Defining Ayurveda

Life? What is life? Why are we here?

These are questions that have been passed down through the ages with the wisest minds of every generation trying to make sense of our lives on this planet in the middle of an ever-expanding galaxy. The scientific establishment has used biology, psychics, chemistry and others to explain life in all its complexity. Without years of study in these scientific methods, each one of us understands life intuitively.

Long before science became the dominant religion, traditional cultures around the world understood life and our natural place in it as humans. This understanding of life and disease was first introduced in the RgVeda (3000BC) and was later elaborated on in the AtharvaVeda (1500BC). These texts became the premise for a traditional system of medicine called “Ayurveda.” The root of this Sanskrit word comes from the word “Veda” meaning science and “ayus” which means: life, age, long life, vitality; vital element mankind, vigor, totality of living beings, health, food, vital power, duration of life, age, active power, buoyancy, efficacy.

Although Ayurveda is most often translated as the Science of Life, the etymological root of the word ayus is more directly linked to the English word “age” than to the word life.
Words in Sanskrit often have many meanings and Ayus is one of those words. So which one do we choose? Often “Science of life” conjures up my High school biology classroom and its objective categorization of the world. Ultimately the definition we choose to define “Ayus” or “Life” will determine how we utilize Ayurveda. Life is like the word love in that it cannot be adequately defined. It could be seen as the opposite of death or aliveness and a sense of meaning.

As with most scientific models, ensuing levels of complexity reveal themselves after the most basic levels have been adequately understood. This is the same with the ancient science of life (ASL) or Ayurveda. So we will begin at the beginning. First there was sun and water. Biology confirms that most forms of life require the existence of these two elements to survive. As we are taking a human centric view and humans depend on plants for their nourishment directly or indirectly this would be the first step for life to come into existence.

The utilization of sun and water is synonymous with life. Life cannot be distinguished from the primary building blocks that allow it to arise. Not only are these the physical inputs of solar energy and water, but they are also the theoretical concepts that these inputs imply. In Ayurveda water relates to Brahmana (building) and the sun to Langana (lightening). Chinese medicine has also codified these concepts as Yin (water) and Yang (sun). Most traditional systems of medicine have recognized that our health depends on Sun and water. In one way this can be seen as our food depending on these inputs in order to grow and survive. In another way this can be seen that our bodies rely on Sun because of the production of vitamin D and our bodies require water since we are composed of approximately 73% water.

Beyond that, the moon and water is related to our emotional intelligence and a sense of belonging and love must be present for health. The sun relates to our soul and there must be a connection with our life’s purpose and meaning through the soul.

Thus the science of life is really about understanding and healing the body, mind and spirit.

Sun and Water have also been seen in the yoga traditions. The word Hatha which is used to describe a yogic path that uses physical postures to reach deep states of awareness means Sun and Moon. Yoga means to merge or become absorbed into something, Ha meaning Sun and Tha meaning moon. As the moon controls the tides it has an intimate connection with water and one interpretation of this style of yoga could be that we are merging the two sides of life. The Sun is often associated with activity, productivity, heat, masculinity and is embodied in the Chinese tradition as Yang. The Moon is associated with receptivity, restoration, coolness, and feminine or Yin. When these two principles merge, just as when sun and water merge new life is created. Thus life and health are much more than the absence of disease but it can be helpful to understand the disease process in order to maintain our health.

Health and Disease 

Health is not only the absence of disease, but it is a state of vitality that comes from our connection with our internal source often called the Self in vedic literature. The obstacles to this connection are the causes of disease. Understanding how disease arises helps us to bring balance back to the body. Modern medicine has come a long way from believing that disease was punishment from God, but modern germ theory lacks the sophistication of Ayurveda. In Ayurveda there are three primary causes of disease that are outlined in the Caraka Samhita and they are the foundation for Ayurvedic theory and practice. These are:

