Mythological and historical origins of Ayurveda and Sāṃkhya

Many historians agree that this discipline is at least six thousand years old although, as it has often happened in India for the transmission of other historical pieces of information, the beginnings of Ayurveda knowledge are difficult to date since there was the first phase of oral transmission difficult to timing.


What does not seem difficult to establish is that this discipline has its roots in the ancient Vedic texts, in particular in the Atharvaveda.


As for its mythological sources, it is said that āyurveda originates directly from Brahmā who gave it to the sage Dakṣa Prajāpati and he taught it to the Aśvin, the twin gods, and from them, it was transmitted to Indra, Lord of the lightning, God of the storm, which in turn revealed it to his disciples: Bhāradvāja, Atreya, Kāśyapa, and Dhanvantari.

The latter is considered the father deity of āyurveda and is still considered, by most āyurveda doctors, the patron of traditional medicine. In iconography it is normally represented with a jar of amṛta, the nectar of the gods or drink of immortality in the left hand at the top, while in the lower right hand it has a text of medicine; in the other hands, a medicinal herb and, sometimes, even a leech, a scalpel or a shell to represent the different branches of medicine and surgery.

Ayurveda, in addition to being a splendid natural discipline that combines the manifest with the non-manifest, the microcosm with the macrocosm, the physical with the spiritual, is presented from a practical point of view, as you can see below, already rationally structured in eight sections (Aṣṭāṅga Āyurveda):

• kāyacikitsā or internal medicine

• śalyatantra: surgery

• śalakyatantra: ophthalmology and otorhinolaryngology

• kaumārabhṛtya: gynaecology, midwifery, and paediatrics

• agadatantra toxicology

• bhūtavidyā: psychiatry

• rasāyana: the medicine of rejuvenation

• vājīkaraṇa: aphrodisiac and reproductive medicine

The presence of these specializations could suggest possible similarities with modern western medicine but, as I already said in the previous chapter, unlike the latter, Ayurvedic medicine begins and develops without ever forgetting the physical and spiritual constitution of the human being.

Both disciplines are the daughters of their respective cultures. Indian medicine tends to unify the psychosomatic complex towards the spiritual substance while the modern western one, at least for the moment (but I haven't lost hope ...), towards the material one.

This attitude inherent in āyurveda derives from the interpretation that the Sāṃkhya induces in this discipline with its interpretation of nature and from which it is necessary each time to start again to better understand the whole system.

Already in my book La scienza della vita: lo yoga e l'āyurveda published by SpazioAttivo edizioni, I wrote:

<<< Each discipline, scientific or metaphysical, has as its basis a philosophical-mathematical interpretation of nature and its rules that characterizes and distinguishes it. This is also true of the most typical Indian medicine: āyurveda.

The pillars of this concept consist of elements of an ancient philosophical, dualistic vision, called Sāṃkhya, before the advent of the Buddha but also an atheist. Traditionally, Kapila is credited with having drafted the text even if, as Radhakrishnan states in his treatise "Indian philosophy", no philosophical school is originated in all its fullness from the mind of a single man. We find, in fact, traces of this "point of view" already in the Ṛgveda and in the Upaniṣad or at least we find a reference to terms which will then be adopted by Kapila himself.

As perhaps not everyone knows, Sāṃkhya is one of the ṣaḍdarśana or six points of orthodox brahmanic view who, in the course of the history of Indian philosophical thought, had the task of enunciating some speculations concerning the nature of the universe in general. Today they are still considered authoritative systems of hindū thought because, although they are different, they have roots in the ancient sacred texts called Veda.

Personally, I believe that in order to understand the theoretical foundations of āyurveda and yoga, one must undoubtedly go through an exam of the Sāṃkhya.


It must be said that the philosophers and scientists who wanted to investigate, searching the principles of "Manifestation", by the obvious limited human constitution, have forced in their statements the infinite in finite rules thus trying to find fundamental and inseparable elements creating the assumption on which to base their interpretations.

This is also the case for the Sāṃkhya where with twenty-four basic elements (tattva or principles of reality) we proceed to constitute an interpretative pyramid, in my opinion, however, without a vertex or a transcendent prime cause.

In my presentation, obviously following a personal interpretation, I find it interesting to start the analysis starting from the top of this diagram.

The ancient wise lecturers of this doctrine decreed that two components of nature were to be considered ultimate, eternal, and absolutely uncaused principles: the puruṣa and the prakṛti. The first can be considered, from a certain point of view, the unspoken Spiritual Cosmic Energy. It is the Seer without both quality and attributes; the impassive and unchanging cosmic consciousness that in the microcosm we find reflected in the pure inner subject cleaned up by identification in the matter.


