Ayurveda is at an Inflection Point, Needs to be Safeguarded: Vartamana Report

“When we say soft power, it comes from culture and way of life, people promoting it. Not the government. Soft power comes from the narratives of the people from the country, the land.”

--Ms. Mala Kapadia

Shri Rahul Goswami facilitated a lively discussion amongst renowned panelists Ms. Mala Kapadia of Rashtram School of Leadership; Dr. Madan Thangavelu, General Secretary & Research Director, European Ayurveda Association, Germany; and Mr. Prashant Singh, Director, Centre for Innovation in Governance, Rashtram School of Leadership. Each panelist brought a perspective from their own areas of expertise, including Ayurveda, Policy and Research, Leadership and business.

The purpose of the discussion was to uncover the links between the subjects: "Public Perception about Ayurveda", "Ayurveda & Global Health Crises", and "Emerging Policies and Regulations it's Impact on Ayurveda"

Shri Rahul expounded the reason for such was that “Ayurveda is at an inflection point and we need to marshall our experience together” in order to safeguard the growth and development of the field in a pristine and pure manner.

Public Perceptions 

Ms. Mala Kapadia started by explaining her thoughts on "Public Perception about Ayurveda". 

What is Ayurveda? Ayuh + Veda: Ayuh is life, so it’s a science of how we live holistically. It’s our entire sociological, psychological, biological, physiological, spiritual, and cosmological. 

Mala Ji showed that we perpetually have talks on how Ayurveda is relevant to contemporary times and globalization; and macrocosm to microcosm aspects of Ayurveda. It is very divided: either people feel Ayurveda is quackery or a folk tradition, or “Daadimaa’s (Grandma’s) recipes”. Or else, it’s seen as a fad in the herbal medicine space. For example, Golden Latte is a new pop-culture drink, but it’s original purity has been distorted. Media attention on these aspects of Ayurveda reduce its value as a medical science. 

Ms. Mala explained that every individual jiva must have their own personal map of health, treatment, wellness, and medicine. But for people to have this, they need proper guidance. One of the big complaints is that it is hard to find good practitioners. “I want to change but I don’t know where to go or how to change”, people pronounce regularly in their comments to Ms. Mala. Another major misconception about Ayurveda is that it can have no major side-effects. If you take too much Kadha, it has bad side effects. This is where education and media play an important role. One wrong treatment gets too much attention. 

Need for an Enhanced Education System

Another issue in public thought is in the education realm. India always had a naturopathy or Ayurvedic system for health and living. Perhaps the evolution of public health was changed when the British Presidency medical schools were set up in India, and took out Ayurveda as a medical system. Hence, Ayurveda is not the ideal choice as a medical career: everyone wants an MBBS. That needs to change, and we need to create a sense of impartiality and integration in all degrees. Further, the Ayurvedic field needs to create more career options. Perhaps Ayurvedic therapists can get into corporate coaching. For this, we have to get connected, and need better communications.  

The future of Ayurveda was a heavy topic, especially how to make it lucrative to potential students. Earlier this year, there was a conference “NEP 2020: Careers based on Ayurveda and other traditional wisdoms”. What are the careers possible? The field must scope out the possibilities and create new opportunities for students to enter into. There’s a lot of possibility to be entrepreneurial in Ayurveda. 

Dr. Madan Thangavelu’s focus was on "Ayurveda & Global Health Crises", and he echoed the feeling of Mala ji on how Ayurveda lost its value in society, stating that there is a “historic perspective on why this divide came about”. Education and styles have been influenced too much by the western model of health, and we have moved away from a continuum of health. “We have somehow been led to believe that you don’t have to worry about health, do whatever you want; white coats will take care of you.” But health lies in one’s own hands and lifestyle. 

Now we look at health and healthcare as a commodity; health education also falls into this pattern. Covid has put the brakes on the styles of education used, and given us time to rethink and plan for the future. Where can we enable a correction? It’s crept in over the last few decades, and it’s becoming more corrupting and all-pervasive.

