A short but comprehensive research into Ayurveda and its implications for devotional life
ISKCON Publications Division
As a Vaishnava who is compassionate for other people's pains, I have sometimes been thinking how unnecessary sicknesses of our bodies are an obstacle for our devotional service.
The bodily casing, a secondary covering of the soul, is important and efficient when in good health. Bad health is due to either uncleanliness, anxiety or overeating. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and so I have been fortunate to come across an ancient system as prescribed in the Vedas. This, along with Krsna consciousness, may be able to keep our bodies in a more healthful condition for preaching purposes.
Having experienced the toll that allopathic Western medicine has taken on our bodies - allergic reactions, killing of both wanted as well as unwanted bacteria and metabolic afflictions - we now can turn back to the authorized, natural and radical method of prevention and cure: Ayurveda.
Accordingly, disease of all aspects of our conditional existence is due to improper balances or, in other words, not following moderation:
"He who is temperate in his habits of eating, sleeping, working and recreation can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system." (Bhagavad-gita 6.17)
The practice of yoga is meant for eradication of unwanted psychic elements and their excesses and the practice of Ayurveda also helps eradicate unwanted excesses on the gross level, i.e. air, bile and phlegm.
Just as so many cheaters have come in the guise of yogis presenting a system which removes the symptoms of disease but doesn't get to the root of matter, the allopathic antibiotics and chemotherapeutic medicines, so much in vogue in the Western schemes of so-called scientific advancement present quick cures of our manifested bodily defects, much like never do we reach to the cause through this, way much like sweeping the dust under the rug. [Modern medicine wants to cure, i.e. make money, but not completely, i.e. losing a customer...]
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada uses a number of these medicines daily and relies on expert kavirajas (Ayurvedic vaidyas of the highest order) in Bombay and Calcutta when he is in need of medical assistance. We are not claiming to be kavirajas. This booklet is not presented as an in-depth study of Ayurveda or even of its over 500 medicines but we have made some substantial research and procured the best of these Ayurvedic medicines with a firm hope that your expanded consciousness will be able to see past the "allopathic business as usual" consciousness and enter into the realm of health tonics and medicines the Lord Krsna's plenary expansion, Shri Dhanvantari, has so mercifully bestowed to the ever-diseased human race. Hare Krsna.
- Guru Dasa Swami
A. Ayurvedic pathology of disease
Ayurvedic pathology of disease, the manifestation of which is not immediate, is very scientific. In the Dhanvantari-samhita of the Garuda Purana indigestion is called the "parent of all diseases" and according to Ayurveda all diseases have their origin somewhere in gastro-intestinal tract where undigested, raw material called ama is allowed to accumulate. Therefore so much emphasis is put on not overeating. Due to indiscretion in eating habits and improper digestion due to anxiety and anger and / or uncleanliness of food, ama begins to accumulate either in the stomach or in the upper part of small intestine. This is the first of five progressive stages of disease, technically called chaya. In this chaya stage diseases are best treated. Ayurvedic medicines are very effective at this stage as well as at later stages. Allopathic medicines do little or nothing in chaya.
The ama can accumulate also in the lower area of the large intestine due to some kind of blockage there. The nature of ama is going to vary according to the predominant diet and makeup of an individual.
The place of origin of disease is called the mulasthana (root situation) and Ayurvedic medicines aim at interfering with it there.
There are three doshas. They are known as vayu-dosha, air or the nervous system; pitta-dosha, bile or the metabolic system; and kapha-dosha, mucus-phlegm or the excretory system. In fact, all understanding of the science hinges around these. Although this is a simplification of their actual position, the gross understandings of these three doshas are air, bile and mucus. The nature of ama will be predominantly one, or sometimes two of these.
The subtle symptoms which are present during the chaya stage are apathy, heaviness, bloated feeling in the abdomen, pallor and some loss of appetite. Few persons are intelligent enough to start treatment in this stage.
The next stage is called prakopa. Because the problem has not been rectified, the accumulated ama begins to liquefy at the mulasthana. Thirst, burning sensations, sour eructations (belching) and flatulence (unexpelled air in the stomach) are symptoms of this stage. Toxins begin to seep outside the walls of either stomach or intestines and enter channels of circulation. This is called vitiation of dosha (remember, the ama is of the nature of doshas). A dosha becomes vitiated when too much of it has been consumed and thus it builds up as ama. Few patients treat a disease at this stage either.
