The Science of Life: Āyuḥ and Dirghaṃ
The Caraka Saṃhitā is one of the most important ancient works on the ancient medical system called Āyurveda. Āyuḥ means life or longevity while Veda means science. Thus Āyurveda can be translated as ‘Life Science’ or ‘Longevity Science’ because it deals with how to maximize life. This should not only be seen as how to live longer but also how to live the most full so that we may die in peace knowing we have fully lived. This is why the first word (first words being the most important in sanskrit texts) is “Dirghaṃ”, which means health and wholeness but also dharma and what we are here for because how can we accomplish our life’s purpose without our health and vitality? The author Caraka merely wrote down the conversations his teacher, Agniveśa, had with his teacher, Punarvasu Ātreya, in turn. On one such occasion in Vimānasthāna 3:4 Lord Ātreya exclaims, “Oh! Agniveśa, some abnormalities are now appearing in the stars, planets, moon, sun, air, fire and directions. This fore-casts abnormality in the coming seasons. Very soon, the earth will cease to manifest proper tastes, potency, vipāka (post digestive effect of medicine) and specific actions in drugs. This is bound to result in the wide-spread manifestation of disease.” Thus, thousands of years later here we are, riddled with imbalances on every level from health to the environment, from community to our government.
Dirghaṃ - life that is long but also useful, dharma, health
Punarvasu Ātreya goes on to elaborate on many results as air, water, land and time become polluted. As wind becomes imbalanced it will have “excessive dryness, cold, heat, roughness or humidity, (and will be) excessively cyclonic in nature,” water will have an “absence of birds that move in water, a reduction in the number of aquatic animals and a manifestation of unpleasantness,” while land will be “withered, dried or have destroyed crops” and have “constant agitation and over-flow of water reservoirs”, and there will be “perversion or absence of religion, truth, modesty, manners, conducts and other qualities of the inhabitants of the land.” He goes on at length as though he is looking at a picture of our daily world as we live right now thousands of years later.
This is to serve as an apropos reminder that Āyurveda is not merely about the balance of the human individual but is a deeper call inviting us boldly to fulfill our life’s purpose, connect with those around us and the wonderful divine world that we may know true peace, purpose and health. To fully live according to Dirghaṃ (health, dharma, righteousness) is to never forget that in healing the earth we heal ourselves, that the patterns of the earth are our very own patterns and that we must simply begin. In this beginning remember the world is filled with sacred ancient wisdom which we desperately need now.
Ātreya says that during the first age (Satyayuga) people were “energetic like the sun, they were exceedingly pure and powerful, they had direct vision […] clear complexion and senses, they had strength, motion and valor […] (and were) endowed with truthfulness, simplicity, non-violence, charity, self-control (and) observed meditation.” In line with the profound truth of healing imbalances that “like increases like and opposite heals” it is our sacred task in this time to make our own lives, communities, and ecological niches as filled with qualities of Dirghaṃ, of health and purpose, as possible. This is an all-hands-on-deck time in our lives. Not merely this time but all times. Why? Because we are alive. There’s no greater blessing than air in our lungs because every breath is a giving and a receiving, a communion with the Divine and Nature which are really two words for the same thing. It is because of the goodness of the Satyayuga and the qualities of humans given above that “excellent tastes, potencies, vipāka (medicinal effect) and specific healing qualities were manifested in food grains.” In other words the Earth was and still is our mirror. If you are unable to see yourself than look at the world around you. If you feel incapable of positive change in yourself then plant a tree as a symbol that you are one of the ones who remember.
As the Satyayuga ended over-indulgence gave rise to heaviness in body which brought fatigue for the first time. “Fatigue gave rise to laziness; laziness made them to accumulate things; accumulation led to the attachment for these things and attachment resulted in greed.”
The Satyayuga gave rise to the Tretāyuga as the snowball of separation from divinity, health and dirghaṃ became increasingly large. The Caraka Saṃhitā says that for every age that went by that a quarter of religious rites and purpose also left. Because of this the life span of humans also reduced by a quarter which in turn led to the reduction by a quarter of the Earth’s fruitfulness and the medicinal healing qualities of herbs, grains and food were equally diminished. Age by age this happened.
Here we stand. Though most of us are laying down. We need to stand. We need to stand together. We need to initiate the cycle of healing at every level but especially within ourselves. To live life according to Āyurveda and its timely concept of Dirghaṃ means to radiate love, remember love and to thereby embody the Satyayuga (the first age) when people shone like the sun and were pure even though we are in the Kaliyuga. This is how we stand. In presence, in Āyuḥ, in life and love of all that is living. In communion with the Divine we are here to stand guard, to nourish and cultivate. This is Āyurveda, the science of life.