The Cause of Disease
Disease cause is not that complicated or mysterious. The causes of health and disease lie in one’s own everyday actions, nature, and behavior.
A disease is only treated if we have a clear understanding of what is it’s root cause. It serves no purpose to try to remove an result/symptom although this is the allopathic paradigm and the mindset that the Western world has been taught. It is believed if we take a pill and it makes us feel better that the disease is gone. This is far from the actual reality. Ayurveda focuses on diagnosing the root of disease, not merely with treating symptoms. If you treat the root, the symptoms disappear much like if a weed is picked from the roots, the weed will not grow back. One must see one’s entire lifestyle and diet.
Although the cause of all disease boils down to agni (the digestive fire) and its imbalanced state causing the imbalance of the three doshas of Vata, Pitta and Kapha is the later cause of all diseases. The imbalance of dosha can also happen from external factors like weather changes, eating the wrong foods during the wrong seasons or internal factors like wrong emotions. Disease’s internal causes can be managed by right living practices and corrected by natural healing methods like Panchakarma where shodana, cleansing, is done.
Charaka Samhita (main text of Ayurveda) explains the factors responsible for keeping a person free from disease. He explains that:
1. one who follows a wholesome diet and life regimen
2. who enters into actions only after their proper consideration
3. who is unattached to the pleasures of the senses
4. whose thought, speech, and deeds are happily blended
5. whose mind is controlled and is possessed of knowledge, austerity, and the love for meditation
……such a person seldom gets afflicted with disease. If we act and live contrary to these principles, the doshas become aggravated resulting in various health problems and diseases.
The three doshas of the physiology are disturbed by inappropriate diet, behavior, and lifestyle. Their root cause is to be explained in the following paragraphs and needs to be understood for just following a chore list of what to eat and what not to eat and calling yourself a single dosha does not even start to bring you into the depths of Ayurveda. The imbalance that is created initiates pathological changes such as the build up of aama. The etiology of disease is described in two broad categories so that one can understand how to live and why things are beneficial or not.
1.General factors common to all diseases
2.Specific factors behind particular diseases
A third factor behind disease occurs from the natural effect of time and the aging process.
Causes for all diseases
Role of the senses –
The most important factor in the disease process is wrong use of the senses. Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell are the five sense actions through which the external environmental factors enter the body and mind. How we use our senses determines the type of food that we eat, the water we drink, and the particular lifestyle that we follow and hence the state of health or disease.
Contact of senses with external objects are of four types –
Excess, deficient, inappropriate and optimal.
One can take in too much light through the eyes, too little light, the wrong type of light, or the appropriate type and amount. Out of these four, only optimal contact promotes health. The three other contacts cause disease in one direction or another. This is also seen for the other senses as well.
Scientific studies show that disturbing sounds produce pathological changes in the blood. Just as sounds that are too loud can damage health, the same is true of harmful exposure to the other sensory qualities; sight, taste, odor, and touch. An excess of sensory exposure disturbs the mind and its dysfunction leads to wrong choices, actions, and dietary indiscretions. In Ayurveda, the senses were given clear recognition the primary causes of disease long ago. The reason is Ayurveda’s deep comprehension of what makes up the complete human being. It not only physical factors but psychological and spiritual factors as well. The senses are common factors that connect the mind and the body thru the functioning and perception of one’s mind. Western medicine sees disease mainly according to external pathogens without the senses and this is the root cause from Ayurveda’s view. The senses are our relationship to the external world and everything that is of the other that is not us. How we use them is correlated with this relationship.
Wrong use of the will (pragnAparAdha – transgression of original knowledge) –
Another main factor of the mind and the disease process is volitional offense or wrong use of the will. It is called Prajnaparadha, which literally means “transgression against intelligence”, meaning the human weakness by which we continue to perform wrong actions even after one has experienced and knows them to be harmful. How this works is simple, the first time that we make the transgression is the first step in the damage of the intellect. From then on it becomes easier and easier to repeat. The person continues to “get away with” doing something that is non-beneficial to themselves but truly one cannot cheat their own subconscious and conscience. The damage is subtle in the mind and this comes with a much higher price than doing something non-beneficial when one does not know that it is non-beneficial.