The third stage of disease is called prasava, the spreading stage. The wandering toxins spread through one of the three main circulatory systems of the body, namely the alimento-respiratory tract, the blood or the vital organ-bone-joint system and settle at the first weak spot, a site where no local resistance has been built up. The symptoms of this stage are nausea, loss of taste and painful abdomen.
The fourth stage is called sthana-sanskriya. Toxins or dosha has found its site and is accumulating. Thus an improper balance of one of the three doshas is growing in the body. Good health is equivalent to static balance of the doshas in the body and bad health is equivalent to imbalance among them. At this stage of sthana-sanskriya unwanted bacteria or viruses accumulate to breed in the environment. The disease emerges in full and everyone rushes to the physician who then administers an antibiotic to cover the symptoms.
Ayurvedic medicines are prescribed to eliminate the specific dosha buildup and vitiation, called dosha-kara. The germs which cause the disease have their habitat taken away from them. This is the right way to cure disease.
But along with the medicines there must be a proper program of activity for true effectiveness. Trying to ignite a fire while pouring water on it is the philosophy of the deluded. Therefore we have to know the eight pillars of disease prevention according to Ayurveda:
1. Dina-charya, the prescribed bodily regulations
2. Ritu-charya, consideration of the season
3. Shad-vritta, the proper mental culture
4. Timely attention to nature's calls
The four subordinate pillars are:
5. Inherent qualities of liquids and solids
6. Rules for eating
7. Proper sleep
These, of course, could expand into a whole book in themselves. Thus we are going to present a general synopsis only. Strictly following Srila Prabhupada's sadhana complemented with common sense and intelligence incorporates almost all of these understandings.
B. The eight pillars of disease prevention
Dina-charya means a daily routine. We can see that the Ayurvedic recommendation and our spiritual master's formula run on parallel tracks. The following program is recommended:
1. Wake up early and attend to nature's calls. Wash the mouth and
clean the mouth.
2. Brush the teeth with neem twigs which are pungent, bitter and astringent in taste.
Neem tooth brushes are very good because right away early in the morning they neutralize the heavy sweet mucus buildup in the mouth. The use of sweet toothpastes is congenial to the unwanted mucus buildup.
3. Clean the tongue thoroughly with the fingers and a stick used as a soft brush.
4. Clean the eyes, ears and nose. Use cold water for both but only as cold as prevents detrimental bodily reactions.
5. Take regular exercise but not too much.
6. After breakfast proceed to your regular duties.
7. Eat lunch in a happy frame of mind.
8. Have a light evening meal and go to bed on a comfortable bed early.
Ritu-charya means the seasonal adaptations. The seasonal divisions in the East have their following Western counterparts:
1. March-April, Vasanta-ritu, spring
2. May-June, Grishma-ritu, summer
3. July-August, Varsha-ritu, monsoon
4. September-October, Sharad-ritu, short summer
5. November-December, Hemanta-ritu, winter
6. January-February, Shishira-ritu, cold winter
November to February is the time for eating very plentifully and much exercise, building a solid foundation for the rest of the year. The appetite is more powerful during these months.
Vasanta-ritu is the doctor's favorite because illnesses are most common. This season is kapha-kara, i.e. mucus builds up automatically. Light diet, limited sleep (none in the afternoon), avoidance of sweets, fats and liquids that produce mucus is recommended.
Grishma-ritu is the season of dehydration, exhaustion, lack of energy and lethargy. Cold but not hot fluids, cold baths and swimming. Too much exertion and sunshine should be avoided. The diet should be light and free from pungent and sour foods. Because nights are short, some sleep during noontime is recommended.
Varsha-ritu means the rainy season in Asia, analogical elsewhere. Digestive power is poor and lack of sunshine as well as a cloudy atmosphere are uncongenial to health. Ginger, black pepper and lemon juice may be taken to reinforce appetite. Leafy vegetables should be taken sparingly. The rainy season increases vayu-kara. Foods should be hot and light with ghee, curd and honey. River water is to be avoided for drinking as well as daytime naps, too many liquids and overexposure to elements.
