Delivered on the occasion of the 2004 Gurukula Graduation
Ayurveda is the fifth Veda, the Veda that deals with Ayush—life. As such, it is the art of understanding what it is to live—fully, richly, joyously. For to live is much, much more than to survive. Survival speaks of a grim-faced, fist-clenched struggle to keep body and soul together. It is an arduous duty and a grave burden. Living, on the other hand, is a celebration, a receiving of daily blessings, a continuous act of gratitude and appreciation. The world of modern medicine speaks of survival rates; we in Ayurveda speak of svasthi, wellbeing.
To make a genuine transition from surviving to living, we must come to understand both Ayush and Veda. The Vedas are the hymns and proclamations of living a truly human life, a life in which we are part and parcel of the web, a life in which Sun dwells in our eyes, Wind in our nostrils, Water in our blood, Fire in our bellies, Space in the marrow of our bones; a life that comes from joy—ananda—lives in joy and unto joy returns.
The language of survival haunts our daily life. “Hallo, how are you doing?” “Oh… surviving” we reply. It’s a shocking answer, one that might be appropriate in Baghdad or Fallujah, in famine and AIDS stricken Africa, in North Korea…but in America? Why is it that in the lap of peace and plenty, we feel so much stress, so much self-concern, that we frame our existence in the language of survival?
The key to understanding this paradox lies in the Vedas. Surviving is the experience of separation, fragmentation and disconnection. The language of survival is the reflection of our fall from innocence, dramatically portrayed in the Torah as our eviction from the Garden of Eden. If I am separate, then it’s me against the world. Water is no longer my blood, it is a torrent in which I fear to drown, or a force I dam to light my city. Fire is no more the place where God dwells within me, it is an enemy I dowse in flame retardant and a servant to smelt my metals and create my plastics. No longer am I a child of earth, for she has long ago ceased to be my golden-breasted mother. Weaned from her abundant teat, we flog her fields with fertilizer, cut her rippling hair, the forests, for wood pulp, and mine her bowels for oil and gold.
Like archetypal two-year-olds, like rebellious teenagers, we have declared our independence from Bhu Devi, our mother earth and Surya, the sun, our father. Moved by the nagging fear that we truly are completely separate, utterly alone, a fragile body that death will at last forever annihilate, we seize, extort and extract from our erstwhile mother what wealth we can. “How are you doing?” they ask. “Surviving”, we say, our reply moved not just by the fear of not being safe, of not having enough, but also by a deep wistfulness, a longing to return to the sense of abundance and peace.
Walking in the way of Ayurveda, of the Vedas, we must undergo a radical conversion of heart from the language and imagery of survival to that of living. As one who lives, I walk with the stars and run with the deer. The mighty ocean lulls me to sleep, her ceaseless waves the faithful beating of my heart. The rising sap of Spring calls me to renewal and with the falling leaves of Autumn I shed old toxins. The light of the sun, the sweat of the pony and the jewel-flash of the kingfisher’s wings are one with the fire of my eyes and the warmth of my outgoing breath. The Earth is mother, I am child of Earth. Born from her, I will return to her. And though my body will become dust, the force of life of which I am a manifestation will continue, like a river. To live in this way is to be delivered from daily fear, to relax into the continuity of the Whole. With every inbreath I receive from the Whole, with every outbreath I die into the Whole.
Abundance is the movement of the breath—hold it and you die. As Jesus said, if we try to save our life, our prana, we lose it, if we die into each moment, we live in the eternity of the Now. Abundance is not to have, it is to receive and give and receive again. To live is to trust, to trust our mother, the wide-flung Earth, adorned with four directions, to trust the cycles of time, the seasons of growth and decay marked for us by the sun and moon, to trust the flow of life from which we come and into which we shall return. This sitting lightly to life enables us to relax and live rather than cling and survive. It is described by the great Mahasiddha Tilopa as resting like a hollow bamboo and by Rumi as waiting like a reed flute for the breath of the Beloved. This is to live like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, taking no thought for the morrow. This is simplicity, resting in the care of the Whole as a child rests in its mother’s arms.
Bring yourself back each day, each moment to this sitting lightly, this resting. Remember, this is about svasthi, not survival, about living, not clinging. Without radical conversion to the essence of the Vedas, Ayurveda will be a mere technology. I’m counting on you to offer this ancient teaching as truly the science of life. Thank you and my blessings always to each one of you.