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"Those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act."

- Albert Einstein, Theoretical physicist

Ayurveda and Sustainability

By Coen van der Kroon on 02 June 2012

Many people associate Ayurveda with herbal teas, spa treatments and luxurious resorts. But in fact Ayurveda is the science of a most authentic sustainability of life itself: individually, socially, universally and cosmically.

Ayurveda is all about Dharana and Dharma, both Sanskrit words denoting a sustainable complex of life and living: the first within the organism itself and the second within society and the world. Ayurveda is almost – in a positive sense – preoccupied with ‘sustaining life’: as a science it focuses on preserving life down to the cellular level of each living organism, and first and foremost of human beings. One of the reasons that sustaining and preserving human life is so important in Ayurveda, is a result from the fact that it is a spiritual science which sees this life – and our bodies as temples for our souls – as a way to evolve spiritually. This evolution is not for a personal gain, but for the greater common good: Ayurveda sees life as one, and not as a fragmented event.

This all sounds ideologically responsible, but how does this practically reflect in Ayurveda? First of all: Ayurveda gives clear guidelines for lifestyle and nutrition, which all fit within a framework of Dharma. Dharma naturally supports something that carries responsibility for the whole of society and humanity, and thus also regarding ethical and environmental matters. Lifestyle – according to Ayurveda – should be helping to preserve a healthy environment and support of nature, in all possible aspects. This cannot but lead to supporting responsible behavior in keeping our water, our nature, our forests, our cities, our air, and in short our whole life, as clean and pure as possible. It also implies a natural care for good and sustainable food sources, and agriculture which preserves not only life in the sense of clean and pure production, but also responsible and safe nutritional methods. Good examples are: active support of organic and biodynamic farming, support for natural agricultural systems such as permaculture, as well as active resistance of technical and not safe-proof production methods such as with GMO foods. Although for specific human health sustenance reasons, Ayurveda is not a radical proponent of vegetarianism, it does promote the wise and respectful use of animal products.

Organic and other forms of responsible farming should – according to the sustainability goals of Ayurveda – also extend to growing the herbs Ayurveda uses for its remedies. This presently confronts the ayurvedic community sometimes with serious conflicts concerning priorities regarding different aspects of life. Certain herbs may – for example – be very important for certain life-sustaining and health-promoting classical ayurvedic remedies, but if those same plants are overharvested or used for increasing amounts of people ‘needing’ it, this might lead to the extinction of those same plants. A careful approach, planning and managing in this regard will become ever more important, in order to preserve and guarantee the abundance of all healing plants in nature.

Ayurveda calls our tissues ‘Dhatus’, which term is directly associated with the Dharana and Dharma from the beginning of this article: our very tissues thus – according to Ayurveda – carry the principle of sustainability within them. Our tissues need to be treated and nourished in a way that guarantees sustainability, in order for us to stay healthy and age happily. In exchange for this incredible gift, these same tissues should be used by us – human beings – in the most ‘Dharmic’ way possible, which should be thought of in a flexible and not absolute way: then they will also be able to help supporting the lifes of everybody else and of everything else – as if it were one’s own. That is the real oneness promoted intrinsically in what - in this old Vedic tradition - is called Dharma. It is a very humanistic, environmental and spiritual approach at the same time. And this is the real strength in Ayurveda, laying behind the – also very special – façade of medicines, herbs, treatments, and the sometimes exotic impressions of people administering them. Time to explore Ayurveda and dive into its ‘deeper sustainability’ principles!

Coen van der Kroon, MA
Teacher Ayurveda & Yoga
Director Academy of Ayurvedic Studies (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)