Ayurveda, Baba Ramdev and Germany

Ms Wirth is a native of Germany. For long, she was convinced that every Indian knows and treasures his great heritage. She noticed that there seemed to be a concerted effort to prevent even Indians from knowing how valuable this ancient Indian heritage is, so she started to point out its unique values.
Ms Maria Wirth

I wrote this article in 1990 for a German magazine. It was very well received, and the chikitsalaya (Ayurvedic clinic) in Coimbatore received lots of requests from Germans for study and treatment. Moreover, a German Hospital owner was inspired to start an Ayurveda Department in one of his clinics in Kassel.

I got the idea to translate the article into English, after seeing how Ayurveda and Baba Ramdev are criticized at present on social media. Baba Ramdev has benefitted so many people. What he has achieved so far in encouraging healthy living is admirable. He should be praised, not hounded. Please keep in mind, this was published in December 1990, over 30 years ago.

The elderly gentleman from London, originally Indian, reacted strangely, yet typical for a growing trend : After his doctor diagnosed his problem as arthritis, he packed his suitcase and bought flight tickets for himself and his family to India. “I knew that Western medicine can’t do anything for me, and that Ayurveda will be my saviour”, he explained to me his quick and firm decision. He is sure and chances are good, that after a 5-weeks treatment he will go home healed.

Many of the other patients in the Ayurvedic clinic in Coimbatore in South India were not that quick and focused. The woman from Delhi for example suffers since decades from arthritis and manages only with the help of pain killers. “Why didn’t you come earlier ?” I asked her. “Because Ayurveda just didn’t come to my mind”, was her reply. Only when a young relative had tried Ayurvedic therapy with an astonishingly good result, she planned a treatment in the clinic together with her husband.

Almost every patient knows someone, whom Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicine system had helped, including my room-neighbor, a wealthy NRI from London. His niece had suffered since childhood from unbearable migraine. He had tried everything for her – Allopathy, Homeopathy, Acupuncture – had consulted top physicians in several countries – nothing helped. Finally, he gave, without much hope, Ayurveda a chance. He came in the previous year with his niece, and what hardly was expected, happened : Even before the end of the treatment, the migraine stopped and has not come back since then. Understandably, he came back this time with his wife, who has diabetes, and with his daughter, who also suffers from migraine.

After a long time, when Ayurveda was ignored and demeaned under British rule and even in independent India, the ancient ‘science of life’ again gains trust and respect – especially for chronic diseases. According to Indian media reports, the number of patients increased by 60 per cent in the last 2 years (1988/89).

The surprising thing is that India’s ELITE goes back to Ayurveda, even though the British did their best during their 200-year-long rule, to wean Indians away from the ‘primitive native system’ and make them adopt the ‘modern scientific medicine system’. Maybe the British genuinely believed this, but if they did, they definitely didn’t look into the classical texts of Caraka, Vagbata or Susruta, who are authorities of Ayurveda.

Ayurveda is the most ancient medical system of mankind. According to legend, it was given by God Dhanvantari to a Rishi on his request. This claim about its origin alone may have been sufficient for the British to dismiss and demean it. Patronage, financial and other support were taken away from Ayurvedic institutions and given to Allopathy. Rightly so, it seemed, as the results of modern medicine were quick and amazing. It was therefore no surprise that the western oriented elite was impressed and patronized Allopathy thereafter. The Vaidya continued to look after the poor in the villages and didn’t consider it necessary to defend the value of the indigenous system.

“What has value, will be recognized on its own. It doesn’t lose value if it is considered of no value”, an Ayurveda student opined, rather typical for the Indian mindset.

And he seems to be right. Ayurveda is being rehabilitated. This process is supported by a side, from where one wouldn’t have expected it – by the modern scientific medical research. Indian researchers found in the ancient Ayurveda texts interesting clues for medicines. They tested the mentioned recipes and their efficiency was confirmed. Medicines like Guglip against high Cholesterol or Reserpin against high blood pressure are the result of such research.

In favour of Ayurveda is the holistic, non-materialistic view of the human being

The trust in the efficiency of the traditional system increased and with it also the readiness to study the ancient texts without prejudice. At the same time, the trust in Allopathy decreased more and more. So it doesn’t surprise, that some Indian doctors not only occasionally advised Ayurvedic medicine, but completely changed over into the Ayurveda camp. Dr Metha, founder of the renowned College for Ayurveda in Jamnagar, Gujarat, for example was an Allopathic practitioner, who has a number of British medical degrees. He surely didn’t take this step lightly, but he took it.

What is in favour of Ayurveda ?

First of all, surely the inclusive, non-materialistic view of the human being. Man and Universe are one, claimed Caraka over 2000 years ago. While reading the first Chapter of ‘Caraka Samhita’ I almost got the impression that by mistake I was reading a book on philosophy and not on medicine.

