“Ayurveda can make India the world capital for curing chronic ailments – says MIT and Cambridge trained professor”

Ayurveda
can make India the world capital for curing chronic ailments – says
MIT-Cambridge Professor

Indian sciences can solve modern medical problems because they recognise the difference between the gross physical level, Sthula, and the more subtle, Sukshma, level(s) – Professor Alex Hankey

Aparna M Sridhar

Professor Alex Hankey

Professor Alex
Hankey, a British theoretical physicist trained at Massachusetts Institute of
Technology and Cambridge University, was first introduced to the power of
meditation when as a 10 year old child he lost his mother and found solace in
repeating a small prayer, not realising then that it became a mantra for him.

When he went to
boarding school, he couldn’t cry himself to sleep as he was in a dormitory with
10 other little boys. “So I told a little prayer, ‘God bless Mummy.’ And I
repeated it over and over, I didn’t know at that time, like a mantra. It took
me to a level, after a year or so, of blissful silence,” he said speaking to
CSP at S-VYASA in Bengaluru.

A year later, his older sister gave him a book – The autobiography of St Theresa of Avila - which described in great detail what it called the seven stages of prayer. “I could see I was somewhere near stage 3 and a half. Therefore I got the understanding that if you progressed on this path of meditation you could arrive at great things,” says Alex.

Meditation helps to
tap the mind’s potential. Prof Hankey says, “We like to explain the mind as an
ocean, manasa sagara if you like. It has got lots of waves on the surface,
driven by information coming in through the five senses. Most people only have
an access of 5-10 per cent of that. Even Einstein said he had access to only 15
per cent of his mind. So you have this vast body of mind, mental potential
which is largely untapped. So how do you meditate? You do various procedures
given in Patanjali to let the mind settle down. Then you have the procedure
which turns the mind inwards. Patanjali terms it as Pratyahara. Once the mind
is turned inwards it is actually attracted automatically to this area of inner
bliss. This level of silence is the level of pure Ananda. So our understanding
is that when you are given an inner direction and you have the mantra to take
you there, dhyana takes place automatically.”

Prof Hankey says that one does not stay long in this state because the nature of this stage is that it energises the mind which releases stress, and once this happens you come out of this phase. “So the whole process is cyclical. You go inwards with the mantra, letting go and the system gets energised with Shakti. It worked like a dream for me. It got rid of the stress that I had been carrying for years. I didn’t need asprins.”

Deeply interested in Vedanta, Yoga, and Ayurveda, Prof Alex has played a vital role in setting up Maharishi
University of Management
and later on taught their first
undergraduate course in Philosophy of Science. It was while studying at the
MIT that he learned of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation
technique (TM). He appreciated the technique so much that he became a teacher
of the technique immediately on graduating from M.I.T., during the year that he
spent at Stanford.

Speaking about meditation and its ability to
take one to higher states of consciousness, Professor Hankey quotes his
colleague at TM who identified three types of meditation. “One is called
Focussed Attention (Volunteering of attention on a chosen subject), and that
produces a certain kind of brain waves of high frequency 30-40 cycles per
second (gama waves in front of the head). Another is called Open Monitoring
Technique (nonreactive monitoring of the content of experience from moment to
moment) which produces Theta waves all along the midline. Then the third is
called Automatic Self-Transcending Systems (transcends the steps of the
meditation practice leading to pure consciousness). When you reach the
transcendental phase you experience inner silence and bliss and the effect of
being in that state completely transforms the pattern of your physiological
functioning. Anxiety goes away, depression, much more slowly, is eased. The
mind enters a state which is called Alpha. The alpha starts classically at the
back of the head and then spreads all over cortex and all the main lobes of the
brain are involved. We got these results very very clearly.”

Professor Hankey says that this was an area
of great interest in the early 1970s. A French neurophysiologist at TM started
researching the deeper aspects of meditation and got very good results. “In
1978, the Frenchman set up a laboratory in the UK and we asked the best
researcher in EEG in the UK, John C Shaw to evaluate the research. When we told
him we see frontal alpha, he said ‘You see what’.”

The TM team told John Shaw that they saw the alpha waves start at the back of the head and then spread forward and eventually become coherent when people get more experienced at meditation and that they saw it in all the participants.

“Even in early meditators you see this signal
which is characteristic of inner peace starting in the back and becoming global
on both hemispheres. When I said to him we see alpha frequency waves in the
front of the head he said that he had never seen that in his life. He said he
wouldn’t call that alpha if he saw it from the front of the head because alpha waves
are seen only at the back of the head. So it’s very real, it is completely
reliable, we see it completely reliably, and it’s apparently unique. When you
ask yourself what is it that is happening you are putting your mind in a state
which is fully awake in itself. But there is no informational content, there
are no thoughts, there are no emotions, and there may be a feeling of bliss. It
is basically what I call a state which is ‘empty’. There is no information
content but you are not asleep. Some people say, rather wittily, it is rather
like falling awake. It is reliable and for various reasons it is automatic.”

Prof Alex spent 30 years teaching TM and the
Vedic Sciences in different countries. He returned to research in 2002, and
came to Bangalore in 2007, where he met S-VYASA Vice-Chancellor, Dr HR Nagendra
within two months of arriving. He joined the university five months later. His
current work at S-VYASA relates to applying a combination of philosophical
arguments and knowledge of Vedic
sciences
to solve problems in modern science, and thereby refining the foundations of physics, biology, and information theory.

