Ayurveda and the art of living without causing suffering

When most people hear the word Ayurvedic, they think of medicine. But the ancient Indian tradition goes far deeper and can be applied to any area of life. The aim of Ayurveda is to live a life in balance with nature, rejecting anything that leads to discord and disharmony. The mind is characterised as having three gunas:  sattva (calmness, harmony), rajas (passion, energy, hubris) and tamas (dullness, destructiveness, negativity). All of our daily actions and thoughts, and their consequences, can be described by these three basic concepts.

The best way to explain these concepts is by the use of examples. In each case I will use people, food and architecture to give a brief illustration of the guna. A sattvic person, for example, is likely to be calm and balanced. They see the world ‘deeply’ and take responsibility for their actions because they seek to cause as little suffering and destruction as possible. They would be unlikely to recklessly consume fossil fuels, buy garden furniture made from illegal teak or support reckless government policies. Sattvic food will be simple but flavoursome and the cook will know where all the ingredients came from. Likewise, sattvic architecture is simple, harmonious and on a human scale, like the houses in a typical Andaluz pueblo blanco.

It is important to note that, unlike in most mainstream religions, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to behave in the Ayurvedic tradition. There is simply recognition of the complexity and inter-connected nature of all material and spiritual matter.

The rajasic person is likely to be highly strung and will view the world in terms of its utility. The term rajas comes from the Sanskrit word for ‘kingly’ or ‘imperialistic’, as most of us will recognise from the British Raj. To be successful in modern business probably requires a rajasic outlook. Ayurveda recognises that to be overly rajasic will likely lead to conflict and restlessness in one’s life. Rajasic food will be fancy, with the emphasis on presentation rather than ingredients and rajasic architecture is likely to be vulgar and pretentious.

The ‘worst’ guna is tamas. Tamasic people may be violent and unstable. Terrorists, ruthless corporate executives and murderers: their aim is to kill and to destroy life to suit their own narrow ends. Tamasic food may have reached the table as a result of the gross suffering of humans and animals, and what better example of a tamasic building is there than a giant luxury hotel built on a wildlife reserve for no other reason than profiteering and financial gain?

This brief introduction is intended as just that. The fascinating insights of ancient are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago.


For a very enjoyable and accessible book on the subject pick up a copy of Satish Kumar’s Spiritual Compass (Green Books).


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