Abstract: Human beings, interdependent and impermanent like all the innumerable creatures throughout existence, have abided by the natural rhythm of creation, maintenance and destruction from their inception. This mechanism has kept Homo sapiens’ population in balance and interwoven with the multifaceted tapestry of earthly cohabitants, whilst insuring human’s environmental impact remain subject to the function of a normal, healthy cycle characterized by the stages of accumulation, aggravation, and alleviation. But, with the development of widespread agriculture and industry, the pollution of humans took a new diseased pattern. The by-products of human life moved from accumulation and, rather than naturally alleviating, began to overflow, relocate, manifest, and diversify. This disruption of the natural order has become so rampant that it presently affects the flow of the elements, humors, and forces, which sustain all life on this tiny planet. Humans can look at these past 10,000 years of history as a global diagnostic test, from which they have learned much. With this knowledge they are empowered to reverse their impact, refine their behaviors, and thrive in accord with innate, universal law.
Methods: A review of the literature was conducted, including: classical Ayurvedic, Buddhist and Vedic texts, contemporary peer-reviewed research articles, and contemporary texts from fields such as: Ayurveda, Environmental Science, Permaculture, and Eco-psychology.
Currently, the creatures of earth find themselves in a precarious situation. The climate is experiencing a time of atmospheric disequilibrium. This changing atmosphere has an effect on ecosystems, weather patterns, and species at large. Scientists know this to have happened before. The earth was conquered by a species once in the past, which rapidly introduced a gas into the atmosphere at a radically abnormal concentration. This species was ancient cyanobacteria and that climate changing gas was exhaled oxygen as a product of respiration. Since those earliest colonizers, the earth has played host to 2.3 billion years worth of species, more than 99 percent of which have gone extinct.1 A stark amount of these lost species have been shown to die off in relative chronological proximity to others in what are considered at least five different “great extinctions”. Humankind now finds itself conveniently at the driver’s seat of another such extinction episode. This presents a sequence of questioning. If Homo sapiens is a part of nature, and change is natural, is climate change not a natural event? Should people work to reverse this process, and if so, how can they be successful? What is the nature of existence? How can one define balance? How has anthropocentric entropy gotten so carried away? It is the intent of this paper to demonstrate the methods for an individual to find health through connecting with nature; however, in a time of pervasive disconnection, one must take a very long view in order to address this issue. Luckily, for those who do wish to find personal and ecological health, become established in their selves, lead an abundant life, and even actualize liberation from the cycles of suffering, the ancient and living knowledge contained in the Science of Life, Ayurveda, has much to offer.
To properly treat a disease, there are associated factors a qualified physician must first thoroughly understand. The disease is surely a product of a certain imbalance of elements. So, the disease itself has a unique elemental constitution. Along with an imbalance, the diseased being also has an original constitution distinctive to its identity. The same is true for every potential treatment. An appropriate therapy is one that restores balance to the elemental composition and flow. In order to comprehend the components at play, it is best to realize their origins.
According to Sankya Philosophy, a foundation of Ayurvedic and Yogic theory, the materialization of our current universe involved 25 aspects of reality, or tattvas. The last five of these tattvas to be produced were the five elements to which we are accustomed, ether, air, fire, water, and earth.2 This origination came from the merging of the potential for matter with universal consciousness, and its products are the base material for all forms and beings. This event of divergence from a single origin into the infinite complexity of life is summed up in one line by the author Patañjali in verse 4.14 of his Yoga Sūtras, “The things [of the world] are objectively real, due to the uniformity of [the gunas that underpin] all change.”3 Gunas here is referring to primordial qualities, namely purity, activity, and inertia. Middle Way Buddhists, like the sage-physician Nāgārjuna, similarly consider all compounded things to be of dependent origination and empty of inherent existence. By reverse engineering this evolutionary process, Nāgārjuna articulates a remedy, “Through meditatively cultivating the wisdom of reality, which is the same and is moistened with compassion, for the sake of liberating all sentient beings, you will become a Conqueror endowed with all supreme aspects.”4 In the Bhagavad-Gītā, Lord Krishna also speaks of this equipoise, “Those with the vision of eternity can see that the imperishable soul is transcendental, eternal, and beyond the modes of nature. Despite contact with the material body, O Arjuna, the soul neither does anything nor is entangled.”5 So, if each person in absolute reality is actually pure, unobstructed consciousness and beyond the elements, why should one bother with constitution, imbalance, and disease?
