- Basis: the meaning of Ayurveda in Sanskrit
- A word of caution
- Understanding Ayurveda as a way of life
- The holistic dimension
- Cultural comparison with Judaism
- Ayurveda and yoga: a global approach
- The world is managed internally by three forms
- Preponderances and balance
- Application to self: doshas
- The wisdom of Ayurveda in foundational texts
- The Bhagavad Gita; presentation
- Qualities of wisdom promoted by Ayurveda
- A word of caution in conclusion
- Ayurveda is made up of two words: "ayus" meaning
longevity and "veda" (like the name of the ancient
texts which describe this science) meaning "knowledge
and science." Together the word means "knowledge
and science of life."
- "Aya" is life and "Ayuhpat" is what
- Ayurveda is a complement to the sacred text "atharva-veda"
and comprises eight branches of knowledge.
- The oldest communicators of these two Vedas or sciences
were called "rishis" or visionaries, just as the
Hebrew Bible (I Samuel 9.9) calls the ancient prophets visionaries
("roee"), for they had direct inner and visual contact
with reality in all its dimensions, not simply at the superficial,
- The practitioner of Ayurveda is called "ayurvedika"
and the sage who has mastered this way of life is called "ayusmat."
Another term for a practitioner of Ayurveda is "vaiyda,"
the one who possesses science.
- "Ayusha" means length of life and when one wants
to wish someone a long life one says "ayushaya."
You now know quite a lot!
It is a relatively simply task to master these concepts in
order to obtain an academic diploma. But acquiring an understanding
of this science in all its facets in order to practice it
and treat a complex variety of human beings is another matter.
Ayurveda is a science which can only be mastered through a
long process of training and experience working with a wide
range of cases and dealing with all the varied states of wellbeing
and human individuality. It is this kind of process which
I have undergone.
This science is also acquired through a true understanding
of a culture, where language, practices and relationships
take all these dimensions into account. For instance, great
personal understanding is needed in order to treat a mother
and baby after birth and train the mother to massage her baby.
Ayurveda comprises knowledge of the body, knowledge of human
relationships, and knowledge of the mind and it acknowledges
our connection to divine levels and the spirituality of prayer
and meditation (Atharva Veda 11, 6, 15).
But it is important to avoid drawing parallels with Western
concepts of religion or mysticism; such parallels could deter
people who wish solely to improve their health and way of
life. Ayurveda is closer to the Latin word "religio,"
meaning "bonds and connections," and to yoga in
its true meaning, rather than to the dogma, faith, and practices
associated with religions.
The multiple simultaneous dimensions of existence and human
relationships are part of the universal reality called "Dharma."
As such, Ayurveda comprises the moral dimensions of receptivity,
respect, and modesty, which are often subsumed under the concept
of "ahimsa" (non-violence towards all humans).
This receptivity and reciprocity are akin to what Judaism
calls the flux of benediction ("berakha," blessing
Ayurveda is not a linear, unilateral theory but an existential
system in which every dimension is inter-connected. This embodies
the notion of "union" which is the meaning
of the word "yoga" in Indian tradition.
This holistic dimension of life and happiness, which encapsulates
both the conscious and subconscious levels, is called "chitta"
in Sanskrit; conscious perception is "jagrat chitta";
subconscious impressions are "samskara chitta.";
the immense subconscious is "vasana chitta" and
the subconscious that is connected to the higher levels of
the mind is "anakarana chitta."
We know, from experience, that it is impossible to manage
all these levels by oneself. To do so requires not just learning
and practice: we also need to learn from the pathologies we
ourselves create and from the experience of our sages and
This concept of reality helps us to understand that the first
essential phase of an Ayurveda treatment (through plants,
oils, massage or diet) is often "quintuple cleansing"
("pancha karma") of blockages and obstructions.
After which, a persons entire being becomes positively
receptive to its own structure and dynamic, to the foods and
hygiene required to achieve the "balance" between
the diverse inner forces that often come into conflict with
each other and cause pathologies.
This holistic concept encompasses an approach to happiness
which is not only individual but also general and cosmic,
for it acknowledges and respects diversity within oneself,
the universe and others.
