By Dr. Vinod Verma
Ayurveda is not only a medicine system, it is a holistic way of life that takes care of all aspects of human well-being—physical, mental and spiritual. Adopting the ayurvedic way of life is a valuable first step towards becoming a truly integrated individual
In Western medicine and biology, scientists are good at analyzing reality minutely. The amazing progress in medical sciences and technology has provided us with fantastic diagnostic methods and helped us understand cellular functions at diverse levels. However, it does not mean that this progress has found solutions for many of the human problems related to body and mind.
In fact, this knowledge has enhanced health problems as profit-making agencies have stuffed human beings the world over with chemical drugs, with their inevitable harmful side effects. Besides, modern medical sciences have dissociated the human body from the mind. Human beings are treated like machines and various ‘mechanisms’ of the body are understood at physiological and molecular levels and malfunctions are treated by physical and/or chemical interventions.
Modern medicine and science are uncomfortable with ‘consciousness’ or ‘soul’ and spiritual healing is seen as superstition or magic. All experiences that are beyond the limits of the senses are denied. Chance plays an important role in phenomena causing disease, and both time and matter are reduced to smaller units.
Ayurveda, however, is based on the theory that reality is multi-dimensional and multi-layered. Diverse aspects of existence are interrelated, interconnected and interdependent. Nothing is without reason, or happening by chance, and all is moving towards a definite goal. Matter is dynamic and constantly changing. It is this transformation that denotes time.
The World of Science encyclopedia says: ‘Consciousness is a problem. We all think we know what it is. Each of us likes to think that I am some kind of conscious entity inhabiting ‘my’ body, making decisions and acting freely. This naïve view may be no more accurate than the naïve view of perception-a self inside the head looks directly out of the eyes at a world outside. Nevertheless, while psychology, physiology and research in artificial intelligence have revealed a clearer picture of the constructive nature of perception, they have not yet found appropriate ways of tackling consciousness.’
Yoga and ayurveda are, however, clear about the self, consciousness and the mental and physical dimensions of a human being.
THE THREE VITAL FORCES
Most of you would be familiar with vata, pitta and kapha, the three dimensions (doshas) of the physical realm. All that exists, including the human body, is made of five elements—ether, air, fire, water and earth. In a living being, the elements are organised in the form of three doshas-vata (from ether and air), pitta (from fire) and kapha (from water and earth)-to perform the physical and mental functions. The three doshas or humors need to be in equilibrium for the body to be in good health. When one or more of them are vitiated, disorders or ailments arise.
Presence of the three vital forces in varied proportions gives you your fundamental constitution or prakriti. Prakriti does not only denote your physical characteristics but also your personality type, like extremely active and agile (vata-dominant), dynamic and short-tempered (pitta-dominant), content and home loving (kapha-dominant).
THREE QUALITIES OF THE MIND
There are three qualities of the mind that are interconnected, interrelated and interdependent with the three vital forces of the body. These are sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva includes equilibrium, goodness, truth, compassion, stillness and peace . Rajas includes thinking, planning and taking decisions. Tamas is that which hinders motion (like sleep) or the expansion of the mind (greed, anger, jealousy, laziness). After a hectic day of work, the body and mind come to rest and sleep. That is transformation from rajas to tamas, as in the latter, all activities are hindered and senses withdraw partially from the external world. The mind is closed to new knowledge.
Sattva brings peace and balances action and non-action. The imbalance of sattva, rajas and tamas influences the equilibrium of the doshas—and vice versa—and may also cause mental ailments. For good health and longevity, a six-dimensional equilibrium is essential.
THE SIX-DIMENSIONAL BEING
Our state of mind influences our principal energies, which are responsible for physical and mental functions of the body. For example, if we are stressed, vata gets vitiated. Anger causes pitta-related disorders like stomach ailments. Depression gives rise to kapha-related disorders, leading to obesity, nausea, excessive salivation and so on.
When a humor vitiates, causing related disorders, the mental state of an individual is also influenced. For instance, if constipation persists, it can give rise to sleep disorders, overactive mental state or nervous behavior. Stomach problems, which are due to pitta disturbances, may enhance anger and irritation.
For maintaining good health and well-being, efforts at all the six dimensions are called for. Charaka lays great emphasis on santosh (contentment) and sattva for maintaining good health. In practice, sattva is to maintain stillness and peace of mind in all circumstances. Sattva is that inner light that guides us through life, gives us peaceful and restful sleep and helps maintain equilibrium of the body and mind.
THE SIX-DIMENSIONAL EQUILIBRIUM OF DOSHAS AND GUNAS
SOUL-THE CAUSE OF BEING
The three qualities of mind and their equilibrium depict the second level of our being. Now, there is a higher level of energy that is the cause of being—the Self, or soul. Soul is not involved in our karma, but is our continuity in this universe. It radiates life in every cell and makes us conscious beings.
