Fast Forward Backwards
By Dr Pankaj Seth
What follows below is a brief overview of Ayurvedic Medicine taken from the course calendar of the Renaissance Naturopathic Centre, Toronto, Canada. An illustrious Dr Pankaj Seth, B.Sc., N.D. (Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine) is heading the center as a director. Please see at the end of this compilation for more on Dr Seth, shown in the picture on right.
THE ART AND SCIENCE OF LIVING
Ayurveda, translated as the art and science of living is a systematic approach which utilizes all that nature provides
(foods, spices, herbal medicines, colours, metals, gems, sound) to not only overcome illness but continually strengthen oneself. Ayurveda evolved in an ancient culture which understood the human condition to be limitless;
the day to day implementation of Ayurvedic principles creates a strong body, clarity of mind and tranquillity of spirit so the individual may move closer to realizing her/his true potential. In order to further this movement the disciplines of Yoga and Tantra are allied to Ayurveda.
GENESIS AND DEVELOPMENT
Ayurveda, the oldest system of medicine in the world, traces its roots to the Vedic period in ancient India (1500 B.C.). The Rig Veda, a compilation of verse on the nature of existence, is the oldest surviving book of any Indo-European language (l500 B.C.). The Rig Veda refers to the cosmology known as Sankhya which lies at the base of
both Ayurveda and Yoga; in it are verses on the nature of health and disease, pathogenesis and principles of treatment. The Atreya Samhita is the oldest medical book in the world; it survives from Takashila University
which was operating as early as 800 B.C. The Atharva Veda (800 B.C.) lists the Eight Divisions of Ayurveda: Internal Medicine, Surgery of Head and Neck, Opthamology and Otorinolaryngology, Surgery, Toxicology, Psychiatry, Paediatrics, Gerontology or Science of Rejuvenation, and the Science of Fertility. At 500 B.C. at the university at Benares, Sushruta, a surgeon who developed the operative techniques of rhinoplasty (plastic surgery),
wrote the Sushruta Samhita which describes a highly developed surgery. In l00 A.D., the physician Charaka revised and supplemented the Atreya Samhita; the Charaka Samhita is a major work on internal medicine.
INFLUENCE ON AYURVEDA ON EAST AND WEST
By 400 A.D., Ayurvedic works were translated into Chinese; by 700 A.D., Chinese scholars were studying
medicine in India at Nalanda University. Indian thought, as well as influencing Chinese spirituality and philosophy through Buddhism, greatly influenced Chinese medicine and herbology through Ayurveda. In 800 A.D.,
Ayurvedic works were translated into Arabic. A century later, under physicians such as Avicenna and Razi Serapion, both of whom quoted Indian texts, Islamic medicine became very influential in Europe, helping to form
the foundation of the European tradition in medicine. In 16th century Europe, Paracelsus, who is known as the father of modern Western medicine, practiced and propagated a system of medicine which borrowed heavily from
In the modern world, Ayurveda is increasingly popular because it speaks to those elementary concepts of:
(1) contact with nature
(2) holism, and
(3) we are what we eat.
Ayurveda forms an integral part of the daily regimen of hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Its principles are utilized not only to treat persons who are ill but also to prepare a balanced meal and to construct a harmonious environment. Ayurveda brings to life the concepts of preventive health care and health promotion. The goal of Ayurveda is to help the individual discover a personal knowledge of living.
At present, most of us no longer know how to maintain our own health and are either actively or passively participating in the destruction of the Earth. We have been taught to maintain the structure of a society that
values the acquisition of wealth above all else. This path continues to separate us from each other and from everything within nature. Many of us have decided to reject this and are envisioning a worldview that
acknowledges human needs other than wealth. The Vedic view is that the human condition is limitless: We have a deep desire to realize unity with nature and divinity within ourselves. Ayurveda is the knowledge of what
nature in her generosity provides. Yoga and Tantra deepen our knowledge of who and what we are within nature.