Now the time has arrived to create an elite medical education program, on par with IT, management, and allopathic elite schools such as IITs, IIMs, and AIIMS. Dr. Madan emphasized that Banaras Hindu University would be a key player in developing this because it’s a mandate for them. Tibia College, Delhi was set up by the last Emperor's son, and there, they made sure to combine Unani and Ayurveda. But it’s not in the modern narratives or discussions. Now, we must create an enlightened elite, and become leaders in many ways, where global health wants to go. With support of places like BHU and Tibia, we can develop a new way of thinking about health and education, and create elite schools in Ayurveda Medicine.

Rahul Ji then turned to Mr. Prashant to talk on "Emerging Policies and Regulations", capitalizing on his vast business experience. Rahul Ji asked specifically “Do you think there is scope in the education system to change in the next decade and make it integrative?”

Prashant Ji used the principle of root cause from Ayurveda to explain his perspective. He stated that the “root cause analysis of why we are here shows a dark scepticism of Ayurveda, or else a very high respect based on faith and not knowledge or scientific data. Going deeper, he explained how the movement of western education away from the church during the Renaissance period caused education to be separated from the natural forces of life. The Descartian limit put a defining character on education only in rationality. 

Another cause of Ayurveda being limited in its capacity in the public eye is that health care and education became a business. It was a weapon against Ayurveda. Weaponization served the system and paradigm of health care (doctors, pharma, med tech, etc.)

So we need to create a platform to understand the fundamental principles of life, the sciences that are involved in Ayurveda, Yoga, etc. We need to engage with traditional schools, bolting onto the education system. We must design interventions, and for that, appropriate people and organizations have to sit together and develop the ecosystem. It will take a long time and we cannot expect it to happen in 5 or 10 years.

Mala Ji chimed in that Ayurveda was always scientific. But British grants to Ayurvedic colleges were stopped. Same goes for Unani, Siddha (was only guru-sishya based, not college). Mala Ji rhetorically questioned, “If Ayurveda was not scientific, why are the old manuscripts in British Museums?” India and the Ayurvedic field don’t have access to them! 

However, this is where India can now step in and provide support. Post-Independence, nothing was revived. Only in 2014, AYUSH was established. India never looked at it scientifically before. 

History of Ayurveda

She then explained the history of Ayurveda. The beginning of Ayurveda “Originated with Brahma, and Brahma remembered”. It’s a cosmic science. We should take pride in the celestial roots. Ayurveda was given from Brahma to Dakshaprajapati to Indira to Rishi Bharadwaj. This is Itihasa, a history which must be recaptured. We have just lost the connection to explain it scientifically. The moment the universe was created, Ayurveda was a manual of coexistence and natural life, just like any gadget we buy has a manual for usage. 

Mr. Prashant showed the power of Ayurveda to discuss issues of relevance in contemporary times, focusing on the Covid situation. In Ayurveda, there’s a whole chapter on Pandemics. Ayurveda believes that pandemics stem from climate change, which happens due to greed. The root cause of greed is a-dharmic living. One of the major Ayurvedic texts, the Charaka Samhita proclaims that every individual should “Live our Dharma”. Perhaps, Mr. Prashant says, the new normal that everyone talks about, can be Dharmic living. 

Ayurveda’s role in Global Disease Burden 

Dr. Madan and Mala also introduced their thoughts in this space. In terms of “Global Disease Burden and Ayurveda”, Dr. Madan Thangavelu answered the question: “Does Ayurveda have the delivery systems to support the non-communicable diseases of the post-modern era?”

“Bandhuk Thayaar Hai” --We’ve had the weapon to get people health

“Magar, chalane vale” --But we don’t have the distribution power! 

Here is a simple virus, COVID. It has cost us a lot: governments, businesses, life, etc. Now we are learning about its pathology: post-covid and long-term covid. 1 in 20 have long-term symptoms. Some show restlessness, headaches, fatigue, sleep issues. This is going to stay with us in the UK, Italy, etc., when the medical system doesn’t have a way to deal with it. Ayurveda has potential to address these issues. 

