There is no life without problems. When your life is balanced, problems are welcome. Through this balanced life, you will face every problem in every walk of your life - Dr Vasant Lad, Ayurveda physician and founder Ayurvedic Institute, Albuquerque , United States.
Following is a conversation with Dr Vasant Lad with Center for Soft Power, who took Ayurveda to the United States and the rest of the world as predicted by his guru when he was but a boy.
Is Ayurveda the Veda in action?
Ayurveda has its roots in ancient Vedic literature, the Rigveda and Atharva Veda. The Vedic system of philosophy is very ancient. Its origins were from profound spiritual awakening that dawned into the hearts of the yogis of India. Similarly, Ayurveda’s origins come from sages (rishis) who used the knowledge of Ayurveda in their practice.
One of the seven great rishis and the guru and teacher of Ram, Vashishtha, was a great scholar of Ayurveda. Sandipani, the great teacher of Arjuna, was also a skillful Ayurvedic physician. With just these examples, you can see that Ayurveda is a profound part of ancient Vedic Indian culture and still today, Ayurveda is practiced in every home. In any home in India, you will see cumin, coriander, fennel, and turmeric. These healing spices are used throughout India. Ayurveda is the heritage of India; it is practiced everywhere.
When Westerners came to India, they observed, ‘Oh, this is the culture on the bank of river Sindhu. (The Indus River that flows through China (western Tibet), India (Ladakh) and Pakistan.) This area is known as the Indus Valley and eventually the people there were referred to as Hindu. Some people say ‘Oh, Ayurveda is a Hindu medicine. We should not learn it.’ That kind of thinking will limit the science of Ayurveda.
Though Ayurveda was born in India and was grown in India, it is well protected by Hindus, because all Vedas are learned by heart by Hindus, however, I do not call Ayurveda a Hindu medicine. To do so is a limitation. Ayurveda is for all — Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, everybody. Because, wherever there is life, there is Ayurveda.
The very definition of Ayurveda, ayushaha vedaha ayurvedaha, means the complete knowledge of body, mind and consciousness. That is called ayud, the life. That is Ayurveda. Ayurveda is the science of the longevity of life. It is the science of living in harmony with nature, with the environment, this kind of living is the life. And life is everywhere, in America, in Germany, India, everywhere. So if I say, ‘Ayurveda is Hindu medicine,’ it will limit Ayurveda.
Let us consider that Ayurveda is for all. Not only for Hindus, but for Muslim, Christians, Buddhists, anybody.
Soma is the core of the 9th Mandala of Rig Veda. The science of breath is being expounded as a new offering by both East and West today. What is the role of Soma in Ayurveda and the connection between Soma chakra and the breath?
Soma, Surya, Agni - Surya is Sun, Soma is Moon, and Agni, is the gastric fire. The sun, the moon and the prana control the entire life on the globe. You will see the word Soma has a significant meaning. One meaning of soma is cosmic plasma. In Ayurveda, soma is also called kapha dosha. So Soma is kapha dosha, Surya is agni in the pitta dosha and, Prana is the vata dosha.
These three factors are very important to maintain life. Vata, Pitta, Kapha and correspondingly Soma, Surya and Prana. But without prana, soma cannot flow from one place to other place. Cosmic plasma, the soma, is the first sign of life. When a baby is born, it takes its first breath and cries; at that moment soma is open, and that is prana.
Prana is the bridge between the sun and the moon and global life. The soma chakra in the brain has great significance. It regulates tarpaka kapha, sadhaka pitta, and prana vata. This integrity is governed by prana. Soma is kapha, soma is the moon, and soma is the cosmic plasma; it is ambrosia, the nectar of life. Even amrut is called soma. And in the Vedas they refer to drinking soma rasa. People translate soma rasa as an alcohol, but that is not correct. Soma is not an alcohol. Alcohol gives you tranquility but it creates drowsiness. Soma doesn’t give drowsiness, it gives you tranquility, peace and bliss with clarity. So there is a deep connection between soma mandala, soma chakra and prana. From muladhara to swahasrara and from swahasrara to muladhara, soma is flowing through prana.
How did you get your initiation from your guru, Hamir baba and what is the sampradaya of your learning?
My guru was my father’s guru - Hamir baba, the highly enlightened master. My father used to wake up early each morning and do pranayama and meditation. When he would sit for meditation, in a cross-legged posture, there was absolute silence. People would whisper and walk slowly, so there was no sound from their feet. That was the impact of the peace that was coming from his meditation.
