Ayurveda – Be careful!

“Udayji, I have read your articles on Ayurveda and came to know your ancestral and traditional exposure to it. I always trusted you and would like to give Ayurvedic medicines to my children. But in a couple of articles, you had warned against the usage of Ayurvedic drugs. I am confused. Please clarify…” a message from a reader.
Our Vedas mention diseases and medicinal plants. So the origin of Ayurveda dates back to the Vedic era (7000 years ago). Most material relating to health and diseases is available in Atharva Veda. However, RigVeda also mentions diseases and medicinal plants. While Charanavyuha mentions Ayurveda as Upavedas of Rigveda, Sushruta and Bhavaprakasha attribute it to Atharvaveda. However, we have lost many valuable texts (like that of sage Agnivesa) during foreign invasions.
According to our sages, Prajapati received the Ayurveda in its entirety as recited by Brahma, who is our first ancestor. From Prajapati, the Ashwins received it, and from the Ashwins to others. It contains the wisdom of sacred healthcare systems. Our ancestors understood that the formation of life is a chemical process at the core. So they prepared many chemical compositions derived from plants, roots, and other produce.
“Udayji, then why don’t people like you take concrete steps to spread the wisdom…”
“I am not an Ayurvedic expert. I have had some exposure to real experienced age-old traditional experts in the village during my childhood. There is a huge difference between the ancient traditional system and today’s Ayurveda. I am not sure if today’s medicines are related to the ancient Vedic knowledge…”
“Can you explain please?”
“Many modern medical practitioners told me that kidney-failures are associated with usage of Ayurvedic medicines…”
“You mean to say, Ayurvedic is fake?”
“No. Ayurveda is genuine and authentic. But I don’t know about the over-the-counter (OTC) proprietary drugs. They do not require a drug license and can therefore be sold by non-chemists. There is no price control too. So I am not sure what happens when OTC are produced on a large scale or commercial basis.”
“Is it different from authentic, genuine Ayurveda?”
“According to the ancients, the preparation of Ayurvedic medicines is a very delicate, complex, and tedious process. It starts from collecting ingredients. When to pluck herbs? The exact time is given based on Jyotisha (not to be mistaken with today’s fake astrology). Herbs should be collected at the right specific time – different timings for different herbs – like early morning, rainy season, summer, or winter. Some should be taken during blooming time only. Every herb has a chemical composition. It could vary from time to time. And we do not know which exact chemical combination will work in the medicine.”
“You are right Udayji. All ingredients are collected commercially from agents for mass production. Large-scale plantation uses so many fertilizers and pesticides too. So the chemical composition may vary…”
“Yes. A vast majority of herbs or roots are not available today. Plant habitat is shrinking. Climate change is becoming an increasingly serious threat to plants as well. Invasive species also imperil plant communities. We do not know how the producers replace those unavailable ingredients. And there are specific ways to prepare Kashaya (water decoction)…”
“What’s it?”
“Ancients recommended the type of vessels to prepare the medicine. For instance, for each Kashaya, there is a type of clay soil to make the pot to prepare it. For different medicines, there are different types of clay soil. I am not sure if any factory in India prepares Kashaya in such a specified clay pot. Most of them use aluminum and steel vessels. While heating, the clay soil act as a catalyst to produce various chemical compounds. The ancients also talk about the categories of wooden pellets to be used for burning for different medicines. We use just cooking gas instead of wood…”
“So the medicines won’t work?”
“Some medicines may. Because how-much-ever water you add to dilute, the milk can remain white to an extend, right? Also, informed sources told me that many factories use white oil (a petroleum product) instead of coconut oil in some medications. The greed, cost cut, and lack of knowledge about the herb combination can lead to a disastrous outcome.”
“So we have to be careful when we give ayurvedic medicines to children, right Udayji?”
“You have to make sure that the drug is authentic and genuine. Ayurveda is a lifestyle, it is interconnected with Vedic wisdom and Hindu culture. It also depends upon Pathya (Diet) and avoidance of Viruddha Ahara (Incompatible Foods). It is not just a drug as in modern pharmaceutical stand-alone OTC drugs. I would have said external medications are comparatively safer. But informed sources said that many Ayurvedic oils are produced using white oil (highly refined liquid hydrocarbons derived from petroleum distillates) instead of coconut oil since the former is cheaper than the latter.”
“Still, isn’t Ayurveda safer than modern medicine?”
“I am not sure. If you take a pill, for instance, Paracetamol, you the chemicals and how does it act in your body. We also know its side effects. Anything that affects your body will have an undesirable effect too. In many modern Ayurvedic medicines, we do not know the exact nature of the chemical combination. Plants also have many toxic chemicals in them. Sometimes it could be more toxic than modern medicine.”
“But, don’t we have a system to check it?”
“System? Ayurveda is a big business now. There are powerful commercialized Ayurvedic industry lobbies that can control the government bodies. A lot of research is needed to find out the exact nature of the industry now. Otherwise, we could be heading for chaos. Wrong ayurvedic combinations can damage your internal organs…So, be careful.”
“Udayji, how do you relate modern science to Ayurveda?”
“We cannot compare. Science evolves with time, but wisdom doesn’t need to evolve with time. Ayurveda is scientific wisdom. But today from science it moved to a faith-based medicinal system. That means it could work only as a placebo if dangerous chemicals are not in it…We need the real Ayurveda Vaidya, not a mimic joker of modern medicine.”
“Ah, I have seen some Ayurvedic doctors keep stethoscopes even while they go to the toilet to show that they are like “modern doctors” Not all, but some!”
“A real Vaidya will feel your pulse by touching your wrist, looking at your eyes, tongue, and diagnosing your disease. A Vaidya will ask you to prepare the medicine at home, using the genuine ingredients that are available in the backyard. It takes decades of practice and dedication under the supervision of masters to advise on preparing such medicines. Or he/she will do it for you. Alas, such Ayurveda Vaidyas are a lost tribe now.”
(Broadcast message no: 134, First published: January 17, 2012)

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