This is what is expressed in the often cited and sung text
djanaa sukinu bavantu
(may all people, nations, beings be happy)
Aum, chanti, chanti, chanti
(Aum, peace, peace, peace)
This management through personal harmony is called sattva"
From the first words of the Torah, Judaism grasps the felicitous,
beneficent totality of human beings (the term "adam"
in Hebrew is not just a name; it means a person and characterizes
all humanity and all human beings, men and women of every
nation) and of Creation with all its potential.
In Indian tradition, this concept is called "Brahman"
or "sacchiananda," and it views universal existence
as a positive blessing of love or "ananda." This
form of knowledge which connects the personal, the concrete
and the transcendent is called "jnana-yoga" because
it connects ("yoga") and encompasses transcendent
In this approach, the individual "I" ("ani"
in Hebrew) and the supreme divine "I" (also "ANI"
in Hebrew) are united. This is something so deep and powerful
that, in the passages of the Torah where God insists on His
revealed will, He introduces himself as "Ani, Hashem"
From the minute one wakes up in the morning, "ani"
is the second word which all Jews recite in the verse: "mode
ani lefaneika, I recognize that I am Ani before You."
All of creation is thus defined in terms of people ("purusha")
who are conscious beings and who communicate from a state
of wellbeing and plenitude.
Ayurveda and yoga are becoming increasingly popular in the
West. Sadly, however, they are reduced to simple activities
consisting of "yoga positions" (asana), meditation
or dietary regimes.
Furthermore, the link between these two holistic sciences
of wellbeing is not understood and the two are simply juxtaposed
Below are some important points:
Yoga is not solely about bodily exercises and positions. Like
its literal meaning, yoga is a connection of the "entire"
being with "all" aspects of human beings and nature
which are accessible internally and externally. This true
concept of yoga is so holistic in its simultaneous connection
with self and with all the forces of the universe that the
"perfect yoga," which characterizes the ideal being
and its divine life, is repeatedly mentioned in Indian texts.
This is a constant theme in the Bhagavad Gita. We shall develop
these concepts later on. The essential point is that Ayurveda
and yoga are important because of their holistic and broad
understanding of the body, of inner and external reality,
and of the mind and spirituality. In this context, we shall
highlight only the points that are necessary to understand
Ayurveda and ensure the success of treatment.
- "sattva," the attribute of positive, joyous, felicitous,
harmonious, pure balance within diversity.
- "rajas," priority to the process of action
- "tamas," irresponsible, crazy, uncontrolled and
These attributes are described in Chapter 14 of the Bhagavad
Gita and Chapter 18, 40 states, in conclusion, that "no
being (na tad), on earth (prthivyam) or in heaven among the
Devas (celestial beings) is totally free (nuktam) from these
three (tribhih) influences-gunas (ebhih) which derive from
The art of yoga is in being able to manage these processes
at the individual level.
Every individual has an inner preponderance which expresses
itself in the balance between these systems. Ayurveda diagnoses
identifies this preponderance and operates on the internal
and external management of the individuals physical
health, emotions, thought, spirituality, movement and relationships.
An Ayurveda practitioner who only stresses the physical-chemical
role of plants and herbs or their medicinal value is no more
than a Western herbalist and understands nothing about Ayurveda.
On a poetic note, the oldest Veda, the Rig Veda 10, 97, 18-19
states that "plants are the queen of the body."
Other texts, such as the Susruta Samhita Chiktisa 29 and 30,
go even further and make an analogy of the body with twenty
four plants and a parallel with 18 other plants.
I was surprised to see, from my studies of Jewish tradition,
to what extent sacred Jewish texts also set out a similar
concept which regrettably is perceived by many, not as a reality,
but as a poetic metaphor.
Ayurveda uses three concepts to characterize the temperament-energies
of each individual. These concepts are called "doshas"
(or power) and they cause separate, related or triangular
imbalances when they are not understood or managed well. In
such cases, every form of pathology can occur.
The diagnostic and therapeutic role of the Ayurveda practitioner
("ayurvedika") is to understand this process together
with the client who comes for treatment or training in order
to attain self-knowledge, health, and improved self-management.
