Ayurveda, the traditional healing system of India, is often looked at as a way of optimizing the functioning of the body. Ayurveda is capable of assisting in the healing of many conditions as well as extending life itself. The knowledge of Ayurveda has its roots in the Vedas, the sacred texts of India from which many spiritual philosophies and religions have sprung. These include Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Yoga and others. It is a science not only of the physical body, but it goes beyond into the understanding of consciousness itself.
Ayurveda's sister, Yoga, is quite well known for its physical stretching exercises. Yoga is actually much more than this--it is a complete science and philosophy leading to enlightenment. Likewise, Ayurveda is much more than a science of understanding what foods are right for you. It is a science of using health as the basis of one’s journey toward enlightenment. In fact, Ayurveda and Yoga are two sides of one coin. Ayurveda keeps the physical body healthy so that one can pursue spiritual goals, while yoga is the path of spirituality. Ayurveda is not a religion any more than yoga is a religion. They are spiritual sciences applicable to one’s journey regardless of religious faith. Both sciences support a person on their journey toward self-realization or the direct knowing of their nature as spirit or soul. Scriptural study, whether it comes from the East or West, illuminates this journey.
Ayurvedic psycho-spirituality is based on the idea that we are all souls growing and evolving toward enlightenment or reunification with God. This can easily be viewed as entering the gates of heaven--for what is more heavenly then becoming one with God? Along this journey of our evolution there are naturally challenges which inspire us to grow and evolve. Some come to us in the form of health challenges; others are challenges in relationships or finances. They are, in a sense, gifts--for without them, there would be no motivating force behind our growth as spirits.
The three gunas are the grounds from which we come to understand ourselves emotionally and spiritually. Gunas are defined as the qualities of nature.
Sattva is the quality of clarity and purity. When our minds are sattvic, or pure, there is a natural innate connection between ourselves and God. With this awareness, our highest most virtuous qualities manifest. Our minds are much like a still lake and the light that reflects through it is the light of God.
Rajas is a state of activity and distraction where we forget our true nature as spirit and get wrapped up in the dramas of our lives. As a result we get caught in the experience of emotion and the challenging feelings of fear, worry, anxiety, anger, resentment, and attachment. If you imagine the clear lake of sattva, rajas is that lake after a rock has been thrown in and now it is disturbed. Each wave is a challenging emotion.
Tamas is a state of darkness and inertia. In this state of being, not only are we unaware of our connection with God or spirit, but we spiral down into our own darkness and become harmful to ourselves or others. With our darker nature being dominant, we take actions such as violence or vindictive behaviors, or possibly addiction and suicide. Any harmful act reflects our own tamasic nature. If you recall the clear lake of sattva which had become rajasic when the rock was thrown in, now it has been stirred up and is muddy. The darkness is tamas.
It is our spiritual journey to move from dark to light, from ignorance to awareness, or from tamas to sattva. It is said in Ayurveda that Rajas and Tamas are the causes of disease. The actions taken and the emotions felt by the rajasic and tamasic mind upset the balance of the three Doshas, leading to physical disease. Sattva is the sole cause of health. Disease cannot affect the sattvic person--the one who has awakened into the light, therefore we could say that disease is the end result of forgetting our true nature as spirit. Once we forget, we act out of harmony with nature. These actions bring about disease. Healing involves the cultivation of harmony or sattva.
Ayurveda sees disharmony as the sole cause of disease. Healing takes place through a harmonious relationship with our environment. Ayurveda prescribes many regimens to bring about harmony or sattva in our lives. These regimens are numerous and to the beginner can quickly seem overwhelming to perform. Recommended actions include eating slowly in a peaceful environment, using proper aroma and color therapy, going to bed early, awakening with the sun or earlier, applying oil to the body, meditating, doing yoga, and many more.
Students often ask why it is so difficult to adopt a harmonious lifestyle. The answer is simple. It is because we are not yet fully awakened to our spiritual nature. How can we live in harmony if we are not connected to our higher purpose in life? Without knowledge of higher awareness, it is our human nature to act as though we are only our senses and our mind. Our senses fear what is uncomfortable and desire only what gives us pleasure or great highs. The creation of harmony in our lives brings with it a rejection of that which brings us our highs, for each high is just a fleeting moment destined to pass and leave us desiring more.
Ayurvedic and yogic practices bring us peace, not highs. They sustain us; they do not burn us out. Yet to get to this place, one must go through the fire of awakening our self awareness. This process is honest and not always pleasurable. With honesty about ourselves at first there is discomfort and pain, so we move away from it. We drop those practices which, though difficult, lead to harmony and light because the light hurts our eyes. So how do we go about creating harmony? How do we become successful travelers on our journey?
There are many roads of empowerment but none is greater than our own direct self experience of God. This is achieved primarily through meditation and prayer. In the quietude of consciousness lies the light of God, the infinite. This light can fill us and sustain us, it can empower us to create change. The more that we come to know our nature as God or spirit, the more we are empowered to act harmoniously. The process begins for many with formal meditation. It ends when we meditate every action in our lives. When our lives become a meditation, ego slips away, exposing our true nature. Now we are ready to join pure consciousness, pure awareness. We become one with God.
Dr. Marc Halpern is the founder and President of the California College of Ayurveda. An internationally respected expert in the fields of Ayurveda and Yoga, Dr. Halpern received the award for Best Ayurvedic Physician from the Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr. A. Ramdas. He is a co-founder of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association and the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine. He is on the advisory board of Light on Ayurveda Journal in the United States and the Journal of Research and Education in Indian Medicine in Varansi, India. Dr. Halpern has published articles in popular journals and magazines of Ayurveda and Yoga including Yoga Journal. He is also a contributing writer in several popular books on Ayurveda and has written two textbooks. Dr. Halpern is a regular speaker at Ayurvedic and Yoga conferences and teaches regularly at the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers where he received his Yoga Teacher certification. Read more...