A Spiritually Rich Education
By ACHARYA SHUNYA
There is a direct relationship between physical, mental, and spiritual health, as per Ayurveda, the science of health and healing from ancient India. Spirituality helps one understand the basic building blocks of human individuality and speaks to ultimate concerns of human existence. It helps us cope with the stress of life, personal strivings and issues of adaptive functioning. Spirituality supports the deepest healing and total transformation —which is possible when existential suffering (that all human beings experience at some time or another in life) is directly addressed with spiritual knowledge of the invincible Self.1
Physical medicine has limitations in this capacity, and this is where the need to blend the hard science of disease management with pragmatic spirituality becomes apparent. The seers, who were the original authors of Ayurveda, gifted humanity a unique medicine that is simultaneously an artful way of living to protect and optimize health. Ayurveda is a science-based system of medicine to overcome chronic and acute physical disease, but also a spiritual path or philosophy to approach the transcendent or ultimate reality, by way of a purified mind.
This purified mind reveals the truth of a subtle, spiritual core of the true Self (Atman), which is beyond the suffering of body and mind, always whole, healthy, incorporeal, ethereal, eternal, and which survives death.2
In this last capacity, Ayurveda seems to be able to satisfy the individual need for a sense of meaning in life (Trivarga)4 and the search for larger purpose in life (Moksha).4 “Meaning” may also include moral or ethical values (Dharma and Sadvirtta)5 that are universal, and emerge from Ayurveda’s view of the ultimate sacred reality (Brahman), which surpasses religion.
What is remarkable is that Ayurveda is perhaps humanity’s one and only system of health and recovery that corroborates the state of ideal or perfect health with a state of “transcendence,” or meta-experience of a transpersonal, unity consciousness. This outlook reflects Ayurveda’s spiritual Vedic roots and alignment with Vedic cultural ideals.
The concept of “love” in Ayurveda goes beyond the felt transitory “emotion,” into an abiding belief system, comprising of compassion, altruism, forgiveness, patience, tolerance, support, empowerment, respect, responsibility, etc., which shape intent, and guide our actions, both towards our self, and all other beings (Sarva Bhuta Hita).6
Thus, Ayurveda is a complete spiritual tradition (Adhyatmika Darshan). Ayurveda does not incorporate consciousness as part of its therapy as an adjunct. In contrast, in Ayurvedic medicine, life itself is described as a tripod of consciousness (Atman), body (Sharira), and mind (Sattva).7
Ayurvedic medicine is, thus, the first medicine of mankind ever to systematically and comprehensively incorporate spirituality, or consciousness, as the most essential aspect of healing, without which life itself is not possible.
No Forced Splitting Between Matter and Spirit
Therefore, classical Ayurveda’s understanding is vastly different from other healing sciences, which regard the subject matter as either purely physical or purely mental. Most medical systems claim their hard-earned pragmatism by denying, or at least ignoring, the possibility of the existence of consciousness.
The unique Ayurvedic approach positively empowers humans in their search for true health, by reminding us fragile humans of our inherent potential to self-heal by reclaiming connection with our spiritual Self, which is eternally whole, universally connected, and one with the ultimate reality. This spiritual Self is a source of plenary existence (Sat), plenary intelligence (Chit), and plenary bliss (Ananda). In other words, existence is consciousness and consciousness is bliss.8
The Self is an enigmatic, mighty power to the unversed, but Ayurveda invites each one of us to recognize this substratum of uninterrupted, immortal consciousness, and become familiar with our true nature, our eternal Self, through spiritual understanding. Once we begin to entertain the possibility of a transcendental Self that animates and outlives our fragile phenomenal body-being, we begin to appreciate our life in all its colors, depth, and essence. We will finally become ready to receive the supreme gift of spiritual knowledge (Atma Jnanam), which the Vedic Rishis were intending for all human beings.10
Ayurveda does not neglect one dimension at the cost of another. Ayurveda emphasizes that, for a healthy and fulfilled journey through life, all dimensions of “life” are correlated, equally significant, and co-operational. No other system of healing, apart from Ayurveda, delivers so comprehensively physical, mental, social, moral, ethical, ecological, environmental, and above all, spiritual health for the journeying soul.
