Ayurveda is the most ancient medical system. It was practised at least six to seven thousand years ago. All the texts of ayurveda are in Sanskrit. The literal meaning of ayurveda is ‘the science of life’ or more precisely ‘span of life’. Therefore, ayurveda is the ‘science of the length of life’, and it is not known as a medical science.
The average age of human beings is said to be one hundred and twenty five years. The concept of ayurveda about the life of every creature is definite – how many years a serpent lives, an elephant, a donkey, a dog and how many years the human body lives. The limit of every human being’s physical body is one hundred and twenty five years. Ayurveda says that one should be able to see properly and all the senses must function properly at the age of one hundred. This is the philosophy behind the science of ayurveda.
Hindus have four books called Vedas. The first Veda is known as Rig Veda. The second is Yajur Veda. The third is Sama Veda. The fourth is Atharva Veda. Ayurveda is a part of the Atharva Veda.
Ayurveda has two philosophies about health, ‘The philosophy of positive health’ and ‘The philosophy of negative health’. Positive health means that one should know how to live naturally and enjoy health, without the use of medicine. But for those who are sick because they ignore the laws of positive health, medicine is prescribed. This is negative health.
Ayurveda begins with the concept of positive health from the time of birth in the mother’s womb to the last moment and how one should maintain good health throughout life. The first rule is daily routine which the science of ayurveda emphasizes.
Daily routine means when one should sleep and when one should get up, at what time and how many times one should eat, how much exercise and when to do it, at what time education should start, at what time one should marry, when one should impose discipline on one’s children, on what days one should have or not have sexual relations, what should be the annual and seasonal routine according to the change of weather, what should be the food habits during different seasons, when one should not drink milk, when one should not eat curd and when one should not use oil. All these instructions are indicated in the preliminary chapters of ayurveda. They are known as daily routine, seasonal routine, annual routine and occasional routine and this is the basis of good health.
The second element is home remedies. Certain sicknesses can be attended by elder members of the family and those medical preparations can be made in the kitchen for influenza, cough and cold, stomach ache and vomiting, headache, migraine, sprain and the like. These are called home sicknesses. One does not have to take special medicines. Those medicines are described in the second section of ayurveda.
At the same time ayurveda accepts that there are acute and chronic illnesses. These illnesses have two main causes. One cause is mental, psychic, and the second is due to physical factors. For mental factors yoga, tantric worship, psychic-spiritual healing or certain mantras are prescribed. According to ayurveda emotional and psychic problems can cause physical diseases. Suppression and repression can also cause dangerous illnesses and therefore they should be treated through spiritual methods.
The third chapter is on medication. In this physical body there are three humours, kapha, vata, pita. The first humour is called phlegm, the second, wind, and the third, gastric. The combination of the humours must be properly balanced. If there is disharmony in a humour then diseases pertaining to that humour will originate.
An ayurvedic specialist will first of all find out if a disease is acidic, phlegmatic or gastric. Accordingly he will suggest the medicines. Ayurvedic medicines are drawn from nature, derived from two sources. Of course, there is a third source as well, but it is only in the books, they aren’t made into medicine. The first source is from herbs. The second is from minerals and the third is from animals. Hindus do not like to use animal life and this third source has remained more or less a theory, whereas the first two are popular.
From minerals two types of medicines are prepared. One is called the pill and the second is called bhasma, ash. Bhasma can be made from gold, silver, iron, pearl and many other minerals. The pills are prepared by pounding. All preparations are made by hand, not by machine, even today.
Whatever one finds in nature is another source of medicine like herbs, roots, bark, leaves and flowers. A tree has a root, bark, a secretion, flowers and leaves. All these parts are used for making medicines, or liquid mixtures to drink. Sometimes a paste is prepared called halva. So, there are ayurvedic powders, pills, liquids and pastes.
These natural remedies are used in a raw form. Therefore, an ayurvedic doctor’s education is more in the forest than in a university. He spends years and years in the forest distinguishing each herb. That is considered to be the most important qualification of an ayurvedic doctor.
Ayurvedic doctors do not ask at all about the patient’s personal life or even examine blood or sputum – nothing. They have a simple way of diagnosis in which they must be expert. If the doctor is not an expert, he is only a pharmacist. Ayurvedic doctors will hold the patient’s hand and diagnose through the nadi. There is a nadi on the right side of the right hand and the left side of the left hand. They are directly connected with the heart and in ayurveda there is a detailed description about what the behaviour of the nadi should be in relation to a particular sickness, if one is suffering from high blood pressure, low blood pressure or depression.
It takes little time, about a minute, for an ayurvedic doctor to diagnose the nature of the disease. He will not ask, “Are you constipated?” or if you feel hungry or not, or if you take a vegetarian diet or non-vegetarian diet. Just by feeling the nadi he will say, “You are constipated.” Some of these ayurvedic doctors are extraordinary, but it takes many years to be such a fantastic person and the knower of nature.
Apart from medicine there is the system of surgery, injection and acupuncture. Acupuncture is considered to be a method of relief or first aid. The system of surgery is entirely different and can be done with the leaf of a certain tree. There are certain leaves which can cut a part of the body without causing an infection.
In India, people do not have a good opinion about the modern medical system, because it is extremely expensive and its far reaching effects are negative. People use modern medicine out of compulsion, but ayurveda and homeopathy are more respected sciences. Each village has one homeopath, because this system is inexpensive. Maybe for one Franc one can treat a disease in India. How cheap is this!
There are certain specific medicines in ayurveda: for example, for the heart, irregular menstruation, impotency, physical strength, or skin disease. There are about thirty or forty common diseases with their specific medicines which most Indians know.
26 July 1984, L’Hermitage, France