The second is Material Cosmic Energy, unconscious but active and dynamic, the object with which the subject is mistakenly identified.

According to some schools, the union of the two rises to evil inasmuch prakṛti would induce puruṣa to consider everything beautiful and eternal as truly painful and impermanent.


The purpose of āyurveda, as indeed also of yoga, would be to free the human being from the identification of the subject in the object through discrimination.

But, to return to the macrocosm, I seem to understand that these two elements could enjoy a state of quiet and inactivity in nature until they come into contact with each other. It would be like saying that, if we have a beginning, one can activate the other. Briefly, when the spirit enters the matter, it activates it and makes it with senses. The consequence of this statement could lead us to consider the spirit as responsible and, also perhaps, for other interpretive schools, the first cause. Honestly, even if it seems to me that the promoter of this movement of thought did not wish to present the idea of a God, both manifest and transcendent, which could be the first cause of both: both puruṣa and prakṛti, are considered, as other schools will admit, as aspects of the divine manifestation.

As mentioned at the beginning, the Sāṃkhya is atheist, therefore it is useless to quibble, as some scholars do, in an attempt to find a connection for a theistic recovery of this method of investigation.

Therefore, when the puruṣa and prakṛti come into contact with each other for a reason the cause is not declared, the animated universe seems to begin, which presents itself as an evolution of prakṛti.  Always according to this philosophy, in a first union, called mahat, in which the qualities that will determine later the characteristics of every single agglomeration of "living" substance, including the human being, are already active. These qualities (guṇa) referring to the macrocosm or the intellectual microcosmic aspect are called: sattva, rajas e tamas.

The first is potential consciousness, the boost towards perfection all that is capable of generating goodness and happiness. It is light, transparent, and enlightened. Among other things, it is responsible and decisive for the formation of the five cognitive senses or jñānendriya: hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell.


The second is an activity, including the becoming of the world; it is responsible for producing pain and pushing for feverish activity. It determines the development of the organs of action karmendriya: word, hands, feet, organs of reproduction, and organs of excretion.

Finally, the third, tamas is what contrasts with activity, it is apathy, an indifference that leads to ignorance and inertia. From the tamas proceed the five tanmātra or subtle elements: sound, touch, form flavor and smell, then, with subsequent condensation, the five coarse elements (mahābhūta): space (ākāśa), air (vāyu), fire (agni), water (āpas) and earth (pṛithivī). >>>

Beyond what has been said so far from the text cited, with practical experience as a therapist I can say today that these five elements are not only the result of an abstract speculative consideration but, in practice, they are concretely present everywhere, even in the human body where for example they manifest themselves in the following forms: the earth element is reflected in its weight and density, water corresponds to its humidity, fire to its heat, air to its lightness and finally space, where the density reaches a condition of rarefaction so evident that it also contains air, it is present in the body in different circumstances such as in a nostril (where air flows in fact) or in a bone internally made empty by a serious pathology such as l 'osteoporosis.

Consequently, I have always maintained that for an attentive and expert Ayurvedic therapist, the diagnosis could already begin upon receipt of his patient, from the handshake, typical of the western greeting, from which he could obtain valuable information relating to the weight, the humidity, heat or lightness of the same.

We will discover together that it will be the pancamahābhūta - the five "coarse" elements: earth, water, fire, air, ether - that will allow us to carry out a typical diagnostic evaluation in āyurveda and allow us to manage therapy.


In the same chapter of my first book I continued writing:

<<< The three guṇa or qualities of prakṛti are never separated but coexist in dynamic interrelation with each other, they mix and support each other.

Here, in Ayurvedic medicine, although in a different form, we find represented in the body, physically manifested and more concretely, three qualities, defined in this case: vāta, pitta and kapha (tridoṣa). >>>

(tridoṣa). >>>

These qualities, existing on the border between energy and matter and which we can consider as both biological and energetic substances, are the regulatory agents of nature that maintain or govern health in the body and are made manageable thanks to their close relationship with the five elements. Vāta, "propulsive energy", which traditionally would originate directly from prāṇa or manifested universal energy, would be physically made up of 70% air and 30% ether, pitta, which together with kapha originates from vāta, would have as physical pillars, 70% fire, and 30% water and finally kapha 70% water and 30% earth.