Spirituality versus Religion
To continue to advocate a meaningful inclusion of spirituality in medicine, it is necessary to clarify a difference between the terms, “spirituality” and “religion.” Spirituality is, indeed, a multifaceted and multidimensional intellectual, experiential, and behavioral human quest for meaning, purpose, and expression of truth in life (known as the pursuit of Moksha in Ayurveda). It is also the mindful embodiment of universally applicable and entirely humane ethical values and beliefs by which an individual act, lives, and makes decisions in life (included under the concept of Dharma in Ayurveda).
The emotive aspects of spirituality involve feelings of optimism, hope, empathetic connection to all beings, compassion, care and love, a sense of inner centeredness, peacefulness, and finally, a continued reliance upon inner resources, in the form of an inner conviction of the presence of a cosmic power greater than oneself. This is subsumed under the concept of Sadvritta in Ayurveda.
Spirituality expresses itself in the ability to grow, learn, deserve self-worth, and to give and receive spiritual love with ease. A spirituality-driven person, as a result, has a healthy relationship with their self, others, the society, the natural environment, and this entire universe at large.
Religion, on the other hand, is a canonized set of beliefs about spirituality, headed by a group of individuals, and each religion attempts to help connect its followers to its unique “concept of spirituality” through its own body of practices, theories, rituals, and codes. Many find religion as a first door into the realm of spirituality, and others may find spirituality via other doors—not religion.
Spirituality, unlike religion, is the greater, more developed notion, and it can and does exist despite religion, as evidenced by the sciences of Ayurveda, Yoga, and Vedanta. An experience of spirituality is entirely possible even for the atheist or agnostic, who may choose to connect to a higher truth via nature, the arts, music, philosophy, and even the pursuit of pure science, since spirituality is a universal mind state that is connected to a meta-reality.
Precluding Spiritual Crisis
As per Ayurveda, because we are really spirit with a body and mind, our spiritual nature is primary, and our psychological and biological nature is secondary and dependent upon our spiritual nature. Hence, to be spiritually cognizant is important for the health of the other two dimensions of existence (body and mind).
One who is spiritually-inspired and has a sense of connectedness with a universal truth experiences hope, meaning, purpose, and inner strength to overcome to become. However, if there is a spiritual non-alignment for any reason (negative religious experiences in the past, life situations, such as terminal illness, or tremendous personal loss, that makes one spiritually-estranged), then individuals can experience existential isolation, mindlessness, meaninglessness, utter dismay and hopelessness that go beyond what can be fixed by mental health practitioners. This is a spiritual crisis and it has a lasting negative impact on mental, as well as physical health.
Ayurveda wants to proactively prevent spiritual crisis, by informing each human being of their spiritual Self, Atman, from the get-go. For a concept of health that goes beyond the limitations of body and mind, Ayurveda informs us that we are ultimately spirit, Atman, which is one and the same with the Universal Truth, or Brahman.
Atman (personal self) and Brahman (universal self) are not divinely illustrious personalities or godheads, but actually facets of the same Ultimate Reality, which transcends name and form, is permanent, immutable, unchanging, uncaused, non-dual ground of this diverse creation. While both terms ultimately refer to the same truth, Atman refers to the reality of consciousness expressed in living beings, while Brahman refers to the same consciousness in its purely transcendental, infinite universal state.
Evidently, the realization of the identity of the personal Self with transcendental consciousness is the highest goal of human life, as per Ayurveda.9 Further, this is not hard or impossible, teaches Ayurveda (in tune with the Veda), because this consciousness, or spiritual Self, is “self-revealing,” and its presence can be immediately known and experienced through the agency of a quieted mind. This consciousness, Atman, is indeed self-luminous.
