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Here is an all-inclusive reference to ayurveda beneficial for families as well as health practitioners. Included are the basic principles of ayurveda; its history; and a generous selection of therapies including herbs, nutrition, aromas, meditation, colors, gems, exercise, special message techniques, and rejuvenating measures known as pancha karma. Pathology and diagnosis are covered in plain English along with a discussion of the most commonly used ayurvedic herbs. Other new information includes ayurvedic hatha yoga, general healing, pregnancy and post-partum, and stress reduction.
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Swami Sadashiva Tirtha is the founder of the Swami Narayan Tirtha Math Hindu monastery. He is the author of Ayurveda Primer and Bhagavad Gita for Modern Times. He lives in New York.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter 1 (entire chapter reprinted here)
Like an oasis is a mirage of the desert, this world is an illusion of Brahman.
Chapter 1 Overview of Ayurveda
Ayurveda, the science of life, or longevity, is the holistic alternative science from India, and is more than 5,000 years old. It is believed to be the oldest healing science in existence, forming the foundation of all others. Buddhism, Taoism, Tibetan, and other cultural medicines have many similar parallels to Ayurveda. The secret of Ayurvedas individualized healing method was preserved in India, whereas it has been lost or superseded in other cultures.
The First World Medicine
Ayurveda (pronounced Aa-your-vay-da), said to be a world medicine, is the most holistic or comprehensive medical system available. Before the arrival of writing, the ancient wisdom of healing, prevention, and longevity was a part of the spiritual tradition of a universal religion. Healers gathered from the world over, bringing their medical knowledge to India. Veda Vyasa, the famous sage, preserved the complete knowledge of Ayurveda in writing, along with the more spiritual insights of ethics, virtue, and Self-Realization. Others say Ayurveda was passed down from God to his angels, and finally to humans.
The methods used to find this knowledge of herbs, foods, aromas, gems, colors, yoga, mantras, lifestyle, and surgery are fascinating and varied. The sage, physicians/surgeons of the time were the same sages or seers, deeply devoted holy people, who saw health as an integral part of spiritual life. It is said that they received their training of Ayurveda through direct cognition during meditation. That is, the knowledge of the use of the various methods of healing, prevention, longevity, and surgery came through Divine revelation; guessing, or animal testing was unnecessary. These revelations were transcribed from oral tradition into written form, interspersed with aspects of mortal life and spirituality.
Originally four main books of Vedic spirituality existed. Topics included health, astrology, spiritual business, government, army, poetry, and ethical living. These are known as the Vedas: Rik, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva. Ayurveda was used along with Vedic astrology (called Jyotish, that is, ones inner light). Eventually, Ayurveda was organized into its own compact system of health and considered a branch of Atharva Veda. This Upaveda dealt with the healing aspects of spirituality; although, it did not directly treat spiritual development. Passages related to Ayurveda from the various Vedas were combined into separate books dealing only with Ayurveda. Among the Rik Vedas 10,572 hymns are discussions of the three constitutions (doshas): air (Vayu), fire (Pitta), and water (Kapha). Topics comprised organ transplants, artificial limbs, and the use of herbs to heal diseases of the mind and body and to foster longevity. Within the Atharva Vedas 5,977 hymns are discussions of anatomy, physiology, and surgery.
There were two schools of Ayurveda at the time of Atreya, the school of physicians and the school of surgeons. These two schools transformed Ayurveda into a scientifically verifiable and classifiable medical system. Through research and testing, they dispelled the doubts of the more practical and scientific minded, removing the aura of mystery that surrounded Divine revelation. Consequently, Ayurveda grew in respect and became a widely used system of healing in India. People from many countries came to Indian Ayurvedic schools to learn about this medicine in its entirety. Chinese, Tibetans, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Afghanis, Persians, and others traveled to absorb the wisdom and bring it back to their own countries. Indias Silk Road, an established trade route between Asia (China, Tibet, etc.), the Middle East (Afghanistan, Persia, etc.), and Europe (Rome, Greece, etc.), provided a link between cultures. On this route travelers first discovered Ayurveda.
Charak and Sushrut are two reorganizers of Ayurveda whose works are still extant. The third major treatise is called the Ashtaga Hridayam, a concise version of the works of Charak and Sushrut. Thus, the three main ancient Ayurvedic texts still in use are the Charak Samhita (compilation), Sushrut Samhita, and the Ashtaga Hridaya Samhita. These books are believed to be over 1,200 years old and contain the original and complete knowledge of this Ayurvedic world medicine. Consequently, Ayurveda is the only complete ancient medical system in existence.