A long interview is necessary with the practitioner in order
to detect the factors that govern and perturb our personal
well-being, relationships, health, growth, ageing, actions,
Another concept is that of "canals or srotamsi, srotas
in the singular." The Western world has now accepted
the concept of multiple canals or meridians, as in acupuncture.
Ayurveda also works with numerous interconnected canals which
activate our various organs and influence pathologies or good
Some canals have a concentric position; these are the seven
Other canals are carriers of water ("ambhuvaha")
or food ("annavaha").
Some animate the nervous system ("majjavaha"), others
the muscles ("mamsavaha"), others the urine ("mutravaha"),
others thoughts ("manovaha"), etc.
The wisdom of Ayurveda in foundational texts
The Bhagavad Gita - presentation
The Bhagavad Gita 2, 53 describes the concept and practice
of Ayurveda thus:
"Srutivipratipanna te yada sthasyati niscala
Samadhavacala buddhistada yogamavapsyasi.
When our intellect, confused by its insertion into conflicting
realities, becomes stable and is not diverted from (balance)
meditation with God, then you will attain yoga."
This continual process of renewal, at the physical, psychological
and spiritual levels, is summed up at end of the book (18,
77) and in all the traditional texts:
"punah punah, even more and even more again."
In short, it is a matter of living in a constant and healthy
present. We also find this concept in the first word of the
foundational work on yoga, the Yoga Sutra by Patanjali:
"Atta yoga nussassanam."
This is generally translated as: "Now, here is the complete
exposé of yoga."
A richer and more literal translation would be:
"Now: this is the complete exposé of yoga."
Permanent, eternal now, punah.
It is clear that the wellbeing generated by Ayurveda is achieved
through the concrete, through an understanding of all our
dimensions and components of these dimensions, and of the
inter-connections and balance between all these levels.
This concept rests on an absolute optimistic faith in the
totality of the human being and of the universe. As the Bhagavad
Gita 6, 40 says:
"O Arjuna, there is never any destruction in this life
or in the next life for he who engages in kalyana and he will
then never fall into durgatim."
Kalyana means steering towards what is excellent, beautiful,
noble, optimal, happy, good, virtuous, redemptive, advantageous,
and the best we can wish for ourselves and for others.
Durgatim means deprivation, poverty, difficult or impossible
situations, calamity, distress, unhappiness.
What the Bhagavad Gita describes is a state of "vasundhara"
when we steer towards goodness, the vital breath ("assu")
This concept is described in Bhagavad Gita 9, 1 as "guhyatanam"
(the most confidential secret), and "when it is realized,
vijnana sahitam tu," then "you will be free, moksyase"
from "asubhat," misery, impatience, self-destructive
and dark thoughts
The same linear concept can be found in numerous Jewish sources:
in the last verse of the Psalms and in Yedid Nefesh, a hymn
written by Rav Azkari (16th century), a student of the master
of Kabbala, the Ari, and sung by Jews all over the world.
It is a song about total love and divine union, and is often
recited every morning as a plea for healing ("refa"):
"Hadur nae ziv ha olam (beauty, radiance of the universe)
Nafshi holat ahavatekha (my soul is sick for your love)
Ana el narfa nala (I beg you, heal her)
Beharot la noam zivakh ( by showing her the beauty of Your
radiance, heal her now by showing her the pleasantness of
Your radiance, and then she will be strengthened and healed.)"
Another text is the blessing which parents make on their children
on Friday night (Shabbat) and which is based on Numbers 6,
24-26. Then, as we bless the two loaves of bread, which symbolize
our two-fold, complex, complementary being, we arrive at a
state of wellbeing called "itarat kala" (the crowning
of the bride).
We have thus moved from the simplistic concept of Ayurveda,
where it consists simply of a brief diagnosis, based on an
examination of the patients pulse, tongue, eyes, and
lifestyle, prescriptions for fruit juices, herbal teas and
massages and the pouring of oil on the patients forehead,
to a holistic synthesis where unhealthy conflicts that reside
in the body and cause physical problems are understood, identified,
decoded, managed and steered towards a state of balance.
This is the level of true yoga, which is both uman and divine
as cited earlier in the Bhagavad Gita 2, 53:
"srutivipartipanna te yada sthasyati niscala
Samadhavacala buddhistada yogamavapsyasi
When our intellect, confused by its insertion into conflicting
realities, becomes stable and is not diverted from (balance)
meditation with God, then you will attain yoga."
