For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by world religions due to their mysticism and social effects in society. In specific, Hinduism grabbed my attention typical to most Westerners when first learning of Eastern cultures. The genesis and history being rooted in India was my first romance with Indian culture and its vast diversity. Since then my interest has evolved into specifically how Indian traditions continue to persist in the modern world and furthermore if there is any validity to the practices. The Indian healthcare system includes various types of medicine: allopathic, homeopathic, Unani, Siddha, and Ayurveda. Allopathic medicine was introduced after the colonization of India. Before then and until present day, traditional Indian medicines established in ancient wisdoms are a deep part of Indian culture and society.
My focus in my writing is Ayurveda for several reasons. To begin, the validity of Ayurveda astounds me. Ayurveda calls upon the physician to treat the patient as a whole: diseases occur both physically and mentally, and even though each part might be dominant, they cannot be compartmentalized (C.M. Francis, 1992). Ayurveda, although ancient, holds philosophies that foresaw future scientific understanding. Ayurveda proposes basic building blocks of life in the universe characterized by Sattva, Rajas and Triguna symbolizing the physical properties prevalent to the primitive earth of what Ayurveda considers the beginning of creation (Rastogi, 2010). Ayurveda argues that all life is made of invisible particles that combine in different proportions to make visible formations. As we know, modern science supports this idea through the discovery and understanding of atomic particles. Below Figure 1 shows examples of interpretations between Ayurveda and modern science.
Then there is the persistence of Ayurveda in the modern world. In both Eastern and Western cultures, Ayurveda has reignited a search for healthy lifestyles with the basis of understanding natural remedies and their relationship to the mind and body. Additionally, the Indian government has begun operations to integrate Ayurveda and other traditional medicines into the Indian healthcare system as a strategy to meet the challenge of the shortage of health care professionals and to strengthen the health care service delivery system (Shrivastava et. Al, 2015.)
Meeting an Ayurvedic doctor during my time in Dandeli Forest allowed me to ask questions to a primary source which I do not have access to in the United States. Once Ayurveda reaches the Western world it becomes a romanticized version of the truth, and its efficacy suffers as such. During our time I needed to know:
- How Ayurveda was actually defined and known as since I have heard it being referred to as a religion, science or lifestyle in the West.
- If the commoditization of Ayurvedic medicine has made it unaffordable and/or inaccessible to the low-income population it is known to serve.
- What advice an Ayurvedic doctor has for us as our world continues evolving.
To clarify, I asked him to explain Ayurveda in his terms and understanding. He broke down Ayurveda as a science where Ayur means “life” and Veda means “knowledge.” The method behind it is a “life for a life,” therefore plant life for medicinal treatments and a separate branch of Ayurveda for animal remedies. I was pleasantly surprised to learn he was a part of the Indian Institute of Management where he works to understand the molecular basis of plants and how to manufacture medications at the molecular level. We often forget that the history of pharmaceuticals and many of their components are rooted in plants and herbs. I was reminded of the scientists currently exploring rainforests worldwide for plant substances to make new antibiotics with the growing resistance of bacteria worldwide. The similarity in professions was the beginning of a pattern I noticed during his lecture. I realized that there is disconnect between Eastern and Western medicine in both our attitudes and understanding of healthcare yet a similarity in the access and decision-making when choosing treatment.
As he walked through his immense garden of plants and explained the different ailments they treated he emphasized the importance of consistency in care and prevention of disease development. Many of the treatments he spoke of required daily routines and a minimum amount of time needed in order to experience relief. When asked why Ayurveda was difficult to mainstream correctly he commented on the human disability of keeping consistent and want for instant relief from disease combined with their lack of knowledge of their own bodies. This echoed the failure of the preventative healthcare system in the United States where people turn to pharmaceuticals before any lifestyle changes or natural remedies are adopted. In turn this has propelled the boom of pharmaceutical companies and the opioid epidemic. This commoditization of medicine is not foreign to India where Ayurvedic remedies are now sold over the counter and marketed similarly to Western pharmaceuticals. I questioned whether this made Ayurvedic medicine inaccessible and unaffordable to his community, fortunately he said it has not had an impact. I think the accessibility and affordability has been preserved in his community by him and other community leaders that took the responsibility to further education of Ayurveda. To date he has trained 400 people in remedies and Ayurvedic practices.
My final question was “If he had one piece of advice to resolve the disconnect between the Eastern and Western world what would it be?”
His answer has been translated:
“The world goes around. So what is true of this place is also true of that (place.) Countries may be different but the environment, the air that goes through this whole Universe global scenario is all the same. The question that you asked has been brought up in world Ayurvedic conferences, ‘How do we bring the convergence between Western and Eastern systems of healthcare?’ But health is health, right? So whether it is that or this, we have to learn from each others experiences and instead of using chemicals, toxic food and toxins for treatment of health related problems it is better to use plant wealth.”
Fundamentally, the differences in Western and Eastern medicines are of attitude and culture but the similarities in thought process and treatment face the same obstacles. Further research in the validity and efficacy of Ayurvedic remedies should be done in order to correctly bridge it with the allopathic medical system that demands such data. There should also be a movement for restructuring the way Westerners think about medicine and healthcare. I believe teaching people the importance of prevention rather than emphasizing curative treatment is a start to reframing their view on health. Of course, globally the problem of accessibility and affordability is to be taken into account during every step of implementing any healthcare system.
Francis, C. M. (1996). Medical ethics in India: ancient and modern (I). Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, 4(4), 115-118.
Rastogi, S. (2010). Building bridges between Ayurveda and modern science. International Journal of
Ayurvedic Research, 1(1), 40-46. https://doi.org/10.4103/0974-7788.59943
Shrivastava, S. R., Shrivastava, P. S., & Ramasamy, J. (2015). Mainstreaming of Ayurveda, yoga,
naturopathy, unani, siddha, and homeopathy with the health care delivery system in India.
Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 5(2), 116-118