Our first article busting common misconceptions about Ayurveda got a great reception from around the World. So, today we again board the Myth-Buster Train with Dr. Harshad R., and present – “The Other Top-Ten Misconceptions about Ayurveda Busted” !
Myth 1. Ayurveda endorses vegetarianism as a better lifestyle.
TRUTH: Ayurveda neither endorses nor refutes both vegetarianism or non-vegetarianism as a better lifestyle. Since every individual is unique in the view of Ayurveda, it solely depends on that individual’s Dosha-Prakriti (constitution) and environment, as to which lifestyle is better for them.
Probably, this myth roots from the fact that Ayurveda describes meat as harder to digest than vegetarian foods, and recommends avoiding it whenever the patient’s digestive capacity (Jathar Agni) is weakened, which is incidentally the case in most illnesses.
Myth 2. It is pronounced “Aa-yur-ve-daah”, and “Do-shaa”.
Prevalence: in Western countries.
TRUTH: No matter who you may have heard pronouncing it like that, its original, authentic and grammatically correct pronunciation is “Aa-yur-ved“, and “Dosh“. That’s it. Ironically, the Anglicized pronunciation is so popular in today’s English speaking world, that even Indians tend to forget the correct pronunciation when speaking in English.
Myth 3. ‘Vaata’ means gas accumulation in the stomach, and ‘Kapha’ means wet cough.
Prevalence: Unfortunately widespread in the very homeland of Ayurveda, India.
TRUTH: Probably it comes from the facts that these words are used in contemporary Indian languages with those meanings, but people are unaware that the original Ayurvedic terms denote a much wider scientific meaning.
Myth 4. Ayurveda is for humans only.
TRUTH: Did you know, that the same principles of Three Doshas and Five Mahabhutas apply ‘as-it-is’ to all living beings including plants even? So if you have enough logical sense and a basic knowledge of their natural Dosha constitution (because you can’t make animals and plants take a Dosha quiz), you can treat any living being using the same principles of Ayurveda as you use for humans. In fact, there exist veterinary and botanical manuals since 10th century CE, describing specific Dosha-based Ayurvedic treatments for horses (Ashwayurveda), trees (Vrikshayurveda), cows (Gavaayurveda) and even elephants (Gajaayurveda)! This stands as the biggest proof of the deep level of biological abstraction and universality that Ayurveda embodies.
Myth 5. Ayurveda is a ‘Hindu’ / ‘Buddhist’ science.
TRUTH: Ayurveda is one of ‘Upa-‘ or ancillary Vedas, but it is does not require any specific religious affiliations for the practitioner or patient. The Samhita texts do direct that a ‘Naastik‘ (literally meaning “non-believing”) patient should not be treated by the Ayurvedic doctor. Yet, the word’s meaning in Sanskrit leaves total ambiguity in interpretation. Personally, I believe it refers to non-belief in the doctor’s medical skills and validity of Ayurveda. Still, there are dumb people who interpret it as ‘atheist’ or ‘non-Hindu’. In fact, the Vedas themselves pre-date the religion that is known today as Hinduism, and don’t even contain a single reference of the word ‘Hindu’. So it can at most be said that Ayurveda is polytheist in nature, in the sense that it beholds the Vedas as the ultimate knowledgeable texts, which in turn, teach worshipping various forces of nature in the form of gods.
Similarly, during the 5th to 16th centuries, various Buddhist and Jain scholars also added their own new contributions and adaptations to the Ayurveda knowledge base, which were propagated to other countries by missionaries. So probably, the other version of the myth, about Ayurveda being a “Buddhist” science.
Myth 6: One should follow and stick to only one school / lineage of Ayurveda.
Prevalence: in Western countries.
TRUTH: All the schools of Ayurveda have very little-to-none technical difference as regards the therapy. Most of the difference is in the areas Panchakarma traditions, regional availability of herbs and climactic differences. So one can shift anytime to any school, except in middle of a Panchakarma course. In fact, shifting to the local school of your region is highly recommended due to their deeper experience about local herbs and climate.
