Charaka, the father of Ayurveda, includes a chapter on mental health. But his chapter bears little resemblance to Ayurveda's use of doshas, tastes, gunas, and elements. Instead, Charaka's model is based on self-denial and renunciation.
This search for an Ayurvedic model for happiness led me to a far away culture, one that communicated with India in antiquity. It led me to the ancient civilization of Greece. My Ayurvedic teacher taught me about the similarity between Greek and Ayurvedic medicine. So it was a natural place to start. Here is what I discovered.
The Cardinal Virtues of Greek AntiquityAccording to the ancient Greeks, happiness comes from living according to design. This means making decisions in alignment of the truth of our human nature, and how the world was made. When you operate against truth, you fight an impossible battle that leads to hopelessness and confusion. The study of the virtues is the study of how to live well according to design. Specifically, they are the attitudes and habits that a person can develop in order to live well.
What qualities What qualities of mind and heart will make you truly happy? What kinds of habits will make you truly happy? The study of the attitudes and habits that lead to happiness is known as the study of virtue. Put another way, the virtues are personality traits that are good for you.
As Ayurveda is the study of bodily habits, the virtues are a study of personality and emotional habits. The study of the virtues is the near perfect analog to Ayurveda's study of the body.
Ayurveda focuses on temperament of the body. The virtues focus on temperament of the mind. The virtues are to the mind what the 20 gunas of Ayurveda are to the body. The gunas are the root of Ayurveda's entire paradigm. Ayurveda balances the gunas to maintain a healthy body. Similarly, balancing the virtues maintains a healthy mind. In excess or deficiency, the virtues create imbalance. The models are nearly identical.
Growth in virtues has many benefits. One, they create a healthy perspective of reality. Two, they help you diagnose character strengths and weaknesses. Three, they pinpoint how to grow in excellence and wisdom.
When Alexander the Great conquered the Indus River Valley over 2,300 years ago, the ancient Greeks and Vedic peoples of the Indus River Valley shared knowledge and philosophy with one another. The event took place about a hundred years before the main canon of Ayurveda, the Charaka Samhita, was written. Around this time, Ayurveda emerged as a healthcare model with many similarities to the Greek study of the virtues, and to Greek medicine as well.
The Greek word for virtue, arete (rhymes with great), means excellence of the whole person. Arete has the sense of reaching one's full potential. When you study virtue, you study yourself not only as you are, but who you are meant to be. The study of virtue is the study of your true nature. It is the study of the habits and temperament that aid fulfillment, satisfaction and happiness.
The world was made in a certain way. You can't fight reality and expect to be happy. To be happy, you need to know your nature and reality. The study of virtue is the study of the attitudes that will help you live in harmony with creation. Virtue gives you the right amount of acceptance and love for things as they are. And, they give you the right amount of fortitude to make the world a better place. The study of the virtues leads to right relationship with the world as it is and as it was made to be.
The 4 cardinal virtues are prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude (See Plato's Republic Book IV, 426-435). Each of these virtues contains many subvirtues as well. These subvirtues will help you pinpoint character deficiencies and flaws that prevent you from reaching your own full potential. They are best understood as 4 main categories of virtue. Here's what they mean:
All people are united in their desire for satisfaction and happiness. Happiness is the motivating force behind every person's whole being. Happiness is the perfect good which satisfies all human desires.
But if you want to have a good life, you must seek out a path to get there. You must ask yourself, "What kinds of happy choices put me on the path to the perfect good?"
Ayurveda is the art of living. It describes the lifestyle, diet and herbs that are good for life in the body. The study of the virtues is the study of what is good for life in the mind. Together, Ayurveda and the virtues will keep you happy, healthy, and well.
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda. His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful. His online course Balance Your Ayurvedic Diet in a Week provides tools for gracefully healing with Ayurveda to thousands. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda , which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition. John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.
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