It says : Man is in his essence pure consciousness – infinite, unchanging, eternal. From this pure consciousness appears the body and the mind with its thoughts and emotions. Even though the consciousness (Atman) is still pure and infinite, it experiences itself as localized in body and mind and therefore limited and mortal.

For Atman there is neither health nor illness. It is blissful awareness. Yet mind and body are either healthy or sick. Mind is here more important than the body. It permeates the whole body in a subtle form and is the source of our immunity.

But why does illness happen when everyone wants to be only healthy ? (swastha = healthy, means to be blissfully in oneself). The answer is : Because something affects mind and body which is not good for it and derails the harmony of factors which are needed for the optimal functioning. Consequently, Ayurveda deals with what is good and what is not good for body and mind. The question is how the balance – and with it health, vitality and joy – can be kept.

This preventive aspect is of utmost importance. It’s more important to know how one doesn’t fall sick, than to know how to heal oneself after being sick.

But since sickness cannot always be prevented, Ayurveda also has the means to get back the balance and get over the suffering which is connected with sickness. Interestingly, already 2000 years ago Caraka demanded, that the therapy must not have any harmful side effects.

The framework is vast and valid today. But maybe there is a doubt : Did the ancient Rishis have good-enough insight into the complex functioning of the human organisms in the light of modern science ? After all, they didn’t have the technology to deeply analyze and look into the body.

It would be a worthwhile task for the modern research to find out if the Ayurvedic theories are maybe not even more appropriate than the modern scientific theories. Ayurveda makes sense, is holistic and nevertheless extremely complex and differentiated. An article cannot do justice to it, as there are no translations for the Sanskrit termini, which describe the most subtle principles and long explanations would be needed.

I read in one text that the students of Ayurveda need ‘to meditate deeply on the fundamental principles’. This advice presumes that a fine intuition may lead to deeper insights than a microscope. The ancient Rishis surely had a fine intuition and those knowledgeable of Ayurveda don’t doubt its theories which not only explain the constitution and functioning of the organisms, but also different psychosomatic types and their interaction with substances from the environment.

It would be for modern medicine generally a gain, if scientists would intensely research on Ayurveda. Some do it already and make waves in the medical community, for example Dr Deepak Chopra, a specialist for endocrinology in Boston. He points out that the claim by Ayurveda about the close connection between mind and body has been confirmed by the modern neurological research about so-called neurotransmitter.

Ayurveda offers itself for these new insights as a complete template – in a similar way, as India’s Vedic wisdom is seen as a consistent philosophical template for the new insights in nuclear physics.

A happy thought makes a happy molecule

Ayurveda presumes that intelligent impulses, like thoughts, express themselves as chemical molecules in the whole body. “When you have a thought, you make a molecule”, Dr Chopra puts it simply. “And if you have a happy thought, you make a happy molecule”.

Is it possible that in future, Ayurveda and Allopathy complement each other. There is hope, because not only in India but all over the world more and more doctors take interest in Ayurveda.

To live a noble and good life is the surest method to stay young and healthy. Let’s stay with the clinic in Coimbatore for a while and look at the treatment.

At the start there is a detailed diagnosis – it the crux of Ayurveda. It’s not about finding a name for the illness, but the Vaidya should ideally ‘enter the heart of the patient and fully grasp his specific condition’, says Caraka.

Which type he is regarding constitution and personality, which of the three basic factors – Vata, Pitta, Kapha – disturbs the equilibrium, and where the disturbance manifests.

The treatment is in tune with the inner condition of the patient, not with the symptoms of the illness. So it is possible, that 5 patients with the same symptoms get 5 different medicines.

Ayurveda puts great stress on preventive methods, which preserve health, vitality and joy of life. Apart from the time-intensive oil treatment, Ayurveda offers a lot of health elixirs, like Chawanprash, which is meanwhile also popular in Germany. But the best ‘preventive method’ according to Ayurveda is to live a good and noble life. And this advice is for everyone, independent of one’s specific constitution.

How does a good, noble life affect the health ?

Ayurveda expalins that 3 subtle factors determine the mind : Sattva (pure, light), Rajas (active, passionate) and Tamas (lazy, ignorant). Too much of Rajas or Tamas can produce hatred, anger, envy, jealousy etc. which in turn will influence the body in a negative way. Yet for Sattva, there is no ‘too much’. Here the motto is – the more, the better.

Ayurveda claims that a disciplined, righteous, content life, which strives for the realization that we are Atma, a life, in which wealth is procured with fair means and our desires are in tune with the goal of knowing the truth, Sattva increases. This type of Ayurvedic preventive health care is even for us in the West now already available – till the treatment in the Ayurveda clinics become more affordable.

(Courtesy : Excerpts from an Article on mariawirth.com, 13th April 2024)

Ayurveda presumes that intelligent impulses, like thoughts, express themselves as chemical molecules in the whole body !