First published on Sulekha, December 17 2003
One of the great Vedic scholars and saints of the 20th century, the late Shankaracharya of Puri, Jagadguru Shankaracharya Shri Bharati Krishna Tirtha Maharaja (1884-1960), said of the Vedas:
“The very word ‘Veda’ has its derivational meaning, i.e., the fountain-head and illimitable store-house of all knowledge. This derivation, in effect, means, connotes and implies that the Vedas should contain within themselves all the knowledge needed by mankind relating not only to the so-called ‘spiritual’ (or other worldly) matters but also to those usually described as purely ‘secular’, ‘temporal’, or ‘worldly’; and also to means required by humanity as such for the achievement of all-round, complete and perfect success in all conceivable directions and that there can be no adjectival or restrictive epithet calculated (or tending) to limit that knowledge down in any sphere, any direction or in any respect whatsoever.” (From ‘Vedic Mathematics’, 1965, etc., 1998, p XXXVII)
The Sanskrit verb-root vid means to know, understand, perceive and learn. Derived from this root, Veda literally means knowledge, especially revealed knowledge. In general terms, it refers to the four sacred texts that constitute the very heart and center of the spiritual framework nowadays known as Hinduism. Another derivation of the root vid is the word vidya, which refers to learned knowledge or science. According to some, we can distinguish 4 sciences; (1) the Veda; (2) logic and metaphysics; (3) the science of government; and (4) the practical arts such as medicine.
Indian ancient and traditional medical science is known as vaidya, a direct derivative of the word vidya. This shows the intimate connection between the Veda and this specific science. To heal, on the other hand, is expressed through the verb-root sham. This root carries as primary meaning, ‘to exert oneself, especially in performing ritual acts’. But also ‘to pacify’, ‘to destroy’, ‘to sooth’, ‘to hurt or injure’. The word shama means healing, the alleviation or cure of disease. It can also be used in the sense of tranquility, rest and final happiness, the emancipation from all the illusions of existence.
Disease in a human being arises when an imbalance creates a gap or hiatus within the structure and process of the organism. This immediately produces disorder in the human system. Whether this hiatus is of a physical or a non-physical nature is not of immediate importance. The hiatus will result in an imbalance in the three doshas or humors in the human system. These humors are the life forces of vata, pitta and kapha. A physical problem can reveal itself first through the mind. And a psychological problem can express itself through the physical body. Vedic healing is in the first place non-dualistic and holistic. Causes and effects need not always be exactly established, although the deepest possible understanding of the origin and root of a problem will always be helpful to the process of healing.
From my understanding as a priest and spiritual consultant, I can say that, for me, healing is the recognition and envisioning of a gap or hiatus in the person and the filling and closure of this gap with the appropriate essence. Thus restoring the organism to the necessary balance and harmony.
Ancient Vedic healing applied three principles. They are (1) mani or gems, (2) mantra or sacred sound formulas and (3) aushadha or medicine, which could be either herbal or mineral. These three healing principles each relate to one of the koshas or sheaths, which together constitute the embodiment of the human being. They are Anandamaya kosha or the causal body; Manomaya kosha or the astral body: and Annamaya kosha or the physical body. We can also relate these three koshas to the three planes of being: the transcendental plane of pure consciousness, the subtle or astral plane of intellect and thought, and the gross plane of the emotional and physical body. Each of these planes will be affected in their own way by an imbalance or disease. And we will have to apply the healing process to each if we intend to effect a complete and total healing.
The Anandamaya kosha can be called the sheath of bliss. It forms the karana sharira, or causal frame. It constitutes the transcendental plane of being, the higher self or super consciousness. It is most likely to be vulnerable to imbalances relating to the transcendental or the divine plane. These express themselves on the human plane through the influences of the planetary forces, which can be read through the analysis of a person’s horoscope. Negative planetary influences have been traditionally reduced with the help of appropriate gemstones. Each planetary power has its fitting gemstone, according to color and the crystal character. It should be worn fitted in the right metal as a ring or a pendant. According to the individual case, the wearing of a particular stone should be advised for certain periods, or on a permanent basis.
The Manomaya kosha is called the sheath of intellect or will. It forms the sukshma sharira, or the subtle frame. It can be identified with what in the west is sometimes called the astral body. It acts as it were a bridge or connection between the transcendental and the physical planes of existence. It is therefore intimately connected with the power and functioning of the principle of mantra, or sacred sound formula. The word mantra literally means ‘instrument of thought or mind’. In mantra, three power principles are integrated or synthesized. These are sound, meter and meaning.
