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Ayurveda, Yoga, Tantra, Mantra

The following is taken from the course calender of the Renaissance
Naturopathic Centre (Toronto, Canada).  Director:  Pankaj Seth, B.Sc., N.D.
(Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine) 
                                           Ayurvedic Medicine Programme 
The Art & Science of Living:  Ayurveda, translated as  the art and science
of living  is a systematic approach which utilizes all that nature provides
(foods, spices, herbal medicines, colours, metals, gems, sound) to not only
overcome illness but continually strengthen oneself.  Ayurveda evolved in
an ancient culture which understood the human condition to be limitless;
the day to day implementation of Ayurvedic principles creates a strong
body, clarity of mind and tranquillity of spirit so the individual may move
closer to realizing her/his true potential.  In order to further this
movement the disciplines of Yoga and Tantra are allied to Ayurveda. 
Genesis and Development:  Ayurveda, the oldest system of medicine in the
world, traces its roots to the Vedic period in ancient India (1500 B.C.). 
The Rig Veda, a compilation of verse on the nature of existence, is the
oldest surviving book of any Indo-European language (l500 B.C.). The Rig
Veda refers to the cosmology known as Sankhya which lies at the base of
both Ayurveda and Yoga; in it are verses on the nature of health and
disease, pathogenesis and principles of treatment. The Atreya Samhita is
the oldest medical book in the world; it survives from Takashila University
which was operating as early as 800 B.C.  The Atharva Veda (800 B.C.) lists
the Eight Divisions of Ayurveda: Internal Medicine, Surgery of Head and
Neck, Opthamology and Otorinolaryngology, Surgery, Toxicology, Psychiatry,
Paediatrics, Gerontology or Science of Rejuvenation, and the Science of
Fertility.  At 500 B.C. at the university at Benares, Sushruta, a surgeon
who developed the operative techniques of rhinoplasty  (plastic  surgery),
wrote the Sushruta Samhita  which describes a highly developed surgery.  In
l00 A.D., the physician Charaka revised and supplemented the Atreya
Samhita; the Charaka Samhita  is a major work on internal medicine.  
Influence of Ayurveda on East and West:  By 400 A.D., Ayurvedic works were
translated into Chinese; by 700 A.D., Chinese scholars were studying
medicine in India at Nalanda University.  Indian thought, as well as
influencing Chinese spirituality and philosophy through Buddhism, greatly
influenced Chinese medicine and herbology through Ayurveda.  In 800 A.D.,
Ayurvedic works were translated into Arabic.  A  century later, under
physicians such as Avicenna and Razi Serapion, both of whom quoted Indian
texts, Islamic medicine became very influential in Europe, helping to form
the foundation of the European tradition in medicine.  In 16th century
Europe, Paracelsus, who is known as the father of modern Western medicine,
practised and propagated a system of medicine which borrowed heavily from
Ayurveda Today:  In the modern world, Ayurveda is increasingly popular
because it speaks to those elementary concepts of (1) contact with nature,
(2) holism, and (3) we are what we eat.  Ayurveda forms an integral part of
the daily regimen of hundreds of millions of people worldwide.  Its
principles are utilized not only to treat persons who are ill but also to
prepare a balanced meal and to construct a harmonious environment. 
Ayurveda brings to life the concepts of preventive health care and health
promotion.  The goal of Ayurveda is to help the individual discover a
personal knowledge of living. 
At present, most of us no longer know how to maintain our own health and
are either actively or passively participating in the destruction of the
Earth.  We have been taught to maintain the structure of a society that
values the acquisition of wealth above all else.  This path continues to
separate us from each other and from everything within nature.  Many of us
have decided to reject this and are envisioning a worldview that
acknowledges human needs other than wealth.  The Vedic view is that the
human condition is limitless:  We have a deep desire to realize unity with
nature and divinity within ourselves.  Ayurveda is the knowledge of what 
nature in her generosity provides.  Yoga and Tantra deepen our knowledge of
who and what we are within nature.  
