Ayurveda; from Mythology to Modern Days
Ayurveda is a traditional yet modern medical science in India, a form of complementary and alternative therapy (CAM) in the US, rooted in the ancient Vedic tradition and it literally means, “Science of Life.” In the midst of this pandemic we are realizing how important holistic health and immunity are and how relevant this Science is! How do you feel about preventative health? Are you tired of quick fixes and symptomatic relief with disorders? Like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the Founder of Art of Living says, “Life is a combination of the old and new.” Are you willing to embrace both?
We enjoy mythology for its deep symbolism and the inspiration it gives us; here are some legends that can motivate us to rewrite the story of our own life!!!
1. Invoking the Legendary Healer in us, the story of Lord Dhanvantari: Legend goes that during the great cosmic churning of the ocean, the Gods and Demons were pitted against each other over who would get Amrit (the divine nectar of eternal life) when Lord Dhanvantari, the God of Ayurveda emerged. This churning is symbolic of our own struggle and spiritual journey towards self-realization and moksha (freedom) and that is the quest in which we use Sadhana (literally meaning the wealth we carry across lifetimes) and practices like yoga, breathwork, meditation, service and the company of the wise. In practical terms, it is what gives us clarity of mind and centeredness or Swasthya (or health, meaning ‘being established in the self’). Lord Dhanvantari is the healer within us and in all of cosmic consciousness, the one seeking balance and setting the intention for good health.
According to Charaka Samhita*,” Lord Vishnu reincarnates as Lord Dhanvatari in the universe to alleviate suffering in every age and to reestablish the knowledge of Ayurveda. Ayurveda is a holistic science that believes in the connection of the mind, body and spirit. The first verse of Ashtanga Hridayam* is a powerful invocation that Ayurvedic professionals use, paying homage to Lord Dhanvantari and a plea to heal us and the world from diseases of the mind and body borne out of desires and attachments (cravings and aversions).
“Ragadi rogan satatanu shaktan ashesha kaya prasrutan asheshan
Outhsukhya moharatitanjaghana yo apoorva Vaidhyaya namostu tasmahi”
2. Everything is Medicinal, the story of Jivaka: Jivaka was one of the most famous Ayurvedic Vaidyas and the personal physician of Lord Buddha. He is said to have cured many serious and chronic ailments in people across all socio-economic strata and from all walks of life, including the King of Magadha and many poor and sick people. He studied for 7 years with Sage Atreya in Takshashila. Sage Atreya once sent his students to the jungles to find something that did not have medicinal properties and Jivaka came back disappointed and empty-handed. Everything had medicinal properties according to him! Sage Atreya was delighted and asserted that Jivaka had now graduated as his successor!
Indeed, everything in nature has medicinal properties. There is an Ayurvedic saying about nutrition, “ When our diet is wrong, medicine is of no use, when diet is correct, medicine may not be needed. “ Not just herbs and therapies like Marma and Panchakarma but even our diet, lifestyle, daily and seasonal routine, our own mind-body complex, our connection with ourselves, nature and our community – can be healing – or the cause of imbalance.
Imagine a day when you overate processed food, pizza and soda and watched 10 hours of TV on the couch (the average American does spend 10 hours in front of various screens) and gossiped with a very negative friend about people and what is wrong with the world; and slept at 2 in the night. How did you feel the next day? What is the cumulative impact of neglecting our health? How can we attend to ourselves?
We are all unique and therein lies the power of individualized medicine. We all have a unique Ayurvedic constitution (consisting of Vata, Pitta and Kapha doshas or energy principals in different proportions) formed during conception; and a set of imbalances or Vikrati. Ayurveda helps us understand our own tendencies, affinities, structure and function so we can be in alignment with our health.
3. Nalanda burning, the legend of the phoenix and rising from the ashes : Ayurvedic knowledge was lost to a large extent with invaders in Indian history burning and destroying universities like Takshashila (the world’s oldest university) and Nalanda (some accounts state that it had 9 million manuscripts and was burnt tragically in 1193 AD; and continued burning for three months!). Later, British colonists prohibited the practice of Ayurveda. The imagery of fire brings up for me, the legend of the phoenix, a powerful myth in Ancient Egypt and Greece about a bird with brilliant plumage that lives for 100’s of years, bursts into flames and a fledgling phoenix arises from the ashes, symbolizing renewal and resilience.
Indeed, this is a time for Ayurvedic revival. Ayurveda works very well with strengthening our immunity and in chronic, lifestyle based disorders which are the bane of our modern stressful world; it also helps with symptomatic relief where needed. In the US alone CDC reports that 6 in 10 adults have chronic lifestyle based disorders like cardiac ailments, type 2 diabetes, lung and kidney disorders and certain types of cancer. There is a place for traditional medicine and modern medicine to co-exist and for Ayurveda to become contemporary and relevant.
The Ministry of Ayush in India is working to standardize education, practice and research in Ayurveda; in fact 2/3rd of the clinical trials for Covid-19 are related to traditional medicine. World over, Ayurvedic practice, research and study are becoming more rigorous and popular.
4. Taking this journey forward with your own story: According to Gurudev, Sri Sri, “The practice of Ayurveda can truly enhance the quality of your life.” Our mind-body complex endures with us for as long as we live and is like our temple or place of worship. Taking care of this would help us live life to its fullest potential.
What is your story?
At the start of this year I wrote five Ayurvedic resolutions for the new year and it turned out to be quite a year. The three pillars of health in Ayurveda are nutrition, sleep and (stress alleviating, balanced) lifestyle. When Dr Fauci corroborated that by advising that we take care of our immunity by precisely these measures, we took notice! Why do we take our own tradition for granted?
Here is the article on the five resolutions if you want to explore Ayurveda. Whatever means you adopt, to quote Acharya Shunya, “A well-lived day is medicine unto itself.” Here’s wishing you a well-lived day – and life – filled with abundance, happiness, health and well-being.
*Charaka Samhita and Ashtanga Hridayam are Ayurvedic Root texts.
Anuradha Gupta is an Engineer, MBA and Ayurvedic Wellness Practitioner. She has a corporate background and volunteers for Art of Living and other nonprofits. You can find her on Facebook or on LinkedIn.