Essential Ayurveda

Dr. P. Ram Manohar


The author is a well-known exponent of Ayurveda and the director of Research at the AVT Institute for Advanced Research, a division of Arya Vaidya Pharmacy, Coimbatore. This essay on the foundations of Ayurveda is reproduced with his permission.


Ayurveda tells us that life is a journey and a long one indeed. Body is only the vehicle, which we use to travel. Life is not a simple journey, but an adventurous one too, the final destination of which we have to discover and reach by selecting a most suitable route… Death is only a pause to change the vehicle, leave one body and enter another. Life’s journey is so long that the vehicle wears out before the destination is reached. Several bodies, which means, several lifetimes, are required to complete it.... Ayurveda advises how to make best use of our body to travel forward in life. How to discover the final destination, how to select a most suitable route and how to ensure one gets connecting vehicles are all part and parcel of Ayurvedic knowledge that helps us to organize our lives.”


Perspectival backdrop

Ayurveda, the health care system indigenous to India, has an impressive evolutionary history that spans a period of many thousands of years. With the advent of biomedicine, Ayurveda was relegated to the background and there was a time when it looked as though the final word had been said about it. Recently, Ayurveda is getting worldwide attention albeit the nature of the role it can play in contemporary health care scenario is not well defined.

Many still feel that Ayurveda should rest in the annals of history or contend that Ayurveda is a living museum and a promising field for anthropological inquiry. For ethnopharmacologists, Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia is a rich source of information that can facilitate drug development from natural sources. There are people who for whom Ayurveda can function in the area of Primary Health Care or as a Medical specialty or even as an independent medical system. For many thinkers, Ayurveda is part of an outdated world view common to cultures of the European and Mid-East Arabian antiquity, but which is still alive in Asian cultures that was exposed to modern science only recently.

There is a viewpoint that progressive research in world health care must include a consideration to early medico-philosophical ideas. Indeed, ancient Ayurvedic thinking might as well provide metaphors that encapsulate templates to organize information on knowledge of life, health and disease from varied sources. However, the fact that Ayurveda still caters to basic health care needs of a significant number of people, especially in areas where modern medicine failed to offer solutions, seems to be the major impetus behind the resurgence of Ayurveda in our times.

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Ayurveda - general profile

By definition, Ayurveda is the knowledge of life.

In the first place, Ayurveda gives us an understanding of what life is. Reminding us of the transient nature of life, this body of knowledge encourages us to discover our life span i.e., to take stock of the time at our disposal. By making us aware of factors favorable and unfavorable to sustain the life process, Ayurveda gives us guidelines to carve an individualized regimen to live one’s life to the full potential. Ayurveda admits that achievement of personal happiness is a major goal of life. But it points out that fulfillment in life comes only when achievement of personal happiness does not conflict with communal happiness but also promotes it.

Mythological Profile

Ayurvedic literature has been decorated with mythological stories, which ascribe extra human or divine origins to this knowledge system. Few variations are available on the mythological origins of Ayurveda. The most popular mythological story on the origin of Ayurveda is that Lord brahmaa who taught it to prajApati, who in turn passed it to azwinIs from whom indra learnt it and transmitted it to the human beings, recollected this knowledge from memory.

These mythological accounts according to many scholars speak of the rigidity that Ayurveda acquired in the flow of time, which arrested its further progress and development. Attributing divine origin to Ayurveda worked as a powerful contrivance to discourage questioning and inquiry while it promoted blind worship of authority. The intelligent person finds the mythological stories on the origin of Ayurveda quite amusing indeed.

Serious aspirants of Ayurveda have discovered that such stories are symbolic and when demystified, convey profound insights on the process of knowledge building. indra, for instance, is known as the thousand eyed and represents a powerful state of consciousness, which is attained by rigorous discipline. Another of indra’s names indicates this, the performer of a hundred sacrifices. Thus, mythological accounts only indicate that rigorous training is required to experience the knowledge of Ayurveda and they are in no way opposed to open inquiry of truth. The discipline of mind that Ayurveda demands can be aptly termed as tapas. tapas literally heats up and transforms the mind. It awakens not only the rational but also the intuitive faculty of the mind.

Historical Profile

The origins of Ayurveda, and for that matter, Indian civilization, are shrouded in mystery. While some scholars have been enthusiastically pushing Ayurveda into remote antiquity, others are vehemently arguing that most of the Ayurvedic literature available today have come into existence only a few centuries before Christ or even after the beginning of the common era. To add more spice to the curry, historians have also opened up a debate on the vedic and extra vedic origins of Ayurveda. Some swear that Ayurveda is a product of the vedic tradition while others scoff at such ‘deceptive’ notions pointing out that Ayurveda is in fact, anti-vedic. The most recent and quite a revolutionary proposition is that Ayurveda originated from Buddhism.

Anonymity of authors of Ayurvedic literature poses major difficulties in the study of Ayurvedic history. Another problem is that great personalities often become institutionalized and it is difficult to decide whether a name like vAgbhaTa refers to one individual, a group or institution.

Sociocultural Profile

We can definitely state that Ayurveda is a product of the Indian civilization process. But it is very difficult to understand how much of Ayurveda has been borrowed by other medical approaches and how much of Ayurveda is borrowed from other medical approaches.

It is probable that at least in a certain period of history, Ayurveda attained the status of cosmopolitan medicine to some extent and spread from India to the neighboring countries.

While it grew out of its own land of origin, Ayurveda also adapted itself in a region specific manner creating many regionally specialized approaches to health care within the land of its origin.

The Ayurvedic traditions of Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western regions stand out uniquely in terms of literature, practice, techniques and pharmacopoeia. On top of it all, Ayurveda emerged as the refined classical version of a self-existent folk stream of medical lore in India with which it established a symbiotic relationship.

It has merged into the very life breath of the people of the Indian sub-continent and is very much alive in contemporary India.

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Sources of Information

We hear about Ayurveda from the literature and see it in the living traditions. But, all that is in the literature is not expressed through the living traditions. Neither does the literature capture completely what has expressed through the living traditions. Thus, the literature and living traditions constitute the sources of information on Ayurveda.


The available Ayurvedic literature spans many thousands of years representing the evolutionary history of Ayurveda. Not only is there variety in formats of Ayurvedic literature, but they are also representative of important chronological and geographical landmarks in the growth and development of Ayurveda. Much ground is to be made in locating, preserving and cataloguing Ayurvedic manuscripts, not to speak of the efforts that need to be taken to critically edit and publish them with good translations.