Every day he would sit for his meditation and there was a very beautiful atmosphere. So one day I asked my Dad, “What are you doing?” He said, “I am doing dhyana.” Then I asked, “Anybody can do it?” He said, “Yes!” I said, “Can I learn from you?” and he said, “No, I am not authorized to teach you, but my guru comes here the first day of each month for three days. During those three days, whoever comes to him, he initiates them and gives each a mantra and meditation. Immediately, I said, “Can I get that mantra and meditation?” He said, “You will have to wait until next month.”
I was maybe 9 or 10 years old, so I eagerly waited for his next visit. I continued my school, going and learning, but in the corner of my mind there was this constant waiting for the guru. On that day, the first of the next month, when he came to our town, I asked, “Dad, your guru has come?” He said, “Yes, and he is going to discourse on the Baghavad Gita. Would you like to come?” I went with my father and that’s a very interesting story.
I sat right in the first row. It was a very small room, something like 10 x 20 feet, and there were maybe 60 people there. That room was completely packed! A man in his mid-70’s came. I was certain that the guru would have a long beard, matted hair, and some dhuti and rudraksha; that was my picture. I couldn’t see anybody that looked like that. There was just a simple, ordinary old man sitting on the platform. I whispered in my Dad’s ear, “Where is your guru?” He said, “That person is my guru!” “Oh, he looks like an ordinary man, anybody’s grandpa.” He said, “Wait. Listen to him.”
And then the guru started giving a talk about the Bhagavad Gita. He was talking about yoga, and the types of yoga: Karma, jnana and bhakti. As he spoke, he was looking directly at me and I was looking directly at him; there was eye-to-eye contact as if he was talking only to me. He spoke for about one and a half hours. He totally blew my mind. I lost my sleep. For the whole night he was in my dreams, talking and talking.
The first day I listened, the next day I listened, and the next. Then I said to him, “I want initiation from you.” And he said, “Right here.” When I was sitting in front of my guru, he touched my third eye. I literally passed out. He whispered some mantra in my ear and that mantra was ringing, ringing in my ear. It was travelling all over my body. It was a blissful experience. I was lying in shavasana for three hours in that deep state. My tears were full of light and my eyes were full of tears. Those tears were full of compassion. This was a great initiation of compassion by his touching my third eye and whispering the mantra into my right ear. That way was the start of my journey of spirituality.
He whispered a mantra in my ear. Then he put his hand on my forehead and I felt the electrification and energy. That was a profoundly beautiful experience of my childhood. I think that it is the mission of that divine master for me to come to the western world and start teaching Ayurveda, writing books and articles, and traveling and giving lectures, seminars and webinars. The inspiration and energy comes from that source. That’s why I always say it is the ‘speaker’; it is not me, it is his blessing.
Sampradaya: In India there are four sampradayas - Natha, Anandan, Kantha and Chaitanya.
Natha sampradaya is the first and foremost important. The Adinath (adi nath meaning first or first) is Lord Shiva. In the Shiva sampradaya, Shiva taught it to Matsyendranath, Matsyendranath to Gorakhnath and he to his disciple. This is the Natha sect, and you will be surprised there is one branch of the Natha sect called Dattatreya and my father’s name is Dattatreya. Dattatreya is very important as in Him, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva merge together. Dattatreya was a guru of Janardan Swami who was guru of Eknath Maharaj and then that guru lineage follows.
Ramananda was the founder of the Ramananda sampradaya and among his disciples was Kabir. He was a Vaishnava devotional point saint.
Then, there is the Kantha Sampradaya which is the bridge connecting to Lord Shivas’ sampradaya which is Natha. Kantha means ear and they initiate into the ear. They perforate the ear with mantra, whispering into it.
The Chaitanya lineage includes Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Yukteshwara and Paramahamsa Yogananda that lineage. These are the four important lineages in India and I belong to the first which is of Lord Shiva.
Was it this experience, which led you to becoming an Ayurvedic physician?
When I was initiated, my guru told me I would be an Ayurveda physician. He said, “Oh, you will be a very good Ayurvedic student and teacher, and you will go abroad, to England, America and Germany. You will write books and you will teach people about Ayurveda.” I was completely surprised. I said, “I don’t even know English!” He said, “You don’t have to do anything. Just close your eyes and do your prayers and things will happen.” And really, that happened.
He said that through Ayurveda I would spread spiritual wisdom to people and guide people to awaken their inner intelligence. So I think whatever I’m doing, it is a mission, the mission of the guru, the divine teacher. It is a wonderful example of how, once you trust someone and accept them as a guru, every breath is an inspiration. That is exactly what happened to me. I am such a lucky person to receive such a wonderful simple guru who gave me some mantra and meditation. Who told me I would become an Ayurvedic physician and clinician and that I would travel to England, Germany, America, and Canada. Those things literally happened. It is amazing what foresight that highly enlightened master had. He told me all of this when I was very young.
How did you move to America and start practicing there?