It is to the credit of Ayurvedic medicine and its expansive sweep into the nature of existence that the multi-dimensional living being—you and me, can hope to heal not only in body and mind, but also reclaim, at any time, our spiritual nature. There is hope. We can hope to be “seen.” We can hope to be appreciated with all our complexity. Our experiences are all valid, each and every one of them; and, we are not merely dismembered organs, structures, and functions; we are whole. We are more than our parts. We are lofty spirits having a local experience on this planet called earth, in this process called life. We are in all and all is in us. Everything is essentially as it is meant to be. Everything is peaceful, if we choose peace. Everything is one, regardless of whether we see diversity. Our true Self sings this soothing song. Listen. Let us hear it together through Ayurveda—this is the invitation of the Rishis, no less.
The Missed Opportunity by Modern Ayurveda Fraternity
Despite such a rich spiritual background, worldwide and especially in in India, Ayurveda’s country of origin, we witness more and more a preference toward a bio-pharmaceutical statistical model; and the word “holistic” is highly limited in its professional application.
Focus upon psycho-spiritual dimensions of health is minimal, if not absent. This is an unfortunate situation, partly due to the Ayurveda fraternity’s preoccupation with modern physical sciences and attempts to launch Ayurveda on the same footing as mainstream medicine. While there are pros and cons to this approach, the bottom line is that spirituality is being marginalized amongst Indian practitioners of Ayurveda, as well in the Ayurveda education process.
When spirituality is accepted as a living value that must be assiduously cultivated for true health and lasting well-being, it becomes the basis of a compassionate attitude toward all beings (including our self) and service toward those who are suffering.
I want to caution students as well as current and future Ayurveda practitioners against the quick commodification of Ayurvedic spirituality, as is unfortunately the trend in new-age culture.
If we, as a community, do not define what the basic premise of Ayurvedic spirituality is from the source texts, and what its landmark principles and salient features are, a misappropriation of an ancient spiritual wellness tradition cannot be ruled out. In the current era, when the ancient wisdom that was once passed on carefully from teacher to select student, can now be bought and sold literally with the click of a button, its application, too, becomes driven by market trends.
Practitioners of future can take wisdom forward today, to continue to bridge the great divide between the material and spiritual dimensions of health that has beset Ayurveda today. But first, they must make the effort to study Ayurveda in a deeper way—deeper than merely mastering dosha-balancing techniques, quick lists and tips.
I hope my efforts in this direction, namely of enabling a spiritually-infused, whole-person education through classical Ayurveda, will broaden the understanding of the role of spirituality and dharma ethics in improving the health and well-being of individual patients, families, and healthcare providers.
1 Charaka Samhita, Sutra Sthanam, I, Shloka, 55-56
2 Charaka Samhita, Sharira Sthanam, I, Shloka 59
3 Ashtanga Hridayam, Sutra Sthanam, I, Shloka 2
4 Charaka Samhita, Sharira Sthanam, V, Shloka 16-19 5 Charaka Samhita, Sharira Sthanam, II, 46-47
5 Charaka Samhita, Sharira Sthanam, V, 22-24
6 Charaka Samhita, Sutra Sthanam, VIII, 29
7 Charaka Samhita, Sutra Sthanam, 1, 46-47
8 Charaka Samhita, Sharira Sthanam, I, 83, 155
9 Charaka Samhita, Sharira Sthanam, I, 155
10 Charaka Samhita, Sharira Sthanam, I, 143-146
PHOTO © ORINOCO-ART, BIGSTOCK.COM[wcm_restrict plans="Sufi Journal Digital Edition, Sufi Journal Digital Edition old"]
RETURN TO ISSUE 98 TABLE OF CONTENTS
To read this article in full, you must Buy Digital Subscription, or log in if you are a subscriber.