Charak represents the Atreya school of physicians, discussing physiology, anatomy, etiology, pathogenesis, symptoms, and signs of disease, methodology of diagnosis, treatment, and prescription of patients, prevention, and longevity. Internal and external causes of illness are also considered. Charak maintains that the first cause of illness is the loss of faith in the Divine. In other words, when people do not recognize that God dwells within all things, including themselves, this separation of vision creates a gap. This gap causes a longing or suffering for oneness of vision. This suffering then manifests itself as the beginning of spiritual, mental, and physical disease. External influences on health include time of day, the seasons, diet, and lifestyle. An entire section is devoted to discussions of the medicinal aspects of herbs, diet, and reversal of aging. Charaks month-by-month description of the development of the fetus in the womb parallels almost exactly what we know about fetal development today. Yet, when formulated centuries ago, Charak did not have the use of modern diagnostic tools.
Sushruta comes from the Dhanvantari school of surgeons. In America, a society of surgeons named themselves the Sushruta Society, in remembrance of the Ayurvedic father of surgery. This text presents sophisticated accounts of surgical equipment, classification of abscesses, burns, fractures, and wounds, amputation, plastic surgery, and anal/rectal surgery. Human anatomy is described in great detail, including descriptions of the bones, joints, nerves, heart, blood vessels, circulatory system, etc., again, corroborated by todays methods of mechanical investigation. From the Sushrut Samhita, the first science of massage is described using marma points or vital body points, similar to Chinese acupuncture. Even the popular Polarity Massage Therapy in America was developed after advocates studied massage in India.
Eight Branches of Ayurveda
The ancient Ayurvedic system was astoundingly complete. In the colleges of ancient India, students could choose a specialty from eight branches of medicine.
1. Internal Medicine (Kayachikitsa). This is related to the soul, mind, and body. Psychosomatic theory recognizes that the mind can create illness in the body and vice versa. The seven body constitutions and seven mental constitutions were delineated here: Vayu (air/energy), Pitta (fire), Kapha (water), Vayu/Pitta, Vayu/Kapha, Pitta/ Kapha, and a combination of all three (tridosha). Although finding the cause of an illness is still a mystery to modern science, it was the main goal of Ayurveda. Six stages of the development of disease were known, including aggravation, accumulation, overflow, relocation, a buildup in a new site, and manifestation into a recognizable disease. Modern equipment and diagnosis can only detect a disease during the fifth and sixth stages of illness. Ayurvedic physicians can recognize an illness in the making before it creates more serious imbalance in the body. Health is seen as a balance of the biological humors, whereas disease is an imbalance of the humors. Ayurveda creates balance by supplying deficient humors and reducing the excess ones. Surgery is seen as a last resort. Modern medicine is just beginning to realize the need to supply rather than to remove, but still does not know how or what to supply. Additionally, there are over 2,000 medicinal plants classified in Indias materia medica. A unique therapy, known as pacha karma (five actions), completely removes toxins from the body. This method reverses the disease path from its manifestation stage, back into the blood stream, and eventually into the gastrointestinal tract (the original site of the disease). It is achieved through special diets, oil massage, and steam therapy. At the completion of these therapies, special forms of emesis, purgation, and enema remove excesses from their sites of origin. Finally, Ayurveda rejuvenatesrebuilding the bodys cells and tissues after toxins are removed.
2. Ears, Nose, and Throat (Shalakya Tantra). Sushruta reveals approximately 72 eye diseases, surgical procedures for all eye disorders (e.g., cataracts, eyelid diseases), and for diseases of the ears, nose, and throat.
3. Toxicology (Vishagara-vairodh Tantra). Topics include air and water pollution, toxins in animals, minerals, vegetables, and epidemics; as well as keys for recognizing these anomalies and their antidotes.
4. Pediatrics (Kaumara bhritya). In this branch prenatal and postnatal care of the baby and mother are discussed. Topics include methods of conception; choosing the childs gender, intelligence, and constitution; and childhood diseases and midwifery.
5. Surgery (Shalya Tantra). More than 2,000 years ago, sophisticated methods of surgery were known. This information spread to Egypt, Greece, Rome, and eventually throughout the world. In China, treatment of intestinal obstructions, bladder stones, and the use of dead bodies for dissection and learning were taught and practiced.
6. Psychiatry (Bhuta Vidya). A whole branch of Ayurveda specifically deals with diseases of the mind (including demonic possession). Besides herbs and diet, yogic therapies (breathing, mantras, etc.) are employed.
