Ancient Ayurvedic Text Describes Cause of Epidemics
Did you know that Ayurveda addressed epidemics thousands of years ago? Read on to find out more about this ancient wisdom on how epidemics start and spread, and what they think we can do about it.
The main Ayurvedic text, Charaka Samhita, written 2,000-2,500 years ago, is primarily a discourse between Atreya (a great Ayurvedic physician) and his disciple Agnivesa.1 It was first written in Sanskrit in a poetic style, as are all Vedic texts. The rhythm, meter, and melody of the Vedas allowed for easier memorization.
Vedic knowledge was passed down through memorization, as an oral tradition, for thousands of years. The Charaka Samhita contains over 8,400 metrical verses, traditionally committed to memory by medical students of Ayurveda.2
While Charaka is a detailed treatise on internal medicine, according to Ayurveda, its treatments are also aimed at treating a deeper imbalance—replacing unconscious behaviors with conscious behavior while enhancing awareness of the interconnectedness of all aspects of nature. Once this awareness or oneness is established, a deep mental, physical, and spiritual healing ensues.1,2
The Charaka Samhita on Epidemics
In one discourse, Atreya expounds on the features of an epidemic.3 I was struck by how Charaka describes the cause and treatments for epidemics more than 2,000 years ago, and how they parallel our current state of affairs.
NOTE: The discourse below is quoted from the text with much of Charaka’s poetic metered rhythm intake.
Atreya suggests an epidemic comes as a result of abnormal conditions in nature, including stars, planets, moon, sun, air, and fire, deranging the environment and the seasons. Herbs lose their nutritional value and potency, while disease and epidemic ensues. He says if medicinal herbs are harvested before this disturbance in the natural cycles and administered correctly, there would not be any difficulty in counteracting an epidemic.4
Agnivesa, his student, asks how people with different constitutions would be affected by an epidemic. Atreya responds by describing common factors that affect everyone: air, water, place, and time.5,6
Atreya describes how air can become polluted and become a common etiological factor in disease and epidemic. He describes how water could become so polluted even animals and birds would not drink it. He describes place as the land, and how it would become unwholesome with a toxic color, smell, taste, and touch. The crops would fail, pests would overrun crops, and floods and natural disasters would occur. Time is described as the seasons becoming imbalanced, coming either too soon or too late, being too hot or too cold.6
Atreya mentions that people on the land would become unwholesome and abandon virtue, truthfulness, modesty, conduct, behavior, and other merits. Evacuative, cleansing, and detox theories were recommended as best treatment over 2000 years ago.7
To prevent disease and epidemic, proper herbal rasyanasas are suggested, as well as to restoration of virtue. Truthfulness, benevolence, worship of God, noble conduct, calmness, religious practice, residing in a wholesome home, keeping good company, and spending time with elders is a prescription for what Atreya called “the management and protection of life during a period of epidemic.”7
Disturbance of the four factors (air, water, time, and place), along with a disturbance of mind (loss of virtue), aggravate vata and can be the cause of an epidemic.8
They clearly believed a pure heart and mind, called sattva, would resonate with the organizing power of the universe, or God. An impure heart and mind or lack of virture would disturb and derange the subtle rhythms of nature, which we depend on for life. Today, there is emerging research on biophotons, epigenics and the gut brain connection of the microbiome that support the notion that our thoughts are powerful and reverberate throughout the interconnectedness of nature eliciting a coherence or incoherent result.
Finally: The Root Cause of Epidemic
Finally, Agnivesa asks Atreya, “What is the root cause of vata imbalance, which is the root cause of an epidemic?”9 This was Atreya’s response: Remember, these are written in poetic form, over 2,200 years ago:
The root cause of derangement of vata and epidemic is unrighteousness. When the Heads of country, city, guild, and community have transgressed the virtuous path and deal unrighteously with the people, their officers and subordinates, the people of the city and community, and merchants carry this unrighteousness further.
Thus, the unrighteousness puts pressure on and forces righteousness to disappear. Then the people with righteousness, having disappeared, are abandoned even by the Gods. Consequently, when righteousness has disappeared, unrighteousness has the upper hand and the Gods have deserted the place, the seasons get affected and, because of this, it does not rain on time or at all. There is abnormal rainfall, winds do not blow properly, the land is affected, water reservoirs are dried up, and herbs, giving up their natural properties, acquire morbidity or die. Then epidemics break out due to polluted environment and food.10
Likewise, unrighteousness is also cause of the destruction of community by weapons. Those who have excessively increased greed, anger, attachment, and conceit, disregarding the weak, attack each other.11
I will leave it to you to interpret these ancient writings. Do you believe in the interconnectedness of all aspects of nature? Is there something we can learn from the Charaka Samhita about the progression of epidemics? What can you do to restore virtue, humility and truth while protecting water, air, place, and time (seasons)?
Integrity (righteousness) is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.C.S. Lewis