Ayurveda follows holistic approach - Dr. D. H. Tennakoon | Sunday Observer

Ayurveda follows holistic approach - Dr. D. H. Tennakoon

Ayurveda involves all of nature that man is part of, has diverse dietary recommendations encompassing this unity, that act as immunity boosters and that are disease preventive and curative, said Ayurveda specialist Dr. D. H. Tennakoon, the former Director of the National Ayurveda Teaching Hospital, who hails from a family of physicians practising the traditional Sinhala Wedakama (Deshiya Chikitsa) in an interview with the Sunday Observer.  


Q: You have functioned as the former Director of the Ayurveda Teaching Hospital. You continue to practise as an Ayurveda medical professional. There is a view that Ayurveda is not ‘scientific.’Could you comment?

A. Of the etymology of the word, Ayurveda, Ayur means life and Veda means knowledge or science. The word, Ayurveda, can be summed up as the ‘science of life.’

In understanding this, we can analyse how the word ‘science’ has changed and shifted over times to be what it is today. ‘Modern science’ is generally seen as that which originated in the West.  

One can argue that Ayurveda is well beyond the mere curing of an illness. Ayurveda encompasses physical, psychological and spiritual well-being and focuses on preventing illnesses as well.

It is not isolated from the natural world; it is linked with our environment. Even querying whether Ayurveda is scientific, is an unscientific approach. One does test, observe and confirm in science. This is what was done in Ayurveda for thousands of years.   The entire nature, the elements as well as people comprises the testing as done in today’s laboratories. The whole universe is a science lab in Ayurveda.

This is how this medical science was perfected and the final assertion of cures is confirmed beyond doubt. The 19th century Western medical scientists who studied the ancient cures of Ayurveda and tested them were in awe of the accuracy of this science.  

This accuracy was reached in a scientific way. We had what is known as Ahapurudda (knowledge gathered by hearing); Dekapurudda (knowledge gathered by seeing); Kalapurudda (knowledge gathered by doing); and Palapuruddda (knowledge gathered by all of the above which culminates in knowledge based on experience). This was common to Ayurveda and our Deshiya Chikitsa, also known as Hela Wedakama that predates Ayurveda.  

Q: We live in an uncertain age where new diseases without cures are emerging. How can we approach this challenge?

A. Ayurveda had, for hundreds of years, heard, seen, treated and perfected through curing and preventing diverse illnesses.

Unknown diseases emerged from time to time. There were epidemics and pandemics.

We treated these in many ways and had detailed precautions toprevent them from spreading.

The medical experts of Ayurveda never claimed that a single medical system can cure every disease, which is why we have a Sanskrit term, Vikaranama Kusalo Na Hijriyathi Kadachana, which means ‘the physician should not be ashamed of not identifying the disease by name’.  

Ayurveda physicians understood that diseases are evolving and spring up anew in different forms. It was also acknowledged by Ayurveda pundits that there could be diseases which require diverse methods of healing.

There are diseases that cannot be cured by Allopathic medical science. Dengue is an example. 

There is no cure for the Coronavirus. In both these cases, it is the immunity of the patient which has to be strengthened so that the person recovers and others who are not sick are prevented from being affected.

Ayurveda involves all of nature that man is part of, has diverse dietary recommendations encompassing this unity,that act as immunity boosters and that which are disease preventive and curative.

Food based on optimum nutrition is treated as medicine in Ayurveda. Hippocrates, the Greek founder of Western medicine said,“Let food be thy medicine”.  

Q. Could you explain further how Ayurveda can be justified as a ‘science’?

A.As a time tested science, Ayurveda is connected with the environment. It considers each person as a mini-universe. This means that there is a philosophy likening what occurs in the body to the elements - wind, sun and moon.

This is what the Vatha, Pitha  and Kapha system of analysis is based on. Ayurveda is not only a medical system but also, as the etymology of the word indicates, a science of overall life and wellbeing.  

Q. You said that even thousands of years ago, there were epidemics and pandemics. There was no World Health Organisation (WHO) then to tell countries what to do. How did we handle these national health challenges in our medical tradition?

A. A Sanskrit sloka provides instructions, through Ayurveda, on contact based prevention techniques whenhaving to deal with human-to-human contagious diseases.  This is the same as those prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), pertaining to the prevention of the Covid-19 virus. The sloka directs people on social distancing, isolation, avoidance of touch, when threatened by contagious diseases.

The sloka:  

Prasangath (close intimate contact, sexual) gathra sansparsath (touching; such as shaking hands) nisswasath (exhalation and droplets thereof) sahabojanath (shared meals or community eating as is done within families and society) ekasaiyasanaschaiwa (sleeping in same bed/ reclining in close proximity such as in a family) wastra (exchange of clothes/sharing of clothes) malanu (ornaments such as chains and exchanging such)lepanath (cosmetic application such as lipstick) jawaran kushtancha shoshan cha (diseases such as rashes, TB, fever) nethra abhisyanda mewacha (eye diseases such as sore eyes, conjunctivitis) awupasargika rogas thu sankramanthi naran nara (all these that are passed from person to person).

Communities as a whole were instructed to follow the Janapada Udwansa, a directive of ‘lockdown’ as we know in today’s language during times of pandemics.

The first step was isolating the sick person within families.  

Herbs, fruit, such as lime and leaves, such as Kohomba were hung outside the door when there was a sick family member in the ancient Sri Lankan and Indian medical practice. This was seen as having disinfectant/curative influence and communicating to outsiders that the house was temporarily under isolation due to a family member being infected by a contagious affliction.

During the height of the spread of the Coronavirus in March and April in Sri Lanka  

This is exactly what the Public Health Inspector (PHI) was doing in Sri Lanka by pasting a sticker on the door to indicate that there is a Covid-19 patient in the house.

However, the difference was that the sticker did not have medicinal properties or anti-bacterial benefits that the medicinal leaves/herbs that we used to hang outside our homes had in the pre-colonial days.  

To be continued