Sharad-ritu has its counterpart in the West in "Indian summer". This season is pitta-kara, bile increasing. Cool, sweet, bitter and astringent foods are wanted. They produce anti-pitta-dosha reactions. It is essential to avoid curds, overeating, early morning dew and daytime sleep. Many Vedic scriptures enjoin that exposure to the sun during this time is inauspicious.
Shad-vritta means mental culture. Ayurveda has a much more all-encompassing disease pathology than any other system as it states that practically all diseases have a psychic base. We have outlined the gross disease pathology (chaya, prakopa, etc.) but the actual pathological process is initiated in the mental field and certainly all chronic diseases stem from basic mental moorings. This point is always kept in view by a vaidya or kaviraja when prescribing medicines and regiments.
The two mental doshas are actually the lower modes of nature (rajo and tamo guna). A person of predominantly vayu nature is said to have a subtle psyche of rajas and one of kapha is said to be tamasic to some degree.
Anxiety and anger are two main mental pollutions that give rise to the gross disease. On all of the prescriptions for taking Ayurvedic medicines there is a list of prohibitions. On many of them it is said that a return to normalcy requires situation and / or activity free from anxiety and anger.
[yad bhAvi tad bhavaty eva yad abhAvyaM na tad bhavet
iti nizcita buddhInAM na cintA bAdhate kvacit
What is destined to happen does definitely happen. What is not to occur shall never occur. Intelligent people who come to this decision are not worried by any anxiety. (NArada PurANa 1.37.47)]
Shad-vritta principles are presented in more in-depth manner in Bhagavad-gita. Thus in avoiding disease following Bhagavad-gita's formula is mandatory. Ayurvedic recommendations:
1. Be noble in your thoughts and deeds. Have compassion for all
2. Do not waste energy in avoidable talk. Speak the truth.
3. Give up inimical thoughts, cultivate friendly ones.
4. Avoid self-denigration, self-torture, self-praise, etc.
5. Do your duty carefully without attachment to results.
6. Maintain mental equilibrium both in success and failure and other opposites.
7. Have respect and liking for learning and the learned. Cultivate patience and forgiveness.
4. Timely attention to nature's calls
Intuitional reflex desires and actions are triggered by the vayu-dosha. Of course, yoga is meant to limit them but while we are in the conditioned stage and do it unwisely or artificially there will be negative results. This is accepted as one of the four pillars of disease prevention. The vayu-dosha becomes vitiated when basic bodily needs are not attended to and diseases of that nature begin to manifest. Retention of urine or faeces for a long time, not sleeping when needed and not drinking when thirsty produce various diseases. Suffice is to say that all natural instincts should be attended to promptly, although Ayurveda also emphasizes that all negative feelings like envy, anger, lust, etc. are to be squelched and replaced with transcendentally positive ones.
Ayurveda puts some emphasis on eating what we desire as a nature's way to correct imbalances in the system. Of course, lust can trick. Therefore it is essential to get Ayurvedic knowledge on how to eat what foods for what kind of dosha vitiations.
5. Inherent qualities of liquids and solids
The extent of these side pillars of Ayurvedic disease prevention could take up this whole booklet ten times over. Proper food combination is a science in itself.
Except in summer and October heat water should be used sparingly. Drinking water (best one hour) before a meal leads to lessening of appetite and loss of weight. Water drunk during the meal sparingly can help passage and digestion of food. Water after the meal leads to obesity.
Coconut water is nutritious and digestive and while quenching thirst it flushes out the bladder and kidneys. Cow's milk is a tonic, good for brain power and complexion. Buffalo's milk is good against excessive appetite and insomnia. Cow milk is always the milk of choice. Buttermilk is light, astringent and a good digestive. It neutralizes many diseases originating from kapha.
One should be careful with curds since they are blood heating, constipative and heavy to digest. During Vasanta and at night they are not to be eaten.
Modern science groups ghee with oils and fats but Ayurveda does not as ghee is considered just the opposite - cooling and synthetic. It is a part of many Ayurvedic remedies and is also a good digestive.