Living Traditions

The living traditions of Ayurveda constitute the key to a modern revival of this ancient healing system. By ‘living traditions’ is meant individuals, families or establishments who have carried into our times the classical practice of Ayurveda that existed in the pre-modern era. Individuals representing the living traditions of Ayurveda may or may not have formal training in modernized Ayurveda or Western medical science.

The living traditions make up the springboard to dive into a new world of Ayurvedic clinical practice. However, it is lamentable that an exhaustive directory of living individuals representing these traditions is yet to see the light of the day. Not to speak of mechanisms that will ensure that this valuable knowledge will be passed on to the new generation.

Living traditions that exist today represent specializations in the area of poison healing, bone setting, pediatrics and the like. Ayurvedic literature represents what has and what can be expressed as a living tradition. Living traditions represent what has and can be documented in Ayurvedic literature. We can say that the literature and living traditions of Ayurveda are like two birds seeking each other.

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Method of knowledge-building in Ayurveda

Ayurveda studies only what exists and ultimately eliminates imaginary and speculative assumptions from its field of enquiry. It provides knowledge of existent phenomena related to the life process in an objective manner. Most important of all, it chalks out an operational scheme to personally verify the knowledge gained about the life process. Finally, it emphasizes experience and verification as the ultimate criteria to validate a knowledge system. This is the classical interpretation of the term veda that denotes sattA (existence), jJAna (knowledge), vicAra (inquiry) and lAbha (attainment).

The classical textbooks of Ayurveda declare that true knowledge reveals things as they are and does not distort reality. The sun dispels darkness and reveals the world as it rises on the horizon. Even so the sun of Ayurvedic knowledge reveals to us the nature of life, health and disease. The veracity of this statement has to be verified through a fresh inquiry with an open mind that respects, loves and promotes life.


All Indian knowledge systems emphatically declare that experience is the true basis of knowledge. Therefore, knowledge is experiential - anubhava. However, the ancient sages realized that experience in itself does not constitute knowledge. Experiences have to be validated through the process of verification. Verified experiences are valid and constitute the true source of knowledge. Thus, experience is of two types - valid - yathArtha anubhava or invalid - ayathArtha anubhava. Technically, the understanding gained out of rigorous observations is called as pramA and that gained out of improper observations is called as apramA. The source of knowledge in Ayurveda, therefore, is rigorous and systematic observation. This is indicated by sattA, meaning existence, one of the meanings of the root from which the word veda is derived.


Before attempting to verify, one has to properly understand a technical presentation. In other words, a technical presentation has to be analyzed and understood properly first. Otherwise, the process of verification will be defeating its purpose. This is indicated by vicAra, meaning to analyze, one of the meanings of the root from which the word veda is derived.


Verification adds value to the knowledge and in due course of time, generates a body of knowledge that has been rigorously tested again and again. Ayurveda distinguishes between jJAna and vijJAna, the former denoting understanding and the latter experience. Ayurvedic texts say that one needs both understanding and experience and neither understanding nor experience by itself can lead to complete knowledge. Therefore, the student is advised to first gain understanding by study of authoritative texts and then confirm the understanding personally through the process of investigation called parIkSA. This is indicated by the word lAbha, meaning to obtain, one of the meanings of the root from which the word veda is derived.

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The subject matter of Ayurveda

Life, life span, the happy and unhappy life, the wholesome and unwholesome life and factors wholesome and unwholesome to life constitute the broad subject matter of Ayurveda.

Health and disease are put in perspective in the backdrop of higher goals in life. Healthy existence is seen as a means to fulfill the purpose of life and not as an end in itself. Disease is an obstacle that interferes with life from blooming to fullness.

This primary focus on life and its purpose underpins Ayurveda’s approach to health and disease, elevating it to the status of a complete vision on life over and above that of a medical system.

It is no coincidence that the term Ayurveda means knowledge of life. ‘Biology’ and not ‘Medical Science’ would be the approximate translation for the term Ayurveda. vRkSAyurveda is the knowledge of plant life and pazvAyurveda is the knowledge of animal life. By the same logic, study of elephants has come to be called as hastyAyurveda and study of horses, as azvAyurveda. Ayurveda embraces life in totality.

In a more narrow sense, terms like cikitsAzAstra and bhiSaGvidyA denote Ayurveda as a medical system. Yet, Ayurveda has a strong footing in preventive health care in spite of its specialization in the field of curative medicine.


According to Ayurveda, life is a most mysterious and fascinating phenomenon that manifests when certain key components (self, mind, senses and body) coalesce together. Just like a computer system comes to life through the coalition of electricity, design, software and hardware components.

It exists as long as this coalition lasts and dissolves when the coalition disintegrates. While life itself tries to preserve this coalition, various factors operate from within and without to destroy it. Eventually, the antagonistic factors dominate and the flame of life is extinguished. Ayurveda explains how life manifests by establishing the vital coalition of key components, how it strives to preserve it and finally how the process breaks down leading to death.

Life is a transience that seeks and searches for permanence.

Life — a journey

Ayurveda tells us that life is a journey and a long one indeed. Body is only the vehicle, which we use to travel. Life is not a simple journey, but an adventurous one too, the final destination of which we have to discover and reach by selecting a most suitable route.

There are many options to break our journey, take time off sight seeing and then resume it. And such recreational facilities are indispensable when the journey is long and tedious. But if we are not careful and do not plan in advance, we may find ourselves stranded in no man’s land and struggling to get a vehicle to resume our journey.

Death is only a pause to change the vehicle, leave one body and enter another. Life’s journey is so long that the vehicle wears out before the destination is reached. Several bodies, which means, several lifetimes, are required to complete it.

Ayurveda advises how to make best use of our body to travel forward in life. How to discover the final destination, how to select a most suitable route and how to ensure one gets connecting vehicles are all part and parcel of Ayurvedic knowledge that helps us to organize our lives.

Mind-body, the vehicle

Ayurveda considers the body-mind complex as a vehicle that has to be properly taken care of.

Life — a transit

A lifetime is only a transit, a spatio-temporal location that we will inhabit temporarily to execute the necessary operations that enable us to move forward. The body is therefore a home that is conditionally gifted to us, a city in which we can dwell subject to restriction of time. Before the validity expires, we have to identify and perform those tasks, which will make our journey smooth and fruitful.

