The Issue of Suitability (Satmya) in Ayurveda

By Durgadas, R.A.P, A.Y.T, Ved Kovid.

(C) Durgadas (Rodney) Lingham 2017. All Rights Reserved.
No part of this article may be copied or reproduced in any manner, except by direct permission from the author.


[Experted from upcoming book “The Complexity of Charaka’s Ayurveda: Looking at Ayurveda Beyond New-Age Eyes“]

Today, Ayurveda is seen as being a predominantly vegan or vegetarian system resting on ahimsa of non-violence. While this is important, we must first take note of dehika ahimsa or non-violence relative to our own bodies, which requires eating suitable foods as per our diseases, constitutions and also relative to genetic and social satmya or suitability. Here, there is a difference between taking meats (which were traditionally ritualistically sacrificed and taken when needed) for certain purposes as per their requirement and mercilessly killing in excess as today’s abattoirs.

According to the classical texts, we must examine and treat people according to their cultural satmya or suitability of ahara or accustomed foods and intake relative to their desha or location and climate – which isn’t the same as, or even across India!

On satymaSushruta (sutrasthana, XXXV.39-40) notes that various substances and foods that don’t cause any vitiation, despite their contrary nature to ones biological constitution, the region, season and even exercise regimes, are suitable, as one becomes accustomed to such. Good examples are royal families that habitually take alcohol and meats as also rich foods and yet don’t suffer from diseases of excesses due to suitability of these through various generations – compared to non-aristocrats that could not historically afford such and being not used to these, can suffer from excesses when taking such.

Samtya or suitability is also mentioned by Charaka in greater detail (Charaka Samhita, Chikitsa, XXX, 315-19), especially relative to Chinese, Persians, Central Asians and Greeks habitually eating meats and taking wine and thus becoming accustomed to them, and of southern Indians with lighter foods as tubers, roots and fruits and variations such as suitability of fish as in eastern India (Bengal etc.); in the Sindhi region, the liberal use of milk-products is noted and grains as wheat and barley with milk in the central region of India, and that despite being unhealthy, such accustomed or suitable (satmya) foods should be given to these patients along with medicines for better health, rather than changing it and forcing a localised diet upon them!

This is mentioned in Charaka in ancient times – yet today, we see the same people as the Europeans and others (Greeks and Persians mentioned in the classics along with Chinese) being administered a south-Indian style vegetarian staple along with various herbs for their conditions, opposed to their (local and genetic) suitable foods, when even a native Indian of Bengal or Sindh wouldn’t be customised to such diets!

In more recent times, the south-Indian vegetarian staple that Charaka mentions (suitable to the pittogenic climate of south Indian Brahmins due to it being hot and damp or humid), has come to replace many dietary regimes in India as “sattvic”, due to the influence of historical acharyas or teachers coming from the south in ancient times as south-Indian Brahmins (Shankaracharya, Ramanuja, Vallabhacharya, Nimbarkacharya, Madhavacharya) and modern Gurus coming from there, including Sri Ramana Maharishi, Satya Sai Baba, Bhagavan Nityananda, Swami Sivananda etc. Yet, these diets are not suitable to non-pitta people in non-pitta climates – just as Hatha-Yoga also aimed it’s yoga at the pitta and rajasic Gurkhawarriors, not for the average person of northern India outside this constitution, aggressive kshatriya nature, or climate. They were also required to fight in the hot, dry desert regions in Sindh to the Middle-East, which is why high intake of dairy, raw foods etc. worked well for them alone.

This of course doesn’t mean we give meats for all diseases! It simply means adopting the foods one is accustomed to and also tailoring such as per their disease, which sometimes means reducing or complete cutting out these or placing one on a bland diet at times.

This contradicts the view of New-Age Ayurveda which argues (on moral grounds) that one and all must adopt the Indian vegetarian diets for health and in diseased cases! It is in fact a clear violation of Ayurvedic principles and tenets as per the classics and would appear to cause more difficulty long-term, especially considering the strange diets of today such as veganism that don’t even agree with ancient lacto-vegetarian models!

In continuing this discussion, Charaka Samhita (Chikitsasthana, XXX.320) states that a physician that doesn’t take these local suitable considerations relative to desha (location, geographical suitability etc.), age, strength of the patient and their body into account and simply prescribes therapies alone is a failure.

He continues (ibid, 321 – 325) giving examples of, just as how the diets of Chinese, Europeans etc. doesn’t affect them, though sometimes contrary to disease, so sometimes like qualities of the doshas can alleviate them, as pitta deep within the tissues can be brought out by heat as in poultices or hot application and that excreta from a fly, though causing vomiting sensations, can also cure it (things which are normally contrary, but in certain cases help the disorder)!

These are perhaps some of the more important aspects relative to use of meats in Ayurveda we need to take note of, relative to historical and true traditional Ayurveda accounts.

It hence also calls into question the reasoning for adopting such dietary regimes as being so-called sattvic (pure) for such modern ‘American Ayurveda’ protagonists and their brethren, when they ignore the Ayurvedic guidelines in which what is sattvic or pure for one person, is not suitable for the constitution of another – and may even cause health-issues (meats for example can be heavy and tamasic, but vata being light, requires such heavier substances to calm its rajasic and ethereal sattvic nature; heavy spices are rajasic but required to get kapha‘s sluggish nature moving).

Moreover, the modern American Ayurveda system has been somewhat antagonistic towards the BAMS system and syllabus in India, which indeed  has some limitations, but still studies the classic texts and concerns in their more expanded, not pasteurised nature and fuses such with modern-science, as the ancient acharyas did with the ancient shad darshanas, not simply inventing their own philosophy bereft of these traditional concerns and systems!

Here, the New-Age and pseudo-Yoga diets can quite dangerous when they ignore local aspects of desha satmya or local suitability and customisation.

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