Over the past few decades, the vibrations of sound have been extensively researched in a scientific context for both their positive as well as their negative influences. It has become an established fact that, for instance, plant growth can be either positively or negatively impacted through certain types of music. Classical Indian music based on ragas has been shown to have the most positive influence. Classical western music also has a positive influence, although less notable, whereas modern western rock music has an altogether negative impact on plant growth. Sound vibrations are momentarily also used for pest control in biological gardening and farming. And, even for the expulsion of rats in situations where they form a plague.
Sound, the first power principle working in the instrument of a mantra, is called shabda in the Vedic tradition, which means both sound, word, as well as the cosmic vibration OM. In the mantra, shabda or sound takes on several aspects. First of all, the mantra’s functioning as an instrument for influencing consciousness in general and as an instrument of healing in particular is based on the svara or the pitch and the melody of the chanting. Here, it is the distance between the tones or notes that creates the impact. The svara or pitch relates to the functioning of geometrical space through frequency and wavelength. These produce a mysterious energy for healing.
The second aspect of sound lies in the actual phonetics of the syllables and words as sound entities. Each syllable of the Sanskrit alphabet has its particular deity or power as the principle behind its functioning.
The second principle which gives power to a mantra is that of meter or chandas. Meter creates rhythm, expressing the functioning of time. Long and short syllables, as well as, once again, the space in between, together bring about particular changes in states of consciousness, producing the healing energy.
The third principle lending its power to the mantra is that of meaning. Mantras are not purely physical sound vibrations such as the ones used for repelling insects, or testing large constructions. Besides the principles of svara and chandas the principle of artha or meaning creates a special higher dimension to the functioning of the power of a mantra. Meaning functions as the connection or bridge between the field of matter (sound, vibration) and the field of consciousness.
It must be understood that mantra as a carrier of power through sound, meter and meaning is always accompanied by ritual action. We will come back to the meaning and functioning of ritual action a little further in this article.
The Annamaya kosha, the sheath of nourishment, forms the sthula sharira or the gross frame. This is the physical body. Its healing is undertaken through the application of medicines, either herbal or mineral. This is called aushadha. Herbal medicines are primarily applied within the traditional healing system called Ayurveda. Its name means ‘knowledge of longevity’. It is considered one of the sacred sciences and a supplement to the Atharvaveda. It contains eight departments.
Herbal compounds can be given orally, as pills, tinctures (after fermentation), or mixed with clarified butter or ghee. Ayurveda is also well known for the application of herbal compound oils through special massaging techniques. In this, the ancient knowledge of the nadis or meridians, the energy flows through the body, is essential.
The second ancient system of medicine practiced since time immemorial is that which is called Siddha. Siddha means, first of all, accomplished, acquired and successful. It is also applied to certain supernatural faculties which can be attained through the practice of yoga. But, it also means sacred and divine, and healed or cured. Siddha medicine is one of the branches of traditional Vedic alchemy. It traces its origin to Rishi Agastya. As Agastya is strongly identified with the southern part of the subcontinent, it is here that Siddha medicine is most widely known and practiced. As it is a science with its roots in alchemy, we find it applies mostly medicines of a mineral nature. Whereas Indian Ayurvedic or herbal medicine knows no contra-indications or other dangers in the application of the medication, Siddha medicine works with compounds which can be poisonous, especially when applied without enough expertise. A thorough knowledge and careful, responsible application are imperative.
Here we conclude our discussion of the three basic approaches to healing as practiced within the ancient Vedic doctrine. It clearly shows its non-dualistic and holistic approach to the several aspects of the human being, not only as a physical as well as a mental entity, but also a transcendental being, giving attention to the needs of that part of our essence which we can call our higher consciousness.
Now I will turn to a discussion of another very important aspect of traditional and ancient Vedic healing. That is the principle of ritual action or sadhana. In reality, from my point of view, it is not practical or useful to distinguish too sharply between the different aspects of healing within the framework of tradition and doctrine. According to the individual and his or her problem or complaint and the particular angle or specialty of the healer involved, several possible strategies can be employed which will almost always involve more than one of the principles mentioned and described in this article. And more often than not, the strategy will include some form of sadhana.
The word sadhana translates literally as ‘leading straight to a goal’. It is generally used to denote an instrument of accomplishment, such as ritual performance, worship or propitiation. It also refers to healing or curing of a disease, in the sense of subduing. Here, I use it to denote three main paths of spiritual practice and ritual performance included within the Vedic tradition. These are the Vedic rituals of sacrifice or yajna, the Agamic ritual of worship or puja and the spiritual practice known as yoga.