The Food Industry

Now, the world is talking about food. Excess and wrong food causes obesity. That’s a pandemic itself! It is many times graver than COVID. The greed of the food industry makes people disconnected with the land, they don’t know how to grow food. It causes metabolic issues. It will be a nightmare for the world. Especially for countries with young populations, such as the continent of Africa. The US has the largest health budget, but everyone is metabolically unfit and unstable. 25% of teens in Belgium are suicidal. Eastern Europe: ¼ of children are born, with Autism. Every nation has such issues. Mala Ji added that industrialization of food has cut off our roots from mother nature. There is nothing organic. Even the process of farming is industrialized. The nutrition from the soil has gone down. 

Ayurveda says obesity is excessive fat or medha dhaatu. Of course lifestyle and genetics play a large role in this; but also lack of love and protection at home. So we indulge in food with excessive sweet tastes. People munch on salt and sweet together, that’s called comfort food; It’s mood enhancing! But actually those two together are terrible for human consumption! 

Europe is waking up to Food is Health, but the Agro-chemical industry is fighting against it! We must be quick to act and shape thinking, influence policy. 

Ayurveda needs to be aware of these, as it grows around the world. Ayurveda as a group needs to come together, understand cultures, health issues, lifestyle issues, cosmos issues. Then we can diagnose based on the weapons of 5,000 year old Ayurveda. 

In order for this to happen, Prashant Ji and the other panelists said, the Ayurvedic community needs help from GOI, Ministry of External Affairs, which is headed by Shri Pattnaik, who is also Minister of State for Defence. We have to decide if we want to spread out, or bring people to India to study and practice. But we have to extend our ability, what can we put out that is vibrant? We have something to give every nation of the world. This is so potent and useful, so beneficial. We need intergovernmental dialogues to include this in the agenda. CSP is one channel that can bring that together; Indic Academy is well-suited to take this up.

Ayurveda and Mental Health

Today, everyone uses food supplements. Some might be herbal. Serotonin and Melatonin are hormones of happiness and help with sleep. They should be secreted naturally. Now they are supplements! 

We have gone away from the Circadian rhythm. How many people practice swastha vritta, dinacharya and rtucharya

We need the touch of a mother. But we are in a rajasic time, and all the doshas are separated and unbalanced. Instead, we are going away from it. 

Prashant ji added his thoughts on this topic as well. He stated that Ayurveda can systematically address many issues such as food and good health, and that’s a huge business development opportunity. We should not overlook this. 

India needs a domestic health care policy to include Ayurveda principles, from soil, food, etc. It should go into the education system for all children. We also need to create an outreach program also.

There’s a great space for the capacity that we need to support the Ministry of Affairs. We need to be an exporter of wellness and wellness knowledge and treatments. The domestic system can then be showcased. 

Rahul Ji summed up that perhaps India should become a “Net Exporter of Wellness”. We have the capacity and need to roll it out. We need to have a holistic understanding in India. He purported that Indic Academy is well positioned to do this.

Lifestyle of Ayurveda

Another drawback of Ayurveda is that it’s more about the lifestyle and life patterns we create from a young age. There’s a concept of suddhi karana in Ayurveda: We need to become more pure to really use Ayurveda. That’s why people don’t use it. A-dravya Chikitsa is another concept: Using Mantra to give power to the medicine! 

“Now, we have to do more chintan and manan on this” Mala Ji stated. David Hawkins is an author who talks about the more sattvic we become, the more we have individual power to heal the world. Hawkins explains that when “my energy becomes purer, my ability to spread that to others increases manifold”. This is what mantra is. In fact, modern media often talks of happiness therapy, positivity, pranayam, mantra: the practice will change you without even realizing it.  

Policies and Regulations

To whom does Ayurveda belong? And who has the right to speak for it? Going forward, when building frameworks and standards in research, ayur-pharma, development, globalization, supply chain, delivery, etc.-- whom all should be involved? 

Prashant Ji started by explaining the major hurdle: Sovereignty of Ayurveda is an issue in globalizing. There is no one who owns the field. 

Nevertheless, if India is to become a world leader in Ayurveda, first and foremost, we must protect our herbal plant diversity and genetic material. There are roughly 10,000 medicinal plants worldwide; India is host to 8,500. In India, the National Medical Plant has the responsibility for this. 