Yoga:  Yoga, which means  union , is an approach which brings together the
disparate elements within a human being; Yoga is not just body postures but
anything which serves to unify the individual into a whole.  Within us all
there are different motivations, desires and goals which are contradictory
to each other; every circumstance brings forth courage and fear, prospects
of pleasure and pain, judgments of good and bad.  Our actions do not
satisfy all the different needs and desires that exist within;  whatever is
left unsatisfied expresses itself through the body/ mind as illness.  The
path of Yoga calls for an intense awareness of mind and body so that our
actions arise from the totality of who and what we are.  A yogi aspires to
incorporate elements generally unavailable to conscious awareness, into
her/his daily life. 
Tantra:  Tantra is a systematic approach to dissolve personal limitations. 
As our limitations have intimately to do with our notions of good and bad,
real and unreal, the Tantric approach is to continually redefine personal
reality.   A Tantric is a person for whom the removal of limitations is
more compelling than the maintenance of any given personal reality, no
matter how pleasant or beautiful it may be.  Tantra is the path of freedom:
 The Tantric aspires to recognize the unity of the Human with the Divine. 
                                                        Ayurveda - Basic
                                                               Hymn to the 
                                                                Rig Veda,
1500 B.C. 
Plants, which as receptacles of light were born three ages before the Gods,
I honor your myriad colors and your seven hundred natures. 
A hundred, oh Mothers, are your natures and thousand are your growths. May
you of a hundred powers make whole what has been hurt. 
The linking of the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda  (knowledge) aptly
describes the essence of this ancient Indian system of medicine.  The
foundations of Ayurveda lie in the meticulous observation skills of the
ancients.  They observed and recorded the relationship between themselves
and their environment and in the millennia that followed a distinct
clinical system was formulated.  An Ayurvedic physician utilizes her/his
observation skills to not only diagnose patterns of imbalance but also to
determine the constitution of the individual and hence is able to deduce
inherent strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.  An Ayurvedic physician  is
trained in the use of diet, cooking, yoga, breath-work, meditation and a
vast pharmacopoeia in order to help the individual achieve balance. 
Ayurveda not only treats persons who are ill but brings to life the
concepts of preventive health care and health promotion.  The goal of
Ayurveda is to help each person discover a personal knowledge of living. 
Ayurvedic definition of Health 
In Ayurvedic medicine, health is defined as soundness of body (shrira),
mind (manas) and Self (atman).  Each of these must be nurtured if the
individual is to create health.  Ayurveda offers a holistic approach based
upon the understanding that no single agent by itself causes disease or
brings health. 
Ayurveda views the person as a composite of 3 forces: 
Vata  The force symbolized by AIR 
Pitta  The force symbolized by FIRE 
Kapha  The force symbolized by WATER 
The quality and the relative balance of these forces determines health and
disease.  When these forces act harmoniously, the functions of digestion,
absorption and elimination (physically & mentally) create health.  As these
3 forces are responsible for specific areas of body/mind function, the
symptoms of imbalance indicate which of these forces is deficient or
The concept of constitution (prakriti) is central to Ayurveda.  Individuals
are comprised of the 3 forces (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) in unique combinations
so that no 2 persons are alike.  The constitutional determination provides
insight into the deeper workings of an individual.  With this it is
possible to become aware of the foods, spices, herbal medicines, emotions,
thoughts, climates, colours, activities and so on that tend to either
balance or unbalance a particular individual and to either improve or
aggravate various types of illness.  Furthermore, it is possible to outline
the disease tendencies of the different constitutions so that a preventive
lifestyle may be observed; also, health promotion for individuals of
different constitutions can follow a rational, time tested approach
utilizing all that nature provides. 
A disease will manifest in different constitutions in different ways.  An
individual with a predominantly Vata constitution will experience symptoms
that are different than those for Pitta or Kapha, even though they all have
been diagnosed with the same  disease .  Constitutional treatment of the
individual is a priority since the constitution is fundamental to health
and illness. 
Philosophy  A02 
"If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you.
 If you do not bring forth what is inside you, what you do not bring forth
will destroy you." 
                                          Jesus the Nazarene 
In an effort to understand the universe, we must necessarily begin by
understanding the nature of mind.  It is through the mind that sensory
impressions of the world are synthesized into a coherent reality.  The mind
is a storehouse of acquired models of reality as well as a means to
apprehend the universe without reference to such models.  In order to
appreciate something we must be able to suspend judgment and let the thing
speak for itself.  Through this approach we can move away from having our
mind controlled by the various schools of thought propagated in human
history.  Without this, our lives are caught in the world of appearances
which have become established as reality by way of personal, societal and
cultural biases and blind-spots. 