Mind-body, a house or city

Ayurveda advises us how to lead a responsible life and make most of a most precious gift given to us. The mind-body complex is considered as a house, a city that one inhabits for a fixed period of time before moving on to another location.

Life — a flame

One of the most powerful metaphors that Ayurveda has used to describe life is that of a flame. According to this metaphor, the body is the lamp, food is the oil, tissues the wick and the flame, the life process. Just as oil has to be poured into the lamp from time to time, food has to be consumed periodically to sustain the life process. The oil should burn through the wick and the flame will be extinguished when the wick burns. For life to be sustained, the tissues must be protected from burning out. Thus life has to be stabilized from within.

The flame will be extinguished if a strong gush of wind blows or if flies come and fall on it. So also, the life process can be destroyed by antagonistic factors acting from outside. Thus life has to be stabilized from without too.

Mind-body, a lamp

The mind-body complex is a precious gift, a wonderful lamp. It is to be considered, as sacred and all necessary precautions have to be taken to protect it.

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Life span

Death is one of the few things that we can be certain of, though we cannot be sure of the time and place in which it will happen. Ayurveda says that this is because there are two types of death, the timely death, which we cannot avoid, and untimely death, which we can avoid.

Ayurveda declares that there is a potential life span and the actual life span. The potential life span is what one can live provided one takes care of the mind-body complex properly. The actual life span is what one actually lives and this may be the potential life span or less than it.

It is a misfortune to succumb to untimely death while it is dignifying to welcome timely death.

Timely death

Just as a vehicle, even when properly used and maintained succumbs to wear and tear in due course; so, the body eventually succumbs to the impact of time even if we lead a healthy way of life.

But timely death is a meditative experience, an event that we can welcome and celebrate. Death comes softly like a mother putting a child to sleep. Ayurveda prompts us to ensure a timely death.

Untimely death

Just as a vehicle improperly used and not maintained gets destroyed prematurely, even so the body succumbs to untimely death under the impact of a stressful life.

Untimely death is terrible and a frightening experience. Something we should avoid by applying the tenets of Ayurveda in our life.

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Factors affecting life

According to Ayurveda, life is a process of being and becoming, a state of continuous transformation. All living forms are in flux, changing moment by moment, responding to changes that occur in the external environment.

Life is a most precious and amazing product of natural processes and therefore to be protected and nurtured. Indeed, Ayurveda points out that myriad mechanisms operate naturally to fulfill this purpose. But Ayurveda also recognizes that unfavorable situations and factors play an important role in providing the stimulus for evolution of life.

Protection preserves life, but often stunts growth and evolution, while over protection can even destroy life. Unfavorable factors pose threat to life, but stimulates transformation and change, though it can destroy life when it operates in excess.

Therefore, a proportionate and wholesome combination of favorable and unfavorable factors nurtures life and promotes its evolution. This is technically called ‘samyak yoga’ in Ayurveda.

Under protection and over protection can both be destructive. So also protection given in the wrong context. The same is true with the case of life threatening factors too. Technically, Ayurveda calls such situations as atiyoga (hyper-union), hInayoga (hypo-union) and mithyAyoga (improper union).
All living beings are placed in a spatio-temporal matrix that changes to create both favorable and unfavorable circumstances for life to blossom to fullness. The cycle of the seasons that periodically shifts between the extremes of heat and cold is a typical example.

Ayurveda declares that nothing is absolutely good or bad for life. What is good in one context becomes bad in another context and vice versa. Ayurveda, therefore, explains how various substances and situations become favorable and unfavorable to life depending on various conditions.

For convenience, Ayurveda considers that which nourishes — sustains life as food; that which regulates life as medicine and that which harms — destroys life as poison. It is important to realize, however, that what is food can become poison and what is poison can become medicine.

Given the ‘know how’, every substance in this world can be used to support and promote life.

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Life-promoting factors

By one definition, Ayurveda is that which gives the knowledge of substances, properties and actions that promotes or disturbs the life process.

Even as Ayurveda points out the fact that there are no absolute rules in life, it observes that we can recognize substances, properties and actions that are predominantly promotive of life.

Life promoting factors can be best understood in relation with three basic processes of life. Life is basically an activity, the energy for which is obtained from matter in the external environment. Periods of intense activity are alternated by periods of rest. Fuelling ( AhAra — food), Resting (nidrA — sleep) and Activity ( brahmacaryA — action to achieve the highest goal) are considered in Ayurveda as the tristambha or the three supports of life.

brahmacarya, often translated as celibacy, actually means activity that aims to reach the highest or biggest. The word brahman means big.

One can live a healthy and purposeful life if one knows 1) how to eat, 2) how to rest and 3) how to act.

Ayurveda gives elaborate guidelines on food and how to develop good eating habits. It also advises one how to derive the maximum benefit from sleep and organize one’s energies for a meaningful life. Finally, Ayurveda tells us that we must differentiate between smaller and higher goals in life. Life becomes purposeless if one does not reach for the highest goal.

Activities pertain to body, mind and speech. How to regulate these activities so as to preserve and promote life is the concern of Ayurveda.

Status monitoring

The states of health and disease create a spectrum as it were, with perfect health and terminal disease setting the limits at the two extremes. Life is a series of events that unfold as attempts to reach the state of perfect health. While life succeeds to reach the summit at times, it also slips down to lower levels of health, near disease states or even severe disease and death.

Ayurveda says that life is potentially a gradual ascent to the state of perfect health and a gradual descent to terminal disease and death. The state of perfect health is an ideal that, in the rare instances it is achieved is difficult to maintain. Every living form ultimately succumbs to death that may or may not be preceded by disease. Perfect health, according to Ayurveda, is a means to achieve a higher end. This is technically called in Ayurveda as mokSa — freedom.

Ayurveda, and for that matter, the Indian thought process, point out that we often confuse the means with the goal. Health is the most important of all the means that can enable one to attain the highest goal of life — freedom.

To attain the state of perfect health and use it to reach the true goal of life is according to Ayurveda the most purposeful and meaningful agenda in the life of a human being.

Therefore, Ayurveda points out that each human being has to constantly monitor one’s state of health and do whatever is necessary to reach and maintain higher levels of health while at the same time preventing disease and prolonging life.

