According to Ayurveda, disease is not complicated or mysterious. The causes of health and disease lie in our own every day nature and behavior. In order to treat a disease, we must first understand what has brought it about. We cannot remove an effect without removing its cause. Ayurveda is concerned with going to the root of disease, not merely with treating symptoms. For this it looks at one’s entire lifestyle.
According to Ayurveda, the imbalance of the three doshas of Vata, Pitta and Kapha is the immediate cause of all diseases. External factors like weather changes, or internal factors like wrong emotions, can trigger these imbalances. The Ayurvedic view of disease primarily stresses’ internal causes that can be managed by right living practices and corrected by natural healing methods.
Charaka points out the factors responsible for keeping a person free from disease. He states that one who follows a wholesome diet and life regimen; who enters into actions only after their proper consideration; who is unattached to the pleasures of the senses; whose thought, speech, and deeds are happily blended; whose mind is controlled and is possessed of knowledge, austerity, and the love for meditation; such a person seldom gets afflicted with disease. If we act contrary to these principles, the doshas become aggravated resulting in various health problems.
The three doshas are disturbed by inappropriate diet, behavior and lifestyle. Their imbalance initiates pathological changes such as the build up of toxins. In Ayurveda, the etiology of disease is described in two broad categories: General factors common to all diseases, and specific factors behind particular diseases. A third factor behind disease occurs from the natural effect of time and the aging process. We will explain these factors in detail.
Common Causes For all Diseases
Role of the Senses :- One of the most important factors in the disease process is wrong use of the senses. Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell are the five sense qualities through which environmental factors enter the body and mind. How we use our senses determines the type of food that we eat, the water we drink, and the particular lifestyle that we follow.
Sensory contacts are of four types: Excess, deficient, inappropriate and optimal. For example, we can take in too much light through the eyes, too little light, the wrong type of light, or the appropriate type and amount. Out of these four, only optimal contact promotes health. The three other contacts
Scientific studies show that disturbing sounds produce pathological changes in the blood. All of us have experienced how noise can disturb not only the mind but also the body. Just as sounds that are too loud can damage health, the same is true of harmful exposure to the other sensory qualities of sight, taste, odor, and touch. An excess of sensations disturbs the mind’ and leads to wrong actions and dietary indiscretions.
Other medical sciences are beginning to discover this factor in diseases. However, only in Ayurveda are the senses given clear recognition as one of the primary causes of disease. Ayurveda covers not only physical factors but psychological factors as well. The senses are common factors that connect the two. If we look at disease only according to external pathogens and do not acknowledge the role of the senses, we miss much of the real problem. The senses are our real link to the outer world and our relationship with our environment, healthful or unhealthful, can be measured by how we use them. Sensory impressions are like food for the mind and determine how we think, feel and judge things.
Wrong Use of the Will :- The second main factor in the disease process is volitional transgression or wrong use of the will. It is called Prajnaparadha, which literally means “failure of intelligence”, referring to human weakness by which we continue to perform wrong actions even after we have experienced them to be harmful. An example is an alcoholic who, even after having experienced a hangover and the side effects of drinking, perhaps swearing never to drink again, ignores this message of experience and starts drinking again. Wrong use of the will relates to causes from within our psyche that result in defective, excessive or perverted actions of body, speech and mind.
Unfortunately, most of us today are taught to indulge our senses and to pursue desire rather than to cultivate our will power and enjoy freedom from external influences. Not knowing the proper use of the, will, we create many unnecessary problems for ourselves. Ayurveda states that unless we strengthen our will and reduce our desires, we can never have health, much less peace and happiness in life. We will be pulled in various directions by conflicting desires and .never experience true happiness and contentment which cannot come through mere external stimulation. To counter this, we must cultivate a strong will and learn to achieve the lasting goals of life: Contentment, creativity and greater awareness.
Misuse of the Body : –Maintaining the proper and timely discharge of our natural functions ensures health, while their misuse causes disease. The misuse of bodily functions occurs mainly through either suppression or through forced excitation of our natural urges, what modern psychology calls repression or indulgence. According to Ayurveda, we should not unduly suppress our natural urges but should attend to them attentively as they naturally arise. If we suppress them, we derange and weaken the life-force (Prana) and cause our natural impulses toward healthy function to be impaired. Nor should we artificially excite our urges through the pursuit of self-indulgence. We should seek wholesome sensations and avoid those that are artificial or extreme.
While modern culture has emphasized removing repression, it has not always properly criticized the dangers of over indulgence. A toxic body creates wrong urges that indulgence only reinforces, turning them eventual1y into addictions that are hard to overcome. The rule is that if we are ever in doubt, repression is safer than indulgence, though a balanced approach is best of all.
Misuse of the Mind : – Like the body, the mind has its proper and timely functions that must be maintained for health and well-being. We should train and exercise our mind through regular concentration, contemplation and meditation. Wrong actions of the mind bring about wrong actions of the body and eventually result in disease. The mind gets disturbed owing to an increase in agitated (Rajasic) and dull (Tamasic) qualities in the mind, like wrong imagination or lack of attention. This causes the development of fear, grief, anger, greed, infatuation, envy and other negative emotions which imbalance both the body and the mind. To counter this, we should develop Sattva (clarity, contentment and peace) and avoid distraction and laziness.
Misuse of Speech : – Speech is our main organ of action that determines how we function and relate in the world. It has a great power to either help or to harm others. There is perhaps nothing as destructive as harsh words and’ nothing as helpful as kind and considerate statements. Speech, therefore, has a key place in health and disease.
Misuse of speech refers to using language that is insinuating, untrue, untimely, quarrelsome, unpleasant, incoherent, harsh or abrasive. This not only harms others but also sets up negative energy patterns that harm ourselves as well. In short, any willful disregard for the natural condition and right usage of things, followed by wrong action or misconduct, is known as volitional transgression. Hence, one should use caution and not indulge in overuse or misuse of any function related to mind, body and speech.
Wrong use of the will and wrong use of the senses usually go together because, without the proper will power, our senses control us rather than us controlling our senses. Two important principles can help in keeping the will and senses directed productively rather than destructively. The ‘first is to hold to non-violence and never wish harm to another living creature in thought, word or deed. The second is detachment, to remain above all desires, fears; enticements and allurements, accepting what life brings us. Then both body and mind will remain calm, centered and relaxed.
Effect of Time : – The nature of living beings is to die. What has a beginning most have an end? The effect of time, or the natural movement of change and transformation, is another cause of disease that no one can avoid. No one can escape the effects of seasonal changes and variations governed by the time factor from birth to death. Normal as well as abnormal seasonal changes affect the doshas, the mind and the strength of the body.
Similarly, each individual must face the natural process of aging. Disease naturally occurs through the process of growing old, particularly chronic diseases like arthritis. Although to minimize this certain methods like seasonal regimens and rejuvenation therapies are prescribed, one cannot avoid this altogether, nor should one try. Ayurveda says that we should live a happy life accepting old age when it comes, which has its beauty and wisdom, not trying to be forever young, which is not possible.