Myth 7: Kerala is the birthplace of Ayurveda.
Prevalence: in Western countries.
TRUTH: Kerala is the place where Ayurveda is most popular and well-marketed in today’s world. Yet, the fact, as concluded by most historians, is that, most Ayurvedic Samhitas probably originated at the very other end of India, somewhere in the north.
Kerala is, however, unique in the sense that, today it has the longest known familial lineages of doctors (called Ashtavaidyas) that are in the profession of Ayurvedic medicine since centuries. Obviously, knowledge coming from longer experience counts a lot in medical practice.
Myth 8: Ayurvedic and conventional medicines cannot/should not be taken simultaneously.
TRUTH: There are specific indications and contraindications for all types of drug combinations, in all systems of medicine. Ayurveda is no exception, but most Ayurvedic drugs do not have significant interaction with modern drugs. Still, you always ought to check it out with an Ayurvedic doctor first.
Why only an Ayurvedic doctor? Because they are the ONLY ones formally trained and licensed to prescribe Ayurvedic+modern drug combinations and know their interactions! (Yes, allopathic doctors can chew their nails out on this 🙂 ). Doctors of modern medicine, being completely ignorant in the topic, will most probably advise you to avoid Ayurvedic medicines outrightly, instead of confessing their ignorance. Sad, but totally true.
Myth 9: Samhitas are the ultimate and limiting authoritative texts for Ayurveda.
Prevalence: Most unfortunately, this myth is most prevalent in the Ayurveda doctors community itself.
TRUTH: This point is hotly debated by even some renowned names in Ayurveda. So without offence to anybody, I would like refer to what the Samhitas themselves say about their own scope –
एकं शास्त्रं अधियानो न विद्यात् शास्त्रनिर्णयः।
तस्मात् बहुश्रुतम् शास्त्रं विजानीयात् चिकित्सकः।।
सु. सू. ४
Translation – A perfect knowledge can never be had by reading just one science. Hence, a doctor should always study and absorb the most relevant sciences that are contemporary in their time.
Personally, I don’t think anything more needs to be said. So why are many people vehemently preaching against modern research in Ayurveda and rectification of the obsoleted Samhita references? (Surely there are many). The reasons vary widely, from esoteric secrets to nasty healthcare monopoly politics, and can make a whole separate article when detailed. Yet, I feel that nothing of it should prohibit us from doing new research and adding contemporary knowledge to Ayurveda. Even the hardcore proponents of orthodoxy can’t deny that sticking only to the tradition can never bring Ayurveda on par with modern medicine. So I leave it to my readers from the professional fraternity to decide what they should do in their own careers, to remain safe under the glass ceiling of Samhitas, or fly in the open sky on their own.
Myth 10: Ayurveda has a ‘male centric’ approach to medicine.
Prevalence: Amongst half-baked Ayurveda enthusiasts.
TRUTH: This is a misconception that stems out of the exceeding (and notoriously over-exploited) popularity of Ayurvedic aphrodisiac treatments for men. As like many other things, this is also a hoax created by quacks and commercial marketers to attract that specific client base. Had Ayurveda really been male centric, there wouldn’t have been any Kashyap Samhita, a more than 100-chapter text that is solely dedicated to Ayurvedic Obstetrics-Gynaecolgy and Pediatrics.
So that’s all for today, folks. Several of the things written in this article may not fall on the good note with some, but sweet or sour, facts are facts.
See you again.
Stay healthy, stay happy!
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About the Author –
Dr. Harshad Rajandekar is a practitioner of Integrative and Pure Ayurvedic medicine, based out of Nasik, India. He takes time out of his practice for writing @ Dr. Herbz to create interest and raise awareness globally about the true Ayurveda. On weekends, he can be found trekking the Sahyadri mountains collecting rare herbs.
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