All Vedic knowledge, which Ayurveda is part of, aims at Self-realization – the recognition of our true nature (Atman or Purusha) as pure consciousness beyond body and mind. This is the highest goal of human life and grants us liberation from the cycle of rebirth, and gaining ultimate bliss and immortality.
The higher knowledge that grants Self-realization is called Vedanta, which is the essence of Vedic knowledge. This is the higher Self-knowledge or Atma Vidya taught in the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita.
Ayurveda is an Upaveda, a branch of the Vedas aiming at wellbeing of body and mind. It addresses the treatment of disease and the principles of right living. While Ayurveda accepts the ultimate Vedic goal of Moksha, liberation or Self-realization, it does not teach the specifics of how to achieve it. It provides us important preliminary and background information and lauds the Vedic Rishis for deeper wisdom.
This means for Ayurveda to lead us to Self-realization one should study Vedanta, based on the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, along with related teachings like the works of Adi Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhvacharya and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the knowledge and devotional lines of Vedanta.
From Ayurveda, Samkhya and Yoga to Vedanta
Ayurvedic students usually begin their study of Ayurveda by studying the Samkhya system of philosophy. Samkhya is one of the key Vedic systems coming out of the Upanishads, and teaches us the nature of the Purusha or Atman, the higher Self, as well as the different tattvas or principles of the Cosmic Existence or the realm of Prakriti (nature). Yet this study of Samkhya in Ayurveda is only introductory and does not include the broader study of Vedanta.
A study of Vedanta is helpful for learning Yoga through the Yoga Sutras, which is based upon the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Samkhya. Vedanta represents the Yoga of Knowledge or Jnana Yoga, regarded as the highest of the Yoga approaches. While the Yoga Sutras speaks of union with Divine or Self-realization at a practical level, the knowledge behind it is taught specifically in Vedanta, revealing nature of the Self and how to experience it through a process of Self-inquiry and deep meditation.
A study of Vedanta is essential for understanding Ayurvedic psychology. Ayurveda follows the understanding of the mind and consciousness in terms of Yoga and Vedanta, relative to the fourfold division of mental functions as chitta (background mental field or memory bank), buddhi (higher discernment), manas (outer mind) and ahamkara (ego), with the true Self or Atman beyond the mind. These mental functions (vrittis) and how to transcend them are clearly discussed in Vedanta. The yogic view of the five sheaths or koshas and the three states of consciousness as waking, dream and deep sleep, also derive from the Upanishads and Vedantic thought.
Ayurveda’s approach to spirituality, what is called the Adhyatma Vidya in Vedic thought or the knowledge of the inner Self, rests upon Vedanta, for which Self-knowledge is the prime subject matter. Without a proficiency inVedanta it is difficult to teach the spiritual view of Ayurveda in any traditional Vedic sense. For traditional Ayurveda the way beyond all spiritual sorrow is Self-realization as described in Vedanta.
The Need for Vedanta in Ayurvedic Training Programs
Ayurvedic curriculums East and West should include the basics of Vedanta in their programs, which complement the teachings of Samkhya and Yoga Sutras that many students already examine. The great Ayurvedic teacher Charaka reflects the Vedantic view that there is One Self in all beings. This examination of Vedanta, unfortunately is rarely the case in modern, particularly western Ayurveda or Yoga programs. Even in examining Ayurveda and spirituality and Ayurvedic psychology, Vedanta is seldom mentioned, much less explained in detail.
Such a study of Vedanta should include the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras. It can bring in the teachings of modern Vedantins, including Swami Vivekananda, Rama Tirtha, Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Shivananda, Swami Chinmayanada and Swami Dayananda (Arsha Vidya), to mention but a few. This examination provides the intellectual background and deeper insights on mind and consciousness that are often lacking in Yoga or Ayurveda programs, and are necessary to teach meditation and Self-realization in the Vedic sense.
All great Vedantins have embraced Ayurveda, as all great Ayurvedic teachers embraced Vedanta. It is time for global Ayurveda to restore this essential Vedantic connection to gain the full scope of their teachings. The same Vedic Rishis are associated with Yoga, Ayurveda and Vedanta, including Hiranyagarbha, Vasishta, Bharadvaja, Vamadeva and Vishvamitra. We must understand the full and integral tradition. This means Ayurveda and Yoga students should learn Vedantic meditation and the Vedantic path to Self-realization. Without this Yoga and Vedanta cannot claim to represent the full scope of Self-realization or Self-healing.