Acharya Shunya is a Yoga Unify Honorary Qualified Professional, and serving on the Governing Council of Consequential Ethics. This piece on the ancient sages was originally published by the Awakened Self Foundation. Reprinted with permission.
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Ayurvedic tradition associates the rise of disease amongst Vedic sages with when they descended from the Himalayas to live in settlements in the valleys populated with humans and their domesticated animals.
Sage Charaka explains this phenomenon of escalating diseases as a consequence of the evils of “domesticated living.”
One must admit there would be a stark difference between the complex life in the villages and the free-flowing, simple existence in the jungles atop the Himalayan Mountains, surrounded on all sides by pristine nature and the call of the Spirit.
This disparity would not only be a major paradigm shift for the psyche, but the body, too, becomes vulnerable to a host of disease-causing factors. Not to mention how the Spirit may feel stifled and perhaps even lost in the world of material objects, to say the least.
Once the sages began to lead more sedentary lives as householders, they began to consume food that indulged the sense of taste – convenient and processed (fermented, germinated, refined, dehydrated) –versus food that is a product of nature, fresh, in season, and as is.
Why Food Matters
Charaka writes that the sages began to consume an excess of sour, salty, pungent (spicy hot), and alkaline tastes with an abundance of dried vegetables, animal meats, sesame, preparations of rice flour, white flour, along with germinated or leguminous cereals. This domesticated food was considered, by Charaka, as the root of disease, as these foods are highly refined and difficult to digest.
If that were not enough, they let their standards slip, consuming antagonistic, rough, alkaline, and channel-blocking substances, foods which were often not so fresh, even a little rotten (putrefied), and proved heavy for digestion.
The sages quickly degenerated under the influence of wine, women, sleeping during the day, performing irregular and/or excessive exercise and, just as community life tends to impose the stresses of society upon us, the sages, too, were inflicted with fear, grief, anger, greed and, of course, an existential confusion.
The sages who once roamed the Himalayas totally free, in communion with nature, were now reduced to petty creatures, eating all they could chance upon, poorly digesting most of it, fighting each other, and fearing each other.
What a life? This analogy is too close to present times for my comfort. But read on, gentle reader…
A life led where the tongue dictates what food we eat and the ego dictates what thoughts we think and the mind rules what we do, is but a prelude to the time when health fails, disease sets in, and the spirit is crushed within.
Thanks to such a life, before long, we develop relaxed or loose joints, marrow does not mature in bones, semen does not manifest, and ojas, our immunity factor, deteriorates. Thus, people, subdued with malaise, depression, sleep, drowsiness, lassitude, lack of enthusiasm, dyspnoea, incapability in mental and physical activities, loss of memory, intellect and luster, become resorts of illness and do not enjoy even normal lifespans, and self-destruct.
A Return to the Himalayas
The sages, hermits and mendicants, realized what domestic life and its inherent chaos had done to them. They, who had become fat and heavy with slowed down movements, deeply unhealthy in body and mind, realized the folly, and chose to give up “everything.”
That is, they gave up domestic life and its pleasures, and moved back to their previous abode – the pure and wholesome Himalayas.
The movement of the sages back to their abode of health and abundance is symbolic of the movement of all of us back to the space where true abiding health is a possibility again, and is awaiting our discovery.
We too are like the sages: toxic, corpulent, and rigid outside, and mentally fragile and oh-so broken inside. What has our life done to us?
We have to see what is happening to us, understand what choices we have made and why we made them, and then return (symbolically) to the Himalayas.
When the sages returned to the Himalayas, they received all that is pristine, pious, propitious, noble, favorable for the growth of intellect, the source of celestial centers and plants and herbs, the source of the Holy Ganges, and more.
Here, it was none other than Indra, the “King of Gods” himself, who imparted the teachings of Ayurveda to the realized sages. Indra further taught them about Rasayanas, or Rejuvenative therapy, and elaborated upon the celestial, life-giving herbs growing in the Himalayas, such as Brahmasuvarchala, Brahmi, Shatavari, Jivanti and others.
It was by virtue of the divine Rasayanas, Ayurvedic rejuvenating agents, that the sages were able to reclaim their health, intelligence, and spiritual essence back. The sages attained immeasurable lifespan by using these godly Rasayanas.
In Good Health, Then What?
After attaining longevity and health, the Vedic sages did not have an all-out party, nor did they start a huge franchise, nor did they create an infomercial to sell what they knew was the best way to get and stay healthy. Instead, the sages devoted their long lives to self-growth via penance, celibacy, and self-meditation.
The sages had now regained what they had lost previously through their mindless living.
This secret of regaining lost youth, lost health, and lost peace of mind is shared by Ayurveda to all those who deserve to know.
The sages decided to spread the word of Ayurveda so that more and more people could escape from the clutches of the medicated, domesticated, numb and choice-less existence that we lead in the barren jungles of urban existence.
Thus, the knower of Ayurveda is encouraged to spread the awareness of Ayurveda.
“Understand, (and) propagate the sagely knowledge (of Ayurveda), which is the holiest, prolonging life span, alleviating senility and diseases, producing energy, nectar like (knowledge), propitious savior, and noble (medicine) for the welfare of all people with friendliness and compassion towards them and to earn for yourselves the best, holy, noble, and immortal duty (concept of Dharma or Karma merits).” – Charaka Samhita
Acharya Shunya is a Yoga Unify Honorary Qualified Professional, a member of the Advisory Board, and serving on the Governing Council for Consequential Ethics. Click here to join Shunya in the Founding Circle and learn more about YU membership.