<<< The Ayurvedic doctor, among other things, can feel their presence by even auscultating the wrist. This is not a western interpretation of the heartbeat but the ability to feel the pulse of these qualities in three nearby points, for the tradition from which I come in the right arm of the man and the left of the woman, looking for any anomalies or disharmonies among them.

The doṣa (peculiarities-defects) manifest themselves in the body with these divergent characteristics: the vāta corresponds to the dry, cold, rough, light, it can also be thin and is located above all in the lower part of the body; the pitta is heat, fluidity but also acidity and is located especially in the center of the body; finally, the kapha which is the heaviness, the cold, the solidity, the fat, we find it mainly located in the head and chest.

At the time of birth, together with the genetic heritage, man carries his basic characteristics with him, but these can be modified along the path of life by various factors such as lifestyle, nutrition or even, in a way in particular, from the content of the mind (manas) which states that the constitution of doṣa is also variable. >>>


I repeat that Ayurvedic medicine supports the hypothesis of the psychosomatic origin of diseases and also maintains that one of the three main causes of illness is precisely the error of the intellect (prajñāparādha).


<<<, For this reason, it also deals with the mental and doctors are always ready to advise patients to bring them to the purification of their mind, to the awakening of the state of attention and the consequent awareness, prelude of consciousness.

The way is to admit that there is a subjective and objective vision. The first is prey to the ego. But let's see where the concept of ego originates in āyurveda: when the manifestation is touched by the impulse of evolution, a "separatist" cosmic principle of cohesion called ahaṃkāra would be activated, able, with its centripetal force, to coagulate the inert matter causing the particles of the universe to condense into separate bodies. This principle would derive the sense of the ego or the principle of subjective individuation, the enemy of the objective vision, which is often seen in Indian disciplines as the obstacle to realization. >>>


In my opinion, what has been explained so far, may already be able to provide a discerning reader with the first important information for healthy management of his existence as he would have at his disposal means now to undertake the first path of redemption towards general health, physical and spiritual.

Surely the first step that should be taken for the implementation of an integral and happy life, would be to ask whether the vital principles present in its microcosm puruṣa (non-physical part), prakṛti (physical part) and ahaṃkāra (force of attraction from which as we have said the ego originates) were in harmony or disagreed.

If he were to ask me for advice on how to find out or how to remedy any imbalances, I would suggest him the means that I undoubtedly consider the best and, among other things, forgive the banality even the cheapest (it costs nothing): the practice of meditation on which I have already given written indications on several occasions. As soon as possible, however, I again intend to address this topic more exhaustively as I believe that meditation is the main way to full realization.


To return to our three principles, I think that their condition and relationship are essential in universal living matter and proper status of the same should follow from natural behavioural ethics. Let me give you an example on a cellular level. I state that what I am about to declare is the result of my hypothesis still in the development phase. I say this to be partially relieved of responsibility for what I am about to declare that it could prompt an "inappropriate" reaction by that conservative medical class which, in some cases, would feel undermined both its own belief and the foundations inherent in the procedure of a practice therapeutic especially in case of carcinoma.

When a surgeon removes a metastasis from the body of a person with cancer, an agglomeration of matter consisting of cells is found. I have often heard some doctor’s say that at the centre of this mass one or more cells would be found "as crazy" or manifesting abnormal behaviour. In these circumstances, following my request for further clarification, they have always revealed signs of uncertainty as if they lacked the foundations for conceiving a clear diagnosis. What I think is that the current "materialistic" allopathic medicine lacks certain philosophical bases. On this occasion, I allow myself to argue that, nowadays, it could instead be important to bring doctors back to study philosophy as well: perhaps it would be the way to bring medicine back to its Greek and noble origins, far from the materialism that today characterizes it.

According to my hypothesis, the cell rightly defined as "crazy" would identify itself, having lost the normal and natural behavioural ethics, in the wrong job. The three principles puruṣa, prakṛti and ahaṃkāra, having abandoned, so to speak, the "centre" and consequently a healthy balance, would result in disharmonies between them. The force of attraction (ahaṃkāra), in particular, would prove to have grown enormously. In other words, the "ego" of this biological entity would appear abnormal and it, like a despot, would be able to confuse the other entities close to it too, attracting them and forcing them to become "disobedient" in turn. Here is how, in my opinion, in some cases, a classic agglomeration called metastasis could form.


If this hypothesis were considered possible, the therapeutic approach would certainly be completely different. In most cases, destructive and violent therapy is adopted today, based on the suppression of sometimes even healthy cells, in an attempt not to allow the sick one, subordinating the others, to become too strong.

