I recently read the below illuminating statement from Vasant Lad’s book Ayurveda: The Science of Self Healing: A Practical Guide:
“Western medicine and thinking tend to generalize and to categorize individuality. For instance, according to the Western concept of normality, what is common in a majority of people constitutes the norm. Ayurveda holds that normality must be evaluated individually, because every human constitution manifests its own particular and spontaneous temperament and functioning.
In the East, the key to understanding is acceptance, observation and experience; in the West, it is questioning, analysis and logical deduction. The Western mind, generally, trusts objectivity, while the Eastern gives more emphasis to subjectivity.
Eastern science teaches one to go beyond the division between subjectivity and objectivity. This difference in approach may explain why some Westerners experience difficulty in comprehending the methodology of Ayurveda.”
This struck a chord.
My first big exposure to this type of Eastern thought was late last year when I attended a Vipassana Meditation course. The course teaches the meditation technique passed down from Buddha, part of Eastern philosophy.
And in fact, as Vasant Lad points out so brilliantly in the above quote, the course did follow the acceptance-observation-experience model.
We were supposed to accept the course rules without knowing the exact reasoning behind them. Including following a set schedule which started with waking up at 5:00 AM, staying within strict course boundaries, not talking to any other students (not even gesturing at them), sleeping in a hard bed, and more. Those who broke the rules could be kicked out of the course.
The course taught observation techniques through meditation. Unlike other meditations I’ve tried, in this course, we were simply learning to observe the sensations on our bodies. That is Buddha’s technique.
Finally, they made it very clear that we would have to experience the journey to enlightenment ourselves. Nobody could do it for us. Those who came before us (like Buddha) could give us the technique, but it is up to us to accept it and experience it in our own way, to our own enlightenment.
Ayurveda, the ancient Indian Science of Life, is very similar in this way. I remember when I first learned about my body type and was given a listing of foods similar to this one that I could and could not eat. I could not understand the reasoning or logic behind it. It seemed random.
If I google “health benefits of ___” any of the foods listed, which I did regularly, I would learn how healthy that food was for me. Despite my Western logic, I decided to accept these food guidelines and other Ayurvedic recommendations, despite some of them sounding weird and illogical to me at first.
As I followed these guidelines, I observed my body and noticed that my skin problems went away and I lost a lot of weight.
Finally, I was able to fine-tune my personal individual health through the experience of continued observation as I learned in my Vipassana course.
For example, I observed through my experience that although Ayurveda recommends eating dinner closer to 6:00 pm, it is best for me personally to finish eating by 4:00 or 4:30 pm.
But when I tell my Western friends about Ayurveda, they keep questioning it. One friend asked how I know it’s not confirmation bias that I’m experiencing – a clearly Western scientific term. Another friend asked me how I know whether a spice works as they say it does after I told her about my new Ayurvedic cooking adventures.
I couldn’t answer clearly to either of my friends, because the TRUTH in Ayurvedic philosophy is PERSONAL. I know it’s true because I followed the cycle of accepting it, observing it, and experiencing it. But I cannot satisfy them enough with the Western type of truth – with a ton of scientific studies – that confirms that it’s true.
Ayurveda is a personal journey that nobody else can take for you. The first step is to decide to accept it, beyond all the logical questions in your mind. Next, observe what happens. And through experience, continue following it only if you find a personal truth in it.