Institutions such as personality, society, organized religion, politics and
so on are all derived from the mind in so far as they first emerged as
ideas of how things are or should be.  In order to understand the universe
all preconceived ideas about reality need to be suspended.  One who strives
for this is known as a  yogi .  Her/his approach is to first become aware
of the subtle dynamics of mind which if unchecked, result in the creation
of erroneous beliefs about the nature of the universe, and subsequently a
chaotic world.  Such subtle mental dynamics can only be perceived when
great attention is focused upon them; with intention and practice, they
come to be in the forefront of awareness.  Gradually, one learns to
powerfully focus attention on any chosen object so that the ideas and
emotions which arise concurrently do not greatly interfere with the
In time, one may gain mastery of this process which enables a clear
discernment of the nature of the object of perception without heaping upon
it meanings which are at best erroneous and at worst destructive.  Yoga has
always been a very practical approach to disentangle human affairs and its
current mystification reflects a lack of understanding rather than insight.

There is a vast literature on Yoga which recapitulates the above view; a
view which has been in existence since the first strivings to understand
the universe.  The first comprehensive exposition of this view was written
by a man known as Patanjali who lived in India sometime between fourth
century B.C. and third century A.D.  The Yoga Sutras (aphorisms) of
Patanjali are an exceptionally clear account of the process by which one
may come to a true understanding of the universe.  Patanjali speaks of the
nature of mind, the process of recognizing the universe for what it is, the
obstacles in living out this process, measures to rid the obstacles and the
state at the end of the process.  The practise of physical postures (Hatha
Yoga) is only one aspect of this process and according to Patanjali if
performed without the other aspects outlined, its value is no more than of
gymnastics.  The amount of emphasis on physical postures or other aspects
depends upon the nature of the individual. 
This course is a detailed study of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali with
reference to various authoritative commentaries written over the past 2000
years.  The objective of this course is to enable individuals to understand
the nature of Yoga. 
                                     Tantra Philosophy (NOT AN OFFERED
Tantra is an approach which accepts the human condition, spirit, mind &
body, and strives to live to the fullest potential of these three
abstracted components.  Originating in ancient India, Tantra is likened on
the one hand to pantheism because of its reverence of nature and Yoga on
the other due to its focus on the dynamics of consciousness.  Of all the
philosophical systems in India it is the most closely related to Yoga
sharing its cosmology and fundamental assertions about existence.  Tantra
can also be seen as a method to explore consciousness in both its inner
(mind) and outer (physical) manifestations.  To the Tantric, the world is
not an inert structure but an organism replete with power.  This power is
available to one who can fully live out the potentialities within
consciousness from sensory desires to divinity.  Divinity is understood to
be in existence everywhere at all times and hence the spiritual concept of
liberation is understood to be in the here and now, rather than in a
conceptualized future or an after-life.   Liberation  is understood as the
freedom to fully participate in the dynamics of the inner and outer worlds
without preconceived notions or perfectionistic ideals about the nature of
reality (inner and outer).  Since idealism is related to ideas held in the
mind, a thorough understanding of the nature of mind is essential.  It is
through the senses that the impressions of our world reach the mind, thus
the relationship of sensory data to reality is also fundamental.  A great
portion of Tantric literature is thus devoted to the study of mind.  All
structures that limit free interaction with the inner and outer worlds such
as personality, society, culture and other preconceived notions are
expendable.  The freedom to experience is the only concept that may be
thought of as sacred to Tantrism.  
Tantrics believe that the world perceived through the senses is the surface
of an organism whose depths conceal its infinite power.  The doctrine of
Tantra also asserts that the structure of the physical world is a powerful
representation of the inner world and is thus not illusory.  A Tantric
strives to exist in both the inner and outer worlds and in so doing he/she
can see points of contact between the two.  Given this ability, he/she may
seek to affect change in one realm by taking a specific ritual action in
the other.  In fact, everyone commonly does something similar; e.g. by
following some intuition we may decide upon a specific course of action in
our outer lives and consequently affect a change to our inner selves.  For
most of us this is done unconsciously and we do not know the nature of the
change affected to our inner selves until that change becomes prominent
some time later.  A Tantric strives to be conscious of such dynamics and in
fact to be their architect. 
