Having passed the stage of ACCEPTANCE, the next part would be to understand and carry out the process of UNLEARNING. This is a purge of all that we have come to know and understand about ourself and our surroundings. Right or wrong, correct or incorrect, it does not matter but the process of unlearning helps us to start on a clean slate or life.
Unlearning is a process where we can learn to give up and let go of pet theories, pre-conceived ideas, imaginings, wishful thinking, fantasies, myth, popular belief and etc. The above are all detrimental and destructive to understanding and accepting how various natural laws function and work.
We are all unique so we all need our own set of rules and laws.
As we saw in Part 1 of this blog a significant change has occurred in the way Ayurveda is taught and practiced in modern times. Part 2 of this blog explains why this has happened.
First it is important to understand the Indian or Hindu mind and secondly how modern history has affected the culture and thinking of this nation.
There is no difference in the Hindu/Buddhist mind between religion and spirituality. They are the same but it is understood there are different levels of understanding, growth and evolution. As discussed in Part 1 the Indian mind is subtle and symbolic rather than literal. This has resulted in many misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
Hinduism allows worship from the lowest to highest forms. Traditionally Ayurveda is nothing but reflections of various concepts from the Hindu / Buddhist religion. As we have already seen Modern Ayurveda is secular and it sees Ayurveda as a system of medicine.
Ayurveda, though introduced and codified in India, has spread its roots worldwide. Greek traders took the concept to Greece and developed Unani, a system of medicine based on Ayurvedic principles. Buddhist monks introduced Ayurveda and martial arts to Tibet and South East Asia and China.
Silambam – Indian martial arts for self defence
From here evolved the Thai version of ‘Ayurved’ or Thai Traditional Herbal Medicine and Thai Traditional Massage, and in China Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and widely known arts such as Kung-Fu. Acupuncture was part of traditional Ayurveda also, known as ‘suchi veda’, the science of piercing or spearing, but is no longer practiced in Ayurveda.
Traditional Chinese Medicine – Yin & Yang
Over the years, from the principles of Ayurveda, there arose in these other parts of the world very distinct and unique local systems of healing. Today many have forgotten their timeless and ancient roots. This is for many reasons but primarily those of politics, commercial gain, racial pride or ignorance. Ironically, in the West systems such as Traditional Chinese Medicine are more widely recognised than Ayurveda, the mother or root from where such systems originated.
Ayurveda in India lost the patronage it enjoyed under Hindu/Buddhist rule due to the occupation of the Muslims and the British over an almost 1000 year period. Some parts of the tradition were no longer accepted under the new rulers so the continuity of the system was virtually destroyed and forced underground.
When India regained its independence the Indian government made all efforts to reintroduce all things ‘Indian’ and Ayurveda was one of them.
Sadly however, the original concept of Ayurveda as a system of Yoga was unable to be reintroduced in its original form.
This is because traditionally, the system was based on the Gurukulam or Hermitage where young students lived and studied with the teacher and family as a student and child of that family.
The fundamental practice and line of study was spirituality based on Sanatana Dharma (eternal truth or Hinduism). A similar practice existed with Indian Buddhist students in later times.
However, modern independent India as a secular state did not sponsor the traditional system due to politics.
Indian Christians and Muslims could not fit into this traditional Yogic system due to their views on religion and life. Because of this a system similar to allopathy was introduced using certain aspects of Ayurvedic treatment but missing out on the core of Ayurveda, that is first concerned with the individual as a whole and not just the disease.
This explains why Ayurveda is practised so differently today.
So the India of classical or traditional Ayurveda and the India of today can be seen to be very different. India is not the land many people of the western world think it to be.
It was a land of the wise and of the learned and of the realized but maybe a thousand years ago!
Having almost lost its character and culture, the bulk of the people today no longer see themselves as spiritual beings first and body and mind second. For the past 1000 years they have been ruled by foreigners who have introduced much of their values and ideas and mostly forcefully. Many became even embarrassed of their culture due to the opinion of the colonial rulers who saw these traditions as uncivilised. Much of their own traditions and culture and arts were denied them.
