What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda literally means "Knowledge of life". The careful, critical and unbiased study of the classical Ayurveda texts show that by the time Samhita-granthas were compiled, the Science and Art of Ayurveda had already passed through the stage of specialization and, knowledge flowing from different specialized fields of medicine and allied sciences generalized, simplified and principles enunciated. Thus, Ayurveda is referred as Science and Art of life. The practice of Ayurveda as a form of medicine dates back to 3000 BC.
Source of Ayurveda
Out of the four vedas – Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda - physicians owe their loyalty to the Atharva Veda because this deals with the treatment of diseases by resorting to various practices like sacrifices, prayers, and chants, charity, moral discipline, the atonement of sins, austere practices like fasts, etc. These are advocated for treatment as well as for living a healthy, long life. Thus,it is sourced as Upaveda from Atharva veda.(Cha.Su.30/21)
What is Ayu?
Ayu (life) implies the conjunction of physical body, senses, mind and soul and is known by the synonym dhari (that which sustains), jivita (that which is live), nityaga (that which is in continuum), and anubandha (that which is interdependent, or a link between past life and the future life).(Cha.Su.1/42)
Thus Ayu means the anuvritti (continuity) of chetana (consciousness) i.e., chetananuvritti, being alive (jeevita), bonding with the body (anubandha) and sustenance of life (dhari).(Cha.Su.30/22).
Life is not merely the existence of machine like physical structure of body. The conscious interaction of soul, mind and sense organs makes it live. Therefore these are essential components of Ayurvedic biology of human beings.
Scope of Ayurveda
Ayurveda is the source of knowledge that teaches about or deals with Ayu. Through its virtues, it imparts the knowledge of joy and suffering, benefit and harm, and authentic/authoritative and unauthentic/unreliable (sources of information). It also informs about the lifespan and substances with properties and actions that result in the same. This is dealt with in the entire text of Charak Samhita at various appropriate contexts.(Cha.Su.30/23)
Thus, Ayurveda deals with good, bad, bliss and sorrow in life, and with (what is) wholesome and unwholesome for it, longevity, and about what Ayu (life) is in itself.(Cha.Su.1/41)
Benefits of following Ayurveda-good life
The following are characteristics of happy and healthy life. These are indeed benefits of following Ayurveda.
People whose body and mind are disease-free, and those who are endowed with youth, enthusiasm, strength, virility, reputation, manliness, courage, knowledge of arts and sciences, healthy senses, objects of sensory perceptions, ability of the sensory organs, riches and various luxurious articles for enjoyment, and who can achieve whatever they want and think about wellness can enjoy a happy life. The people with opposite characteristics have sad life. Those who are the well-wishers of all beings, who do not wish to take other's wealth, who are truthful, peace loving, who are thoughtful before taking action, who are vigilant, who experience the three important objectives of life (righteousness, wealth and desire) without one affecting the other, who respect superiors, who are endowed with the knowledge of arts, sciences and tranquility, who serve the elders, who have full control over lust, anger, envy, arrogance and pride, who constantly indulge in various types of charity, meditation, acquisition of knowledge and quiet life (solitude), who have full spiritual knowledge and are devoted to it, who work both for the present as well as for the next life, and are endowed with memory and intelligence lead a useful rather beneficial life, while others don't. (Cha.Su.30/24)
The above are clinical parameters of good quality of life.
Signs of decrease in lifespan
The decrease of lifespan is signaled by various abnormal changes in the sensory perception, objects of perception, mind, intellect, and movement. These signals help in predicting the remaining lifespan and death of an individual at a particular moment. Svabhava(return to the natural state), uparama of pravritti (cessation of all activities), marana (death), anityata (temporary state) nirodha (restriction in the continuation of life)- all these are synonymous with death. In the absence of such signs and symptoms, the life span is to be determined as unlimited from the prognostic point of view. In Ayurveda, life span is determined by the characteristics of natural constitution.(Cha.Su.30/25)
Objective of Ayurveda
The prime objectives of this science is to preserve the health of the healthy and cure the disease of the unhealthy.(Cha.Su.30/26) Thus Ayurveda focuses on preservation and promotion of health at first and then management of diseases.
Authenticity and eternal qualities of Ayurveda
Ayurveda is eternal because of the following: It has no beginning; its characteristics are self-evident, and those of things dealt with it are eternal. It has been seen that Ayu (the combination of body, its organs, mind, and soul) and intelligence about Ayu (knowledge about Ayu) are perpetual. Hence Ayu and its knowledge (i.e. Ayurveda) have been eternal. The knower becomes eternal after knowing Ayurveda. Concepts such as happiness and suffering (i.e., health and illness), therapeutics and pathogens, etc. - their causes, signs, and perpetuation are all eternal. This is what is described in Ayurveda.(Cha.Su.30/27) It is observed in clinical practice that the principles described in Ayurveda texts are universal, time tested and stand true on scientific validation tests. For example Samanya Vishesha siddhanta is applicable universally with immense importance.
The texts Charak Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Ashtang Hridayam are three major samhitas (compendiums) of Ayurveda.
Eight specialties of Ayurveda
There are eight main branches of Ayurveda:(Cha.Su.30/28)
- Kayachikitsa (Internal Medicine)
- Shalakya (Otorhinolaryngology (ENT) + Ophthalmology)
- Shalya (Surgery)
- Visha gara vairodhika prashamana or Agada tantra (Toxicology)
- Bhutavidya (Psychiatry)
- Kaumarbhrityakam ( Gynecology, Obstetrics and Pediatrics)
- Rasayanam (Science of rejuvenation) and
- Vajikaranam (Science of sexual health and aphrodisiac).
The details about these specialties are given in context of Chikitsa Sthana.
At present, Ayurveda is taught as an under-graduate medical course governed by [Council of Indian Medicine] under [of AYUSH, Government of India]. There are 339 colleges to conduct Bachelor of Ayurveda Medicine and Surgery (B.A.M.S.) course in India. Various National and International Institutes conduct post graduation courses and Ph.D. programs for super-specialization in fourteen departments of Ayurveda. Some of the important institutes are enlisted below :
- Institute for Post Graduate Teaching and Research in Ayurveda, Gujarat Ayurved University, Jamnagar,India
- National Institute of Ayurveda, Jaipur,India
- Faculty of Ayurveda, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India
- All India Institute of Ayurveda, New Delhi
The list of institutes that conduct above courses can be found here.
- Dwarakanath C. Preface to Introduction to Kayachikitsa. Chaukhambha Orientalia;1996.Third Edition;Varanasi.
- Pandey Deep Narayan , Pandey Neha Prakash. Universal significance of the principle of Samanya and Vishesha beyond Ayurveda.Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine.2018;9(4),308-311. available online from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0975947617305727