EMPERICAL
SUCCESS OF TRADITIONAL INDIAN SCIENCES

Comparing Indian sciences to Western
practices, Prof Hankey says that Indian traditional sciences depend on the
well-defined process of cognition from the Yogic state of Ritam Bhara Pragya
described at the end of Patanjali Yoga Sutras Pada I. “When the applied Vedic
sciences such as Ayurveda, Dhanurveda, Gandharva Veda, Sthapatya Veda, Shiksha,
Vyakarana, Jyotisha, Nyaya, Samkhya, and Yoga are considered, the feedback of
empirical success into the structure of knowledge and teaching are very much in
evidence, also in the Arts such as Natya Shastra, Painting or Sculpture, to
name but a few.”

Prof Hankey says Indian sciences can solve
modern problems because “they recognise the difference between the gross physical
level, Sthula, and the more subtle, Sukshma, level(s). The western sciences
have almost no idea of the existence of the latter, and tend to deny evidence
for it when data indicating their existence is brought up. Great scientists
like Rupert Sheldrake in the UK report highly negative treatment at the hands
of senior scientists who are convinced that they themselves know best – when
they don’t. The power of the Sukshma levels can explain all the great results
reported in ancient Indian sciences.” Prof Hankey says he has developed an
authentic and powerful theory of how the Sukshma fits into the physical world.

And that theory is rooted in
Ayurveda which he says has the ability to assess patients’ pathologies at a
Sukshma level. His student Dr Purnima Datey in Bhopal has demonstrated cures
for several chronic diseases using methods of the AYUSH systems of medicine.
“Her system of Rasahara can make India a world capital for curing Chronic
Kidney Disease (CKD). Our work shows that failing to follow any principle of
Ayurveda Ahara-Vihara constitutes a risk factor for a corresponding pathology –
also that Yoga practice systematically reduces complications of several
pathologies.” 

Prof Hankey says that coming from a family of
great Vaidyas, Dr Poornima grew up with Ayurveda in her “blood and bones”.
Describing her ability as being intuitive, he credits her with his greatest
discovery in Ayurveda and Yoga. For instance, the basis of most scientific
research done on diabetic drugs is to observe how much of a shift is produced
in bio-chemical markers during post-prandial or fasting blood sugar. Ayurveda
allows one to have a very different strategy on how drug intervention works.

Dr Poornima found that Ayurveda normalises
the variants, bringing them back to their normal range. “For example if you
give one of these drugs to someone with normal blood sugar it doesn’t change.
But if you give it someone who is diabetic, it will reduce their blood sugar.”

While mainstream research would take an experimental
group of 50 people with different values of blood sugar, and compress the whole
distribution to study shifts from the mean, the Ayurvedic approach of Dr
Poornima and Alex insists it is more important not to look at the shift in mean
and instead look at the “shift in distribution of variants or standard
deviation. If you look at the width of the distribution you find that you get
extraordinary results, much more significant than if you say, how much the
shift from the mean it is. This is entirely due to her research. We were able
to frame her qualitative research into quantitative terms. We have verified
this for yoga interventions in many different studies.” 

Alex says that Vedic Yajnas and
Yagas also act at a subtle level and can achieve goals that would otherwise be
unattainable. “From the simplest like Agni Hotra or Graha Shanti, which can
greatly protect the individual and solve personal problems, through Yagyas like
Parjanya Yagya that can bring rain to drought stricken areas, and on to the
Vedic Civilisation’s great performances such as the Maha Soma Yagas, which can
create harmony and peace throughout a nation, and the Rudra Abhishek’s which
can create a Kavach for an entire nation (Ati-Rudra Abhishek) or resolve major
world crises, such as its performance in 1944 by the Shankaracharya of Jyotir
Math in order to bring World War II to a timely conclusion.”

MAKING
INDIC KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS MAINSTREAM

Indic knowledge systems including Indic
technology, Vedic Physics, Ayurveda, Yoga can become mainstream, says Prof
Hankey, by establishing well-respected empirical validation of scientific
conjectures derived from them.

“Yoga has been thoroughly
validated, and the numbers of Randomized Controlled Trials conducted at such
prestigious institutions as Harvard University, M.D. Anderson in Houston,
Texas, and NIMHANS in Bengaluru (not to speak of S-VYASA) is steadily
increasing. Similarly the number of case studies and randomized controlled
trials of Ayurveda is steadily increasing. There is now a national move in
India to promote AYUSH integrative medicine More work on foundations of Yoga is
needed; particularly its ability to produce higher states of consciousness like
those intimated in the second half of Mandukhyopanishad (vs. 6 to end)
verifying the principles enunciated in Ishopanishad, Yoga Sutras etc. Decisive
work has been carried out on the Sukshma Sharira, verifying such statements as
Padmasana being the most effective means to energize the subtle body (its
verification led to one of my Phd students being named Valedictorian of his
graduating class).”

In the field of Ayurveda, Prof Hankey says
South Indian cuisine with its Sambhar and Rasam emphasises replacement of
mineral losses due to Swedana. “Both systems use the fundamental masalas including
Haridra, Ginger, Dhanya and Black Pepper, that reduce cancer, especially in the
GIT (Haridra), enhance digestion (Ginger and Dhanya) and absorption (Black
Pepper). The popularisation of various Indian curry dishes, and modes of
cooking such as Tandoori, around the world, does much to enhance awareness
around the world of India’s culture, both historic and contemporary.”

Prof Hankey frequently catches up with his colleague from
Cambridge and MIT, Nobel laureate Brian David Josephson, also a physicist and
they offer each other advice and opinions on their
respective programs of research and sometimes
attempt collaboration. Prof Hankey’s work is well known with other members of
Trinity College, and his research results in Ayurveda and Yoga has been acknowledged
by Master of the College, Sir Greg Winter, the recent recipient of the last
Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine

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