The Fall And Rise Of The Sages
Ayurvedic tradition laments the rise of disease amongst the sages when they came down from the Himalayas to live amongst the settlements in the valleys populated with humans and their domesticated animals. Ancient Ayurveda Sage Charaka explains this phenomenon of escalating diseases as a consequence of the evils of “domesticated living.”
We cannot dismiss the fact that there is a big difference between navigating a complex life in the villages and busy cities, and the free-flowing, simple existence in the jungles atop the Himalayan Mountains, surrounded on all sides by pristine nature and the call of the spirit. This disparity is not only a major paradigm shift for the psyche, but the body too becomes vulnerable to a host of disease-causing factors, not to mention how the Spirit may feel stifled and perhaps even lost in the world of material objects, to say the least.
Once the sages began to lead sedentary lives as householders, they began to consume food that indulged the sense of taste, was convenient and processed (fermented, germinated, refined, dehydrated, etc.) versus food that is fresh, in season, as is, healthy, and just right – a product of nature with minimal cooking to aid digestion. Sound like the dilemma of our modern life?
Charaka writes that the sages began to consume an excess of sour, salty, pungent (spicy hot), and alkaline tastes with an abundance of dried vegetables, animal meats, sesame, preparations of rice flour (white flour), along with germinated or leguminous cereals (oh, so popular in modern times!). This domesticated food was considered by Charaka as the root of disease, as it was so refined, and hard to digest.
If that were not enough, they let standards slip by consuming often antagonistic, rough, alkaline, and channel-blocking substances (fermented foods, etc.), which were often, as it happens in day-to day-life – not so fresh (stale), even a little rotten (putrefied), and proved heavy for digestion.
The sages quickly degenerated under the influence of wine, women, sleeping during the day (general lethargy), performing irregular and/or excessive exercise (we are all guilty of that); and just as community life tends to impose the stresses of society upon us, the sages too were inflicted with fear, grief, anger, greed, and of course, an existential confusion.
The sages who once roamed the Himalayas totally free, in communion with nature, were now reduced to petty creatures, eating all they could chance upon, poorly digesting most of it, fighting each other, and fearing each other. What a life? This analogy is too close to present times for my comfort. But, read on, gentle reader.
A life led where the tongue dictates what food we eat and the ego dictates what thoughts we think and the mind rules what we do, is but a prelude to the time when health fails, disease sets in, and the spirit is crushed within.
Thanks to such a life, before long, we develop relaxed or loose joints, marrow does not mature in bones, semen does not manifest, and oja, or our immune factor, deteriorates. Thus, people, subdued with malaise, depression, sleep, drowsiness, lassitude, lack of enthusiasm, dyspnoea, incapability in mental and physical activities, loss of memory, intellect and luster, become resorts of illness, and do not enjoy even normal lifespans, and self destruct.
Return to the Himalayas
The sages, hermits, and mendicants realized what domestic life and its inherent chaos had done to them. They, who had become fat, heavy with slowed down movements, and deeply unhealthy in body and mind realized the folly, and chose to give up “everything.” That is, they gave up domestic life and its pleasures, and moved back to their previous abode – the pure and wholesome Himalayas.
The movement of the sages back to their abode of health and abundance is symbolic of the movement of all of us back to the space where true abiding health is a possibility again, and is awaiting our discovery. We too are like the sages: toxic, corpulent, and rigid outside, and mentally fragile and oh so broken up inside. What has our life done to us?
We have to “see” what is happening to us, “understand” what choices we have made, trusting our society and its messages blindly, and then “return” symbolically (at least) to the “Himalayas.” When the sages returned to the Himalayas, they received all that is pristine, pious, propitious, noble, favorable for the growth of intellect, the source of celestial centers and plants and herbs, the source of the holy Ganges, etc.
Here, it was none other than Indra, the King of Gods himself, who imparted the teachings of Ayurveda to the realized sages. Indra further taught them about Rasayana, or Rejuvenative therapy, and elaborated upon the celestial life-giving herbs growing in the Himalayas, such as Brahmasuvarchala, Brahmi, Shatavari, Jivanti, etc.
Indra proclaimed, “This is the auspicious time for Rasayana.” It was by virtue of the divine Rasayanas (Ayurvedic rejuvenating agents) revealed by Gods themselves that the sages were able to reclaim their health, intelligence, and spiritual essence back. The sages attained immeasurable lifespan by using these godly Rasayanas.
After attaining longevity and health, the Vedic sages did not have an all-out party, nor did they open a franchise chain or even create an infomercial to “sell” what they knew was the best way (only way) to get and stay healthy. Instead, the sages devoted their long lives to self-growth via “penance, celibacy, and self-meditation.”
The sages had now regained what they had lost previously through their mindless living. This secret of regaining lost youth, lost health, and lost peace of mind is shared by Ayurveda to all those who deserve to know. The sages decided to spread the word of Ayurveda so that more and more people could get out of the clutches of medicated and domesticated, numb and choiceless existence that we lead in the barren jungles of urban existence.
Thus, the knower of Ayurveda is encouraged to spread the awareness of Ayurveda.
Understand, (and) propagate the sagely knowledge (of Ayurveda), which is the holiest, prolonging life span, alleviating senility and diseases, producing energy, nectar like (knowledge), propitious savior, and noble (medicine) for the welfare of all people with friendliness and compassion towards them and to earn for yourselves the best, holy, noble, and immortal duty (concept of Dharma or Karma merits).
With Love and Blessings,
Study with Acharya Shunya
Acharya Shunya awakens health and consciousness with Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta at her wisdom school, Vedika Global, in Emeryville, California that offers both onsite and online classes to students worldwide.
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