The five elements emanated from the creation of the five elementals, tanmátras, or senses. These senses are a product of Támasa Ahamkára, the most rudimentary form of egoism.6 Functioning in a personified entity, these attributes will inevitably give rise to sense desires. It is desire that acts to mar an individual and causes them to succumb to the sway of attachment and aversion to the aggregates of relative reality, and suffer. This causes one to forget their nature as an immortal soul, build identity around impermanent forms, and entrench their self further in an illusion. From this deluded mind-frame, one proceeds to act. These actions become habits, and the individual drifts further into psychosis. Fortunately, adepts such as Patañjali and Gautama Buddha, each with their respective eightfold path, have provided a template for cleansing the obscurations of desire and remembering ones Natural Great Perfection. To have the strength to stand on this kind of path requires profound determination and stamina both mentally and physically. So one who wishes to know their true self, be free from the brambles of suffering, and taste bliss beyond duality, must maintain the body and mind; for, these faculties will together serve as a vehicle along the Way. The Ashthāñga Hrrdayam begins, “Obeisance be, to that Apūrva vaidya (unique/unparalleled/rare Physician) who has destroyed, without any residue, (all) the diseases like rāga (passion/desire) etc. which are constantly associated (innate/inherent) with and spread all over the body, giving rise to outshukya (anxiety), moha (delusion) and arati (restlessness). [A] person desirous of (long) life which is the means (instrument) for achieving dharma (righteousness), artha (wealth) and sukha (happiness) should repose utmost faith in the teachings of Āyurveda.”7
According to this genesis story, the five elements subsequently combined, ether with air, fire with some water, and a majority of the water with earth, in the formation of three distinct humors. These humors characterized as wind, bile, and phlegm, respectively, are the means by which all mundane phenomena, from the digestion of food to the procession of the seasons, occur. Thus, the healthy functioning of natural systems is dependent upon the balance of these three humors. In The Ambrosia Heart Tantra it is said, “Wind is characteristically rough, light, cold, subtle, hard and motile. Bile is characteristically oily, acrid, hot, light, bad-smelling, bears the quality of purging and is moist. Phlegm is characteristically cool, heavy, acts as a softening agent, and is gentle, firm and sticky”8 By adhering to daily and seasonal patterns of action and sensory intake, one can work in accord with the natural rhythms of the humors to prevent overflow in the accumulation of any. The roles of these three are concurrent throughout the ancient texts. Lord Dhanvantari in the Sushruta Samhita draws a parallel between the external force of wind, vata, and the internal nerve force, váyu. He says that, “Váyu, in its normal or undisturbed condition, maintains a state of equilibrium between the different Doshas (humors/faults) and the root principles of the body (Dhátu); it further tends to maintain uniform state in the metabolism of the body, (protoplasmic, Agni) and helps the organs of sense-perception in discharging their specific functions.”9 Sage Rigpé Yeshé in commentary on Shakyamuni Buddha’s Heart Ambrosia Tantra root text describes bile, pitta in Sanskrit, as the active force in the body governing hunger and thirst, digestion, heightened bodily heat, complexion, courage and intelligence. He goes on to elucidate phlegm, kapha in Sanskrit, as that which gives structure mentally and physically, aids in sleep, connects and protects the joints, “gives patience and lubricates the body, making it soft.”10 In the external universe these same doshas have similar effects. Charaka says “As the loka (macrocosm) is afflicted or maintained respectively by the morbidity and normal state of the wind, sun and moon, so also the adhyātha-loka (sentient world or microcosm) is afflicted or maintained respectively by the morbidity and normal state of váyu, pitta, and kapha.