Excerpts from PRACTICAL AYURVEDA by ATREYA, Samuel Weiser,Inc,
reprinted by Jaico Publishing House, India, 1999
Traditional forms of medicine, like Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, were developed by ancient sages. Their astute observations of the universe resulted in the development of “constitutional medicine.” The ancients perceived the universe as a constant play of energies, which when imbalanced in the body, lead to discomfort or disease. The role of the ancient doctor was to restore harmony to the body-mind environment. The Vedic culture in India took this concept of constitutional medicine to its highest development in the form of Ayurvedic medicine.
The Chinese and Ayurvedic traditions have developed very high systems of medicines in the 5000 years of their existence. In fact, Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, still treats one third of the world’s population. The United Nations Organization estimates that 70 percent of India’s 900 million are treated by Ayurvedic medicine. Therefore, we can draw the conclusion that constitutional medicine still treats a huge segment of the world’s population, even in modern times.
The ancients perceived the universe as different forms of manifested energy; they saw the same energies in our food and herbs. The unique classification of food and herbs according to their individual actions (or “energies”) is how Ayurveda and TCM restore balance to the body. In Chine a doctor was considered poor or inferior if his patients became sick; for this showed his inability to maintain the harmony of the body with food and herbs. In fact, people only paid the doctor as long as they did not get sick! In Ayurveda, medicine was considered inferior to food and herbs ingested on a daily basis. Actually, medicine was a “last resort” that showed the irresponsibility of the patients’ life-styles and habits.
Traditional pharmacology is very highly developed in both the Ayurvedic and TCM systems. They are able to render toxic substances into material safe for human ingestion with relatively simple means. Lacking the technological ability to extract the “active ingredients” of a plant or herb led the ancient doctors to combine several plants that had specific therapeutic effects. Formulas often have fifteen to twenty ingredients in order to achieve the desired therapeutic effect and eliminate any negative side effect. The continuous utilization of these methods of pharmacology attest to their efficiency and safety when administered correctly.
Many ancient cultures traveled to India to learn from India’s medical professionals. Travelling Chinese scholars have given us historical records of constitutional medicine in India, although both Ayurvedic and Chinese medical theses still exist from before 1000 B.C. The Four-Humor Theory of the ancient Greeks came from India. We find the Greeks using Ayurvedic theories and herbal formulations after 400 B.C., when they were known to have studied the Ayurvedic system extensively. Hence, it is possible historically say that constitutional medicine is the foundation of the modern allopathic medicine that evolved from the ancient Greek system. We are actually beginning to come “full circle.”