In academic circles, it is popularly understood that these three main directions within Vedism have been the result or outcome of several different historic, cultural and religious developments within the area of the Indian subcontinent. Western scholars in the 19th century studying the texts and traditions of the subcontinent claimed that they observed several distinctive layers in the structure of the cultural heritage of its inhabitants. The Indian civilization and Hinduism as it is known today are, according to them, the result of the interactions between at least two, basically antagonistic, religious traditions. One being the original indigenous inhabitants, mostly speaking languages belonging to the Dravidian language family and other cultural groups of even older inhabitants. The second being the Vedic compound, the religious and cultural layer of the Aryan tribes who had entered the subcontinent as invaders from the North-West. The interaction between these cultural entities, which in the view of the western scholars were in essence contradictory and hostile to one another, lead to the development of Hinduism as it is today.
Our indigenous tradition has never accepted this view, and over the past few years, research in several fields has been gathering evidence that this image of thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis is not only oversimplified but also probably inadequate. Both astronomical data found in the Vedas as well as geological data gathered in the recent past strongly suggest that the Vedic peoples were living and practicing their Vedic ritual of sacrifice in the subcontinent from possibly 6500 BCE at least. Archeology has so far not been able to establish explicit evidence for an invasion from across the Hindu Kush mountains.
Also, within the several branches of Hindu spiritual practice, it is possible to find enough evidence to show their interrelatedness and shared roots and origins. In connection with the subject of this article, Vedic healing, I will describe and explain one of the most essential principles and concepts of the several sadhanas which connects and interrelates three of the most important spiritual paths which characterize the Hindu tradition.
The Vedic sacrifice or yajna was the specific religious activity practiced by the Aryan invaders, according to accepted academic views. The ritual of puja or worship, as it is performed in most Hindu temples today, is, according to this view, a result of the influence of the non-Aryan peoples who lived in the subcontinent before the Aryan invasion. Also yoga, the spiritual practice which concentrates on individual spiritual achievement, and especially the attainment of liberation or moksha, is thought to have had a non-Aryan origin. These three main branches of spiritual practice within the Hindu tradition are thought to be quite contradictory to one another. But, although they may seem to have a very different appearance at the outer level, at their core, they are actually rooted in the same worldview or doctrine and based on the same cosmic spiritual principle. Each can be developed or evolved from the other through the application of the principles of resemblance, replacement and correspondence.
All three spiritual sadhanas have as the core of their functioning the principle of arohana andavarohana, or ascension and descension. In a way, it can be said that this is their essential secret and mystery. In the Vedic sacrifice, the sacrificer ascends to ‘heaven’, but in order to complete the sacrifice and make it successful, it is imperative that he also descends, returning to his point of origin after the transforming experience of the ritual.
The Agamic tradition also incorporates this same principle through the ascension and descension of the deity’s flag or banner in connection with, for instance, temple festivals. The flag or banner is painted with the particular sacred vehicle of the deity. For instance, the sacred bull for Lord Shiva and the lion for the Goddess. This banner is hoisted into the flag mast of the temple, to be lowered after the conclusion of the festival.
In yoga, and especially in one of its branches, Kundalini yoga, we find once again this same cosmic spiritual principle at work. The Kundalini energy, visualized as a snake curled up at the root of the spine, is raised through the practice of yoga. Eventually, it must reach the seventhchakra or Sahasradara at the very top of the skull. This establishes the connection of the human soul with the transcendental divine cosmic energy. But, to actually successfully complete this sadhana, it is imperative to bring the Kundalini energy back to its origin at the root of the spine. It is my personal experience that this principle is not well known to some teachers and practitioners of yoga, which leads to many misunderstandings and even possible damage to their well being.
We may note here that, in the so called ‘primitive’ religious practice of the Shamanistic religions, the same principle is at work. The Shaman, sometimes accompanied by his patient, ascends to the other world, to ‘heaven’, and communicates with the spiritual powers which inhabit that world, and eventually descends again, having accomplished the objective of his spiritual journey. To me, this establishes the strong unity which exists at the deepest level of the human spiritual experience. It also shows human spiritual practice did not have its origin in ignorance, superstition or fear of the reality, but in deep cosmic truths which underlie our existence. And, it can also serve as evidence that so called tribal and village cults also have their roots and origins in the same spiritual and cosmic principles.