“11 Vata is the vitality behind all eolian phenomena, and is often associated with destruction and decay. Kapha is associated with generation and life springing from the ashes of ruin. Pitta is known as the sustainer and oversees productive activity. So biological, geological, annual and diurnal sequences begin with the aggravation of kapha, during such time pitta is accumulated, as the potential for production ripens, and vata is alleviated while decayed material is subjected to organization and utilization. As more stored energy is put into pitta’s manufacturing plants, kapha is alleviated, giving less structure and order to insure the system’s strength, which allows the turbulent vata to accumulate. Then with the full alleviation of kapha, pitta begins to burn its remaining resources, and the decay of vata rules aggravation, which gives fodder for the re-accumulation of kapha and the reset of the series. Excessive accumulation and aggravation of any of these humors can result in a system overflow, rather than alleviation, which is the pathway of disease. Dr. Vasant Lad reminds one to rely upon the qualities of the doshas in order to decipher which is the culprit in pathogenesis. He says, ”We must understand whether the person is in the acute, sub-acute, or chronic stage of disease.” And he also indicates one to note whether the condition is with or with out āma.12 Āma can be thought of as a toxic sludge built up by improper digestion of the food, which travels into deeper and deeper tissue layers, increasingly polluting bodily functions. So the logical first step for healing when āma is present would be to right digestion and eliminate the contamination of āma in the system. After one has thoroughly cleansed the different tissue layers, they can begin to tonify, and after each layer of tissue has been tonified, the body will build ojas. “Ojas is the essence related to vitality and immunity”, says Dr. Lad.13 Charaka insists that maintenance of the cardiovascular system; happiness, tranquility and wisdom are vital factors in the preservation of ojas. 14 However, he argues, “non-violence stands the first and foremost among the promoters of longevity of living beings.”15 So the formula for health is taking form. One should regulate digestion so as to prevent from the formation of āma. One should also abide by the natural rhythms of the primordial humors, so as to prevent the overflow of any, while working to preserve and promote ojas through support of the mental, emotional, and physical heart. It should be understood that the heart is considered the seat of consciousness and thus the place where happiness, tranquility, compassion and wisdom reside.
How can one truly alleviate āma, incorporate circadian routine, and build ojas in a world where they are constantly bombarded with interference from sources such as: radiation, plastic pollution, season disruption, sound pollution, light pollution, electro-magnetic field pollution, air pollution, water pollution, soil degradation, deforestation and so forth? Furthermore, how can one balance the doshas inwardly, while the environment is in a state of ever-increasing disarray? In a diseased environ, how can a person have any confidence that food or herbs taken will have their intended effect? The word apocalypse, one suited to describe the visions of this current crisis with its multifarious manifestations, comes from the Greek word apokaluptein, meaning to uncover or reveal.16 Could all these catastrophic events, biodiversity loss and mass extinction, upsetting of the carbon cycle and its effects such as ocean acidification, asynchrony with the cosmos through light pollution, and the like, actually be apocalyptic in the Greek sense that they are disclosing a deep truth? The great 19th century physician Edward Bach lends a valuable insight. “Let it be briefly stated that disease, though apparently so cruel, is in itself beneficent and for our good, and if rightly interpreted, it will guide us to our essential faults. If properly treated it will be the cause of the removal of those faults and leave us better and greater than before.” 17 So what lesson can the so called “wise man”, Homo sapiens, learn from this diseased world concerning his faults? Again it would be useful to consult the mystic clarity of Charaka:
- For example, when the rulers of states, towns, cities and countries transgress the righteous path and rule their subjects by sinful means then their subordinates… add to this sinful situation. Their sinful acts per-force make the righteous acts to disappear. Because of the disappearance of righteous acts, even the gods desert the people living in these places. Such are the places where seasons are impaired. Consequently either there is no rainfall in time or there is no rainfall at all or there is abnormality in the rainfall; air does not blow properly; there is abnormality in the earth, water (reservoirs) get dried up, drugs lose their normal attributes and get impaired. Then there is impairment of the country because of the impairment of food and drinks.18