Long before that, they have already become weak and splintered into hundreds of minor states and further weakened by infighting.
Today the the majority of the Indians no longer understand nor appreciate many things Indian, especially those of the esoteric and of the spiritual. Many are stuck with the crudest form of worship, bordering on idolatry.
Many do not know anything about the true meaning of Yoga nor of subtle sciences such as Ayurveda. All of such, if practiced is in its basic form or a part only. But yet when approached, they talk as though they are the wisest of the wise. Because they are aware of their ancient roots, they feel that they qualify automatically or by default!
Focusing only on symptoms and the treatment of disease is something many people are becoming increasingly wary of today.
This has been the approach of Modern Conventional medicine or Allopathy and now those in India seem to have taken up what the Western culture has already wearied of!
This is indeed an irony as it is the Indians who first introduced that concept of total well-being and the principles of Holistic and total living. Living as a Whole in total harmony with nature is what Holistic Living is about and this eventually will lead to deeper spiritual realization.
So how do the Traditional and Modern approaches to Ayurveda relate to Yoga?
Again a clear understanding of Yoga is needed here. Yoga is the Whole, where All is One and One is All. Remembering the Wave (the body and mind) is never separate from the Ocean (Truth or Yoga).
This is the goal and purpose of Traditional Ayurveda as with all Yogic systems or paths.
The word Ayur-Veda specifically means the “Science or Knowledge of Life or Longevity”.
In other words, it means ‘how we are to live and manage our life’. An appropriate term to describe Ayur-Veda is ‘The Yoga of Life’.
It is a system that – when correctly understood, applied and practiced – leads one to Yoga, our ultimate goal or Dharma. It is a wholly Spiritual system and discipline.
Teacher imparting knowledge to students
At Ancient’s Best our focus is classical/traditional and there some differences between what we practice and the modern approach of Ayurveda.
This article is to expand and explain how and why things have changed today and what the meaning of ‘Traditional’ really is. The first part explains what traditional actually means and how Ayurveda was practised and how we still practice it at Ancient’s Best. The second part of the article looks at why things have changed so much over the years.
This explanation is very important as the word ‘Traditional’ is very commonly and incorrectly used thus confusing many people not the least Ayurvedic Practitioners!
Modern Ayurveda is allopathic in its approach and is secular rather than religious or spiritual.
The role of modern Ayurveda is that of a system of alternative medicine that treats diseases and the symptoms of diseases. The only real difference to modern medicine is that natural approaches such as herbs and massage are used rather than chemical drugs. But the focus is still on treating the disease. The principles and philosophy of Ayurveda are not the key or essence in this modern system, but rather a topic to be studied in a theoretical sense.
Modern Ayurvedic Doctors address and see themselves as Doctors and go through a five year (or longer) disciplinary program at University and study most of what a Modern-day Doctor has to study, in addition to some aspects of Ayurvedic Philosophy and principles.
Classically, Ayurveda also looked at the management of disease and symptoms but this was only an aspect or more secondary approach to working with an individual. It was never the primary focus. Today modern Ayurveda focuses almost completely on this aspect, with the spiritual focus greatly or completely diminished.
To most, the two approaches, traditional and modern, are thought to be the same, even to those who are practicing this Science of Life!
Many of these modern Ayurvedic Doctors may indeed have ancestors that followed the traditions closely. In fact when people in India talk about tradition (Sampradya in Sanskrit and Paramparai in Tamil), it could mean they have a lineage of forefathers who have followed a particular and Ancient discipline or practice of Yoga, Ayurveda or Tantric rituals.
The student could claim to be Traditional if he or she has undertaken to practice the similar science as handed down to him or her by his or her forefathers. But how can one claim a particular tradition if one has chosen to study Ayurveda in a University and become an Ayurvedic Doctor rather than follow the path of his or her elders?
Another factor that confuses is that some treatment centres in India have been around for many years and they may even be quite strict in terms of their use of food, herbs, exercise etc. They use the terms Authentic and Traditional but the difference again is the approach being one of disease treatment rather than total treatment. Modern Ayurveda is still symptomatic in its focus.