In my opinion, however, it would be worthwhile to undertake research to find and reproduce the drugs capable of pacifying the force of attraction (ahaṃkāra). The road would certainly be more bloodless and respectful, in line with the principles of non-violence.

To better support what I have been speculating for some years on the mechanism in place in some cancer cells, I propose the following further reflection: the ahaṃkāra of our planet is commonly called gravity. Imagine what would happen if it were to grow out of all proportion. We are all aware that Earth, traveling in space, attracts cosmic dust and small stellar fragments called meteorites. An excessive increase in gravity would generate new conditions of balance or imbalance and our planet could attract even the moon towards itself and for us it would be serious troubles, as they are in the cell in question, deriving precisely from the disharmony of the three fundamental universal principles.


All equally important, including the one, now almost ignored, of a spiritual nature (puruṣa).

I wrote in my second book Nel respiro il segreto della vita, also published by SpazioAttivo edizioni:


<<< Man inexorably pays for this lack of information and education. Today, as we established through a survey conducted a few years ago, seven out of ten people suffer from disorders of non-physical origin, the most common of which are: stress, panic, anxiety, depression, hypochondria, anorexia, bulimia of nervous origin, sleep, mood, sexual, intestinal disorders, etc. We must be grateful to allopathic medicine for having found some remedies and for solving many diseases of physical origin, however, today, it is confused and inadequate in the face of the spread of these disorders of non-physical origin. Doctors in general lack practice, knowledge, and preparation to deal with these particular problems.

Some of them, unfortunately, sometimes only for economic or clientele reasons, are also preparing themselves in alternative medicine (strongly opposed especially in the past) without however having in mind the ethics, the holistic, and "spiritual" knowledge that it necessarily requires. This era, then, also presents the advent of psychologists to whom man, like an irresponsible child, believes he can entrust the management of his "mental". Mind you, psychologists, like doctors, are undoubtedly useful, indeed necessary, especially in severe or difficult cases, but in general, when I write or teach, I have in mind a clear purpose: to bring my readers or students self-management and prevention which, in other words, means being free, as far as possible, from any kind of addiction, therapeutic or behavioural. >>>

In this regard, I have already expressed myself several times but once more I boldly state that having to depend on another person to read a report or the results of analysis represents an offense to humanity and that the duty of an evolved society it would be to educate people to bring them to a direct understanding and management of health as much as possible without intermediaries. This, among other things, would represent an economic way out in times of crisis in which there is a threat to reduce or suspend the health service due to lack of funds.

<<< I think, therefore, that instead of soliciting the intervention of psychologists from kindergartens, we should take care to educate our children to live and know the non-physical part of their constitution. How can you manage what you don't know? Do you understand why and where the "non-physical" ailments of today come from? We should, through the practice of oriental meditation, teach them to manage the mind too. >>>

A full, whole and happy life, as well as the spiritual and mental part, would also derive from the correct management of the three principles, already mentioned, called vāta, pitta and kapha. They, as I have already commented in the same chapter of my second book, would manifest themselves in a tangible form already in breathing:

<<< Breathing manifests itself, as everyone knows, in its three forms: inspiration, abstention from breathing and exhalation. When you are born, or rather when you start to manage your existence, after cutting the umbilical cord, the first of these three functions to manifest itself is an inspiration. Of course not by chance: I have always been instinctively led not to believe in randomness even before Indian wisdom took away any doubt. In nature, everything seems to respond to the laws of existence and the manifestation is presented as an orderly action (karman).


I would say, therefore, that, not by chance, life begins with an inhalation and ends with an exhalation and can also be considered as a set of breaths: every day, as many know, we breathe, according to of our state and external conditions, from 15,000 to 20,000 times. The adepts of some interesting oriental disciplines even believe that at the moment of birth they would be endowed with a certain number of breaths. In fact, among other things, they normally practice promoting and using a more conscious, wider, and slower breathing (which would also lengthen life). Awareness, then, would allow us to grasp the vital and spiritual meaning of this act and each of its phases.

The meditation practiced on breathing (vipasanā) has also led me to understand, for example, that inspiration is closely related to the strength of survival, the same that sustains life by nourishing it: inhaling is an expression of assimilating both in the sensed physical, both psychic.