To fully appreciate the meaning of this assertion it is indispensible to comprehend two fundamental themes. First, according to traditional Indo-Vedic philosophy, gods personify different aspects of nature. For instance, Indra represents rain and thunderstorms. So for a land to lose the presence of the gods would mean its people have forgotten how to honor nature, and thus, have severed the lifeline to the organic world. Here righteous acts are those generated by right motivation, and thus do not involve profiting from the loss of others, and instead are meant to benefit beings and lead toward liberation. Secondly, religious activity, regardless of a personage’s spiritual faith, is characterized by the habitual actions consistently committed. This perpetual pursuit defines ones values and shapes their reality. So if politicians honor wrong views and the state awards misconduct, righteous activities like compassionate care and following one’s dharma, life mission, will fall out of favor in wake of superficial material wealth, comfort, and convenience. As a prescription for such a time, in the Sutra of the Medicine Buddha, it is written, “if calamities such as epidemics, …untimely wind and rain, or drought arise in a country, the ruler of that country should give rise to the heart and mind of compassion for all sentient beings…that country will be able to quickly attain peace and stability.19 And Charaka also offers a rejuvenative therapy to be administered for the same affect, but presents the idea that this revolutionary solution to remove pollution could also come from the individuals within a society adopting truthful and compassionate means of being and honoring the natural world.20
For instance, carbon is stored in all organic material, released upon decay or combustion, and returned to either the soil or the atmosphere. From the soil it is recycled into the formation of new organic life forms, and from the atmosphere it is absorbed through respiration, mostly by photosynthetic organisms. This is one loop left open, and that has moved far beyond overflow. This is a story that should be familiar to the reader, carbon sequestered long ago in the form of coal, oil, natural gas, and tar sands has been unearthed and burned for fuel. Humans have been using burned carbon in the form of wood, charcoal, and coal since prehistoric times, but until the Industrial Revolution, the amount of atmospheric carbon emitted by this process was never enough to really overwhelm the earth’s carbon breathing creatures. Since the onset of industry, however, carbon has been accumulating in the atmosphere, with the world’s vegetation, algae, and oceans absorbing as much as they could; yet, it continued to accrue in a manner consistent with disease. As a greenhouse gas, atmospheric carbon in the forms of carbon dioxide and methane acts to trap the suns heat, causing warming. This heating effect is strongest at the poles, where it has been causing the steady recession of icecaps and permafrost. These long frozen vicinities themselves store a great amount of carbon, which is released upon their melting. This loss of white earth results in the lessening of the albumin effect, the ability of the earth to reflect the suns rays. This heating has far-reaching results as it progresses further into disorder. This changes and intensifies weather patterns, as there is more moisture holding capacity in a warmer atmosphere, precipitation events are larger and more destructive. At the same time droughts worsen as evapotranspiration is increased by warmer temperatures and the earth is left susceptible to bigger forest fires, which further attribute to the perverted carbon cycle.21 Excess carbon absorption by the oceans chemically lowers their pH which intern has far reaching implications. Carbon overflow is the most immediate threat to the existence of life, as it is known on the earth. And one can observe objectively the maturation of the karmic seeds of which the Medicine Buddha and Charaka had warned. It is simply because of desire for short-term convenience over long-term sustainable happiness and the corruption of policy makers that this occurred. Today the advancements of technology exist to sustainably meet the world’s power demand, if only people can let go of the mislead notion that one can gain while causing demise, and embrace the values of compassion for beings. It is not necessarily the devious plans of sinister societies that caused this outcome, instead ignorant illusion.