Classical or Traditional Ayurveda is not well understood today. This is not just in the West but especially so in India.
Classical Ayurveda focuses on the subtle or underlying disturbances in an individual rather than the symptoms or characteristics they are exhibiting. These are the root causes of any problems manifest now or still on the way.
Identifying the root cause cannot be achieved by modern diagnostic approaches ,and in fact the mind or intellect must be suspended by one well versed in spiritual practice and who can be free of Ego, conditioned thoughts, and preconceived ideas.
These qualities cannot and are not taught in modern day colleges of higher learning and take a different level of discipline and practice to master.
Another problem in modern times relates to using characterisation to determine subtle disturbance (termed ‘Dosha’) from personality or physical characteristics.
This has led to many cases of misdiagnosis (both by students and practitioners) and therefore incorrect and inappropriate treatment. A lot of this harks back to misinterpretation and incorrect translation of Indian texts which are symbolic and subtle in their meaning rather than literal. These mistakes in interpretation have become ‘facts’ as they are constantly repeated and printed in numerous books and websites.
Of course it is a lot easier to identify and work on symptoms than to work traditionally!
Firstly, symptoms are already apparent and can be seen and accepted. The subtle is much more difficult to appreciate or sense and the problem may still be ‘on the way’ rather than manifest so far less urgent to the minds of many patients and therapists. They may even doubt any such disturbance exists as they can’t yet ‘see it’.
Secondly, any symptomatic treatment is likely to give some immediate relief and this is welcomed and gives comfort to the one suffering. It may appear the problem has gone, at least temporarily, and it is no longer disturbing our life in the same way. We don’t need to think about it until such time we get sick again.
Thirdly most symptomatic treatments don’t require major changes in lifestyle, thinking, or habits, all of which take discipline, responsibility, effort and time.
This is not just true for the student/patient but especially so for the practitioner who must guide, confront, direct, and continually educate and challenge the patient/student they are working with.
This takes an enormous amount of time and energy as we aren’t just trying to overcome the disturbances themselves, but more importantly, trying to adjust routines and attitudes that may be stubbornly and deeply entrenched. And the mind is ever ready to resist change, to doubt, and to sabotage all efforts.
Traditional Ayurveda is, at the end of the day, often a battle with Ego, and it takes an evolved student to realise this and have the patience to persevere, to grow, and to have faith in the practitioner, in themselves, and ultimately in the Self that is all.
The traditional and spiritual path appears a much harder road to travel and yet it is the road we are all on whether we realise it or not. Ignorance of this is why we suffer in the first place and this is the real tragedy and sickness of our modern world.
So where has this shift in approach and thinking occurred and why? We will address this in the second part of this short article as a separate blog post.
Food is Medicine and Medicine is Food! Healthy food becomes healthy provided it is correct, compatible, suitable etc for each individual. This is for the simple reason that each and every one of us are uniquely different and therefore need to have our own personalised daily life-style activities starting with food. This is Ayurveda; the knowledge of living our life correctly according to our own constitution (prakriti/vikriti). What suits one need not have to suit the other!
Ayurveda, ‘the Yoga of Life’, where the body and mind is understood and then used as a means or instrument to attain Self-Realization, sadly is not for everyone.
This is not a statement of arrogance or exclusivity but is based on individual evolution and Karma.
The one who is ready now is spiritually evolved, able to think differently, and ready to take responsibility.
Teacher sharing with students
The primary function of Ayurveda and all other Yogic sciences are for the sole purpose of becoming One with the Ocean (attaining Yoga or Self-Realization). However for a long time these practices have seen a decline in quality, in that many have gone for the substance and overlooked or forgotten the essence.
A number of reasons could be attributed to this unfortunate situation:
1. The people who profess to be practitioners or teachers of these Yogic sciences are themselves not correctly trained in the subtler or spiritual values or the primary purposes of these practices.
This then comes to the state of the ‘blind-leading-the-blind’.
This means that an error in interpretation or translation carried out some time earlier by some ‘authority’ is not corrected but used as ‘authoritative works’ and creates a mockery of the system.