An example is an alcoholic, that even after having had a hangover and the side effects of abusing alcohol, even with committing never to drink again, forcefully ignores their experience and repeats the action. Wrong use of the will causes disease within our psyche that result in dysfunctional, excessive or perverted actions of body, speech, and mind.
We in the Western world are taught to indulge our senses and to pursue desire rather than to cultivate our will power and enjoy freedom from these external influences as Ayurveda and yoga both teach. Not comprehending proper use of the will, we create many avoidable problems. If we do not focus on strengthening our will and not be led by our desires, we can never have health much less any real peace in life. Our minds are drawn then in different directions constantly by conflicting desires always changing and never able to experience real contentment which does not exist in mere external stimulation.
Misuse of the mind –
The mind has proper functions of which some are time related. They need to be regulated for proper function and health. Using the mind with concentration, contemplation, and meditation builds strength of the mind much like working the physical body in exercise.
There are 3 main doshas (that which is imbalanced, like a buffering system) of the body (physiological) which are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These are what cause physical imbalance. When the body is treated the main remedy is shodana (purification), herbs, diet, and lifestyle changes. There are 2 main doshas of the mind (psychological) which are rajas and tamas. When the mind is treated the method becomes the increasing of satva, the balanced state/state of purity of mind.
Wrong use of the mind creates wrong use of the body. This result in disease. The mind increases an agitated state (Rajas) and dullness (Tamas) qualities of the mind. These are the doshas (imbalances) of the mind. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali goes into this in detail in the 5th thru 10th verses in the 1st chapter. This imbalanced state creates attachment, identification, fear, grief, anger, greed, infatuation, envy and other emotions which imbalance both the body and the mind. We should at all times focus on Sattva which is the mind in it pure or natural state. The health of mind comes when there is no distractions of the purity of the mind, like a clear pond where the bottom is seen and the water looks like glass, any stone thrown into the water disturbs that serenity and peace. A mind that is fickle, ever changing, with desires and emotions is seen to be a weak and unstable mind by diagnosis of Ayurveda which leads to mental diseases. A healthy mind is one that is not attached to the external influences, non reactive to them. Much like one in the Western world might see a monk.
From sattva knowledge is born, and from rajas desire, negligence and delusion arise from tamas and ignorance too.
Bhagavad Gita.14 – .17
It is the mind that is creating your reality, it is doing this through the gunas which manifest everything. The gunas of the mind attract your reality to you. A sattvic mind will find itself in a clean spiritual setting gaining knowledge, a rajasic mind will need to occupy itself with sense stimulation and will chase after desires and end up in rajas company, rajasic situation, and all the time increases the samskaras of rajas. These gunas rule the mind and bind the soul into the body. The body goes where the gunas of the mind lead it, and the soul follows. The gunas rule your body, and they rule your mind which is your perception. The mind is the organ perceiving your sensory reality, therefore the guns are ruling how you are perceiving your reality and how others are perceiving you.
This all is the reason why the first step in the Yoga Sutras is Yama and Niyama (10 codes of conduct) which are ways of behavior internally and externally. All of them have to do with setting the stage, the environment, for the controlling of the mind. Living in adharmic lifestyle is not conducive to a healthy mind and body.
Misuse of speech-
Speech is a primary organ of action that interacts with the external world in our expression of our thought. Our speech can be peaceful or violent. Irreverent speech is a form of violence and is a creation of disease as it does not have a controlled mind behind its functioning. Violent speech is based in one’s perspective and a reaction to that showing the tie between the mind and speech.
Misuse of speech refers to using language that is abusive to the other. Using insinuating, untrue, untimely, quarrelsome, unpleasant, incoherent, harsh or abrasive words will normally result in the same in return. This harms others and in turn harms ourselves.