This connects to "Chivit Hashem le negdi tamid, I place
Hashem before me always," (see previous reference to
The Bhagavad Gita then says: "know My Me which is also
individual soul in me, with knowledge of all the ksetra (fields)
as well as with consciousness; this is true knowledge."
Thus, the ultimate preoccupation of a health therapy is: constant,
complex, unified, supple, from the physical to the spiritual
level, just as in the meaning of the word "yoga"
and of the real, total yoga described in Bhagavad Gita 11,
"na tu mam sakyase drastumanenaiva svacaksusa
Divyam dadami te caksuh pasya ma yogamaisvaram,
But, truly you cannot see me with those human
eyes which are yours; so I give you the gift of a divine eye.
With it, you are in My divine power of yoga."
This entails simple, constantly renewed work because we often
feel that we are in discomfort or ill and these thoughts constantly
rupture our vital rhythms, like the night ruptures the day
or the fall of a wave breaks its rise. Ayurveda, in contrast,
leads to a continuous perception of personal, material, corporal,
intellectual and spiritual stability (irrespective of a persons
ideology, culture or religion).
We see this in Bhagavad Gita 6, 30:
"Yom am pasyati sarvatra ca mayi passyati
Tsyaham na pranasyami sat cha me na pranasyati,
He who sees me present in everything and all being existing
will never be lost for Me, and I shall never be lost for him."
This book, which is also called Gitopanishad or Srimad Bhagavad
Gita, is one of the most important Upanishad and one of the
most ancient texts in Indian tradition, together with the
four Vedas, recognized as such by the greatest spiritual masters
who teach through their knowledge and example (acharyas) and
hand down the pure Vedic tradition in an unbroken chain, masters
such as: Sankaracarya, Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, Nimbarka
Swami, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Swami Prabhupada, and others.
The book is part of an ancient Sanskrit epic called Mhabharata
which recounts the conflicts (a symbol of our inner personal
conflicts) of the Kali and Bharata royal families more than
5,000 years ago. The author was Maharsi Vyasa, to whom other
works and a commentary on Patanjalis Yoga Sutra are
Indian tradition accords supreme status to this book. In Bhismaparva
44, 4 and other texts of the Mahabharata, it is written: "The
Gita comprises all the Scriptures
it emerges directly
from divine lips
contains the 4 Vedas
a full description
of the contents of the Gita is impossible
it is eternally
and continually new
Written in a clear, simple style, with short sentences in
Sanskrit, the Bhagavad Gita sets out the essential treatments
for every human problem and for each individual (every human
being is described as having a special relationship with the
divine Creator; this individualism is called "svarupa").
The main therapeutic principle is that misfortune and pathologies
occur when an individual does not lucidly manage his insertion
within matter ("prakrti") and encloses himself in
one action (karma) without perceiving the other levels within
him, which represent reality ("jiva) and the Eternal
The goal is to find, among these difficulties, the element
of purity ("pavitram"), of Brahman, and of eternal
existence ("sasvatam"), for action and intellect
alone result in failure. It is like being connected to the
ray of sunlight which testifies to the presence of the life-giving
This perspective enables us to direct ourselves, in the here
and now, towards optimal bodily health and a holistic state
of wellbeing, called "nimana-maha" (eternal kingdom).
A person who adopts this beneficent perspective will arrive
at an emotional holistic relationship with the divine, which
is called "bhakti" (devotion) and enables the process
of purification and ultimate liberation "mukti."
This approach is also found in Judaism in the commandment
to constantly repeat the words: Hear O Israel..
This is Arjunas approach in the Bhagavad Gita and it
enables him to receive the teachings of his supreme guide,
Krishna, master of the material and spiritual worlds.
This is a very brief presentation.
The grandeur and efficacy of this great wisdom on life is
summarized in the religious text, Varahapurana: "My foundation
is the Gita. I support the three worlds on the power of the
wisdom contained in the Gita."
In Judaism, we find the same approach in the Psalms:
"atem haddevakim ba Hashem Eloekhem, hayim kulkhem hayom,
You who cling to Hashem your God, you all live today."