There are countless such errors and interpolations that are not known or realised. The qualities and values are therefore lost and/or compromised. So where and how are we going to get teachers and practitioners of the right caliber!
A number of senior teachers in the East and the West, in the past and the present, have introduced variations of the practices and when popular, classified these as specially introduced methods and popularised and marketed these as such. This is where the Essence got lost and the Substance took precedence. The primary cause of this ignorance can be attributed to such teachers.
2. People being terrified or fearful of the mention of the terms Spirituality or God or Religion!
Little effort is made to understand any of these terms but instead they are immediately condemned as ‘dangerous’. This we understand has come about by the incorrect understanding of the concept of ‘God’ which has been misinterpreted purposefully by certain vested parties of the Church or Temples. Within this group, God and the Church have taken on a meaning and purpose that was never meant to be but have become used and manipulated for power and control.
Today students and teachers openly claim that Yoga and related sciences are not religious or spiritual. If the primary purpose or intention of these sciences is not understood or is denied how can anyone benefit fully or wholly from these? Dropping the Essence and hanging on the Substance has become the mainstream practice or style for Yoga and it’s sister sciences.
Even saying all this, no-one will deny or find it incorrect to enjoy the benefits of the Substance as these are, to our knowledge, just the side-effects but not the purpose of correct practices. However, the full benefits of the practice can only become manifest and meaningful if the correct meaning and purpose is recognised and respected and put to practice. For this we need genuine and correctly trained and experienced teachers or ‘Aasans’.
3. The ignorance of the purpose of life and of the various natural laws that govern us are the other important reasons why the ‘Essence has been lost to the Substance’.
In our ignorance we remain stuck as the Wave and suffer all the limitations, fears and arrogance that our belief of being ‘the doer’ deludes us into believing.
The primary issue with Ignorance is that is causes us Suffering of all sorts and degree. One who is in pain and in anguish surely would not be in a position to be calm and composed. Similarly one does not talk philosophy or spirituality to a person who is starving but feed him first and the rest will follow naturally.
Instead of focusing on Suffering, it would make a lot more sense if we made all efforts to overcome Ignorance through Knowledge. Knowledge frees, unburdens and enlightens. It shows us the cause of suffering and shows us the way to overcome suffering.
So for whom is the traditional form of Ayurveda, the science that shows us the way and means to remove suffering?
It is for those who are ready to take charge of their life.
It is for those who are responsible and ready to live a disciplined and regulated life based on the natural laws that govern our bodies and minds.
It is for those who are able to listen and abide by wise consul.
It is for those who are able to take responsibility for themselves and to show compassion towards others, and those who are able to put aside preconceived beliefs, limiting fears and notions.
It is for those who realize we all have much to learn and that whatever path we take, we are and have always been One with the Ocean.
Our Ayurvedic Formulas are compounded from many different finely powdered and ground herbs to not only provide those tastes that are deficient in the individual but also very importantly to assist in the detoxification process, and provide concentrated nutrition.
Such herbal formulas work to correct and remove excess Dosha and toxins. Usually one to two months initial supply will be compounded but the duration of consumption will depend on how quickly the excess Dosha move away from your systems.
Subsequent formulations, if required, may be compounded differently as the Dosha will move. All such compounds are made especially to suit each individual. All herbs are whole (not extracts), pure, and processed in powder form, and are a very pure source of nutrition as well as detoxifying agents. They contain no additives or preservatives and so must be kept airtight, refrigerated and dry.
More than 100 different traditional herbs are sourced, and formulations are complex, based on traditional knowledge of Ayurvedic pharmacology. Today many Ayurvedic herbal formulations tend to consist of single herbs or simple herbal combinations, and are primarily used for symptomatic treatments.
A classical formulation such as ours contains herbs that not only pacify the aggravated Dosha but that work synergistically to help with the digestion and assimilation of the herbs, as well as having carminative functions and assisting in the breakdown and elimination of toxins. Instead of one herb having one function there will be a number with similar functions and this is understood to give greater potency and effectiveness to the formulation. The qualities of a single herb no longer acts singly when in a synergy with many other herbs as in a formula.
