The 1st World Medicine
Ayurveda (pronounced Aa-yer-vay-da), the science of life, prevention and longevity is believed to be the oldest and most holistic or comprehensive medical system available. It was placed in written form over 2,000 years ago in India, and said to be a “world medicine”. Before the advent of writing, the ancient wisdom of healing, prevention and longevity was a part of the spiritual tradition of a universal religion.
Medical knowledge from all areas of the world was said to have gathered in India, and the famous sage Veda Vyasa dictated this wisdom to Lord Ganesh, who put into writing the complete knowledge of Ayurveda, along with the more directly spiritual insights of ethics, virtue and Self-Realization.
What is fascinating how this knowledge of the uses of herbs, foods, aromas, gems, colors, Yoga, mantras, lifestyle and surgery was obtained. The sage-physician/surgeons of the time were the same sages or seers, deeply devoted holy people, who saw health as an integral part of spiritual life. It is said that they received their training of Ayurveda through direct cognition during meditation.
In other words, the knowledge of the use of the various methods of healing, prevention, longevity and surgery came through Divine revelation; there was no guessing or testing or harming of animals. These revelations were transcribed from the oral tradition into book form, interspersed with the other aspects of life and spirituality.
There were originally four main books of spirituality, which included, among other topics, health, astrology, spiritual business, government, army, poetry and ethical living.
These books are known as the Vedas; Rik, Sama, Yajur and Atharva. Ayurveda was used in conjunction with Vedic astrology (Jyotish-inner light). At later dates, Ayurveda was organized into its own compact system of health and considered an auxiliary branch of the Vedas, called an Upaveda (limb of the Veda), because it dealt with the healing aspects of spirituality, and not directly discussing spiritual development). These authors took the passages related to Ayurveda from the various Vedas and made separate books, dealing only with Ayurveda.
Among the Rik Veda’s 10,572 hymns, are found discussions of the three doshas, Vayu, Pitta and Kapha; organ transplants, and artificial limbs, the use of herbs to heal the diseases of the mind and body and to foster longevity. Within the Atharva Veda’s 5,977 hymns, are discussions of anatomy, physiology and surgery. This information is nearly identical with modern beliefs.
Around 1500 B.C., Ayurveda was delineated into eight specific branches of medicine. There were two main schools of Ayurveda at that time, Atreya- the school of physicians; and Dhanvantari- the school of surgeons. These two schools made Ayurveda a more scientifically verifiable and classifiable medical system. Through research and testing, they dispelled the doubts of the more practical and scientific minded, removing the aura of mystery that surrounded the concept of Divine revelation. Consequently
Ayurveda grew into a respected and widely used system of healing in India. People from numerous countries came to Indian Ayurvedic schools to learn about this world medicine- in its completeness. Chinese, Tibetans, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Afghanistanis, Persians, and more traveled to learn the complete wisdom and bring it back to their own countries.
There are two main reorganizers of Ayurveda whose works are still existing in tact today- Charak and Sushrut. The third major treatise is called the Ashtanga Hridaya which is a concise version of the works of Charak and Sushrut. Thus the three main ancient Ayurvedic texts that are still used today are, the Charak Samhita (compilation), Sushrut Samhita and the Ashtanga Hridaya Samhita. These books are believed to be over 1,200 years old.
It is because these texts still contain the original and complete knowledge of this Ayurvedic world medicine, that Ayurveda is known today as the only complete medical system still in existence. Other forms of medicine from various cultures, although parallel, are missing parts of the original information.
Charak represented the Atreya school of physicians, discussing physiology, anatomy, etiology, pathogenesis, symptoms and signs of disease; methodology of diagnosis, treatment and prescription of patients; prevention and longevity. Included were internal and external causes of illness. Charak states that the first cause of illness is the loss of faith in the Divine.
In other words, when a person does not have the experience that God is inside us, and, outside- in all things, this separation of vision creates a gap in which longing or suffering for oneness of vision occurs. This suffering is the beginning of spiritual, mental and physical disease. External causes of health included time of day, seasons, diet and lifestyle. There is a whole section discussing the medicinal aspects of herbs, diet, and reversing of the aging process.
For modern skeptics who wonder if this ancient wisdom can be believed, they only need to read Charak’s month-by-month description of the development of the fetus in the womb to see its exact parallels to what we know today from using modern technical machinery.
Sushrut comes from the Dhanvantari school of surgeons. In America, there is a society of surgeons who named themselves the Sushrut Society, after this great medical author. In this text, there are detailed and sophisticated discussions of surgical equipment; the classification of abscesses, burns, fractures, wounds, amputation, plastic surgery, anal/rectal surgery, which are validated by modern medicines technical equipment and research.
There is a complete discussion of the human anatomy; the bones, joints, nerves, heart, blood vessels, circulatory system etc.., again, corroborated by todays methods of mechanical investigation. From the Sushrut Samhita, we learn of the first science of massage, using marma points or vital body points, which parallel Chinese acupuncture. Even the popular Polarity Massage Therapy in America, was developed by a man after studying massage in India.
Eight Branches of Ayurveda
It is astounding and inspiring to discover just how complete the Ayurvedic system was. Further, we see how it has continued in pieces, to develop into today’s methods of medicine. There were eight branches of medicine that one could major in ancient Indian times.