Now the time has come to introduce myself. My name is Raja Deekshitar. I was born as a member of the Deekshitar community of Chidambaram, the hereditary guardians of the temple of Shri Shiva Nataraja for the past several thousand years. Shiva as Cosmic Dancer, dancing the Ananda Tandava or Dance of Bliss, is a spiritual and philosophical concept unique to Chidambaram and its temple. I have been educated as an academician with degrees in English Literature and Sociology. But also in many of the ancient sciences such as Ayurveda, Siddhaand Vedic astrology by several masters. And, of course, I have received all the initiations necessary to function as a high priest of the temple.
After my university studies, I served for a period of over ten years my Divine Mother, the goddess Tillai Ambal, the Lord Shiva Nataraja, and the devotees, as a priest. In this capacity, I was privileged to witness many healings and recoveries brought about by some of the traditional medical and healing practices. Some of them could be called miraculous. Especially from a western, materialistic point of view.
From this background I have developed an understanding of both the materialistic, dualistic thinking prevalent in the modern world as well as the non-dualistic, spiritual approach. It is my belief that, in order to face the challenges of the present day, the humanity will need both. It is therefore my aim to decode some of the secret knowledge available in the ancient doctrines of Veda, Agama and Yoga and would like to see the development of a synthesized approach to healing. This new approach could combine the essence of the ancestors’ knowledge and methodologies with the methods and knowledge developed and applied in science.
Out of the many experiences with traditional healing which I was a witness to, I would like to share with the readers a few examples, each of which exemplify one of the main methods of traditional healing within the general framework of Vedism.
The several branches of the spiritual practice of yoga are recognized in India, even by those who practice western medicine, as being extremely helpful in the healing or control of certain physical ailments. As it is the more physical branch of hatha yoga which is best known and practiced all over the country, this is the one most often made use of. But, it is generally stated in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali that those who follow and practice this spiritual path attain ‘the perfection of the body’, which is said to consist of ‘beauty, grace, strength and adamantine hardness’. The best known diseases often treated and either healed completely or at least kept under control are high or low blood pressure, diabetes and asthma.
Rheumatism is one of the health problems which is sometimes healed by exposing the patient to the sound of the great bells of the temples, in combination with other ritual sounds like those of the drums and nadasvarams, the chanting in Sanskrit and the singing of ancient Tamil hymns.
I also heard of cases of insanity, sometimes very severe ones, where sufferers have found relief through the exposure to the temple bells and other sacred sounds which are part of the daily rituals.
As a priest in the temple of my Divine Mother Tillai Ambal, a peaceful form of goddess Kali, I witnessed sometimes how families brought their loved ones who were in some kind of mental or physical distress, often considered as a form of possession by spirits, to the temple. Invariably, the sufferer found relief through the performance of the rituals and could go home in peace.
Within the Indian tradition, it is very common to consult a priest or other kind of ritual performer as a consultant for advice by those who seek a remedy for their problems either of a spiritual, mental or physical nature. Their approach, based on the tradition, would be to consult the person’s horoscope and to base the advice on the information which can be drawn from this. From this information, it is possible to develop a strategy, which could function on the three levels, discussed earlier in this article. It would be possible to advice the enquirer to start wearing the appropriate gemstone in the suitable metal, either as a ring or a pendant. It might also be possible to suggest a form of spiritual sadhana, which can be the performance of a particular ritual or of a visit to a particular temple, a pilgrimage. This is according to the type of disharmony of life-energy experienced by the client. Then, also, it could be appropriate to suggest a diet or some other approach at the physical level, depending on whether the body is involved in the discomfort experienced by the person.
From a modern point of view, we always have to demand and seek tangible, physical proof. In the case of the application of ritual or other forms of spiritual practice for the purpose of healing, many will have a skeptical attitude and will reject such methods as subjective or even superstitious, and definitely unscientific. They would call on the placebo-effect to explain any kind of positive effect experienced by those who have undergone or have been part of such forms of treatment. But, with the appearance of modern non-intrusive methods of measuring and scanning, it has become possible to measure all kinds of physical functions in new, more accurate, easier and more immediate ways. It would be an important development if it could be proved that ritual, spiritual practice and other forms of traditional healing do have a measurable impact on the several planes of being.
Some parts of the pharmaceutical industry has already recognized the value of the indigenous knowledge with regards to remedies and medicines, using the knowledge received from the Vedic Rishis or Seers and handed down through the generations to our times to develop new therapies. Would it be too strange or unexpected if it turned out that other aspects and principles of traditional Vedic healing would be found to be as applicable and useful in the search for mental and health and well being of the humanity?
© Raja Deekshitar, all rights reserved.