To increase the pharma export business, India is pushing herbal things into the global supply chains. International supply chains will take more ownership of medical plants. The paradigms we operate on are still reductionist. If Turmeric is good for inflammation, then they will find the curcumin active ingredient and we will genetically modify turmeric to produce more curcumin, and that is not correct! So first protect the health providing herbs and prevent genetic corruption.  That’s the foundation that we need to give basic integrity to pharma. 

Second, we must digitize the Ayur pharma field. Ownership of Ayur pharma since July 2020 has been turned over to the Health Ministry. They are involved in Allopathy Pharma and Ayur pharma--which is counterproductive. And there has been no push back from the Ayurveda community. 

In general, Ayurveda community lacks activism. The community must strengthen itself, especially in dealing with media, globalization, and certain other issues. We also need to be educated in geopolitics and economics. We must recognize the major game players, including Opium from Afghanistan. China is making Earth overshoot = same contribution of carbon emissions. Chinese fishing vessels are also going to Nigeria and Galapagos, for example. Biodiversity is now a driver of changes in geopolitical issues. The whole earth is being exploited, and even the Ayurvedic industry from India must be aware of such in order to prepare for future global health concerns, and develop strategies that will take it to the next level. 

There’s a significant amount of research from the East Coast of the US to do nanotechnology in understand the preparation of medicines. They are trying to see how the heavy metals are utilized. Western medicines don’t know how to deal with arsenic, lead, or mercury. Ayurveda has had these for millennia through trial and error. India must capitalize on the opportunity and subsidize research and analysis, development of pharma products. 

Rahul Ji and others gave a round-robin of speech on how Indian agriculture has been destroyed in the last 60 years. When the Green Revolution came to UP/ Punjab in the 1960s, petro chemicals were spread. That syndrome persists until today. Our soil for is no longer suitable for agriculture. We don’t have honey from forests. This presents a problem because we want to increase awareness and use in daily life, but we don’t have the real items. Now, we need to pressure the legal system to give back the right to use curcumin, have quality assurance in our products such as Dashamoola Adrishta. 

WHO Traditional, Alternative and Complementary Medicine 

Rahul Ji posed the question: Can WHO be neutral observers in the geopolitics of Ayurveda? 

The panelists posited that right now, India has a lot of pull in WHO. WHO’s Chief Scientist is Indian citizen Sowmya Swaminathan, daughter of Green Revolution proponent, Dr. Swaminathan. An Indian is also the lead in auditing WHO. Indians hold a number of other high level positions at WHO, and India should utilize this opportunity to take leadership in Ayurveda. 

Panelists also expounded that WHO is actually the World Disease Organization, The Emperor of Maladies. They are more interested in solving issues of diseases, than promoting good health. Yes, they have offices in the whole world. Their Africa office is in the 30th year of research in traditional herbs, their African mantras, and other topics. Right now, they are in a phase 3 trial for herbal medicine for COVID, in Africa. In India, we didn't have the will to do the trial, despite having all the medicines that we use for such conditions. UK has all-party parliamentary group for traditional sciences. India doesn’t even know what sciences it has. We need to include AIIMS leaders in this conversation, they have the capacity to do trials. The GOI has to enact a group for traditional lifestyles also. 

What we need is a series of talks. We need to engage with each other within India, South Asia, then the world. We have to start somewhere. We need to design the program to create integration of Ayurveda into Indian system. In 1999, the IT ministry was struggling in governance. We did a 3 day event with all the ministries of the government, on how to integrate IT into their operations. We can also do something like that. Each ministry can have a design for how it will implement or play a role. 

Dr. Sujith from AVP chimed in on how to integrate biotech and Ayurveda. We have had a conference on this theme. The idea is not new, but most of the time, BT gets leads from Ayur. Now, Ayur has to lead BT. The knowledge has to be tapped. Rather than just pulling a herb out, understand the rasa guna virya vipaka of a plant! We have many departments but no projects that all come together. Not just extrapolate one herb or one science.