Ayurveda is India’s ancient treatise on health and wellness which elucidates the science of life. But along with focusing on understanding the body, the nature of disease and different methods of treatment, it also explores what the ‘good life’ constitutes. The Charaka Samhita is a treatise on what constitutes a good life that leads to longevity and good health, and how one practically goes about living it. Sukha ayu is roughly translated as “a happy life”, literally the term su-kha means to bring forth happiness. Therefore the definition of life itself means that which keeps one in a state of happiness. In this article, we explore lessons from the Charaka Samhita on what is a happy, wholesome life. The definitions are not just centred around health, but also social and environmental health, and are extremely comprehensive. Here goes:
The body as living
Ayurveda defines life as that which is living; alive and constantly moving. The very idea of the duration of life can be visualised as a flowing river, where movement is ever present. Unlike modern medicine that starts its journey with the cadaver that is dead, or the body which is diseased, Ayurveda focusses on the healthy person, and is concerned with how this health is to be maintained. The key lesson for us here is that we must see ourselves as living entities, not just bones and mass, as we seek to balance the three doshas within us and learn ways to keep ourselves healthy.
The good life is an integrated life
In the course of our day-to-day life, our bodies often feel fatigued, our minds strained and dull, our senses out of control (as we crave pizza at 3am), and our souls sometimes dissatisfied. This is because we often treat each of these problems separately- we go to a physician to fix our bodies, emotions at the therapist’s and souls with our partners. While these approaches work to a certain extent, Ayurveda states that a healthy life is one where the body, the sense, the mind and the soul are well integrated and are well taken care of. One is said to be living only when these four are in harmony with each other. There is ample evidence for the importance of this harmony today, as stress gets linked to grave diseases like cancer, and lifestyles can cause epigenetic triggers which might increase vulnerability to hereditary disorders.
Mental and spiritual well-being
While concerns about mental health and well being are fairly recent in their popularity, mental well being is extremely important according to the Ayurveda. Anyone who suffers from any psychosomatic disorder, senses of loss, hurt or trauma, are said to be living an unhappy life and must be treated in ways that are not just medical, but also be given emotional and social support. Such an expansive definition of a happy life finds full expression in Ayurvedic texts.
Doing Good to others
The Ayurveda is an extremely comprehensive text, and outlines the value of doing good and acting for the well-being of those around us as an essential feature of wholesome, good life. It states that a person living a full life must act for the good of all other living beings, which includes plants and animals. It also states that such a person does not desire other people’s wealth or assets, but is also blessed with wealth and other things he himself seeks. The text in a way, ensures that negative emotions such as hate and jealousy are also kept away from a person, to maintain a good health of the mind and emotional well-being. Such a person must also serve the elderly, and be mindful in all their actions. They must also share what they have with others, and give generously. Mindfulness, a key to happiness, joy and “feeling good”, is therefore key to a good life.
Fullness of Life
Ayurveda does not restrict itself to just health in terms of the body and mind. The idea of the good life is inclusive of pursuits of knowledge, wealth, pleasures, strength, vitality and fulfilment of one’s wants in accordance with dharma, or rightful action. Therefore, feeling healthy and aligning one’s actions to maintain the state of good health is extremely important. The Ayurveda prescribes that one must follow the four purushartha (rightful human pursuits) in life: dharma (rightful action), artha (wealth), kama (that which brings pleasure to the senses) and moksha (spiritual action for liberation). There is encouragement of all these pursuits in the right measure, which sum up to a fulfilled life.
Caring for the Environment
A huge part of living a good life is taking care of the environment, as one must take good care of plants, animals, and all other living beings on the planet. The Ayurveda has woven environmental and social consciousness into the very definition of a good life, not seeing human wants as contradictory to environmental consciousness at all! In fact, the Ayurveda also has sections on how to treat plants and trees when they fall sick and catch ailments. The text is truly profound in providing techniques and practices for keeping plants as well as animals healthy. We must remember that the text makes it the duty of a human being to take care of all creatures!
Spiritual growth is very essential according to the Ayurveda. This is because one self, the body, other beings and the world at large is considered sacred, imbued with divinity. For a healthy life, one must be attentive towards the growth of one’s inner-self, the true, unchanging divine with endless potential that exists in each of us. This must be done through meditation, chanting, yoga and other practices that bring one peace and brings them strength to face life, as well as explore their true potential to the fullest. A person living a wholesome life must perform all actions keeping in mind the well-being of this world and the cosmos at large. What more daily-dose of positivity do we need!