Ayurveda also emphasizes that the human body and mind have the innate design to monitor states of disease and health. A very sophisticated and complex signaling system operates to keep us informed of changing states of health and disease.

Such signals are called liGgas in Ayurveda. liGga means that which reveals what is hidden. The liGgas or signals operate both at the levels of the mind and the body. They may be subjective or objective. By cultivating awareness and through health education, every human being can monitor his or her state of health. Alternatively, a physician can also recognize and understand states of health by a systematic study of liGgas.

Ayurveda looks at health and disease through a rational framework called triskandha or three supports. They are cause (hetu), signals (liGga) and remedial measures (auSadha). Both health and disease are effects produced by causes, which can be recognized by observable signals and maintained or cured by specific actions.

The mind in health

Ayurveda says that the essence of the human personality is in the mind and the body is only a medium for expression. Living forms exhibit self awareness and awareness of the environment in varying degrees. Life is a gradual process of awakening and in different life forms, there is a different level of awakening. Ayurveda and the Indian thought process recognize three states of the mind. The lowest level of awareness, the dormant sleep like state of consciousness is called as tamas. The next level of awareness in which there is a distorted perception of reality, is called as rajas. The highest level of awareness, in which there is contact with reality, is called sattva.

tamas is a contracted state of mind, characterized by lack of awareness of both self and environment. Triggering mechanisms initiate the process of expansion. The first state of expansion is rajas; a state in which, there is distorted awareness of the external environment and oneself. This awareness leads to actions that produce expected and unexpected results. This works to create a mechanism of self-correction and learning. Actions lead to knowledge in this stage. Gradually, the mind expands to the higher level of sattva, in which there is clear awareness of both the self and the environment. Actions arise from knowledge in this stage.

The states of tamas, rajas and sattva roughly correspond to the sleeping, dreaming and waking states. All living beings alternatively go through these states. Plant life is predominantly tamasic, animal life, rajasic and human life, sAttvic.

Ayurveda says that a gradual preponderance of the sAttvic state is a sign of growing mental health. Predominance of either tamas or rajas is a sign of deteriorating mental health. rajas and tamas are called as the faults of the mind.

A comprehensive program for mental health would aim at reducing the length of the rajasic and tamasic states in the cycle of mental activities and prolong the sAttvic state. This can be achieved only with the help of the body.

The body in health

The body is the tool to expand the mind. It is an instrument of action. Action represents the conversion of tamas into rajas. The feedback from action in the form of results activates the transformation of the mind from rajas to sattva.

According to Ayurveda, the body is the crucible in which tamas is burnt into rajas and transformed into sattva. And food is the source of tamasic energy, which, through the process of digestion and metabolism energizes and activates the mind.

What happens in the body reflects on the mind. The body has to burn and at the same time not burn. The body has to burn so that matter is transformed and energizes the mind. And yet it must not burn away completely so that it continues to serve as a crucible in which matter can be perpetually transformed.
Eventually, the body gives way and is burnt to ashes so to say.

The body succeeds in effectively burning matter without destroying itself by balancing the processes of energy conservation, energy conversion and energy utilization. There are times when the body conserves more energy than it uses or uses more energy than it conserves. At times, it strikes a balance between the two. Ayurveda declares that these are the three pivotal processes that underlie all physiological activities of the body. Ayurveda calls these processes as kapha, pitta and vAta respectively. They are called as doSas or faults because they have a tendency to go out of balance. The concept of doSas is a generalization and incorporates all structural and functional components of the body including waste products.

In childhood, kapha predominates i.e., more energy is conserved than is utilized. In middle age, pitta predominates i.e., there is a balance between energy conservation and utilization. And in old age, vAta predominates i.e., more energy is utilized than is conserved.

In one lifetime, the body goes through a complete cycle of energy conservation, conversion and utilization till it breaks down. A lifetime is an opportunity to expand and awaken the mind by judicious use of the body.

Ayurveda defines the health of the body as the dynamic balance of the three doSas i.e., the processes of energy conservation, conversion and utilization.

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Upgrading the body-mind

Death cannot be prevented, but can be prolonged by taking proper care of the body. One of the ways to achieve this end is to upgrade it so that it functions at a higher level of efficiency. Ayurveda emphasizes that upgrading the body to achieve higher levels of health is as important as maintenance of health and cure of disease.

Ayurveda has a threefold program to upgrade the body-mind complex — a) Cultivating a lifestyle b) Rejuvenation program c) Virilification program.

Cultivating a lifestyle

Life forms exhibit both voluntary and involuntary actions. The vital processes of life are involuntary in nature and set the stage for performance of voluntary actions. Ayurveda calls acts of volition as karma. All acts of volition have a bearing on the involuntary actions that support life.

Certain acts of volition disturb the involuntary functions of the body. Eventually, acts of volition get disturbed and the individual sinks to a level of inefficiency.

Cultivating a lifestyle means to gain control over and regulate acts of volition so that they not only do not interfere with the involuntary functions of the body, but also will stabilize and strengthen them. Cultivating a lifestyle is a dynamic process — a process of growth and evolution through which one ascends to higher levels of efficiency.


Ayurveda has designed a very elaborate program for rejuvenation. Ayurveda declares that the basic support of the body is the essence of the food called rasa. Energy is released from the refined essence of food to engage in various activities of life and complex processes of construction and destruction operate threatening the integrity of the body. The formation of rasa through the process of digestion and its subsequent transformation into the body substance through the process of metabolism is crucial to maintaining the stability of the body. The word rasAyana, for rejuvenation, in Ayurveda means the pathway of rasa, the essence of digested food. The ideal rejuvenation program ensures that food is properly digested to form rasa first and then that it is completely metabolized to sustain the various activities of the body.

Ayurveda points out that it is not enough that we eat nutritious food. It is equally important that the food that we eat is properly transformed. The actions of the body and mind play a very important role in this regard and so Ayurveda says that all rejuvenation programs should be accompanied with strict behavioral regimens.

The concept of rasAyana can be easily understood through imagery. The body works out its own economics under the heads of capital, income and expense. Upgrading the body through the technique of rasAyana adjusts the income-expense ratio so that the capital does not deplete, but builds up and stabilizes.

rasAyana is implemented through a) diet b) medicine and c) behavior.


Rejuvenation is to be implemented after cultivating a healthy lifestyle. Rejuvenation programs recommended by Ayurveda work only with the support of a healthy lifestyle. A rejuvenated body can be prepared for procreation. In this way, the most desired traits can be transmitted to the offspring.