1. Internal Medicine (Kayachikitsa) This is related to the soul, mind and body. It was recognized that there was a psychosomatic relationship, and that sometimes the mind caused illness in the body and vice versa.
The seven body constitutions and seven mental constitutions (discussed in article one) were delineated here- Vayu (air), Pitta (fire), Kapha (water), Vayu/Pitta, Vayu/Kapha, Pitta/Kapha. The idea of finding the cause of an illness is still a mystery to modern science, but it was the main goal of Ayurveda. Six stages of the development of disease were known then (aggravation, accumulation, overflow, relocation, build up in a new site, and manifestation into a recognizable disease).
It is fascinating to note that modern technical equipment and diagnosis can only detect a disease during the fifth and sixth stages of illness. Ayurvedic physicians can nip an illness in the bud by using the more insightful methods of diagnosis. Health is seen as a balance of the biological humors, whereas disease is an imbalance of the humors. Ayurveda brings balance through supplying the deficient humors and reducing the excess ones. Only as a last resort do they rely on surgery.
Modern medicine is just beginning to realize the need to supply rather than remove; but they still do not know how or what to supply. Additionally, there are over 2,000 medicinal plants classified in India’s materia medica; plus a unique method of completely removing toxins from the body, known as pancha karma (five actions). This is a method of reversing the disease path from its manifestation stage, back into the blood stream and eventually into the gastrointestinal tract. This is achieved through special diets, oil massage and steam therapy. From here, they are removed from their sites of original development through special forms of emesis, purgation and enema. Lastly, another unique aspect of Ayurveda is rejuvenation. Rebuilding the body’s cells and tissues after the toxins are removed.
2. Ears Nose and Throat (Shalakya Tantra) Approximately 72 diseases of the eye are discussed by Sushrut, including surgical procedures for cataracts, pterygium and for diseases of the ears, nose and throat.
3. Toxicology (Agada Tantra) Discussed here is air and water pollution, toxins in animals, minerals and vegetables, epidemics, etc..
4. Pediatrics (Kaumarabhritya) Here, prenatal and postnatal care of the baby and mother is addressed. Topics include, how to conceive, how to choose the child’s gender, their intelligence and constitution; childhood diseases, and midwifery.
5. Surgery (Shalyatantra) Over 2,000 years ago, sophisticated methods of surgery were known. This information spread to Egypt, Greece, Rome, and eventually throughout the world. Although China maintained this wisdom, the dark ages of the Western world lost this information. Topics of intestinal obstructions, bladder stones, and the use of dead bodies for dissection and learning were taught and practiced.
6. Psychiatry (Bhuta Vidya) There is a whole branch of Ayurveda which specifically deals with the diseases of the mind. In addition to herbs and diet, yogic therapies (die. meditation, breathing, mantras, etc..) were employed.
7. Aphrodisiacs (Vajikarana) This section deals with two aspects; infertility (for those wanting children) and spiritual development (for those who want to transmute this sexual energy into spiritual energy).
8. Rejuvenation (rasayana) Prevention and longevity are the topics discussed in this branch of Ayurveda. Charak states that the methods of longevity include ethics and virtuous living.
The Decline of Ayurveda
The alert person may now ask why, if Ayurveda is so exceptional, is it not widely practices in India today. This is a valid question, which has an equally valid answer. Ayurveda, like all of Vedic philosophy follows the belief of `Sanatana dharma’, which states, accept everything in its appropriate time and place, and reject nothing. All aspects of medicine are useful at certain times, just use the required treatment when it is called for.
This is why Ayurveda does not reject modern medicine. Like this, the Indian temperament allows for all religions to express themselves freely in India. Consequently, Buddhism, Jainism and other religions grew in India and began to influence people’s thoughts. Then there was a time when all religions lost some degree of their spiritual link and began bickering over which practices were better. Gentle spiritual medicine began to lose ground over the more harmful black magic.
Then came the numerous conquests of the Moslems in India. They razed cities, closed down Ayurvedic colleges and insisted the Indian people practice only their forms of living, which included medicine. Finally the British ruled India and closed down the remaining Ayurvedic universities (although Ayurveda was practiced in secret). Only in 1920 did Ayurveda reemerge, and with the help of the Indian government, began to rebuild the universities.
Now there are over 150 Ayurvedic universities in India, and over 100 Ayurvedic colleges (plans are presently underway to expand Ayurveda even more). However, there are many Ayurvedic pharmacies and herb markets which are unethical, giving people the wrong herbs. People need to know which are the reputable pharmacies in India today. Thus Ayurveda, without resisting or rejecting other systems, is slowly coming back into recognition and re-establishing its true value.
The oldest medicine, Ayurveda, is now the last to be re-discovered. This world medicine may not only help unite healing practices, but also peoples, cultures and religions. The impact of its reawakening is astounding, as we see its effectiveness and demand in the United States grow in leaps and bounds. Among the respected teachers of Ayurveda, many are including the original spiritual integration, re-establishing the ancient Ayurveda in tact, in modern society. Spiritual Ayurveda, the original world medicine will soon find validation and universal acceptance in all areas of society and the world.