Written by John Immel,
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My Personal Faith Journey to Belief in Jesus ChristHere's the story of my personal spiritual journey, from Harvard mathematician and yogi, to discovering the love and goodness of faith in Jesus Christ:
Loving God and Caring for HumanityFor Christians, one cannot love God without caring for humanity the way Jesus did. One of Jesus' primary ministries was to feed and heal the sick. That ministry is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well. In this light, Joyful Belly also aims to restore wholesomeness to every individual by feeding and healing the sick. As the founder of Joyful Belly, I enjoy sharing Ayurveda within the context of my Catholic roots, and find Ayurveda gives me an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church.
God loves each one of us uniquely and wants to heal us. God created us and we are dependant upon Him for the gift of life. Therefore, to be healthy, we must respect God's love by honoring the dignity of the body and putting our faith in the beautiful and natural way that God made us. Joyful Belly is committed to discovering the nature, essence, and meaning of the body as God fashioned it.
Jesus loves food as much as Ayurveda does. He was always breaking bread with his apostles, which was His final act before crucifixion, and His first act after resurrection. He loved to share the miracle of food with the public, shown by multiplying bread and fish. Food sustains life. In sharing the miracle of food, Jesus shared the miracle of life, which is what Ayurveda aims to support and honor as well.
In the Christian worldview, God also has a body in the form of Jesus Christ. I believe this simple divine union of heaven and earth has given me, as a Catholic, a unique perspective on how to love nature and serve humanity which has strengthened my ability to practice Ayurveda. I find the practice of Ayurveda to be a natural home for my life as a Catholic. However, it is also a challenge since few other practitioners share my Christian beliefs.
Is Ayurveda Compatible with Christian Life?
From the start, Joyful Belly has been an exploration in how to bring natural health to the American public and Christians in particular, two groups that lack a comprehensive model for natural medicine. In this journey, I was excited to discover that Ayurveda finds itself at home in the 'natural metaphysics' of St. Thomas Aquinas, particularly in the area of habit formation. Joyful Belly draws heavily on Thomist philosophy to supplement Ayurveda's practical concepts of habit formation and routine.
Despite acknowledging that spirituality is essential to health and well-being, its sections on disease treatment generally do not include spiritual remedies. It is not an energetic form of medicine, but rather based on objective criteria and observation. Similar to a manual on how to repair a car, Ayurveda may be applied in a multitude of cultural contexts.
Ayurveda, fundamentally, is a medicinal theory of habit. The core idea of Ayurveda is that, "Habits influence the nature of a person." This belief is very similar to the core Christian understanding of the virtues.
Specifically, Ayurveda identifies lifestyle habits causing a pattern of imbalance in your body. It then identifies the type of behaviors that would correct this imbalance. Imbalances in the body are characterized by biocharacteristics, tastes, elements, balanced tissues, metabolism, and elimination of wastes. Finally, Ayurveda describes relationships between imbalances (doshas).
We note that in Ayurveda the elements are not spiritual forces, which would make Ayurveda incompatible with Christianity, but describe natural qualities of substances (such as the pungency of spices, or the metabolically cooling effect of a cucumber). These fit neatly into the Thomist definition of habit, as a quality added to the nature of a thing.
Isn't Ayurveda Hindu?In reading ancient Ayurvedic texts one will find references to Hindu gods which could at first glance make it seem as if Ayurveda is Hindu. On second glance, however, one realizes that these references merely express the personal religious worldview of the author, rather than a spiritual view of Ayurveda. An example of this is a tribute to the Hindu god Dhanvantari in the introduction to the Charaka Samhita, part of Ayurveda's canon.
It is our opinion that these peripheral references merely reflect Ayurveda's adaptation, historically, in a non-Christian culture, rather than a fundamental incompatibility with Christianity in its medical methods. In all likelihood Ayurveda's methods were developed in a cross cultural manner with Greek medicine - each culture adding its personal worship to supplement the biocharacteristic medical model.
There are exceptions to this, particularly in Charaka's model for mental health & wellness. In this chapter Charaka proposes the spiritual worldview of Sankhya - a dualist theory closely resembling Manicheanism in the West. The chapter includes philosophical pessimism (the idea that reality is wholly corrupted) which is in stark contrast to the biblical teaching of Genesis, which declares, "God made the world and saw that it was good."