7. Aphrodisiacs Vajikarana). This section deals with two aspects: infertility (for those hoping to conceive) and spiritual development (for those eager to transmute sexual energy into spiritual energy).
8. Rejuvenation (Rasayana). Prevention and longevity are discussed in this branch of Ayurveda. Charak says that in order to develop longevity, ethics, and virtuous living must be embraced.
The Decline of Ayurveda
The alert person may now ask why, if Ayurveda is so exceptional, is it not widely practiced in India today. This is a valid question, which has an equally valid answer. Ayurveda, like all of Vedic philosophy, adheres to the belief in Sanatana dharma, or accepting everything in its appropriate time and place, and rejecting nothing. All aspects of medicine may be useful, but the appropriate treatment must be used when required. This is why Ayurveda does not reject modern medicine. The Indian temperament allows all religions to express themselves freely in India. Buddhism, Jainism, and other religions grew in India and influenced the thinking of many people. Eventually, a time came when all religions lost some degree of their spiritual link, and egos vied for first place. Gentle spiritual medicine lost ground. Divisiveness was followed by foreign conquest. Ayurvedic colleges were closed and books destroyed. One nation forced Ayurvedic doctors to add information on meat to the translations of the Ayurvedic texts. Another religion did not believe in harming the body in any manner and destroyed the books on Ayurvedic surgery. Nalanda, at Patna, India, a famous Ayurvedic university, was the main university at the center of the Silk Road, where students from China, Tibet, the Middle East, and Europe came to study. This institution was among those destroyed by various conquerors. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the British ruled India and closed the remaining Ayurvedic universities (although Ayurveda continued to be practiced in secret). The knowledge was preserved by the guru-shishya relationship (teacher-student) and passed from one generation to the next by word of mouth as it had centuries before. Finally, in 1920 Ayurveda reemerged and, with the help of the Indian governments assistance, universities were rebuilt. Now more than 150 Ayurvedic universities and 100 Ayurvedic colleges are flourishing in India, with plans for more educational facilities in development. Thus, Ayurveda, without resisting or rejecting other systems, is slowly returning to recognition and reestablishing its true value. Keep in mind that just as some unethical western medical practices exist, unethical Ayurvedic pharmacies and doctors can also be found in India today.
The oldest medicine, Ayurveda, is now the last to be rediscovered. This world medicine may not only unite healing practices, but also peoples, cultures, and religions. The impact of its reawakening is astounding, as we see its effectiveness and demand in the United States growing in leaps and bounds. Among the respected teachers of Ayurveda, many include the original spiritual integration, reestablishing ancient Ayurveda, intact in modern society. Spiritual Ayurveda, the original world medicine, will soon find validation and universal acceptance in all areas of society and the world. What may surprise some people is the degree of insight these ancient, mystical doctors, or rishis (seers) had. Without the aid of modern technological x-ray machines or CT-scans, they knew of the inner workings of the human body. One can read in the ancient Ayurvedic texts of the development of the fetus, month by month. It is astonishing how these ancient descriptions are validated by todays technologies. Even the distance from the planets and the duration of their orbits were nearly identical to todays technological measurements. It is enough to make even the most skeptical of us sit up and consider Ayurvedic insights.
If this isnt enough, Ayurveda offers methods of finding out early stages of diseases that are still undetectable by modern medical investigation. Today, when a doctor cannot find any sign of an illness, patients are told that the illness is imagined. Years later, a machine is invented that detects the illness, albeit too late for those who suffered with the illness.
So we see the foundation for the integration of Ayurveda and modern medicine. Too many people on both sides of the holistic-vs-allopathic (modern) medicine debate want to deny the need for the other science. Because of Ayurvedas all-embracing philosophy, we see how all types of healing are compatible. No one will be put out of a job.
We have discussed Ayurveda, the science of life as the original world medicine. Yet Ayurveda is more than this; it is a spiritual science. This is the most important aspect of Ayurveda.
Around 1500 B.C. the book, the Charak Samhita discussed these spiritual principles. It said that even if Ayurvedic doctors had a complete knowledge of Ayurveda but could not reach the inner Self or soul of the patient, they would not be effective healers. Furthermore, if the practitioner were more concerned with fame and fortune, and not with spiritual development (Self-Realization), they would not be effective healers.
To understand the spiritual nature of Ayurveda, we must know something about the Vedic roots of philosophy, spirituality, and universal religion. According to the ancient Vedic scriptures of India there is a goal to l...
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