvation.
The word Veda is beyond information or knowledge. Information is nothing but electrical signals from our sense organs. It is dependent on the senses. Moreover, information is dependent on the mind. Our beliefs, prejudices, likes, and dislikes color our perception. Therefore, the information thus processed is not a reliable source.
Veda is also beyond knowledge. Knowledge is information processed by the mind. It may be verified by multiple agencies. However, knowledge also depends on various factors like social, cultural, or religious values. For example, a few centuries back, people believed that the sun goes around the earth. They also generated enough scientific proof for this belief.
So, what is Veda? Veda is wisdom. It is not made but discovered. Veda is the wisdom that descends on a receptive mind, a mind like that of Da Vinci, Einstein, or Newton.
Veda is not information or knowledge, as they depend on the bias of our senses and mind. Veda stands for flawless laws of nature, or divine wisdom. Therefore, Ayurveda is not a science of healing. It is the wisdom of life.
These two words ayu(age/life) and Veda(wisdom) combine to form “Ayurveda”, a complete science for life.
What is the subject (Kshetra) of Ayurveda?
Subject of Salvation – Soul
The kshetra or the subject of Ayurveda is a very important factor. It defines the scope of Ayurveda. As discussed earlier, Ayurveda is the science of life, therefore it applies to all living beings.
The Kshetra or the subject of Ayurveda is purush. This Sanskrit word “purush” has multiple meanings. The most comprehensive and fundamental meaning is – the soul. Therefore, the ultimate aim of Ayurveda is to help the soul attain its prime objective – salvation. Salvation is the sutra or the seed of the tree of Ayurveda.
Fields of Diseases
The Sanskrit word kshetra signifies field, a place where things can grow. Ayurveda says that there are two fields of diseases in humans – mind, and body. This concept has two implications –
- Firstly, there are two types of disorders – physiological (for example – psoriasis, fever, cold and cough, etc.). In these disorders, the body shows pathological symptoms.
- Secondly, there can be two dimensions or aspects of each disease (for example –mania, phobia, multiple personality disorder etc). In these disorders, a person may feel the mental symptoms. However, he will not suffer from any physiological symptoms.
- Thirdly, there can be a combined imbalance in the two fields (for example – epilepsy led depression, fever due to fear, etc). Such disorders have both physiological and mental contributions.
There are two types of kshetra(subject or fields) where Ayurveda works.
First Kshetra or field of Ayurveda is soul. Ayurveda aims to assist all souls in the journey towards salvation.
Second field of Ayurveda is the field of disease. There are two sources of diseases in body – the mind and the body. These disease – prone entities are called the fields of diseases.
What is the Scope of Ayurveda?
Ayurveda embraces all living beings.
Centuries back, Ayurveda had distinct specializations for different life forms.
Ayurveda offers special treatment to the major categories of living beings apart from human beings.
Ayurveda also had a glorious veterinary division.
Distinct specializations like GajAyurveda (Ayurveda for Elephants), Ashwa Ayurveda (Ayurveda for Horses), Go Ayurveda (Ayurveda for Cows) and many more specializations emerged to embrace all living beings.
Ayurvedic plant medicine called Viksha Ayurveda was used to manage vegetation and cure plant/trees disorders.
India, being an agrarian country with fertile land, has a history of rich agricultural knowledge. Vrikshayurveda includes the classification and characteristics of the plants, food and medicinal benefits, growth cycle, abnormalities, diseases, and their treatment in the plants. Vrikshayurveda talks about natural manure, good agricultural practices, and organic farming. Now a lot of research initiatives are being undertaken to revive this ancient knowledge. The major text available for Vrikshayurveda today are Vrksayurveda by Salihotra, ‘Brhad Samhita, and Agni Purana.
Unfortunately, there is no specific literary evidence available today for other branches of Ayurveda. However, we can find this knowledge ingrained in traditional Indian practices and folklore. For example, a story in Panchatantra talks about specific treatment procedures of burns in horses.
Ayurveda had separate branches – Ayurveda for plants (vrikshayurveda), Ayurveda for animals (pashvayurveda). These branches have multiple divisions and subdivisions.
Ayurveda is healthcare wisdom that descends on all receptive minds. It is beyond information or knowledge. Ayurveda is the science of life, focused on health and not on diseases.
It respects all forms of life and aims to help every soul reach the far end of life – liberation from this cycle of death and rebirth.