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Ayurveda and the Causes of Disease & Suffering

 Hmmm….Junk food. Do you find it hard to resist? Or perhaps not?

One of the most impressive things about Ayurveda is the depth (and breadth) of the wisdom that it provides, and its approach to understanding the cause of disease is a perfect example of this. Ayurveda recognizes that in order to truly heal, just putting a bandage on a wound doesn’t actually solve the problem; the same wound may crop up again, in the same or a different form. To truly heal, one must understand why one has the disease or imbalance to begin with, and then unravel the cause so that it doesn’t keep happening. Of course, Ayurveda has lots of “bandages” in its extensive medicine kit, it’s just that to truly heal, one needs to get to the root cause.

 

So what does Ayurveda say about the cause of disease? In brief, there are 3 main causes of disease and one “primordial cause.”

Let’s begin with the primordial cause, since that’s where everything begins. Ayurveda teaches that “disease begins when we forget our true nature as spirit.” Within each of us resides our spirit or soul, and our spirit is already in perfect health and harmony, undisturbed by the challenges of the material world in which we live. When we “forget” this, as happens in material existence, we get caught up in the dramas of life, our mind fills with constant chatter, challenging emotions arise, and the biological energies (doshas) of the body become disturbed. The door is then open to becoming ill - physically, emotionally and/or psychologically. 

So what are the other three causes of disease and suffering?

Misuse of the Senses: Once we have forgotten our true nature as spirit, we start to think of ourselves as our body, mind and senses, and our goal becomes the simple pursuit of pleasure. This leads to over-indulgence. Our senses are the portals through which we interact with the world. What we eat, see, hear, smell and touch can either bring us health or disease. If we take in that which isn’t harmonious with our constitution, this can cause us to become ill. 

Failure of the Intellect: Have you ever made an unhealthy choice, knowing that it wasn’t good for you? Does that sound familiar to you? Our intellect is connected to both the soul and the senses, and we constantly use the intellect to make decisions. Which are we going to listen to – the senses or the soul? The lure of the senses is loud, whereas the soul speaks in a whisper. Hmmmm…what to have for dinner? The soul whispers “steamed vegetables.” The senses shout “PIZZA”!! Who wins? It’s up to us, and what we choose! We may be able to get away with eating pizza occasionally, but what if we ate it for dinner every night? This would not be a good recipe for health!

Transformation and Decay Due to Time and Motion: This third cause of disease is intriguing. It’s pretty obvious that time causes disease, after all, as we age, our bodies become weak and start to deteriorate. But Ayurveda actually teaches that there are two kinds of time; linear time, which is the static, dependable idea of time that we’re used to thinking in terms of; the rotation of the Earth on it’s axis, the movement of the Earth around the Sun, etc. But there’s also biological time, which is dynamic. The pace of biological time changes in response to motion; as motion increases, so does the rate of biological time. 

In other words, the body ages faster when we are moving and slower when we slow down! But – more important than physical motion is the movement of the mind. When the mind is constantly in a state of internal chatter, biological time actually speeds up and we age more quickly! When the mind is perfectly still, as occurs in deep meditation, there is no passage of biological time, and this slows the aging process.

Happily, Ayurveda, along with it’s sister science Yoga, has many time-tested solutions. Ayurveda is the science of creating harmony between our physical nature and our environment through the five senses, and has a vast and deep toolkit for accomplishing this, including sensory therapies involving food, aromas, colors, touch (such as massage), and sound. Ayurveda utilizes Yoga to calm the mind and listen deeply within, in order to hear the voice of the soul; this helps us to overcome the temptations of the senses and to progress along our spiritual path. 

Together Ayurveda and Yoga allow for a healthy body and peaceful mind, and this paves the way for us to be reminded of the calm perfection that resides undisturbed at the center of our being ~ our soul, spirit, atman, divine essence, or whatever we choose to call it; the place within that forever exists, connected to universal consciousness, in eternal bliss…

By Marisa Laursen, C.A.S., P.K.S., A.Y.T., Faculty at the California College of Ayurveda