In the 1970s, a gentleman named Lenny Blank came to Pune. He actually came to inquire about Robert Svoboda, who was a student at that time, but Robert was not there. So I introduced myself, offered him a cup of chai and some poha, and we started talking. We became quite good friends and he would attend my lectures. I was a professor of Ayurvedic Clinical Medicine and the Chief Medical Officer, which they call Medical Director, of the hospital.
He used to come to my clinic and attend my lectures; he was totally spellbound. He said, “Dr. Lad, this knowledge is very important. If you come to America, people there will love it.”
I said, “They are so advanced scientifically. They have gone to the Moon and put the American flag on the Moon. I have much love and respect for America, but they are quite advanced in modern science and Ayurveda is a 5,000 year-old science that must seem outdated. Why will they welcome me?”
He said, “No, you don’t understand. This is beautiful. People will like it. They need this knowledge.” And he was right. He sent me my plane ticket and I went to New York and stayed with him in a tiny apartment on East 11th Street. I would teach seminars there. Then we started traveling. From New York, we went to Chicago and Houston and then to New Mexico.
In Santa Fe, we visited the Santa Fe College of Natural Medicine. Dr Scott and Vivian were running the school. He liked Ayurveda and we became very close friends. Then I began teaching at the Institute of Traditional Medicine (ITM). In the evenings, people in the neighbourhood would come to me for a consultation. I would treat them with simple herbs, such as cinnamon, cardamom, and turmeric and I became somewhat famous in Santa Fe. I even had clients coming from Albuquerque.
Over time, I realized that I was homesick and wanted to go back home. I was alone here, without my family. Additionally, Santa Fe was very cold, being more than 7,000 feet above sea level. I was very nervous and anxious, so my family came over. My children were small and it was still cold in Santa Fe. Then ITM closed and I interpreted that as a message to start my own school.
Because Santa Fe is at such a high altitude and people feel breathless there, there was much discussion about where to locate the school. Then Jim Skilling, a dear friend who lived in Bernalillo, said, “Dr. Lad, you have started your foundation here in New Mexico. You should move to Albuquerque. It is 10 degrees warmer than Santa Fe and the airport is close.” That was becoming quite important, because every weekend I would fly to another city to give a seminar or workshop. Because of these considerations, we ended up in Albuquerque and The Ayurvedic Institute was established here.
Historically, when and how did Ayurveda lose its’ preeminence in Hindu society? During the Vedic period and onward, Ayurveda was held in high regard. At some point people in India lost respect for Ayurveda. How did this come about?
Nearly 90% of the people living in the villages of India practice Ayurveda. They use Ayurvedic herbs and Ayurvedic techniques like basti (enema therapy) and vamana (purgation therapy). Ayurveda is the medicine of India, of the people, and it is still practiced today. But later when the British era came, the British brought allopathic medicine. This happened over a long period of time. As allopathic medicine developed in Britain, it came with them to the Indian subcontinent.
The British were very smart, very brilliant. They used many approaches to suppress the traditional cultures of India. Missionaries came from the West and spread Christianity to every village. Christianity does not allow the worship of any other god, so all of the former religious practices of the villages were outlawed and forbidden. Another way to be superior to the people of India was to establish English as the predominant language. If you speak English you are smarter, part of the new culture; if you speak Sanskrit, you are backward. My father was a Sanskrit scholar and he could never get a job. My uncle spoke English and he could get a job.
So in this way, your own language is looked down upon and English is seen as being good. Your culture is considered inferior and Western culture is superior. If you go abroad for education, to England, Germany or America, you are “good”. If you graduate from a Pune University, you are not “good”. All of these attitudes sow the seeds of comparison. And in that comparison, gradually Vedic culture, Ayurvedic culture, becomes suppressed, inferior, somehow less.
In medicine, they built hospitals and they told the people not to take Ayurvedic medicine because it would interfere with their Western treatment protocols. These things reduced the importance of Ayurveda, the support for Ayurveda, and brought more Western influences to medicine. This was done intentionally during those days and is part of the reason that Ayurveda declined during the British era.
Over time, this influence also caused a rise in the number of Western medical students and a decline in the number of Ayurveda students. The government of India supported this trend by paying Ayurvedic doctors a salary of 500 rupees and its Western medical doctors a salary of 5,000 rupee.
The British built many structures that benefit India today like the postal services and the railway. But this was at a great cost to the people of India. They lost touch with their traditional cultures, spiritual attitudes and healing medicines.
These elements are experiencing a rise in awareness at this time and we can all benefit from this part of our culture and truth coming home to us again. We can bring forth and share the profound ancient wisdom of Ayurveda with the world and all of humanity will advance in health and happiness of the body, mind and spirit.
(Pictures courtesy Ayurvedic Institute)