Squandering resources is at the core of all environmental problems the world over. This act of profiting from destruction is exactly the kind of ‘sinful’ practice Charaka described as a contributing factor for epidemics. These transgressions represent the typical business plan since the Industrial Revolution. Despite the flowering abundance of natural systems, many have been exploited to, or beyond, the brink of recovery. As all life is intertwined and interdependent, anthropogenic phylogeny loss is worsening by the day.23 According to 20 years of research from the United Nations, measuring the necessity for biodiversity,
- There is now unequivocal evidence that biodiversity loss reduces the efficiency by which ecological communities capture biologically essential resources, produce biomass, decompose and recycle biologically essential nutrients. There is mounting evidence that biodiversity increases the stability of ecosystem functions through time. The impact of biodiversity on any single ecosystem process is nonlinear and saturating, such that change accelerates as biodiversity loss increases. Diverse communities are more productive because they contain key species that have a large influence on productivity, and differences in functional traits among organisms increase total resource capture. Loss of diversity across trophic levels has the potential to influence ecosystem functions even more strongly than diversity loss within trophic levels. Functional traits of organisms have large impacts on the magnitude of ecosystem functions, which give rise to a wide range of plausible impacts of extinction on ecosystem function.24
This loss of ecosystem function has direct, debilitating effect on the health of the Homo sapiens organism. A multitude of minerals have leached from the soil and are causing severe mineral deficiency in many people. For instance, magnesium is now found at observably low concentrations in most soil. Magnesium has been shown to sustain beneficial gut microbiota which support healthy states of body and mind.25 In America’s Pacific Northwest, salmon (Oncorhychus sp.) have become disunited from their alpine stream breading grounds through the over production of dams. This has not only significantly limited a once abundant protein source, but also has broken the cycle that would normally return phosphorous, nitrogen, and other key nutrients to forests as far as 1,000 miles from the coast. In the downstream flow, such dams have also blocked crucial habitat-forming sediment. Salmon are correspondingly under extreme pressure from climate change.26 Resulting from the decline of Pacific salmon stocks, the Southern Resident orca whale (Orcinus orca) is now in danger of extinction. 27 From similar stories of anthropocentric habitat and food loss, many of the earth’s classically iconic creatures are now listed as endangered. In Sumatra, the endemic rainforest home of elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus), tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae), rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and orangutan, ‘man of the forest’ (Pongo abelii), has mostly been lost in wake of palm oil plantations. The American grasslands, once home to millions of buffalo, have been converted to raise grain and legumes to be fed to domesticated species like cows in fed lots across the country. These animals are subject to deplorable living conditions and contribute heavily to climate change, as their waste is not sequestered properly. This waste and chemicals from the massive industrial grain and legume production fields pollute waterways and create dead zones in deltas all across the country. Land use change to intensive mono-crop farming leads to extensive destruction of microbes, macronutrients and trance minerals. 28 Beyond impacting the soil, water, plants and animals, on which man ultimately depends, chemical fertilizers and pesticides have been linked directly to the degradation of human health.29, 30 Industrial sized animal rearing has lead to the overuse of antibiotics in healthy animals, causing extreme bacterial resistance to these valuable medicines.31
In Mongolia shamans speak of the decline in species like the snow leopard, caused by over grazing of sheep limiting the range and number of native mountain goats, from the landscape as “the mountain losing its echo”.32 As demonstrated, science can verify the impact loss of ecosystem function can have on human health, but how can one ever quantify the loss-of-awe man experiences when he can no longer be inspired by iconic creatures and settings? How can one measure the psychological impact turning rainforest and water bodies like the Aral Sea into a desert, removing entire mountains from the landscape via strip mining and mountain top removal, or introducing billions of gallons of toxic ‘produced water’ and upsetting the geological balance via hydro-fracking has? How can one cope with the emotions accrued by bringing the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) or the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) to extinction? The results of many studies suggest time in nature is of supreme benefit.33,34 35, 36 Yet there are very few places on earth where one can experience true nature, free from sound, or other forms of pollution. How can one sleep with the cycles of the doshas in the midst of light pollution so strong their pineal gland cannot suitably secrete melatonin. The plastics of human’s consumerism are overrunning the oceans and causing harm upon consumption by creatures ranging from coral to whales. These plastics are shown to cause hormonal imbalance and gene change in oceanic species like zebrafish (Danio rerio)37 as well as humans.38 Today’s average, fast-paced lifestyle, with the need for instant gratification, has allowed for the ubiquitous use of pharmaceutical pills and thus a legacy of iatrogenic illnesses. Does one need a study to demonstrate the necessity of seeing the night sky, taking clean water and food, having medicine that is safe, or being able to hike in the woods? The healing prowess of compassion can incite humans to act and save places and animals and ultimately care about themselves enough to acknowledge the self-destruction inherent in ignorance. By realigning ones lifestyle to wisdom, purpose, and joy, one can change the trajectory of their life. This will affect positive change proximally and distally along the capacious branches of the tree of life.
