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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 tamasicstates 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, pittapredominates i.e., there is a balance between energy conservation and utilization. And in old age, vAtapredominates 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.