An introduction. We will follow the best scriptural tradition of India, by articulating clearly the purpose of our subject.
The practice of Traditional Indian Medicine or Āyurveda, sets a very high, almost impossible objective to the art of medicine, to keep the Positive Health of every living being, according to its specific nature, and to cure the so called “diseases” when they appear to point out an imbalance.
The purpose of man is to preserve and to improve his basic constitution thanks to the indications of the Āyurvedic science. When this simpler task, available through diet, discipline of life and purification, for various reasons is not realized, then Āyurveda undertakes the difficult task of curing the diseases of humans, animals and of the Earth; of the body, mind and spirit. In the East, before starting anything, one must enter a state of silence. It means to meditate and let go of the ‘mind’ with a ‘detached observation’ method, without involvement of the ego. Silence leads to the ‘dark night of the soul’; it’s not easy to live in this place, that’s why in the tradition we start practicing by lighting a lamp in order to break the darkness and a well wishes invocation, such as:
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
may all beings from all worlds be rooted in the absence of suffering
- lokah: location, realm, all universes now existing in the now
- samastah: all the beings sharing the path of knowledge
- sukhino: devoid of suffering, centered in happiness and joy
- bhav: the state of unified existence, the existence in the mode of the divine
- antu: it may be so, it must be so (antu used at the end turns this mantra in a binding commitment)
This Mantra, although not codified in the Vedas, the ancient Indian writings of wisdom, is an invocation and a commitment to ensure that all beings are aware, and that they could be in a divine state of absence of suffering. Obviously it is a logic hyperbole and implies a state of unification with the divine not easy to realise. Indian philosophical visions, monistic as well as dualistic, both acknowledge that the heaven and the earth, including the man, are governed by the same principles.
Yathā Loke Tatha Dehe
as is the world manifold/multi faceted, such is the body (of man)
Everything that exists it happens simultaneously on several different layers, man makes no exception, in his multiple physical, mental and divine nature; objective and transcendent. Āyurveda accepts and shares this vision of a unified Macro and Microcosm. Only if you have faith in the oneness of All, you can not only envision the possibility but commit yourself to the search for realisation and for transmutation. This philosophical attitude, to Paracelsus, is the first requirement for a doctor. You are not a doctor if you are not able to use your own reason and thinking in the knowledge of the mirroring of Macro and Microcosm. Āyurveda is referring to nine schools of thought, or Darśana, which help to make flexible and adaptable to any situation, the thought and then the actions of an āyurvedic doctor. Alchemists are scientists of nature too, they are ilozoist (ilozoi-nature) philosophers, for them everything is a manifestation of Life, including minerals. Philosophical study of nature is the base of medical knowledge. The nature of man is composed of Elements that emanate from Nature Root or Mula Prakŗti.
In western alchemic research we consider four elements:
- Earth - pŗthvī
- Water - jāla
- Fire - agni
- Air - vāyu
In Āyurveda there is a fifth one; to these four is added
- Space - ākāśa
We can say it corresponds to the Quintessence of Alchemy
Ākāśa plays a special role, because we recognise a double aspect in it; the first is a ‘potential state’ and the second is a ‘resulting state’, which is what we commonly refer in medicine. Philosophically speaking is the knowledge of the ‘potential state’ which allows the interpretation of otherwise inexplicable phenomena. What drives the ‘transformation’ from ‘potential’ to ‘resulting’ state is a subtle matter that is interpreted differently by different Āyurvedic philosophical schools: a disturbance of the balance, the law of Karma, the will of God, the oneness of all, the emptiness, the matter in itself, experience to sublimate, etc. The Alchemist or the real doctor, is the one who can draw from the world of the invisible Ākāśa, which is all containing, the concrete things, recalling first the energy qualities concentrating in this manifold/multi-verse world and in the physical body of man. We need a deeply rooted respect for Nature and its Principles to perceive and study them in ourselves with the practice of Hatha Yoga and discover them intuitively in a moment of silence. The founding event of the multi-verse / manifold world, composed of five Elements, is a process of transformation of the Elements themselves, starting from their potential of energy Tanmātra. They are not perceptible by the senses, and reside in the ‘potential state’ of Ākāśa. The world Jagat, which in Sanskrit means either ‘universe’ and ‘movement’: the world is ‘the one which is moving’, the living one. It is inherently in motion. The mode of existence for the matter is the movement. For Āyurveda the Āyus is: what is in a continuum from moment to moment. The movement manifests the presence of an effect due to a cause (existing) before; Āyurveda thought believes that indeed the effect is already pre-existing in the cause; it is only waiting the maturation of energies as the chance allowing its manifestation.