Healthy unity is achieved in the global meaning of the famous
"Shema Yisrael, Hashem Eloheinu, Hashem ehad,
Hear O Israel, Hashem our God, is One and with us."
I have the privilege of passing on this traditional knowledge
to those who wish to fully understand and benefit from Ayurveda
This knowledge will enable each person to evaluate his own
development and manage it better, alone or within a therapeutic
The best expression of this wisdom is found in the Bhagavad
Gita and it applies as much to Ayurveda as to yoga. Here are
the main tenets of this wisdom:
1. He who excels in Ayurveda will feel immense satisfaction
("santustah") in developing himself and within himself.
BG 3, 17.
2. But lapses, through blindness, are frequent even among
the most diligent ("yatatah"). BG 2, 60.
3. Yet he perseveres in the good he has discovered and which
he is determined to realize ("karmanai"). BG 3,
4. He becomes progressively master of himself ("vijita-atma"),
after dispelling the illusions that derive from the senses
("jita-indiyah"). BG 5, 7.
5. Everywhere ("sarvatra"), he becomes without delusory
attachments ("anabhisnehas"), whether he obtains
("prapya") good ("shubha") or evil ("ashubham")
in life. GB 2, 57.
6. He acquires a consciousness ("prajna") that is
stable ("pratisthita") and does not forget that
pleasure ("bhogah") like misfortune ("duhkha")
is limited. BG 5, 22.
7. It will make him into an intelligent being ("budhah").
BG 5, 22.
8. He will become "happy inside" ("antah-sukhah")
and "joyfully active" ("antah-aramah")
in his personal dwelling. BG 5, 24.
9. It will enable him to view all human beings equally ("samam").
BG 6, 32.
10. He does not solely seek physical exercise for his physical
health: he lives in a complete relationship with THE Presence.
BG 6, 15.
11. He discovers that no one can become a "yogi"
united to the supreme Being if he eats too much or abstains
too much, if he sleeps too much or stays up late too much.
BG 6, 16.
12. He realizes that his progress is not a simple spiritual
or intellectual exercise but an action ("karma")
which overrides inaction ("akarmanah") for only
action maintains ("yatra) the health of the body
("sharira"). BG 3, 8.
13. He then merits the appellation "yogi" and he
is greater ("adhikah") than ascetics ("tapasvibhyah"),
Sages ("jnanibhyah") and philosophers, and greater
than those who live for profit ("karmibhyah"). BG
14. His sole goal is to purify ("shuddaye") his
troubled ("cancalatvat"), unstable ("na srtiram")
side. BG 5, 11 and 6, 33 (which today epitomizes media bombardments
promoting consumption or hatred authors note).
15. He realizes that he must achieve liberation ("amrtatvaya").
BG 2, 15.
16. He becomes capable of sustained stability ("bhavah")
and no longer attributes importance to inconstant objects
or feelings of happiness ("sukha") or unhappiness
("dukha"), and strives to be tolerant ("titiksasva").
BG 2, 14.
17. Death itself, in its great manifestation of total change,
no longer makes him forget the permanence of THE supreme being
("bhagavan") or our permanence in the past and in
the future ("atah param").
In the same perspective, the prayer recited by Jews on Friday
night after reading the Song of Songs (prayer that begins
with "Ribon kol holamim"), which views plants as
a mystical model for the beauty of a husband and wife, asks
that "we merit to be placed where the souls and spirits
are carved as if we have accomplished all that we were required
to accomplish in this incarnation as in others (ve nizke ke
makom she ha nefashot, haruhot, ve ha neshamot nehetsavot
misham ukheillu assnu ko mal she mutal alenu le assign bein
begilgul ze bein begilgulgim aherim)".
The famous Bar Yohai hymn also stresses this double, unique
nature: "atsei shitim omedim, you are acacia trees standing)."
This alludes to the construction of the sanctuary in Exodus
26, 15, for man is the sanctuary and there is unity in the
different forms of nature and in the relationship between
the created and the Creator.