Of the awned grains, rice as a class is considered easy to digest, cooling, leaving little residue and thus constipative. Some rice is tri-dosha-ghna, since it keeps all doshas in equilibrium. Wheat, as a class is heavy to digest, oily, kapha-kara and life-sustaining. Corn is astringent and good for reducing weight.
The legumes are rich in protein, especially various dahls. Mung dahl is highly recommended as it is easily digested and doesn't cause as much flatulence as the others.
Most of the vegetables mentioned in old Ayurvedic texts are little in demand or no longer available, while in the fruit category grapes and pomegranate are most recommended, the former being good for the bile and thirst and the latter being a sedative, good against cardiac complaints and primary acid, a tri-dosha-ghna.
Every foodstuff has a digestive nature (heavy, medium or light), a predominant rasa (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent or astringent) and specific effects on specific organs or processes. The following five general points are also important to take into consideration:
1. Foods are inherently light or heavy but the cooking may change their status (for example, a light rice rendered heavy by turning it to sweet rice).
2. Combination of foods changes the digestibility. This refers to the more known food combining technique which groups foods as acid fruits, sweet fruits, green vegetables, starch vegetables, starches, sweeteners, oils and fats and proteins. This understanding is based on how acids, amino acids and alkalines digest food. Some major rules are not to mix fruits, especially acid ones, with vegetables, or two different proteins together, or starches with proteins, etc. These rules become more important the more is eaten. If eating is minimal and digestion is sufficient, there will not be fermentations or decompositions in and everything will be digested. Prabhupada confirms this in the Srimad Bhagavatam.
3. Different cooking flames, water addition, nature of utensils (avoid the poisonous aluminium!) and added oils, etc. must be considered.
4. Land, manure, fertilizers and insecticides affect food.
5. Time of the day, hunger, consciousness of the cook, indigestion (if any) are other important factors. Also, Prabhupada points out that food unoffered to Krsna increases disease only.
6. Consciousness while eating
Meals should be taken:
1. in easy, pleasant frame of mind
2. fresh, hot, with ghee which facilitates digestion, assimilation and excretion
3. not hurriedly nor a too long time - the former leads to indigestion and the latter to overeating
4. according to likes and dislikes (with intelligence)
5. in proper food combination, including all six rasas with astringent and bitter edibles used judiciously
6. with water just sufficient to quench the thirst
7. without undereating or overeating
8. with one fourth of the stomach filled with water, one half filled with food and one fourth left for air
7. Proper sleep
Lack of proper sleep results in bad health, malnutrition, unhappiness and lack of strength. Keeping late nights nor sleep during the day are healthy. The former leads to the above mentioned maladies, the latter to obesity. Daytime sleep is recommended in infancy, old age, overexertion, indigestion (morning only), asthma or any very painful disease (except in snakebite or poisoning when all sleep is taboo). Drinking milk, oil application to the head, happy mind and congenial company are factors favoring sound sleep.
Scientists have showed how flowers flourish when listening to classical music while heavy rock makes them dwindle and die. The differences in consciousness of a human who grows up in mellow rural town versus one who battles through the urban drill are well established. The evolvements in human society were not present when the Ayurveda was put into writing. It simply mentions that marshy, moist climates with tropical mountain and rainfalls between 70-200 inches per year are kapha-kara (leading to colds, coughs, etc.), whereas dry, hot, arid areas with little water and yearly rainfalls of 10-15 inches are vayu-kara and pitta-kara. Places which are not so extreme are called sama-dosha (equal), with rainfalls 25-65 inches per year, and are generally healthy or tri-dosha-ghna. If one has certain disease tendencies it is best to live in environments producing opposite effects. The art of Ayurveda is based on this balancing since human beings have been endowed by the Lord with free will, ability to rationalize and advanced intelligence.
C. Six rasas
1. Sweet (madhura rasa) are the majority of foodstuffs.
Characteristics: kapha-kara, vayu-ghna (vayu limiting), mostly earth and water, antidote to bitter, pungent and astringent foods
Prolonged overuse: sleepiness, obesity, defective digestion, asthma, colds and coughs
Examples: rice, wheat, mung dahl, sugar
2. Sour (amla rasa) foods tingle the throat causing a hot
Characteristics: pitta-kara, vayu-ghna, earth and fire, antidote to bitter items
Prolonged overuse: aging, pallor, increased thirst
Examples: acid fruits like amla and pomegranate
3. Salty taste (lavana rasa) adds a savory flavor to foods and
drinks and is a digestive.