Misuse of the body –
The body has many natural functions like urination, evacuation and release of vata (gas, belching, etc). These natural urges are needed to be maintained in proper and timely respect. The misuse of these urges is one of the main casualties of disease in Ayurveda. Release of our natural urges ensures health and proper function while the misuse of them leads to disease ultimately. Suppression of the natural urges derange and weaken the lifeforce (Prana) and cause impaired function and disease. Self indulgence does the same.
The modern world emphasizes removing repression but it does not speak against the dangers of over indulgence. In fact, in its lack of knowledge, the culture of America today emphasizes it subcosnciously as well as consciously. We see this in the marketing as well as the media. A toxic body creates wrong urges that indulgence only reinforces. this creates addictions and other mental disorders.
Bottomline, any willful disregard for the natural condition and right usage of things, followed by wrong action or misbehavior is known as volitional transgression or forced ignorance (avidya).
Without the proper will, we follow our sense and they control us. In this way wrong use of the senses and will almost always go together. To avoid this one should follow nonviolence in thought, word and deed. Treat everyone as if you are engaging with yourself. Naturally treating others with the same reverence and respect will bring about a peaceful and balanced relating. Secondly, remain detached of desires, fears, and seduction. Be content and accept what is before you and what life brings us. The desires of wanting something that one does not have is only suffering and brings ill health in the mind. If this is followed, then both body and mind remain in balance and in health.
“One who represses all his senses and fixes his consciousness on me and surrenders unto me, his senses are under his control and his intellect becomes steadfast. Dwelling on sense objects causes attachment to them. Attachment leads to craving, craving leads to anger, anger leads to delusion, delusion leads to loss of memory, loss of memory leads to loss of intelligence, loss of intelligence leads to disintegration”
-Bhagavad Gita 2.61 to .63
Effect of time (kala)-
Natural law is a cycle of life and death. Death itself is what defines life. Death also creates what is known as dharma, what is righteousness and what we can see as right and wrong. When one only has focus of this one life, the life is then on self absorption. With deeper contemplation one can see that there is more than just this single life. It is just a natural evolution and disintegration. Life is transitory. This life like the others has a beginning and an end just like everything else. The effect of time, or the natural movement of change and transformation, is another cause of disease that no one can avoid. No one escapes the seasonal changes and variations governed by the time. Normal as well as abnormal seasonal changes affect the doshas, the mind and the strength of the body. The knowledge of what this is and how to modify and regulate through those changes is in the scope of Ayurveda. What you consume and how you consume it over time is what develops the being that you are. All interactions in time create the you, you are. This is a larger description of karma.
Interesting sidebar, in Jyotish, another name for Saturn is Dharmaraj and connected to Yama, the Lord of Death who comes for all beings when it is their time. Saturn is the tamas that makes vata invades every cell till the body deteriorates, which is called aging and has everything to do with TIME. As Saturn rules aging he is what destroys the living world. Saturn also is also the signifior of longevity for now obvious reasons. So we see how death itself is so intimately connected with life and time. Creation and destruction are continuous, but when sustenance stops, it is the end of a mahayuga (yuga is a time period explained in other posts), and the living world is destroyed, called pralaya. Saturn is a cleansing process, a destroying process. Disease is part of the destruction process. A new creation without the proper destroying is called cancer*. Destruction without equal creation is called degenerative disorders.
Each individual also goes thru a natural process of aging. Disease occurs through the process of growing old, due to the lack of knowledge and what is stated in this article above. The transgressions catch up to the individual in time. Minimizing this is done thru methods like seasonal regimens and rejuvenation therapies. There is so much that can be done but one cannot avoid the onslaught of time and aging completely, nor should they try. One should live their life accepting old age as it comes, which is wisdom. Trying to be forever young is certainly not possible and only brings suffering.
*It is very interesting to note here the huge amount of cancer that is afflicting the Western world at the very same time as the popular new “spiritual” thought all about creativity/being a creative being/being ones true creative spirit and other stuff like that.