For a Tantric, physical objects have a dual nature; vis a vis (1) a
specific relationship with other objects in the physical world and (2) a
specific relationship with non-physical objects in the inner realm.  Of
course, non-physical objects in the inner realm also have a dual nature as
described above.  Ritual action, both inner and outer, forms the basis of
Tantric practise which creates the opportunity to connect these two realms.
 For a Tantric, reality in its subtlety and complexity appears as a game of
hide and seek and he/she therefore sees the world as  Lila  (Divine Game). 
Tantrism has been in existence for millennia and over that period much
knowledge about the rules of the Divine Game have been discerned.  Methods
to clearly discern these rules and the rules themselves are highly guarded
as their misuse can be extremely dangerous to the uninitiated or even the
initiated if he/she should become caught in the other aspect of the power
of the world (Maya or illusion). Powerful means to affect change (both
inner and outer) are best utilized by those who have learned great
self-command.  The self-command possible by the practise of Yoga is indeed
essential if one is to enjoy Lila. 
"Reveal that power to me, lead me on the path of awareness, so that when
that power is transformed into a firm cognition in my awareness, I may
attain contentment of both kinds, enjoyment and liberation." 
Abhinavagupta (11th century, Kashmir) 
                                                    Mantra (NOT AN OFFERED
The root words man (mind) and tra (instrument of) are joined to produce the
Sanskrit word mantra.  The specific usage of this term is reserved to
describe the relationship of sound to subtle mental dynamics.  In Tantrism,
sound is understood to be the most powerful instrument of mind.  Certainly,
in order to communicate the contents of one s mind to another s, sound as
used in language is very powerful.  In the Tantric tradition, sound is also
an essential aspect of ritual and serves to unite the inner and outer
worlds when utilized according to right knowledge. 
The mundane utility of sound is to enable communication of ideas from one
person to another; in this method each word refers to a specific object
according to the convention of the language being utilized.  In Tantrism,
there is also a deeper aspect wherein a specific sound relates to a
particular aspect of the Tantric cosmology.  In this framework it is sounds
themselves that are of primary concern; that is, consonants and vowels
rather than their combinations to form words as is done in a conventional
language.  It is believed that the unity of a specific universal dynamic
and a specific sound, as outlined in Tantric cosmology, does not follow any
humanly conceived convention, but reflects the nature of reality itself.  
In other words, a particular universal dynamic (usually personified as a
deity) is by its very nature closely related to a particular sound, and for
that matter, to a particular body part, emotional expression and other
categories of human experience.  The Tantric position is that this
determination is derived from certain internal experiments and its validity
or falsehood can only be decided by those who carry out the same
For ritual purposes, the form of a deity is so conceived that it subsumes
naturally related inner and outer objects.  The deity is a powerful
synthesis of various component parts whose core is a specific sound
(mantra).  Of all the deity s component parts, the mantra is considered the
most powerful in terms of accessing and understanding a given universal
dynamic.  At a more mundane level, the right use of mantra can serve to
affect the contents of mind more powerfully than other methods.  The
contents of mind are accessed, expressed and modified by primarily verbal
and visual means.  The power of visualization to alter physiology and
consciousness is now well accepted.  When utilized with right knowledge,
the power of sound is believed in Tantrism to be even greater. 
When correctly utilized, a mantra serves to replace the mental chatter that
otherwise is continuous.  This alone can be very beneficial especially if
the mental chatter is not conducive to personal growth.  With a mantra, the
direction that the mind is likely to take depends upon the nature of the
mantra itself.  It may be said that the mantra calls to presence a specific
universal dynamic, at first in the mind and then in the outer life of the
 "The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses,
calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods,
rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged &
numerous senses could perceive. 
 And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing
it under its mental deity;  
 Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of, and enslaved the
vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their
objects:  thus began priesthood; 
 Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales. 
 And at length they pronounced that the gods had ordered such things. 
 Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast." 
                           William Blake 
     From  The Marriage of Heaven and Hell  
Pankaj Seth

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