Virilification has another purpose. According to Ayurveda, excessive indulgence in sex can have a telling effect on the health of the body and the mind. Various dietary regimens and medicines have been formulated in the Ayurvedic texts to recover the vitality lost by excessive indulgence in sex and also to reverse its unwanted effects on the body and mind.

There are two aspects to the virilification program in Ayurveda indicated by the terms vAjIkaraNa and vRSya. vAjIkaraNa means ‘to convert into a horse’ and indicates increase in sexual appetite and performance. vRSya means to irrigate and indicates improvement in quality of semen. For upgradation of the body, the vRSya aspect is to be emphasized. vAjIkaraNa will lead to loss of energy and degradation of the mind and body.

Ayurveda believes that the ultimate upgradation of the human body is to be achieved by improving the quality of the reproductive tissue and ensuring good progeny. vRSya is therefore, implemented after rasAyana.

Maintaining the mind-body

The body is a system that is fated to eventually break down and collapse. Therefore, efforts have to be made to maintain higher levels of health lest one slips down quickly to lower levels of disease and death. Maintenance of the body-mind has to be done to prevent wear and tear. This is achieved by becoming aware of changes that happen both outside and inside the body and effectively responding to them.

Ayurveda emphasizes that one must become aware of diurnal and seasonal variations in the external environment and the impact it creates on the body. At the same time, one must also become aware of changes that occur within the body as the basic activities of life are carried out.

The daily and seasonal regimens have been designed to make appropriate adjustments to changes in the external environment. The body is constantly adjusting itself to changes that occur from within. Such adjustments are initiated involuntarily but have to be completed by volition. These are called as the natural urges and attending to the natural urges constitutes one of the essential aspects of maintenance of the body-mind.

Daily and Seasonal regimen

Day and night rolls by in a cyclic manner activating myriad changes in the environment. In a year, it circumscribes a bigger circle, the cycle of seasons. These changes are so structured and organized that one can almost feel an innate rhythm in nature as day and night unfolds into the play of colorful seasons. The word Rtu, denoting season means that which is a manifestation of Rtam, the innate rhythm of nature. Nature is the dance master and life forms are the dancers. The challenge is to tune in to the inner pulse of nature and achieve complete harmony. This is achieved by constant practice. In fact, every action should harmonize and integrate into nature. An action becomes right when it is done in the proper place and time. This is called as muhUrta. muhUrta means to integrate with the Rtam again and again.

Ayurveda advises Daily and Seasonal Regimen that regulates actions of the body and the mind with a view to achieving complete harmony with the external environment. This includes behavioral and dietary changes in accordance with the seasons, which is an essential requisite for maintenance of health.

Attending to natural urges

The body is perpetually engaged in exchange of matter and energy with the external environment. Being a system, it represents the functional stages of Input, Process and Output. While processing is an ongoing activity, input and output are periodical activities. Thirst, hunger, gasping and yawning are involuntarily initiated activities of the body to provide necessary inputs to sustain the life process. Urge for defecation, micturition, sneezing, flatus, cough, vomiting and ejaculation are involuntarily initiated activities that lead to output of relevant material from the body. Sleep is an urge that creates the occasion for the life processes to slow down, and rejuvenate itself, if not stop completely.

Ayurveda says that the natural urges have to be promptly attended to and if either suppressed or stimulated can develop a situation that is conducive to the manifestation of various diseases. Ayurveda points out that people that habitually ignore the call of natural urges become prone to get diseases frequently. Courtesans, businessmen, priests and servants of the King are called sadAturas or ‘always sick’ persons because their work style prevents them from promptly attending to the natural urges.

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Repairing the mind-body

If the mind-body is not upgraded or maintained properly, it breaks down prematurely causing diseases or even death. Depending on the extent of the damage done, such problems may or may not have solutions. Ayurveda emphatically declares that all diseases do not have a cure. The responsibility of the physician is to distinguish between curable and incurable diseases.

The harmonious association of the physician, the drugs, the nurse and the patient can treat curable diseases. The physician is the actor, the drug the tool of action, the nurse is the facilitator of healing and the patient, the substratum of action. They are together called the four limbs of treatment.

Ayurvedic treatment has also been specialized into eight branches taking into consideration domains where general principles of treatment have to be applied in a specialized manner.

Four limbs of treatment

Ayurveda looks at the healing process from a holistic viewpoint. Drugs constitute the most important tool for treatment. Their curative potential unfolds only when used in the proper way. Even the best drug can produce unwanted effects if used wrongly. Thus, the physician becomes the most important of the four limbs of treatment in Ayurveda because a drug becomes a drug only when a good physician handles it.

Next in importance comes the nurse who creates the proper environment for the drug to initiate and complete the healing process. Finally, the patient constitutes the very substratum for the treatment. The cooperation of the patient is very crucial for success in treatment.

For the treatment process to succeed, Ayurveda points out that all the four limbs should satisfy some basic standards. Ayurveda lists four essential qualities of the physician, drug, nurse and the patient.

Eight specialties of treatment

The basic principles of Ayurvedic therapeutics have been applied in specialized ways to tackle different types of diseases. Thus, Ayurvedic therapeutics specialized into eight branches. They are:


1. kAyacikitsA or General Medicine,


2. bAla cikitsA — Pediatrics,


3. graha cikitsA — Psychiatry,


4. zAlakya tantRa — Otorhinolaryngiology, Ophthalmology and Dentistry,


5. zalya tantRa — Surgery,


6. agada tantra — Toxicology,


7. rasAyana — Geriatrics, and


8. vAjIkarana — Sexual Medicine

It must be understood that these are not eight branches of Ayurveda but of Ayurvedic therapeutics. Ayurveda as such is divided into the two domains of Preventive and Curative Medicine. aGga, the saMskRta word for branch means, that which goes along with the whole. All branches of Ayurvedic treatment are therefore, based on the principles of General Medicine (kAyacikitsA), from which they are never divorced.

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Life-demoting factors

A harmonious combination of favorable and unfavorable factors preserves and evolves life. The same factors when out of harmony cause destruction of life.

Ayurveda traces the root cause of all diseases to irregularities in diet and behavior. The perfectly healthy person is said to be aprakampya or unshakable. Internal adjustment, according to Ayurveda, is the key to make the external environment favorable to life.