The cost of the formulations reflects the time, effort and knowledge that goes into sourcing the ingredients, and preparing the formulations so we can support our clients/students. Herbs are purchased in small quantities to ensure freshness and kept refrigerated and vacuum sealed to protect their freshness and prevent contamination.
Below is a short video that shows the mixing of a Dosha Pacifying formula ready to consume. Although the herbs don’t taste very nice it is very important to taste them as this a key aspect in the digestive process.
A question was raised during a discussion on Lifestyle about returning to one’s Prakriti from Vikriti. The question was “Why, if we are born with Dosha (disturbance), do we work through short term correction and treatment, dietetics and lifestyle to return home to that already disturbed state?”
Prakriti is our unique constitution that we are born with. That which is fixed and unchanged. This Prakriti assumes its qualities from the special combination of the 5 great elements, and is determined by the Laws of Karma. This special combination gives rise to a condition, termed ‘Dosha’. This term means that which is disturbed, corrupted or even putrefied, depending on the degree of the ‘Dosha’.
Many seem to be confused with the idea that one could be ‘born with a disturbance’ even though they may not have had any kind of symptoms of disturbances or disease at the time of birth! Just because one does not display or express any symptoms of any diseases it does not mean they are healthy or free of any disturbance. So long as we have this Dosha we have to be reminded of the potentials of disturbances arising at any time. This however is dependent on our Lifestyle to some extent and to Karma to a greater extent.
Vikriti is the present state, which often times indicates disturbances which have become further disturbed and may even be expressing some symptoms of some disease. This Vikriti may or may not be the same as the Prakriti; meaning one may have Pitta as their Prakriti but Vikriti could be Pitta or any of the other two Dosha, Vata or Kapha.
The process of Ayurvedic correction and restoration would restore one to their natural state of Prakriti, irrespective of its condition or situation. We must bear in mind that we are born with certain unique qualities which has given rise to a Dosha. These qualities are necessary for our body and mind to be used effectively by Karma.
However if our Prakriti is disturbed to an extent it has been causing some problems, then this Dosha has to be kept pacified with correct Lifestyle management and corrective treatment processes. We would not be able to change or modify this disturbed Prakriti but we could to some extent keep that Dosha pacified and controlled so as to live a life reasonably free of disease and stress. This would then improve the quality of our life and allow us to focus on the purpose of our birth.
All that is matter consists of the five great elements – space, wind, fire, water, earth
Dosha can be translated to mean disturbance, fault, or corruption. They are expressions of and derived from the Five Great Elements (space, wind, fire, water, earth). They form the Tri-Dosha of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Dosha are not Characteristics or Body-Types as often thought.
Dosha translates as ‘disturbance’
Everyone is born with Dosha, however each combination is uniquely different and depending on the degree of disturbance it could affect each individual either positively or negatively.
Dosha are energies that carry out the body’s physiological and psychological functions, for example Vata controls all that moves, Pitta manages transformation, and Kapha provides the structure of the physical body. We (and all that is matter) consist of the five elements and hence the three Dosha.
Although we are talking here of three Dosha there are actually as many Dosha as there are people in the world! This is because every combination will be distinctive and unique. Two people with a predominant Pitta Dosha for example, will still be distinctively different from each other. The method to determine this degree of difference is through Ayurvedic pulse diagnosis (Nadi Parikshai).
No matter what combination of Dosha we have, if we understand the body and mind as an instrument of karma and therefore accept and recognise that it has a purpose in allowing us to fulfill our dharma, then whatever we experience will naturally be accepted and directed positively.
Firstly those wanting to study or understand this subject matter need to know that this is not some otherworldly or psychic or mind-reading or magic! It is a science and an art, put together, that could be learned, understood and put to practice, so long as one follows the correct path or way to do this. It can be ‘rocket science ‘ for the uninitiated but for the initiated, it is knowledge understood and experienced.