Characteristics: pitta-kara, vayu-ghna, water and fire, antidote to all the five remaining rasas
Prolonged overuse: increased thirst, early baldness, rough skin and a decrease of bodily luster ("oja", the famed saintly halo due to the semen moving upward)
Examples: all salts
4. Bitter taste (tiksa rasa) favors digestion, intellectual power
and restores taste.
Characteristics: vayu-kara, kapha-ghna, air and ether, antidote to the madhura rasa
Prolonged overuse: nervous diseases, debility, hardness and wasting in general
Examples: turmeric, green vegetable leaves
5. Pungent taste (katuka rasa) helps digestion and suppresses oral
Characteristics: pitta-kara, kapha-ghna, air and fire, antidote to madhura rasa
Prolonged overuse: excessive bodily heat, cutting and piercing aches, leanness
Examples: ginger, asafoetida
6. Astringent taste (kashapa rasa) favors complexion and dries up
Characteristics: kapha-kara, pitta-ghna, air and earth, antidote to sour and pungent items
Prolonged overuse: obstruction of excretory channels, fits and tremors
Examples: haritaki, lodha tree fruit. Honey and buttermilk also have astringent qualities along with their primary madhura nature, as many foodstuffs contain more than one rasa.
By proper combination of these six tastes every day, avoidance of excessive or deficient ones and increasing antidotes to excessive or deficient ones the tri-dosha is kept in healthy equilibrium. Ayurveda medicines are designed in this way and people who don't have time to become involved in complexities of proper combination take Ayurvedic tonics which supply them needed elements in proper proportion besides relying on them when disease actually manifests.
D. Tri-dosha, sapta-dhatu, tri-mala
Proper understanding of tri-dosha is the basis of Ayurveda knowledge.
Vayu-dosha is composed of air and ether. In limited context it is called air, in a more complex understanding it is referred to as the nervous system and life airs. Respiration, energy and impulses, energetic and wavery mind. Primary seat in the body is colon. It is the gross representation of rajas guna.
Pitta-dosha is composed of fire and water. In limited context it is called bile, in a more complex understanding it is referred to as the metabolic system. Digestion, thirst, hunger, body heat, smooth skin, memory, bravery, possessiveness and avarice. Primary seat in the body is ileo-jejunum. It is the gross representation of sattva guna.
Kapha-dosha is composed of water and earth. In limited context it is called phlegm or mucus, in a more complex understanding it is referred to as the excretory system. Stability, oiliness, solidity, strength, intelligence, neutrality, friendship and forgiveness. Primary seat in the body is chest. It is the gross representation of tamas guna.
Each dosha has five subdivisions called dosha pentad with specific functions in specific places. For example the five divisions of vayu-dosha are called prana, udana, vyana, samana and apana airs. They are located in skull, chest, heart, navel and pelvis respectively. Their presence in the body makes them three main pillars sustaining life functions of all animate creation.
Right from the time of fertilization one of these doshas manifests as a dominant factor determining characteristics of an individual with triple classification:
Vayu-ja persons: tall and lean, dry body with little sweating, earthy color of skin, very hairy, fickle mind, very talkative, capricious appetite and thirst (prefer hot and oily dishes), constipative tendencies, fond of traveling and enjoying life, unsteady sleep with dreams of storm and sky.
Pitta-ja persons: medium build, excessive sweating, pinkish skin, early baldness, impatient mind, somewhat talkative, excessive eating and drinking (not fond of hot and oily dishes), quick evacuation, brave and ambitious, average sleep with dreams of fire.
Kapha-ja persons: short and stout, profuse sweating and oily body, whitish skin, hairy, steady and patient mind, rather silent, normal appetite and thirst (not fond of hot and oily dishes), steady evacuation, disinclined to move about, deep sleep with dreams of earth and water.
Besides these three doshas Ayurveda acharyas have described seven dhatus which maintain the body and are primarily composed of one of the doshas.
