The 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.
LifeAccording 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 ‚Äî a journeyAyurveda 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 ‚Äî a transitA 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 ‚Äî a flameOne 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 lampThe 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.