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What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda (Ayur = life; Veda = knowledge, the science of life) evolved in India. Ayurveda deals with all facets of life.  Life is defined as that which is characterized by consciousness (of joy, suffering, etc.), energy, contraction and expansion, and the capacity for experience and for reproduction.

The development of Ayurveda – or of any science – is a part of human evolution, involving the unfolding of curiosity and the increasing sophistication of  human intelligence, synthesis, and observation.  One cannot put a numerical age on Ayurveda  since it began to evolve long before writing existed.  When Ayurveda is dated, it is on the basis of writings 3,000 to 5,000 years old although Ayurveda far predated those writings. Such attempts at dating are both inaccurate and misleading.  This difficulty in dating is compounded by the fact that ancient Indian society was not simply pre-literate, it was determinedly “a-literate.” The scholarly elite of its time shared the sense that reducing the accumulated wisdom of their ancestors via the instrumentality of writing would reduce sacred knowledge to the status of the profane, and that knowledge that required a written form was no knowledge at all, merely accumulated data.  It is for these reasons that Ayurveda’s earliest writings – though quite ancient by our measure – came very late rather than earlier in its development.

Because Ayurveda theoretically contains within its corpus the sum total of all knowledge concerning the structure and function of “Life” it cannot be compassed by any single individual, irrespective of their degree of scholarship or experience.  It is an open-ended discipline, as should be all science.  It is ever open to enlargement, elucidation, redefinition, and more incisive elaboration.  Every moment – of every life lived – is a page in its great canon of knowledge that ever evades completion of the quest for understanding.

Ayurveda was according to legend revealed to the Rishis, or seers of ancient India (principally in the northern Himalaya region) and those seers reduced countless ages of human experience through the action of Divine revelation to a set of recitations, which ultimately assumed a written form.

These writings, the sacred scriptures of the Hindu tradition, are referred to as the Vedas (from the Sanskrit Vidya, = knowledge).  Though religious in nature, they are not culture-bound nor does the information they relate in any way depend upon one’s belief system.  They are intended for the benefit of all humankind, and the laws of nature they elaborate no more depends upon belief than does the rising or setting of the sun. It has been said that all knowledge can be obtained, or at least deduced, from the content of the Vedas.

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