Ayurveda Model of Health and Healing

Modern medicine doesn't have a definition of disease and cure. Factually, what is food for one person is poison for another. The effects of a medicine differ on different bodies. The symptoms underdetermine a disease but the disease fully determines the symptoms. Modern medicine relies on inferring the disease from the symptoms which by definition is underdetermined. Curing those symptoms often worsens the disease or just suppresses the symptoms while the disease lingers and continugously grows. A comprehensive understanding of disease and cure, health and sickness is needed.

Traditional systems of medicine don’t just differ in terms of what they prescribe for cures, but often have fundamentally different ideas of health. The most sophisticated of such ideas is found in the traditional Vedic system of medicine called Ayurveda. It borrows some fundamental ideas from the Vedic view of material reality, which have to be understood in order to contrast it to the modern conceptions of medicine.

To begin with, we must understand the philosophy of the soul which is defined as three aspects called sat, chit, and ānanda. These are extremely nuanced concepts, which appear in numerous triads such as relation, cognition, and emotion, right, truth, and good, ethos, logos, and pathos, theory, practice, and result, and so forth. All these triads are useful in different scenarios and no triad is useful in all scenarios.

For the present scenario, we can discuss the triad of ability, opportunity, and proclivity, which are three kinds of potentialities and an actuality is created by their combination. For instance, if you are eating an apple (which is an actuality), it is produced by the combination of three potentials (a) you have the opportunity to eat, (b) you have the ability to eat, and (c) you have a proclivity to eat. The opportunity may exist, but without the ability, you won’t be eating. The opportunity and ability may exist, but without the proclivity, you won’t be eating. The proclivity and ability may exist, but without the opportunity, you will not be eating. The actuality of eating is the result of ability, proclivity, and opportunity. Each of these three can be dominant causes of creating a combination. But no combination will be produced if one of these is absent.

The normal situation in life is the presence of numerous abilities, opportunities, and proclivities. We combine a subset of these abilities, opportunities, and proclivities to produce an actuality. Choice plays a key role in causality because even as numerous abilities, proclivities, and opportunities are missing, many abilities, opportunities, and proclivities presently exist. By choice, we combine them to create an actuality.

Every choice has three side-effects: (a) it increases the proclivity to repeat the same choice and decreases the proclivity to make the opposite types of choices, (b) it improves the ability to make the same choice and decreases the ability to make the opposite types of choices, and (c) it may increase or decrease the opportunity to make the choice depending on the previous choice’s effects. All scenarios cause trouble.

  • If opportunities decrease after the ability and proclivity have increased due to repeated use of choices of the same kind, a person would be troubled because he can no longer fulfill his proclivity and use his ability due to the reduction in opportunity.
  • If opportunities increase after the ability and proclivity have decreased due to repeated non-use of choices of the opposite kind, then a person would be troubled because he can no longer utilize the opportunity due to reduced ability and proclivity.

These troubles are the result of duality in material nature, namely, that mateiral nature exists in opposites like hot and cold, heavy and light, rough and smooth, and so on. If one side of the duality increases, then the other side automatically decreases. These dualities apply to proclivity and ability, collectively characterized through guna. But they don’t apply to opportunity, which is characterized by karma, determined by whether an action is right and wrong. When the actions are right, then proclivity, ability, and opportunity for the right increase. If the actions are wrong, then proclivity and ability for the wrong increases but the opportunity for the wrong decreases.

Thus, a general prescription for life is to do dharma, or the right thing, because that will increase the ability, opportunity, and proclivity to do the right thing and as all three increases, a person’s satisfaction grows because his opportunities, proclivities, and abilities are continuously growing. The prescription is also to avoid adharma, or the wrong thing, because that will decrease the ability, opportunity, and proclivity.

Dharma and adharma are contextually defined. What is dharma for one person is not dharma for another and vice versa. What is dharma in one time, place, and situation is not dharma for another. Similarly, a certain type of dharma or righteous action cannot be done by one who has no ability for it. Even as a person may have the ability and opportunity, he will have a tough time doing dharma without the proclivity for it. Thereby, the Vedic society was divided into four different classes, which were then given different opportunities, based on their abilities and proclivities, so that they can perform their dharma perfectly by which they will increase their ability, proclivity, and opportunity for dharma, and produce a continuously improving society.