Individual actions create positive or negative impact on the external environment. The individual and the environment are complementary and cannot be considered independently. The individual influences the environment and the environment also influences the individual.

A healthy way of life enables one to not only become strong within, but also to influence the environment in a positive way so that it becomes conducive and supportive to life.

Epidemic diseases, according to Ayurveda are the outcome of collective unhealthy habits of individuals living in communities.

At the individual level, unhealthy habits reduce efficiency to cope up with vagaries of the environment and leads to individual disease. At the community level, collective unhealthy habits eventually leads to breakdown of both the individual and the environment.

Ayurveda says that the purpose of regulating one’s life is to eventually overcome the need for regulation. Just as the dietary restrictions imposed during sickness can be removed when the person is cured, even so, regulations in lifestyle can be discarded when one attains higher levels of health. This is the concept of rakSAbandhana, which means the bondage that protects.

It is the contention of Ayurveda that the ultimate purpose of life is to discover freedom. Freedom from the limitations of the mind; freedom from the limitations of the body. True happiness lies in the discovery of freedom.

Life is a movement from bondage to freedom. Life seeks freedom but ends up in bondage. The regulations imposed by Ayurveda are like bondage that leads to freedom — the rakSAbandhana.

An impulsive search for freedom is the root of an unhealthy way of life and this is to be understood as the primary factor that eventually destroys life prematurely.


Just as the state of health can be monitored with the help of signals or liGgas, the states of disease can also be understood by careful observation of liGgas. Disease conditions invariably present with signs and symptoms that are easy or difficult to perceive.

Troubleshooting involves two things. First of all, one has to recognize that something has gone wrong. Next, one must understand what exactly has gone wrong. liGgas enable one to recognize that something has gone wrong. But unless they are analyzed systematically, they do not necessarily help us in understanding what has actually gone wrong.

Sometimes liGgas are themselves hidden and then one fails to recognize that there is a problem at all until it is too late.

liGgas may be of a variable nature. Functional disability and discomfort are the most easily recognizable type of liGgas. Change in colour, loss of weight, general lassitude and the likes are liGgas that may go unnoticed.

When analyzed systematically, many of the liGgas enable us to understand the nature of the problem. liGgas that are either difficult to recognize or decipher are called as gUDhaliGgas. In such cases, rigorous tests will have to be carried out to understand the nature of the disease.

Ayurveda says that there are four types of liGgas — one liGga specific to one disease, one liGga for many diseases, many liGgas for one disease and many liGgas for many diseases.

Troubleshooting involves three steps:


1. Observing a liGga — enables one to understand that there is a problem


2. Analyzing a liGga — enables one to understand the nature of a problem in cases where liGgas are clear


3. Conducting tests — enables one to understand the nature of a problem in cases where liGgas can be deciphered.

It is also important to realize that liGgas may be false and misleading. False liGgas sound alarm when there is actually no problem at all.

The body in disease

Underlying all diseases is the imbalance of the three doshas — vAta, pitta and kapha. The three doSas represent the balance of the processes of conservation, conversion and utilization of energy.

To understand what has gone wrong with the body is to understand what has gone wrong with these basic processes. Though the same problem of imbalance underlies every disease, they may manifest in specific ways to create specific diseases.

Thus the problem of disease is understood at three levels in Ayurveda. 1) The level of liGgas or symptoms 2) The level of disease process or vyAdhi and 3) The level of disease origin or doSas.

liGgas enable us to understand what is happening at the level of vyAdhi or disease process or what is happening at the level of doSa or disease origin.

The mind in disease

The sAttvic state is the apex of mental health. It is not the absence of rajas or tamas but rather their integration into sattva. In the unhealthy state, rajas distorts one’s perception and tamas causes lack of awareness. There is complete incompatibility between action and inaction. In the healthy state, rajas expresses as activity and tamas as rest. In the pinnacle of mental health one resolves the conflict between action and inaction. When sattva integrates rajas and tamas, one is established in restful activity and active rest.

In the state of disease, one is unable to either rest or act. The mind becomes restless and as a result, there is clouding of intelligence. The sick state of the mind is compared with a chariot that does not have a charioteer.

Because the mind is energized by the activities of the body, mental diseases cannot be understood without understanding the body.

When hot ghee is poured into an iron vessel, it gets heated. So also, when ghee is poured into a hot iron vessel, it gets heated. The body influences the mind and the mind influences the body.

Because the body anchors the mind, the body has to be first corrected to correct the mind. Therefore, Ayurveda understands mental diseases at three levels


1. Problems operating at the level of body


2. Problems operating at the level of both body and mind


3. Problems operating at the level of the mind

Such problems are understood by observing and analyzing liGgas systematically.

Degrading the body-mind

Just as the body can be upgraded to function at higher levels of health, it can also fall down to lower levels of disease and inefficiency.

The main reasons for this are non-maintenance and damage. In the long run, the body and mind become adversely affected and degraded.

Non-maintenance of the body-mind

This includes lack of proper food, rest and activity. Suppression and stimulation of natural urges is another contributing factor apart from ignoring the rules of daily and seasonal regimen.

Damaging the body-mind

Damage can occur to the body by operation of factors from both within and without. When not properly maintained or upgraded or improperly treated body may undergo damage that is reversible or irreversible. The body-mind can be brought back to a healthy state when the damage done is reversible. If the damage is irreversible, it can lead to handicap or death.

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Concepts and tools of diagnosis

Ayurveda has elaborated various concepts and tools to understand disease. The focus is mainly on liGgas, which enable one to recognize and understand a disease and then on tests or investigations, which enable one to understand a disease when, liGgas fail to do so.

The conceptual framework evolved in Ayurveda for rigorous observation and analysis of liGgas is called the paJcalakSaNa nidAna.

In addition, there are various tools for diagnosis like examination of urine, feces, pulse and so on to understand disease when liGgas are evasive.

Methods to study disease

The paJcalakSaNa nidAna provides a very broad framework to understand the mechanism of disease causation. It consists of five steps.


1. nidAna — aetiology,


2. pUrvarUpa — premonitory symptoms,


3. rUpa — symptoms,


4. upazaya — Diagnostic medication, and


5. saMprApti — pathogenesis.

Half the work is done if causative mechanisms are identified and removed. Therefore, Ayurveda lays emphasis on detecting causes that have operated behind causation of disease.