Keep things in their own place and perspectives. One does not keep the shoes they have just used walking around outside in the refrigerator nor do we store food in the shoe cupboard. What is of the body is of the body and what is of the mind is of the mind. For example the body can only move at a particular pace with its own instruments but the mind can travel thousands of kilometres in a second! Another example is that the hunger experienced in a dream-state cannot be appeased by eating after waking up (or vice versa). So keep things where they should be, as this is the first of lessons.
We all experience regularly different degrees of the gross and of the subtle but the more we are aware of the differences the sooner knowledge will become manifest. Utilising the gross to understand and experience the gross and using the subtle to understand and experience the subtle is the key to understanding not only Ayurvedic Pulse reading but all other sciences of the Ancients.
The purpose of this reading is to recognise and interpret the flow of Prana throughout the body and mind so as to understand the physiological and psychologic state of that body and mind. Where Prana flows freely, there would be vibrant health and stability but if blocked for whatever reason or purpose, it means dis-ease or death.
Using the radial artery as a point of reference and evaluation, the status of Prana flowing through the 3 Dosha can be realised and accessed. Do take note that the pulse one usually feels is that of the beat of the heart. As we have only one heart, the pulse should be one too. This is when the gross is used to identify the gross. However if the same is carried out by using the subtle to read and access the pulse, then more than one reading can be realised.
What is this gross reading the gross and the subtle reading the subtle! One who is in the 3 dimensional world can experience the 1st and 2nd dimensions as well but not the 4th or beyond. So one has to be at that particular dimension to experience that dimension.
Prana is considered to be the subtlest of the subtle and in order to understand and experience this, one has to be in that state too. It is the degree and rate of flow of Prana through the radial artery that we need to experience.
How can one be in a state of the subtle and yet be conscious? This is what correct meditation practice offers. Being able to hold on to the total single pointed concentration for an extended period of time will help arrest thoughts. When there is no-thought then there is no-mind. When there is no-mind then there is no-ego too. This is the stage where we experience ourselves as the ‘ocean’ and no longer the ‘wave’. This is the stage we need to prepare ourselves to be in before we can begin the practise of pulse reading. One can begin to then ‘read’ the pulse or naadi.
What are the qualifications needed by an aspirant/student to recognise, read and interpret the various beats or the flow of Prana in order to define Prakriti and Vikriti?
1. Have a strong personal spiritual practice.
2. Be able to quickly experience total single-pointed concentration.
3. When at the stage of no-thoughts, then one can begin to start the subtle dialogue between the student and teacher or practitioner.
4. Subtle is then able to communicate with the subtle through the medium of the fingers of the practitioner and the rate of flow of Prana of the student or patient.
5. Ensure ones attitude, intent and purpose are all correct before embarking on this act of pulse reading.
An important factor to consider in Ayurveda is the natural law of Karma, that is, “for every action there is an opposite reaction” or “for every cause there is an effect”. This can be compared to Newton’s Third Law of motion.
An analogy that can be used is that of the arrow leaving the bow, once strung and released the arrow cannot return, it must exhaust its potential energy. Similarly, if we throw a ball against a wall it will bounce back. However, the angle and speed and distance it travels will relate to what the ball is made of, the surface of the wall, the angle it was thrown, the strength used, and so on.
Karma is often misunderstood as people tend to apply judgment to it or label it as good or bad. There is no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ Karma! It is our reaction to a situation that deems it good or bad, not the situation itself. Karma is a natural law just like gravity. Such laws are unbiased. Do we call gravity good or bad!
Knowing and realising that Karma is a natural law, we come to understand why we are born the way we are, whether born stable or disturbed.
We see that all that happens has a cause even if we cannot recall when or what it is – as not all effects happen immediately. They need the right conditions to manifest.
This understanding allows us to accept our situation as it is and realise we were born with this unique body and mind as an instrument in order to experience our karmic obligations in a certain way.
The science of Ayurveda teaches us how to manage our unique constitution so we are able to be as stable and comfortable as possible and have the discipline to maintain this stability and live in the “NOW”. This ‘living in the now’ ensures that we are abiding by the law of Karma.