Saturday, November 15, 2014

Epidemics - an Ayurvedic perspective

Cholera, Plague, Small pox, Measles, Swine flu. Bird flu, Dengue, Ebola ........

The list keeps on growing. Millions and millions have succumbed to epidemics. An epidemic by definition is the rapid spread of an infectious disease in a population within a short span of time. Modern medicine considers changes in the virulence of the infectious agent, introduction of novel settings or change in host susceptibility as the main causes of an epidemic.

Let's take a look at what Ayurveda has to say on the subject.

This is explained as conversation between Bhagawan Atreya and his disciple Agnivesha in Charaka Samhita Vimana sthanam ch.3.

Agnivesha is curious to know how men of different constitution, strength, eating habits and longevity etc. can get affected by the same disease. Atreya explains that even with these dissimilarities there are lot of things in common within inhabitants of a particular janapada ( habitat - village, city, country etc. ) and of course air, water, surroundings and time are common to them all.

Air such as that which is not in accordance with the season ( cool wind in a hot season ), stagnant air, one that makes loud sound, one that stinks - they  are all harmful to health. Contaminated water and also one in which fish etc. don't live anymore is harmful. Places where flies, reptiles, rats, mosquitoes, insects are found in excess, where the environment has changed suddenly,  where grass and creepers start growing all of a sudden, where fields have dried up - such places are harmful to health. When the seasons are not according to their real nature it turns out to be harmful. ( The text has an elaborate list of such situations and indications ).

Even when such situations exist, medicines can still protect men from diseases.

Bhagawan Atreya goes on to explain ( Here is the major difference between Modern Medicine and Ayurveda ). Truth, kindness, charity, worshiping gods and making proper offerings to them, right conduct, control over indriyas, self protection like hygiene, staying in a healthy environment, serving noble people, observance of brahmacharya ( when prescribed ) and service of brahmacharis, listening to discourses on dharma shastra by great rishis and scholars,  being in the company of satvik people and wise elders - these are all 'medicines' that protect one's life.

Agnivesha asks about how air, water etc, gets contaminated and harmful. Atreya replies, " Unrighteousness is the cause for this, and evil deed of the past is the root cause of unrighteousness. The origin of unrighteousness and evil deed is in mind that lacks discrimination and discretion. When the heads of habitats and rulers deal with their subjects crossing the boundaries of righteousness, those depending on them also become unrighteous. People who make a living out of crime and litigation encourage the spread of adharma. Thus unrighteousness first masks righteousness and eventually gods also give up on such people. In the absence of providence, seasons are disturbed, rains don't happen in time, wind doesn't blow properly, earth is polluted, water dries up, the original nature of plants and herbs are altered and diseases are born.

Lost in hate and greed men fight each other and ignore the weak. Groups of rakshas and bhutas also take advantage of the situation and attack them.

Unrighteousness causes neglect and offence to gurus, saints, elderly, rishis and the like. Curse by them not only eliminates the wrongdoers but many  innocents also perish with them.