The work that reconnects is that which creates a real working relationship to the land. The science of sustainability is gaining strength everyday. Ancient principles and ideas are now reborn with new insights. The way to health for the individual is the return to health of the systems. It is now understood that the most successful indigenous cultures were neither hunter/gatherers nor agriculturist, rather they were tenders of the wild. They learned to maximize nature’s abundance by working with the elements and not viewing themselves as separate from their surroundings. They were able to balance production with ecosystem diversity and resilience. This was accomplished through the implementation of diverse resource management techniques such as: burning, pruning, sowing, weeding, and tilling.39 “In traditional cultures, there are connections between the plant growing in its environment, its creative transformation into useful items, and the use itself.” says M. Kat Anderson.40 By reestablishing a relationship with the land, people can better understand the complex systems at work and how to maintain or optimize them. Anderson proceeds, “Achieving sustainable use of the earth’s resources will involve cultural changes as much as advances in knowledge and transformation of economies.”41
The science of permaculture (permanent agriculture) offers a series of methods aimed to bridge the gap between present problems and future success by reimagining methods for working with resources. One of the fathers of permaculture, Bill Mollison, set out five major principles:
- 1. Work with nature, rather than against the natural elements, forces, pressures, processes, agencies, and evolutions, so that we assist rather than impede natural developments.
- 2. The problem is the solution; everything works both ways. It is only how we see things that makes them advantageous or not (if the wind blows cold, let us use both its strength and its coolness to advantage). A corollary of this principle is that everything is a positive resource; it is just up to us to work out how we may use it as such.
- 3. Make the least change for the greatest possible effect.
- 4. The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited. The only limit on the number of uses of a resource possible within a system is in the limit of the information and the imagination of the designer.
- 5. Everything gardens, or has an effect on its environment.42
This science shows a great potential to heal and feed the world.43 Permaculture echoes Ayurvedic principles, guiding one to elemental harmony, grace, and abundance. As humans decentralize their food sources and begin to consume local and seasonal fair, not only will they reestablish a culture with the land and its beings, they will regenerate a synchronistic routine with the doshas. John Douillard in his book, The 3-Season Diet, expounds that, in order to pacify the doshas at their time of accumulation and aggravation, one must simply eat with the rhythm of local, seasonal harvests.44
Another regenerative and rejuvenative living Science of Life, Eco-psychology, maintains, “We are mentally, more than physically, isolated from the natural world.”45 So accordingly, humans must first change their minds in order to manifest new physical circumstances. Henry David Thoreau reverberates this sentiment,” There must be the copulating and generating force of love behind every effort destined to be successful.”46 In deduction, for one to be healthy, they must have right motivation, practice righteous activities, foster a compassionate and wise heart, respect natural laws, and live in accordance with such laws. This kind of spiritual, cerebral, and somatic activity will spread from an individual, eventually blessing all beings. Nature truly depends on the consideration and endeavor of humans to thrive, just as they are intimately reliant upon the utilities of the universe.