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Ayurvedic Medicine

Integrity in the 21st Century A comparison between Ayurvedic & Allopathic views

by Swami Sada Shiva Tirtha, D.Sc.

50% of Americans are using and spending more on alternative therapies than on allopathic (modern medicine) options. Alternative medicine has become a multi-billion dollar industry.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to be even-minded in success and failure, in loss and gain, in pleasure and pain. Here we see how this teaching applies regarding the above news.

At first glance, the rise in popularity of alternative medicine seems to be great news and reason to rejoice. However, there is also a negative side to this as well, so it is best to remain even-minded and carefully look at the rapidly changing healthcare landscape. The bottom line is that when there is money to be made quality, integrity, and straight talk go out the window as people run toward gains, pleasures and successes in life that Krishna-ji advises against. Thus, it is imperative that each person-each consumer-carefully thinks through what is said, even if it is heard in a health food store or from a holistic practitioner.

In short, people have to think for themselves-use their best logic and reasoning abilities, and their common sense. However Benjamin Franklin said, "the problem with common sense is that it is not all that common". Suddenly every herbal and vitamin company and even the pharmaceutical companies are coming out with a multitude of herbal formulas. Moreover, it seems that every 6 months or so there is a new trendy herb such as St. John's Wort, Valerian and Kava Kava. So what is the well-meaning customer to do?

People have left allopathic and moved to alternative because it was safer, more natural, and generally sold & advised by well-meaning, knowledgeable people. Now that holistic has become another way to get rich, whom can we trust? The sad fact is that we can no longer simply assume that just taking herbs is safe and natural. There are three main points that may help you make more informed decisions.

The issues are:

1. Trendy Herbs: Tone/nourish vs. stimulate/suppress

2. Herbs Becoming Drugs: Whole plant herb vs. isolated extract drug

3. Safety or Shifty: Standardized extract vs. whole plant

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1. Trendy Herbs: Tone/nourish vs. stimulate/suppress [This topic covers is the least harmful situation] Usually when things make it to TV they have already become commercialized. So, one has to think clearly about what is being said. While Kava Kava may not be a harmful herb it only gives some experience of relaxing. It doesn't tone or nourish the mind, and it may lead people to forget about trying to change their lifestyle so that their excessive stress levels can diminish naturally by themselves. Valerian calms the mind but does so by suppressing the mind. A better substitute would be Jatamanshi - a relative of Valerian that works by naturally developing greater awareness through building healthy brain cells and tissues. We have also had many people complain to us of various side effects when they tried St. John's Wort. So in short, for each new trendy herb, be very wary. There are even more serious reasons to be cautions about taking herbs these days.

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2. Herbs Becoming Drugs: Whole plant herb vs. isolated drug extracts The wonderfully safe thing about holistic is that it considers the whole situation. We treat the whole person, consider their job, family and spiritual areas of life along with the disease. From this holistic point of view, Ayurveda suggests using the whole plant, not the isolated active ingredient.

Mother Nature, in her vast wisdom, has created a plant that has certain healing properties. Yet contained in that plant are other ingredients to prevent side effects. Ever since the Pilgrims landed in America, the viewpoint regarding nature was that it was to be conquered. Alternatively, the American Indians and Asian cultures have known all along that humans need to learn how to work in harmony with nature. This "conquering" mentality has now seeped into the herbal field and companies feel they can remove isolated active ingredients of an herb, make it into extract form and bottle it for healing. Hello?!?…this is what drugs are. Pharmaceutical drugs are nothing more than isolated herb ingredients or synthetic versions of these ingredients. Thus, our friendly herbs have now become drugs, potentially dangerous-side effects unknown. To add to this problem, the extract form of herbs is a concentrated, stronger forms of the drug. So, if there is going to be a bad reaction, it will be more severe than if caused only by a plain-herb ingredient. Pharmacies now sell many herbal products-most of which are isolated-ingredient extracts. Sadly, even the health food stores are selling some of these products. You have to read the labels. Many people are taking courses in alternative medicine because they see the lucrative possibilities. So you also have to think carefully before choosing a practitioner. The safest suggestions are to use whole plant herbs and to go to a practitioner who has been around for a long time and/or one who you intuitively feel comfortable with.