In our being, this energy assumes responsibility for its structure, for protection (in relation not only to the immune defences but also to the much and lubricating substances). Called by practitioners of Indian Ayurvedic medicine, kapha, it, made up of 70% water and 30% earth, is in a strong relationship with the sense of taste, the sense of smell and the sense of pleasure "in general". The important functions of existence are closely related to the sense of pleasure: inhaling from pleasure, as well as drinking, eating, making love. Through sexuality, life supports itself, reproduces, and extends. Of course, a healthy life follows from the awareness that, by turning into knowledge, it pursues the right and not only what you like. Attachment to pleasure, such as drinking, as everyone knows, is addictive and drags on alcoholism. This also applies to all other aspects of pleasure.


Lastly, inspiration represents the force which, for sustenance, drags external "life" towards us, constituted, as the microscope can reveal to us, as well as particles, bacteria, microorganisms, viruses, etc., to entrust it to the "transformation" which has the task of adapting it to our survival needs. The product of inspiration, via the blood, reaches the cells where, by oxidation, it is made adaptable and useful.

By the term "transformation" I intend to refer not only to this process but to all those who have the task of digesting what, coming from outside (e.g. food, emotions), once transformed, becomes part of personal existence and constitution. In the discipline that I practice, this process is called pitta which has an evident expression in abstention to breathing.

The task of "transforming" is entrusted to the fire element, the main element of this agent (doṣa) if we could indicate its percentage of presence, we would say that it is 70% of the total, while the remaining 30% is of the relevance of the water element.

To understand, therefore, how we work, just think of when we see a beautiful apple: kapha provides the desire to eat it, we take it and we start to chew it with pleasure, it is still an apple in the mouth while it is moistened by saliva, in the oesophagus but, when it reaches the stomach, undergoes the transformation process, which we commonly call digestion, and within three / four hours, a part of it flows in our body in the form of plasma, becoming an integral part of ourselves.

This from the scientific point of view (and not only), is very interesting, especially concerning the emotional level: the reader should not forget in any case, as is the tradition of the Indian medical discipline, the psychosomatic constitution of the living. For a further and easier understanding of this last aspect, I add that when I teach my students, they listen to my words through the sense of hearing, but they can understand and metabolize what is said, up to make it an integral part of their knowledge, through a type of pitta located in the head called sādhakapitta.

Returning to the apple assimilation process, I declared that only a portion of it, the useful one, becomes part of the individual constitution by starting to flow into the plasma, the part recognized as useless or harmful, however, it takes the path of elimination.

This is one of the tasks (the main one is that of motion in general) of the third force that we are going to discover and which, in our discipline, is called vāta made up of 70% air and 30% ether. Elimination, as everyone knows, occurs through exhalation, sweating, urine, feces, etc.

In conclusion, I hope, through these few lines, to have made my readers understand that health depends on the democratic management of these three forces. The presence of "fanaticism" in the doṣa (kapha, pitta, vāta) would determine the onset of the disease. The doṣa, if proposed using the terms of modern physics, can roughly also correspond to inertia (kapha), energy (pitta), and motion (vāta). In the respiratory act, they can also be connected to inspiration, abstention from breathing, and exhalation. >>>


In man, doṣa are the fundamental principles that regulate organic and non-organic functions and in a certain sense, they are the intermediaries between what comes from outside such as foods or emotions and the functions of the organism of mind.

Health depends on their functioning or management which, by grace received from the wise, is made diagnosable and manageable, as we will see in the following chapter, by the presence of the five gross elements (bhūta): space (ākāśa), air (vāyu), fire (agni), water (āpas) and earth (pṛithivī).

Many historians agree that this discipline is at least six thousand years old even if, as often happened in India also for the transmission of other systems, the dawn of Ayurvedic knowledge is difficult to date since there was a first phase of transmission. oral obviously of uncertain temporal location.

What does not seem difficult to establish is that this discipline has its roots in the ancient Vedic texts, in particular in Atharvaveda.

As for its mythological sources, it is said that āyurveda originates directly from Brahmā who gave it to the sage Dakṣa Prajāpati and he taught it to the Aśvin, the twin gods, and from them it was transmitted to Indra, Lord of lightning, God of the storm, which in turn revealed it to his disciples: Bhāradvāja, Atreya, Kāśyapa and Dhanvantari.

The latter is considered the father deity of Ayurveda and is still considered, by most Ayurvedic doctors, the patron of traditional medicine. In iconography he is normally represented with a vase of amṛta, the nectar of the gods or drink of immortality, in the left hand at the top, while in the right hand at the bottom he has a text on medicine; in the other hands, a medicinal herb and, sometimes, even a leech, a scalpel or a shell to represent the different branches of medicine and surgery.
© 2020 - C. Y.  SURYA - MILAN (ITALY)