Additionally, Charaka, in Vimanasthana Chapter 8 verse 53, claims that reality is born out of ignorance. But Christians believe it was made by an all-knowing Creator that loves us. In the same section, Charaka declares that salvation is achieved through complete renunciation - a chilling statement where he claims "Salvation is erasing every last shred of yourself ever having existed." Christians do not renounce earthly things, but simply put God above earthly things. Salvation comes through a person, Jesus Christ, that loves us. Jesus Himself had an earthly body, which itself declares the goodness of the body.
A close study of Charaka's mental health model in this chapter reveals he doesn't reference basic Ayurvedic principles of guna, taste, and dosha at all in these chapters. Instead, this chapter appears to be a separate system altogether from Ayurveda's basic technique - an attempt to blend biocharacteristics medical concepts into Vedic culture to encourage its acceptance locally.
Ayurveda has always been controversial in India because, due to its foreign origins, its methods are also, at times, incompatible with some native spiritualities of South Asia (such as yoga, Buddhism). Unlike Buddhism, for example, which sees all life and existence as suffering, Ayurveda sees life, desire and attachments as positive forces, too, and therefore seeks to enhance fertility. Unlike other Vedic philosophies, Ayurveda advocates the consumption of meat, thereby placing humanity in a hierarchy above animal life. Ayurveda believes we have a specific eternal nature (prakruti) as opposed to yoga, which sees the true nature of the self as without attributes.
Unfortunately, Christians will frequently be challenged by the way Ayurveda is practiced in the West and blended with yoga spirituality. While Indian Ayurveda schools tend towards a more clinical approach, in the West many practitioners integrate yoga cosmology and faith healing into Ayurveda consultations, including chanting of mantras, Buddhist meditations, and yoga stretches designed to create a specific spiritual outcome. These additions to Ayurveda's medical techniques are due to the religious beliefs of the individual(s) that brought Ayurveda to the West.
As with western science, Ayurvedic methods of approaching the body can and frequently are misused in a spiritual context, and promoted alongside Hinduism and yoga's spiritual perspective. Joyful Belly lobbies, within the Ayurveda profession, to reduce this confusion, so that Ayurveda will be more accessible to all.
While biocharacteristics medicine is a natural, life affirming philosophy that was used by Christians for over 1,600 years, more research is needed to adapt Ayurveda to a Christian audience. We are working hard to provide this synthesis, all the while ensuring that Joyful Belly content provides accurate medical and clinical techniques that can be used independently of the worldview and theology of our clients.
At Joyful Belly, we also welcome the direction of priests, pastors and others who can help ensure that Joyful Belly carefully respects and uplifts the sacred beliefs and traditions of our Christian audience. And, I welcome users to make contributions in the profound task of synthesis of Ayurveda into Christian life. Please report of any contradictions and incompatibilities you find with Christian faith. Email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christianity ,Yoga & Buddhism: A Comparative AnalysisAdditionally, here are some of my videos explaining the differences between Christianity, Yoga & Buddhism. These will help priests, pastors and lay Christians understand where eastern philosophies may contradict Christian principles. In these videos, I also reference 1) key areas where these worldviews differ from the Christian understanding of reality, 2) how these spiritual worldviews are currently communicated to the public in yoga classes and the media, 3) the long term implications on those who follow them.
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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 biocharacteristics. His approach to Ayurveda is clinical, yet exudes an ease which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda, offering professional clinical training in Ayurveda for over 15 years.
John's interest in Ayurveda and specialization in digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, as well as 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. Outside of work, John enjoys spending time with his wife and 6 kids, and pursuing his love of theology, philosophy, and language.
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I have been looking for someone that is Christian practicing Ayurveda and now I have found you. Thank you for your insight.
thank you so much for your insight. As a Christian, I have struggled over the last few years with allowing myself to pursue Ayurveda Healing and Yoga / Meditation Practices as I've read they went against Christianity but so happy to know there are others out there that can relate!
I am studying to become an herbalist. But I too as a Christian have been struggling with myself for several years about being drawn to Ayurvedic Healing and Diet. I was so intrigued by it, it felt right but I also felt like it was contradictory for me to study it based on spiritual beliefs. Well NO MORE.....I am going to really enjoy incorporating it now....I wanted more than anything to become an Ayurvedic Practitioner, Now I can. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!