Arresting the disease causing mechanism can effect a cure in conditions where the disease process is being triggered into manifestation by causes. This will not work when the disease process begins to operate independent of triggering causes. In such cases, it is necessary to know what has happened in the body so that necessary actions can be performed to reverse it.

This is done by first systematically observing premonitory signs and full-blown clinical signs. On the basis of a thorough analysis of signs and symptoms a hypothetical assumption of the disease process is arrived at. This is confirmed by giving a test medication and the final picture of the disease process is sketched.

Tools and techniques of diagnosis are used in the broad framework of the paJcalakSaNa nidAna to arrive at specific and factual understanding of the disease process.

Tools and techniques of diagnosis

paJcalakSaNa nidAna enables one to arrive at a tentative diagnosis. Very often it has to be confirmed with the help of tests to arrive at a final diagnosis.

The various tools and techniques developed by Ayurveda to arrive at final diagnosis are


1. Pulse examination

This technique is used to mainly understand the disease origins in terms of the imbalance of vAta, pitta and kapha.


2. Urine examination

Special methods of urine examination have been mentioned in Ayurvedic texts to gain specific understanding of disease origins and processes including prognosis.


3. Blood examination

Though Ayurveda did not know chemical tests, physical examination of blood and its administration to animals have been mentioned.


4. Examination of eight entities

Pulse, urine, feces, tongue, sound, touch, eyes and physique constitute the eight entities that can be examined to understand disease.


5. Diagnostic medication

Medicines are given to confirm a tentative diagnosis.

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Concepts and Tools of treatment

In the ultimate analysis, everything in this Universe can potentially be used as medicine. At a more practical level, only those substances whose medicinal properties and application have been discovered are considered as medicinal. Changing health problems demand discovery of new drugs. So drug discovery is an ongoing process.

For successful treatment, potent drugs formulated and processed have to be used effectively on the basis of sound concepts. Skill in Ayurvedic treatment consists of a thorough grounding in concepts of treatment and perfect knowledge of drugs.

Ayurvedic textbooks have elaborated such concepts of treatment at length and deal systematically with the knowledge of drugs.

The concept of two-fold therapy is the corner stone of Ayurvedic therapeutics. On this foundation has been erected the edifice of specialized therapeutic strategies.

The twofold therapy

Ayurveda recognizes that the goal of all physiological activities is to achieve balance between conservation, conversion and utilization of energy. This is implied in the concept of tridoSas. Therefore, Ayurveda explains that imbalance of these processes underlie all diseases. Diseases are caused when the system goes into a mode of conservation and is unable to convert and release energy for the basic activities of life. This group of diseases is known as santarpaNa rogas. Diseases manifest also when the body converts and utilizes more energy than is conserved and eventually reaches a stage when it runs out of fuel. This group of diseases is known as apatarpaNa rogas. Since there are two basic pathways for manifestation of diseases, there are two basic solutions to diseases. Treatment methods that enable the body to convert and utilize energy are called as laGghana or Depletive therapy and those that enable the body to convert and preserve energy are called as bRmhaNa or Repletive therapy.

Patient and disease oriented therapeutic modules

The concept of the two-fold therapy is too general to be applied effectively in all diseases. Ayurveda has further expanded this concept to make it oriented to peculiarities of the patient and disease.

langhana therapy is divided into two major categories viz., zOdhana — eliminative and zamana — corrective.

In many santarpaNa diseases, the body can be brought back to balance only when accumulated matter is removed from the system. This is achieved through zodhana. There are mainly five types of eliminative therapies. They are a) vamana or emesis, b) virecana or purgation, c) zirovirecana — cleansing the head by nasal medication, d) vasti — enemata and e) raktamokSa — blood letting.

Some santarpaNa diseases can be cured without zodhana therapy. In such diseases, medicines are given to enable the body to convert and utilize unused matter. There are mainly seven types of zamana therapy. They are a) dIpana — activating digestion and metabolism, b) pAcana — therapeutic digestion and metabolism, c) kSut — Fasting with water, d) tRT — Fasting without water, e) vyAyAma — Exercise, f) Atapa — Exposure to sun, g) mAruta — Exposure to wind.

apatarpaNa diseases have to be managed by bRmhaNa or depletive therapy.

Specific treatment programs are devised with selected drugs on the basis of the above principles.

Tools and techniques of treatment

The tools for executing Ayurvedic treatment are the drugs. Ayurveda tells us that such tools need not be substances but can also be specific spatio-temporal situations. Even as Ayurveda talks about the substances of plant, animal and mineral origin that can be processed into drugs, it discusses on the therapeutic properties of sunlight, moonlight, winds and the like. Thus, Ayurveda recognizes two types of treatment — with and without substances called technically as sadravya and adravyacikitsA. Not every medical problem requires a drug for cure and not every consultation has to end up with a prescription for drugs.

However, majority of diseases does require drugs and Ayurveda deals systematically with drug sources and techniques of processing them into drugs. Ayurvedic drugs are derived from plant, animal and mineral sources. Classical Ayurveda is plant based whereas medieval Ayurveda emphasized on usage of mineral substances as medicine. Thus we have two types of Pharmacopoeia in Ayurveda, one that is predominantly plant based but includes a small number of animal products and minerals; the other that is almost exclusively based on minerals. The usage of mineral substances led to development of novel concepts in treatment and drug processing, so much so that it evolved into a specialty called as rasazAstra.

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Pharmacopoeia of organic substances

Initially, Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia was based on use of organic subtstances of plant and animal origin. It would be wrong to say that Ayurveda is herbal, although the number of plant substances used outnumber those of animal origin. The first pharmacopoeia of Ayurveda included substances predominantly of plant origin supported by those of animal origin and only supplemented by inorganic substances. Ayurveda advocates a four-fold approach to study drugs a) Nomenclature, b) Identity, c) Properties and d) Application called technically in saMskRta as nAma, rUpa, guNa and yukti jJAna. Ayurveda lays greater emphasis on yukti jJAna i.e., the knowledge of application of drugs. The texts say that the physician who knows how to use a drug is superior to a physician who is merely acquainted with the name and form of a drug.


The nomenclature used in Ayurveda for drugs can very well be called the polynomial system of nomenclature. According to this system, each drug is denoted by many names. Each name describes an aspect of the drug, either morphological or medicinal. Put together, like a jigsaw puzzle, the names enable one to develop a sketch of the drug.