The first dhatu is called chyle (in Sanskrit "rasa"), a precursor of blood, nourishing the body and mind. Blood is called rakta and is the dhatu nourishing muscles and flesh, maintaining complexion and sustaining life functions. Blood has been considered by some Ayurvedic experts to be equivalent to the fourth dosha and homeopathy [it's principle is mentioned in SB 1.5.33] puts much emphasis on it. But standard Ayurvedic texts give it a position of the dhatu which is considered subordinate in importance to tri-dosha. Muscles (mansa) embrace the skeletal structure, nourish fatty tissues and help with excretion. Fat or adipose tissue (meda) greases limbs and eyes and ensures stability by nourishing the bones. Bones (asthi) maintain the body structure and nourish bone marrow (majja) which forms bulk inside the bone cavities, gives strength and nourishes the semen (sukra) which gives strength, intelligence and ability to procreate.
After the increased dosha has liquefied and is spreading, it usually finds its place somewhere in one of these dhatus. All of them with the exception of bones and blood are comprised of kapha-dosha (earth and water) and thus the madhura rasa foodstuffs which consist mostly of carbohydrates are primarily needed to nourish them and to maintain kapha-dosha. The majority of what is considered edible foodstuffs such as rice, grains, sugar, mung dahl, etc. are composed of earth and water because that is what the body is mostly made of. Bones are vayu-dosha (thus so much pain to the nervous system when they break) and blood is pitta-dosha, the characteristic of water and fire.
To round off the simple yet wonderfully scientific scope of the body by Ayurveda besides the tri-doshas and the sapta-dhatus there are tri-malas. Mala means "bad" in Sanskrit and these three elements are the faeces, urine and sweat. Although they are unwanted, they serve some positive purposes. Faeces give temporary support in general besides keeping up the body heat. Urine maintains fluid balance by throwing out unneeded liquids ingested through consumption and sweat retains moisture in the body, greases the skin and helps the growth of hair.
Process of digestion
Foodstuffs break into one of three doshas. They are in a delicate, static balance. When too much of any builds up, it forms the ama which liquefies, finds a weak spot, roots and already present but dormant bacteria, viruses or parasites take advantage of it. The disease appears. If not enough of a particular dosha is consumed then the dosha as well as dhatus depending on it become weakened. By nature humans have subjective (although comparable) percentage of doshas and thus everyone's needs are subjective.
Simply by following Ayurvedic prescriptions and with some basic knowledge of the bodily makeup anyone can very easily regulate health. It is important to follow the eight pillars of disease prevention with proper sadhana and with taking Ayurvedic health tonics one can avoid dangerous side effects of chemical medicines.
E. Therapeutics in Ayurveda
Chikitsa means "therapeutic measures" in Sanskrit. There are two basic chikitsas. Branhana chikitsa is the nourishing measure - the disease is cured by more proper nourishment. Langhana chikitsa is divided into two: shamana and shodana. Shamana is using gradual sedative measures such as controlled fasting, exercises and diet restriction. Shodana is the radical method to uproot serious dosha vitiation through vomiting (vamana vidhi), enemas (basti vidhi), purgation, bloodletting, surgery, etc.
Ayurvedic medicines mostly add nourishment and restrict buildups of ama. Shodana presents great relief when properly done but most people are adverse to apply it and if they do they lack proper knowledge. Although shodana should not be neglected when disease have reached serious proportions before one should use Ayurvedic medicines. This gives one free time to study the holy sastras which can help to transcend the material world with its diseases forever.
Dhanvantari Mala Mantra (Dhanvantari Shloka)
Chanting of this mantra 108 times during Brahma Muhurta (starts 96 min before sunrise) will free the human body from all diseases.
om namo bhagavate vAsudevAya
"O my Lord, Sri Krsna, son of Vasudeva, O all-pervading Personality of Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You (om namo bhagavate vasudevaya). You incarnate as Dhanvantari, holding a pot of nectar (amrta kalasha) in Your hands (hastaya). You destroy all disease (sarvamaya- vinashana) and are the master of the three worlds (trailokya-natha). I offer my respectful oblations to You, O great Lord Visnu (sri-maha-visnave svaha)."
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