The ProblemCharaka, the founding father of Ayurveda, says happiness comes from dissolving the self, and annihilating the mind. But to me, dissolving the self always seemed like a very un-ayurvedic thing to do.
Instead, Ayurveda affirms the body, mind, and spirit - it does not wish to dissolve these things into nothingness. Ayurveda is based on nourishing the body, and nurturing your existence. Ayurveda seeks to balance the gunas, tastes, and elements so you can feel good and thrive.
For ten years, like a bad dream, my attempts to integrate Charaka's model of bliss with Ayurveda failed, like trying to put a square peg into a round hole.
So I began to wonder - is there a model for happiness befitting to the study of Ayurveda? Is there an ancient model for mental health that belongs with the study of Ayurveda, one similar to Ayurveda's process? Is there a model of happiness & psychological wellness that mirrors Ayurveda's simple yet powerful method for healing the body? The search for the answer took me to a far away culture, one that communicated with India in antiquity. Here is what I discovered.
Solution: The Cardinal Virtues of Greek AntiquityHappiness means living in the truth, goodness and beauty of how you are made, how the world was made, and God's purpose for you. When you operate against truth, goodness, or beauty, you fight an impossible battle that leads to hopelessness and confusion.
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.
The study of the virtues is the perfect complement to Ayurveda's study of the body. Ayurveda is the study of the temperament of the body. The virtues are the study of emotional temperament and constitution of the mind. One could say that the virtues are the "gunas" of the mind - the qualities that need to be balanced in the mind. Ayurveda also has a concept of "gunas" of the mind, but only one type of mind is preferred, sattva.
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, means excellence of the whole person. Arete has the sense of reaching one's full potential. When you study virtue, you study yourself not as you are, but who you are meant to be. The study of virtue brings you in harmony with goodness, truth and beauty. The study of virtue is the study of your true nature, and your ultimate fulfillment, satisfaction and happiness. It is the study of happiness aided by excellence of the whole person.
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 main attitudes that will help you live in harmony with creation. Virtue gives you the right amount of acceptance and love for things are 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. 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. The 4 main categories of virtue are:
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. The study of the virtues is the study of what is good for happiness. Together, these two paths 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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