The guna, or ability and proclivity, are called a person’s Prakṛti or nature. A person’s opportunities, governed by the previous dharma resulting in karma, is called nurture. A person’s nurture has to be matched to their nature and vice versa to ensure that (a) a person is not forced to do things that are different from his abilities and proclivities, and (b) the person doesn’t seek opportunities that he cannot fulfill the dharma for. For instance, a person incapable and uninclined toward sports must not be pushed into sports. A person incapable of sports must not seek opportunities to do sports. We have to endeavor to match the nature to the nurture and vice versa. If the best-match nurture is not available, then nature must be adapted to the available nurture. If the best-match nurture is available, then it must be selected over other nurtures.

We are now in a position to define the meaning of “health” and “disease”. Health is defined by two things: (a) a person performs dharma, and (b) his nature and nurture are perfectly matched. Everything else is either disease or will lead to disease:

  1. A person does dharma, although his nature and nurture are mismatched,
  2. A person does adharma due to nature-nurture mismatch but he wants to do dharma,
  3. A person wants to do adharma and uses mismatched nature as an excluse for it,
  4. A person doesn’t perform dharma, but his nature and nurture are matched.

Scenario (1) will quickly lead to disease but it will also be cured quickly as soon as he finds a nurture matching his nature. Scenario (2) will lead to disease slowly and it will also last longer as he will fall into adharma again at the slightest inconvenience. Scenario (3) will lead to disease over an even longer duration and it will last even longer because he has tendencies for adharma even as he is ashamed of being exposed. Finally, scenario (4) will lead to disease over an even longer duration and its cure will also take a very long time because he is not ashamed of being exposed.

The immediate cause of all diseases is nature-nurture mismatch. But that mismatch can be short- or long-lived. The easily curable diseases are also produced from a nature-nurture mismatch but the mismatch is easily fixed because it is not the result of long-term adharma. The hardly curable diseases are those that are the results of long-term adharma and then the nature-nuruture mismatch is not fixed easily.

Therefore, central to Ayurveda are the followign key concepts:

  • A disease always results from a mismatch between nature and nurture,
  • A disease resulting from a reaction to adharma cannot be cured easily,
  • A disease caused just by a nature-nurture mismatch can be cured easily,
  • If dharma is done due to nature, disease is cured by changing nurture,
  • If adharma is done due to nature, disease is cured by changing nature.

We don’t release a criminal from a jail just because he falls sick in a jail. We expect him to change his nature. Similarly, we don’t cure a disease when it is caused by a bad nature. We try to cure the nature by a nurture that will transform his nature.

All medicines, treatments, foods, environments, and advices are nurtures. They can be given (a) to cure the adverse effects of a bad nurture on a good nature or (b) to cure the adverse effects of a good nurture on a bad nature. Bad people don’t take to good advice easily. Good advice makes them sick. Likewise, a good medicine doesn’t create good effects in a bad nature. It rather makes the bad nature sick. Therefore, there are no universal prescriptions for treatments. Every treatment is person dependent.

At present, there are several misconceptions even about Ayurveda medicines:

  • All diseases can be cured by Ayurveda. It is false because karmic diseases cannot be cured. They cannot be cured by any method. All methods fail for karmic diseases.
  • There is no good or bad nature or that every nature is just that person’s nature. It is false because nature philosophy comes from guna which are always better and worse.
  • Every disease should be cured by restoring the person back to their nature. It is false because the good nature must be restored and the bad nature must be changed.
  • A medicine for a symptom is good for everyone with that symptom. It is false because fixing the symptom can aggravate the bad nature to cause much worse illness.
  • It is a physician’s duty to find the shortest path to cure a person. It is false because altering the nature is a long cure while restoring the nature is a short cure.
  • A healthy body is naturally immune to all diseases. It is false because every nature is compatible only with some nurture. It falls sick due to an incompatible nurture.

Present-day Ayurveda has been disconnected from the guna-dharma-karma philosophy. It has been divorced from the moral philosophy of right and wrong and is studied as a system of medicine just like Western medicine, applying the same amoral principles of modern science along with the ideology of universalization that treats every body as just the same kind of body when (a) bodies are not of the same kind, and (b) some bodies are good while others are bad based on the principles of guna.

The job of this research project is to reestablish the connection between medicine and the philosophy of guna-karma-dharma by citing classical references that speak about these topics and not merely about medicines. The morality of a physician is also a topic of related interest because just as a bad nature is reformed and a good nature is restored, similarly, a body with bad guna is reformed and that with good guna is restored. Without the guna-dharma-karma science, medicine is not Ayurveda.