The movement manifests itself in subtle energies called:
- Prāna, the Subtle Energy that permeates the space - Ākāśa;
- Tejas, the Inner Radiance, is the subtle essence of the fire - Agni;
- Ojas, Prime Vigor, is the subtle essence of water - Ap, considered as a reserve of vital energy.
These are three interdependent energies present in the mind, the consciousness, the emotions, in the psyche, in the body, in substances and are assimilable to the alchemical conception that the Unity of the Matter presents itself in countless forms, while maintaining, for the Alchemist, the characteristic of the Unity allowing the transfer of quality from a state to the other.vAlchemy and Āyurveda are experimental metaphysics, working on matter and its relation with the divine mystery, in the very bosom of nature. For example, for Samkhya Darśana, the balance of the three Mahā - Guṇa, Sattwa (clarity, knowledge), Rajas (energy, transformation) and Tamas (darkness, negativity) is troubled by an event, Kṣoba leading to the manifestation of the multi verse/manifold world. Interestingly, what changes, is not the inner nature of the Mahā - Guṇas, but their quality/quantity ratio the change affects only the expression of the quality of their Nature. Inside the Naturans Nature (Natura Naturante) the net of relations among its variations still indistinct is changing, manifesting itself in Naturate Nature (natura Naturata) that is the world as perceived with the sense organs and with the inner senses. Therefore is the medicine, which deals with the Natura Naturata and Āyurveda states that:
- maintaining health implies the knowledge of the triple nature of the Mahā - Guṇa
- the onset of the disease is due to the body’s adaptation to negative stimuli to maintain the continuity of life balance
- the restoration of health requires a process of transformation of what is altered and a return to its original Constitution.
The five elements - Mahābhūta of Āyurveda, which are measurable entities, combine their qualities which are perceptible by the senses and give recognition to three Intangible Principles which are identified as:
- VĀTA, with the quality of: dryness, mobility, lightness, coldness
- PITTA, with the quality of: warmth, acuteness, slight greasiness
- KAPHA, with quality of dampness, coldness, heaviness, greasiness, viscosity
They are called Doṣa because they are corruptible, when affected by positive or negative factors, and in turn can generate corruption/damage when they act on tissues. The intuitive event that brought the Vaidya, the ayurvedic seers, to identify three Doṣa emerged in the meditative experience of ‘silence’. The Trinity of Vāta-Pitta-Kapha, in the oneness of the Whole. It’s easy and can be intuitively understood to identify the VĀTA movement, with Mercury, with spirit, vitality, life, will, volatility, the colour white; Vāta is Śiva, the masculine. We Identify the fire and energy of PITTA, with Sulphur, the soul, the expansive power, centrifugal force, what burns, the light, the soul of things, the colour red; Pitta is Pārvatī, the feminine. We Identify the materiality of KAPHA, with Salt, the body, the principle of the incarnation, the astringent quality, solidification, the centripetal force; Kapha is Ardhanārīśvara (the half man half woman Lord), the androgynous. Both Āyurveda and Alchemy consider that harmony of proportions and expressions among the three ayurvedic Doṣa>, Vāta - Pitta-Kapha or the three alchemical Substances Mercury, Sulphur and Salt, is equal to health; their disharmony leads to disease. The doctor should know, in practice, the reality confronting him, the body of the sick person and the signs of illness, but also the subtle energetic reality of the Triads he has to work with. The doctor receives from the heat of the Pitta-Sulphur Nature the wisdom, and the Medical Art-Life-Mercury becomes his Experience-Kapha-Salt. Only if it does so, he will have ‘approval’ from Life and success in the art of healing. In the formulation of ayurvedic preparations we are using plants, minerals and metals. How can the Doctor-Pharmacist-Herbalist-Alchemist use appropriately a plant, a mineral or metal so as to unleash their true power-essence? The power-essence of a plant-mineral-metal is manifested in a perfect symbiosis with the Doctor-Pharmacist-Herbalist-Alchemist, who becomes himself, an ingredient amongst other ingredients. In Sanskrit the word indicating the