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3. Safety or Shifty: Standardized extract vs. whole plant There is a commercial on TV that says, 'now you can rest easy knowing that you are getting quality because this company offers standardized herbal extracts'. From one point of view this sounds very reassuring. However, this in no way guarantees safety and quality. Here is another scenario. Once the standardized ingredients are placed in the container, any filler-safe or harmful-could potentially be added and no one would be the wiser. Ayurveda suggests using simple whole herbs, grown, picked and sold by reputable people, to be the safest way to use herbs. All this hi-tech standardization talk is just a way to charge excessively for herbal products and try to be accepted into the mainstream thinking of the medical community. It must be remembered that alternative care-especially Ayurvedic-involves changing to an alternative way of thinking about health and healing. Being accepted by the mainstream is certainly a good thing, but not at the expense of losing the soul and spirit of healing, and not in the name of simply making money. For then, Ayurveda will become as dead and deadly as modern medicine. JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) published a study that the 4th leading cause of death in the US is due to prescription drugs. This is 2-1/2 times more deaths than due to AIDS. So if AIDS is an epidemic, what do we call the prescription drug death situation? If we want alternative health care to remain an alternative to allopathic medicine, we must resist the temptation to "sell-out" or rush too quickly into being accepted by the mainstream medical community. Informed consumers-those who have made their voices heard on alternative medicine-can again take control of their healthcare and make educated buying decisions.

To summarize, the only way the effectiveness and spirit of Ayurveda and other alternative medicines can maintain their integrity is to not try to become like modern medicine. Ayurveda is unique in that it considers the whole person, treats the root cause of disease and treats the dosha--not the disease. It is simple and uses simple, safe, gentle and effective methods to heal. If these approaches are compromised in the name of profit or to try to artificially gain acceptance by altering Ayurveda's basic concepts, Ayurveda too will lose it's spirit. Ayurveda is a medical approach that helps remove health concerns that would otherwise take one's attention from one's spiritual responsibilities (ethics, family and Divinity).

To put fame or fortune first would be to corrupt the spirit of Ayurveda. Loss of faith in the Divine is the first cause of illness. Happiness and unhappiness are the causes of health & illness. The medicine for longevity is ethics. - Various quotes from Charak Samhita An honest practitioner will tell you that you don't need to buy so many herbs and other therapeutic things. The best medicine is free. The best medicine includes honesty, integrity, following one's dharma (i.e. doing what you love to do), helping others, making small lifestyle changes to begin to reduce stress; and developing one's inner spiritual life. Then, if therapies are needed, small amounts for short periods of time are all that is required.

For those with chronic diseases, clearly therapies are required, but the best medicines that will help one recover the quickest are still the ones just mentioned. At our center we have found that over 90 percent of illnesses are mentally caused--mostly due to stress. Making small lifestyle changes to reduce stress instantly begins to make one feel better. Yet many practitioners and companies feel that if they share this information they will not become wealthy, or at least not stay in business. I think there is enough people seriously ill that companies will remain in business. However, it cannot guarantee that they will become filthy-rich at the expense of sick people. This article is not intended to create an us-vs-them mentality, as that too is an unhealthy state of mind.

This article is being written only to address the growing commercialism of holistic herbology & other therapies and the possible dangers it may pose. Arming the consumer with information helps makes them make more educated decisions. There is a nice change in the consciousness of the world these days due to the internet. Yes, the internet, if used properly, can be a very spiritual tool. The internet is a grass-roots phenomenon. The people are being heard over the corporate and medical giants. The ability to educate oneself and to find fair prices without paying middlemen is changing the way we live, act and think. Companies are having to put the customer first if they want to stay in business. Consumer education, fair prices and easier ways to live are dictating which companies will stay in business.

The point here is that people-groups of individuals-are governing the way business does business. Many of the big internet companies have had a very great spiritual realization. In the industrial revolution, things mattered most. Even though spiritual life suggested looking beyond the material, material possessions became greatly valued. Now, for the internet and internet businesses to stay successful, they need highly educated people. Things don't matter as much. Storefronts can be more cumbersome than virtual stores. People don't have to buy software- they download the information. Education is needed to create "things". Information, in short, is becoming more valued than material things. This is the information age.

As a civilization, we are finding our way past the illusion that material things are more important than education and spirituality. What drives and creates material things is education. So we are only one step away from seeing that what drives education is inner spiritual development. So we can say that the internet, from this educational viewpoint, is making business move in the direction of spirituality-at least to the point of truly serving customers. If we define spirituality as a combination of ethics, responsibility, and inner soul-development, then serving customers fairly can be said to be a form of spirituality.

So with all this good news, one is only required to think before listening blindly to herbal and holistic sales pitches. Educate yourselves and then make your voices heard by your purchases. Chose integrity and the business world will have to listen. The educated consumer is changing the world into a fairer place to live. Remember your health, remember your soul; Then your life will naturally unfold.


This article is not intended to treat, diagnose or prescribe. For all health concerns you are advised to consult with a duly licensed health practitioner


Swami Sada Shiva Tirtha, D.Sc. is the author of the Ayurveda Encyclopedia. He is the founder of the Ayurveda Holistic Center & its school of Ayurvedic Science-offering a 2-year certification program leading to Ph.D. [distance learning & local]. His center offers consultations, pancha karma spa and herbal products. Read more articles and see the meditation room online at: http://www.ayurvedahc.com

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