Yoga, which means union , is an approach which brings together the disparate elements within a human being; Yoga is not just body postures but anything which serves to unify the individual into a whole. Within us all there are different motivations, desires and goals which are contradictory to each other; every circumstance brings forth courage and fear, prospects of pleasure and pain, judgments of good and bad. Our actions do not satisfy all the different needs and desires that exist within; whatever is left unsatisfied expresses itself through the body/ mind as illness. The path of Yoga calls for an intense awareness of mind and body so that our actions arise from the totality of who and what we are. A yogi aspires to incorporate elements generally unavailable to conscious awareness, into
her/his daily life.
Tantra is a systematic approach to dissolve personal limitations. As our limitations have intimately to do with our notions of good and bad, real and unreal, the Tantric approach is to continually redefine personal
reality. A Tantric is a person for whom the removal of limitations is more compelling than the maintenance of any given personal reality, no matter how pleasant or beautiful it may be. Tantra is the path of freedom:
The Tantric aspires to recognize the unity of the Human with the Divine.
AYURVEDA – BASIC CONCEPTS
A 1500 B.C. Rig Veda hymn to the plants says this:
“Plants, which as receptacles of light were born
three ages before the Gods,
I honor your myriad colors and
your seven hundred natures.
A hundred, oh Mothers, are your natures
and thousand are your growths.
May you of a hundred powers make
whole what has been hurt.”
The linking of the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (knowledge) aptly describes the essence of this ancient Indian system of medicine. The foundations of Ayurveda lie in the meticulous observation skills of the ancients. They observed and recorded the relationship between themselves and their environment and in the millennia that followed a distinct clinical system was formulated. An Ayurvedic physician utilizes her/his observation skills to not only diagnose patterns of imbalance but also to determine the constitution of the individual and hence is able to deduce
inherent strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. An Ayurvedic physician is trained in the use of diet, cooking, yoga, breath-work, meditation and a vast pharmacopoeia in order to help the individual achieve balance.
Ayurveda not only treats persons who are ill but brings to life the concepts of preventive health care and health promotion. The goal of Ayurveda is to help each person discover a personal knowledge of living.
AYURVEDIC DEFINITION OF HEALTH
In Ayurvedic medicine, health is defined as soundness of body (shrira), mind (manas) and Self (atman). Each of these must be nurtured if the individual is to create health. Ayurveda offers a holistic approach based
upon the understanding that no single agent by itself causes disease or brings health.
Ayurveda views the person as a composite of 3 forces:
VATA -- The force symbolized by AIR
PITTA -- The force symbolized by FIRE
KAPHA -- The force symbolized by WATER
The quality and the relative balance of these forces determines health and disease. When these forces act harmoniously, the functions of digestion, absorption and elimination (physically & mentally) create health. As these
3 forces are responsible for specific areas of body/mind function, the symptoms of imbalance indicate which of these forces is deficient or excessive.
The concept of constitution (prakriti) is central to Ayurveda. Individuals are comprised of the 3 forces (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) in unique combinations so that no 2 persons are alike. The constitutional determination provides insight into the deeper workings of an individual. With this it is possible to become aware of the foods, spices, herbal medicines, emotions, thoughts, climates, colours, activities and so on that tend to either balance or unbalance a particular individual and to either improve or aggravate various types of illness. Furthermore, it is possible to outline the disease tendencies of the different constitutions so that a preventive lifestyle may be observed; also, health promotion for individuals of different constitutions can follow a rational, time tested approach
utilizing all that nature provides.
A disease will manifest in different constitutions in different ways. An individual with a predominantly Vata constitution will experience symptoms that are different than those for Pitta or Kapha, even though they all have
been diagnosed with the same disease . Constitutional treatment of the individual is a priority since the constitution is fundamental to health and illness.
MORE ABOUT Dr. PANKAJ SETH
Dr Seth was born in India and came to Canada at ten years of age. Along with a B.Sc. (hons.) degree in Molecular Genetics from York University, he is a graduate of the 5000 hours Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program at the Canadian College Naturopathic Medicine (Toronto).
Pankaj Seth has over 3500 hours of lecturing experience and 2500 hours of experience as Clinic Supervisor in the teaching clinic of the Canadian School of Eastern Medicine (Toronto), where he trained practitioners of Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture.
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