  1. Asatmendriyarthasamyoga
    unwholesome conjunction of the sense with the objects of their affection. The senses are what root our experience and give us a sense of stability within the body. The senses by themselves do not cause pleasure or pain, but the allurement to certain objects may have either a desirable or undesirable result. Developing a life that brings harmonious sensations in through the sense organs is the reminder that this cause of disease brings about.
  2. Prajnaparadha
    This is the mental attitude that is not in the best interest of the self. This occurs when there is a selfish desire to ignore the laws and wisdom of nature. This allurement deranges the will, memory and understanding and leads to imbalances. Our desires take the reigns of our life and our soul no longer fills us with intelligence and energy so that we are unable to overcome the temptations of our desires.
  3. Parinama
    Inattention to time and the changes in diet and lifestyle that accompany daily, seasonal, and life cycles. This is biological time and is an indicator of our health. Activity and motion increase the effect of biological time and can cause our bodies and minds to become imbalanced. It is important to be present and slow down in order to reduce the stress that can lead to disease.

These are the foundations of disease. There are many other causes of disease yet these are the most important in terms of there influence on the entire system.


  • 200-1500 BCE The Indus river valley became the migration ground of Aryans who brought with them the Vedas (books of wisdom).
  • The Buddha was alive in 500 BCE and he was attended to by the Ayurvedic physician Jivaka. Buddhist spreads to China in 350-270 BCE and is influential in creating the Naturalist school of medicine.
  • Alexander the great 326 BCE had and Ayurvedic physician. In 700-800 CE Buddhist Universities teaching Ayurveda flourished.
  • During the middle ages 900-1100 many texts were lost or burned and only remain in Tibetan translations. Persian, Greek and Ayurvedic medicine are combined.
  • 1500-1600 trade in Indian spices encouraged.
  • 1835 European knowledge is encouraged over indigenous knowledge in India
  • 1800-1900 Ayurveda contributes to plastic surgery
  • 1900- Present resurgence of Ayurveda in India

Sanskrit means perfect, made final, complete, purposefully constructed. It is refined and perfected in order to allow expression of mystical truths. This allows a deeper understanding of subtle and esoteric experience. The alphabet of Sanskrit is Devanagari which means language that is the home of the gods. It is composed of 52 characters. The first consonant is ka meaning who or the creator Prajapati.

1500 BCE the four Vedas and Upavedas were discovered or written down. The four vedas and there upavedas are:

  1. Rg Veda – verses on the laws of nature
    1. Sthapatya upaveda- directional influences and architecture
  2. Sama Veda – Knowledge of sound and song
    1. Gandharva upa-veda- music, dance, literature
  3. Yajur Veda – Knowledge of sacrifice
    1. Dhanu upa-veda- war
  4. Atharva Veda – mystic fire ceremony
    1. Ayurveda- science of life
    2. Suchiveda- science of needling

The Vedic texts were then added to with the puranas and the Upanishads. The Vedic texts are considered to be the word of God.

Ayurvedic Classics

The Ayurvedic classics are the most often cited remaining texts on Ayurveda. Many of these texts are composed of short aphorisms that are commented on by masters of the art of Ayurveda. The three primary texts are Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, Ashtanga Sangraha, Ashtanga Hrdaya call the Bruhat Trayi or the Great Trio.

  • Charaka Samhita – 1000-1 BCE. First text. It excels in internal medicine and is composed of 8 sections.
  • Sushruta Samhita- 200-1 BCE. Surgical text that excels in anatomy
  • Ashtanga Sangraha and Hrdaya- 600-700 CE. Condensed knowledge of Charaka and Sushruta.  

These are the primary texts on which Ayurveda is based


There are six primary philosophies of orthodox Hinduism. These are Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Sankya, Yoga, Purva-Mimamsa and Vedanta. In terms of Ayurveda it is Sankya that is most often used to describe Ayurvedic cosmology. The primary teaching of Sankya is that the universe arises out the merging of opposites and spiritual evolution takes place within the cycle of change.

And the categorization and refinement of life continues on and on until finally we arrive at the Doshas. It is the the doshas that are most often focused on in Ayurveda. This article is meant to remind you that although the Dosha’s are important they are a very small part of Ayurveda and the ultimate goal is to bring them in balance so that you can focus on the deeper calling of your soul.

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