Soul is the energy that makes the senses and the mind work making existence possible. However, existence is not possible without material reality. This essentially springs from Sankhya, one of the six schools of ancient Indian philosophy. The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is devoted to expounding Sankhya and several other chapters also refer to it. According to Sankhya, the phenomenal world arises when purusha, the Universal Soul combines with prakriti, the Cosmic Substance. The Charaka Samhita contains a detailed analysis of the 24 elements of human existence based on Sankhya.
MIND, PSYCHE AND INTELLECT
In ayurveda, the mind is considered to be the sixth sense that reins in the other five senses. Sattva is the stillness of mind, or mind in its pure form. When the mind is silent and not involved with the senses, it is one with the cause of being, the soul. That is the state when the intellect is awakened completely and has a power of discretion.
Mind is the ‘capability of thinking’. Its nature or vritti is to have a chain of thoughts. In Sanskrit, the word chitta is used for the thinking principle of the mind (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, I:2). The power of the mind to control itself as well as the senses is called psyche or mati (influenced by the energy of the soul) is buddhi or intellect.
SATTVA: KEY TO HEALTH AND HAPPINESS
Charaka said that discontentment or asantosh is the cause of ailments. It leads to greed, envy, jealousy, competition, anger and confusion. All these enhance rajas and tamas. Contentment is a state of mind rather than something that is attained with worldly possessions.
Our daily lives are predominantly rajas and tamas. They can be balanced by bringing sattva in every activity and the sattvicstate of mind should be used to take major decisions. One should make every effort to get rid of factors that enhance rajas and tamas and try to inculcate sattva-enhancing values. In order to strengthen sattva, you have to get rid of fear, grief, greed and confusion. Fear and greed lead to other negative qualities such as jealousy, excessive attachment, possessiveness and dissatisfaction. All these qualities decelerate your work efficiency.
Charaka wrote: ‘Sattva-dominant persons are endowed with memory and devotion, they are grateful, learned, pure, courageous, skilful, resolute, fighting in battle with prowess, free from anxiety, having well-directed, serious intellects and activities and do virtuous acts.’
With a sattva state of mind, you can know both your body and mind better. Sattva enables you to silence your mind, which in turn enables you to listen to your inner being. We learn to withdraw the senses at will and may also develop extra-sensory perception (ESP). ESP can help us diagnose ourselves and enable us to choose a correct medical treatment and do spiritual healing. Charaka talks about sattvavajya, a therapy defined as protecting the mind from unwholesome objects.
To enhance sattva, one needs to control one’s mind, which can be done through yogasanas, pranayama and japa. Equally essential is to have all the humors in equilibrium. That is why, in yoga, great emphasis is laid on purifying the body.
Vata controls the activities of the mind. If vata is imbalanced, it would be hard to control the mind. A massage and a warm bath, appropriate rest and nutrition help calm down the mind and enhance its capacity to develop self-control.
A multidimensional approach has to be applied to enhance sattva.
AYURVEDA AND PSYCHOLOGY
Modern psychology is defined as the ‘science of mind and behavior’. In this fragmented approach, reality is perceived only at the sensory level. People’s behavior and thoughts are given rational explanations and there is a lack of individual responsibility. In ayurveda, an individual’s behavior is completely his or her responsibility. The basic behavior and reactions are seen as the result of prakriti, which is seen as stemming from your samskaras. At other levels, behavior is categorized as familial, social and so on, influenced by past and present karma, which are also due to individual responsibility. Nature has provided intellect to distinguish between good and bad karma. Freedom lies in present karma. With sattva actions, one can even influence the results of past karma.
To linger on with the dark past is tamas and for a healthier mind and body, one should evoke the light of sattva to get rid of the darkness of tamas.
Ayurvedic psychology is an expansive field and can help people to get rid of their mental pains and ailments even in modern times.
Reacting to the inadequacy of the fragmented approach of modern medicine, many alternatives have emerged. In the 1980s when I founded my organization and started doing research and writing work, ayurveda was little known in the West. The fact that it has spread the world over in such a short time speaks for the yearning people have for a holistic approach where they are considered as complete individuals with all dimensions of existence.
The fulfillment of our aspirations lies in a holistic approach. The dynamic cosmos has us, the human being, as its pulse. Once we begin seeing that, we will take better care of ourselves and our environment. Says the Bhagavad Gita (XVIII, 22): ‘That knowledge which clings to each individual thing as if it were the whole is irrational, without any real objective and is narrow and tamasic.’
For each of us, the aim should be to see our complete being in different dimensions and at different levels and to look at ourselves as the energetic and creative beings throbbing in this dynamic universe. The principle aim of life should be to live in tune with the cosmic rhythm, which is only possible with holistic wisdom.
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