plant-mineral-metal, as an ingredient in a formula, corresponds to Auṣa-dhi, meaning ‘dwelling place’: a transformation takes place in the ‘mind’ Dhi, implemented by Auṣa ‘fire’. The Auṣa-dhi of the Doctor-Pharmacist-Herbalist-Alchemist merges with the Auṣa-dhi of the plant-mineral-metal Then the Doctor-Alchemist is the ‘receptacle’ of consciousness, the crucible of the fire of conscience. Therefore the same Fire of consciousness acts in the ingredients of the formula and in the Doctor-Pharmacist-Herbalist-Alchemist, who himself becomes the activating ingredient of the medicine. The human being is the abode of the transformation of vile matter into life, health, creativity, intuition, fullness and satisfaction. The physical body is itself the greatest mystery and conscience is the transforming factor; if well-regulated and cultivated, it generates health, if badly used will cause disease. In Āyurveda the analysis of the substances composing the Jagat, the ‘unbroken wholeness’ of the multi-verse/manifold universe is based on ten pairs of opposite qualities, Guruvadi Guṇa, but the pair founding the multi-verse constantly raised is the sexual Union of the divine masculine and feminine in his hypostasis, as proposed by Tantric tradition. The different vital substances of animal, mineral and vegetable origin are emanations or manifestations of original fluids consisting in seed of the Supreme God Śiva – Mercury-Vāta and menstrual blood of the goddess Pārvatī - Sulfur - Pitta. The final result of their Union is Ardhanārīśvara – alt - Kapha. Since vital substances, minerals and herbal products are participating in the same flow of the divine nature, vital substances are always interchangeable, rearranging themselves, and perfectible. The program of Traditional Ayurvedic Medicine as stated in first sloka of Caraka Saṁhitā is:
athāto dīrgañjīvityam adhyāyaṃ vyākhyāsyāmaḥ
from now on I will introduce the lesson on the quest for a long life
(C.S., as Sū., 1, 1)
The quest at the basis of ayurvedic research is: what is helpful or harmful to humans so that they can live a long and healthy life that allows him to achieve the aim of life itself? The answer of Vaidya, ayurvedic physicians, is that the vitality is preserved while maintaining the balance of tissues - Dhātu. The word Dhātu means ‘what is supporting us’. The Ayurvedic medicine maintains that there are three ways to heal an individual:
- through demonic therapies, Asuri, with surgery;
- by means of human therapies, Manusi, involving the use of herbal medicines;
- with divine cures, Daivī, characterized by the use of gems, minerals and metals.
Among ayurvedic therapeutic tools there are preparations containing minerals and metals: they support health and heal diseases. The main metals used in Āyurveda are indicated by the same word, Dhātu, to underline their support to heal the tissues. The first of the tissues - Dhātu is the liquid part of blood, the plasma called Rasa. The Rasa Dhātu contains all the necessary nutrients for other tissues - Dhātu, therefore, if it is of good quality it will support your entire body or it will poison it, if polluted. The purpose of any ayurvedic treatment is to keep the Rasa Dhātu in balance. Let’s mention that one of the eight branches of Āyurveda is namely Rasāyana the science of using plants, minerals and metals for the preservation of life and to prevent the decay of tissues - Dhātu. The word Rasāyana, consists of ayana, ‘way’ and rasa which stands for, ‘fluid, essence, emotion’, but particularly the ‘mercury’; Rasāyana is the discipline of Rasa, requiring dedication, study and laboratory practice, as described in details in the texts.
All Rasāyana substances, vegetable or mineral, must undergo several processes. For minerals and metals, which are known to be toxic when used in their native form, to have a Rasāyana effect, they must undergo a series of precise processing, called Samskaras, which deprive them of impurities and allow complete bioavailability, therefore becoming nutrients for the Rasa Dhātu. After undergoing alchemical as well as chemical transformations, minerals and metals can catalyze subtle changes in the metabolism.
The Suśruta Saṁhitā says:
What they call Rasa is the essence produced from fire, extremely thin, coming from the nourishment properly digested (S.S., Sū.14, 2 )
These are, in short, the starting point for a dialogue/comparison between Western Alchemy and Āyurveda.