This notion is found again in the apex of the Bible, the Song
of Songs 2, 5 and 8, 10: "Comfort me with raisin cakes,
restore me with apples"; "I am a wall and my breasts
like towers, then was I in his eyes as one that found favor"
: therapeutic Ayurveda and total yoga.
Bar Yohai articulates the perfect union between God, the Torah
and man: "sod Torah ke titsi, ufrahim, the secret of
the Torah is like the buds and flowers." It is important
to note that these verses are not just poetic or allegorical
allusions; they also represent the real universe, as we see
in Numbers 17, 22-24 "And Moses laid up the rods before
the Lord in the tabernacle of witness. And it came to pass
that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness
and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded
and brought forth buds and bloomed blossoms and yielded almonds."
An integral union of revealed connections, which is the exact
meaning of "yoga."
This is the reason why Indian tradition describes Sages who
are united with the divine thus: "their feet resemble
the lotus ("pada")." The Bhagavad Gita speaks
of the divine nocturnal light of the moon which nourishes
the plants ("pusai causadhih") and gives them taste
("nasatmakah"). While Judaism uses the rams
horn to herald the return to life, in Indian tradition, the
divine counselor and his disciple, blow into divine ("divyau")
shells ("shankhau"), making them resonate ("pradhadhmatah")
in the midst of battles, in order to connect with truth and
goodness as a counterpart to murderous, threatening lies.
Here we end our brief review of the Bhagavad Gita which extends
across 18 chapters and 700 short verses. Ayurveda is already
readable through the verses we cited and which were written
thousands of years before psychoanalysis and psychosomatic
theories, before systems psychology, and well before the miracle
solutions of non-personalized diets and group gymnastics which
purport to be yoga but are devoid of the interconnections
and union inherent in the meaning of the word.
We need to undergo an apprenticeship that is gradual ("sankhya")
and adapted to ourselves, in order to neutralize the destructive
elements in our actions ("sannyasa") and the false
("tamasika") knowledge that makes us think we know
everything about ourselves (BG 18: 22, 25, 32, 39), good or
bad. In order to free ourselves from self-destructive processes,
can discover true Ayurveda with a therapist who has acquired
the authentic tradition. Then we will have the joy of achieving
understanding ("buddhi") of our personal life, followed
by stability ("dhrti"). BG 18, 29.
This holistic state is called "sattvika," BG 18.33.
The verses that follow from here to the end of this last chapter
provide eloquent support for this complete holistic apprenticeship
which, at the beginning of our study on Ayurveda, appeared
to concern only diet, plants, massages and oils.
Note: These exists a good rendition of the Bhagavad Gita in
English, with a clear, traditional commentary by the Swami
One should not imagine that self-work through Ayurveda will
bring us to a state of paradisiacal nirvana. Treatment and
self-management will always be necessary because our internal
conditions change, due to processes of growth and renewal.
Judaism is very conscious of this phenomenon : the word for
"month" in Hebrew is "hodesh" meaning
"renewal" and the word for "year" is "shana"
In the Bhagavad Gita, he who receives the teaching is not
a contemplator or ascetic but a "ksatriya" a fighter.
The same goes for every person who takes up the challenge
of improving himself through Ayurveda. It means abandoning
many of our inner, corporal, and harmful illusions and giving
up "tapasya" unhealthful practices.
The beginning of Srimad-Bhagavatam deals with this problem.
Verse 10, 2, 32 tells us clearly that he who considers himself
liberated will never attain the liberation he needs. We must
abandon false identities and false identifications ("ahankara")
and free ourselves from the state of a statue ("murti")
which imitates, is anonymous and makes the body suffer. Ayurveda
teaches us to recognize who we are, to be ourselves in relation
to ourselves ("purnam") and in the inter-connections
between the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, sky) and
between the seven elements of the body ("saptadhata").
This is what ensures health, wellbeing and longevity.
God told Avram: "lekh lekha, go towards thyself."
Another factor which makes renewal necessary is that stressed
by Bhagavad Gita 18, 38, following the description of this
" Visayendriyasamyogadyattadagre mrtopanam
Parianam visamiva tatsukham rajasam smirtam,
The delight that prolongs contact of the senses with their
objects can sometimes act
like a poison even if it appeared before to be like a nectar,
thus it was named "rajasika" (nectar-poison).