Drug names are divided into various categories depending on what information they provide on the drug. Thus, we have names, which denote characters common to many drugs, and names, which denote characters unique to a drug. There are names that denote morphological characters and names that denote medicinal properties.


Ayurvedic lexicons state that the ultimate criteria to identify a plant or animal are on the basis of jAtiliGgas. The concept of jAti roughly corresponds to the scientific concept of species. jAti means ‘to be born’. It indicates the mould out of which living forms are created. jAti is a unit of life that propagates itself through reproduction. And the idea is that the unique characteristic of a life form is genetically transmitted. As the texts declare, ‘Paddy grows from paddy seeds and wheat from wheat’. Indeed a mango seed develops into a mango tree and not an apple tree.

jAti liGgas are thus characteristics unique to a species of life. However, elaborate and multilevelled documentation of jAtiliGgas is not seen in Ayurvedic texts.


Ayurveda looks at properties of drugs from two viewpoints. The drug in itself and the drug as it interacts with the body. Pointing out the fact that drug action is the net outcome of what the drug does to the body and what the body does to the drug, Ayurveda provides a dynamic framework to understand drug action.

The dravya (drug), rasa (taste), guNa (properties), vIrya (potency), vipAka (post-digestive taste) and karma (drug action) constitute key reference points to understand pharmacology in Ayurveda.

dravya, rasa and guNa indicate what the drug is before it is introduced into the biological system. vIrya indicates what the drug does to the body and vipAka indicates what the body does to the drug. karma is the final therapeutic action exerted by the drug.


Ayurveda considers application of drugs for therapeutic use under two main headings. a) Formulation and processing and b) Administration and follow up.

Before formulation, drugs are conveniently classified into various groups based on multiple criteria like part used, habit, medicinal properties and the like. Such groups are called as vargas.

Formulation is like making a team whereas grouping is only an aid to formulation. vargIkaraNa or grouping is like putting all the batsmen in one group, wicket keepers in another group and bowlers in yet another group. A team cannot be made out of batsmen alone or bowlers alone for that matter.

In making a formulation, different ingredients are put together to perform different functions to achieve a common goal. An Ayurvedic text points out that formulation is like the coming together of King and the courtiers. Each formulation has a leader drug and many assistant drugs.

There are two types of formulations — a) yoga and b) gaNa. yogas are formulations that have been designed to tackle specific disease conditions whereas gaNas are formulations that can work in a wide range of conditions. Just as there are task forces that tackle specific problems or a wide range of problems.

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Pharmacopoeia of inorganic substances

In the medieval period, there was a shift in focus from organic substances to inorganic substances. Organic substances were generally found to be distasteful, working slowly and had to be applied after considering multiple variables. Therefore, inorganic substances were looked at as an alternative. It was realized that specialized concepts and techniques are necessary to use inorganic substances safely and effectively. Usage of inorganic substances in medicine branched out into a separate discipline and even attained the status of an independent philosophical system called the rasezvara darzana.

Mineral drugs are also studied using the fourfold approach — nomenclature, identity, properties and application. Since most mineral substances are highly toxic, they have to be purified before use. Purification often reduces efficacy. And unpurified substances can be highly toxic. Therefore complex methods of purification were devised to achieve both safety and efficacy of drugs made out of inorganic substances.

Nomenclature and identity

The polynomial system of nomenclature is used in rasazAstra with the exception that many names are secretive in nature. Compared to organic substance based Ayurveda, rasazAastra is esoteric in nature and highly mystified. Mythological stories have been woven to describe the various inorganic substances used in Ayurvedic medicine. Thus, mercury is the semen of Lord ziva and Sulphur is the menstrual blood of pARvatI.

Grouping and Properties

The purpose of rasazAstra is to convert inorganic substances into a form that can be assimilated by living forms. Plants being the primary metabolizers, the food makers, so to say, are indispensable for converting inert matter into a form that can be assimilated by living forms. rasa is the essence of food that is finally converted into the tissues. The term rasazAstra means the technique of converting inert substances into rasa, or a form that living organisms can assimilate.

rasazAstra is an attempt to bypass the factory of plant life and directly convert inorganic substances into a form that is bio-assimilable. The inorganic substances used in rasazAstra are therefore, organized into various groups depending on their utility in this regard.

mahArasas, sAdhAraNarasas, uparasas, ratnas, uparatnas, viSas and upaviSas are the major categories under which inorganic substances are grouped.

The properties of these substances have also been described using the framework of the rasa-guNa-vIrya-vipAka-karma concept. In addition, their toxicity and utility in drug processing have also been described.


There are mainly two aspects in the processing of inorganic drugs — a) zodhana or purification and b) mAraNa or incineration. The aim of the first process is to reduce the toxicity of the drug without reducing its efficacy and the second process aims to convert the purified substance into a form that is bio-assimilable.

Many steps are involved in these two major processes.


Application of organic substance based Ayurveda is done on the basis of meticulous consideration of many variables like constitution, climate, place, the doSas and so on and so forth. But the medicines prepared by the principles of rasazAstra can be used without such considerations.

The hallmark of inorganic preparations is that they can be used in extremely small quantities, without consideration of many variables and they produce quick results.

However, to prevent toxic effects and ensure optimum efficacy, one has to follow strict dietary and behavioral regimen.

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Goal of life — personal and communal perspective

Life is a play of opposites. Finding meaning in life has much to do with resolving the conflict of opposites. All goals in human life polarize into the two opposites of personal and communal welfare.

Emphasis on personal happiness conflicts with communal happiness and emphasis on communal happiness conflicts with personal happiness.

The ultimate answer to this problem is to transcend the opposites. To go beyond the realm of personal and communal happiness. When what one does to make oneself happy leads to happiness of others, the goal of life is reached.

Ayurveda says that there are four types of life one can live. In the succeeding order of preference, they are


1. A life of personal unhappiness that conflicts with communal happiness.


2. A life of personal happiness that conflicts with communal happiness.


3. A life of personal unhappiness that promotes communal happiness.


4. A life of personal happiness that promotes communal happiness.

Living beings find fulfillment by gradually evolving to discover a life that gives both personal and communal happiness.


Transliteration System for saMskRta Words:


a A i I u U R e ai o au aM aH

ka kha ga gha Ga

ca cha ja jha Ja

Ta Tha Da Dha Na

ta tha da dha na

pa pha ba bha ma

ya ra la va za Sa sa ha


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