The word Ayurveda comes from Sanskrit, the oldest written language on Earth. The term has two roots Ayuh, which means life, and Veda, which means knowledge. Therefore, the term Ayurveda means the knowledge of life. This knowledge was passed onto us by the great seers, the Rishis, and is more than a mere understanding of facts but is a direct perception of the ultimate truth. This is truth in both the subtle and the gross, as the system addresses the body, mind, and soul. Ayurveda is both a medical system and a philosophical system that has been passed down for thousands of years.
Ayurveda is based on the Shad Darshan, the Six Philosophies of Life, teachings from the ancient scriptures of India. These scriptures, which some say are over 10,000 years old, are called the Vedas. There are four main Vedas: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda, and Samaveda. The Vedas are some of the oldest bodies of written knowledge known to humans.
There are also secondary texts called the Upa-Vedas, Ayurvedic teachings are a part of these secondary texts. One must understand that the Vedic tradition is one of pure knowledge and understanding revealed by the Rishis. This is knowledge that came from meditation and the hearts of sages. The Rishis teachings were originally passed down orally from teacher to student. The first Ayurvedic text, Charaka Samhita, was written around 400 B.C.
The six systems of Indian philosophy, the Shad Darshan, are Sankhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, Yoga, and Vedanta. The six systems represent ways of orientating ourselves with the world around us, or six views of life. These are the six systems that Ayurveda utilizes to help people heal and live in balance. Three of these systems, Sankhya, Nyaya, and Vaisheshaka, deal with understanding our experience in the physical world that we live in-our external reality. The systems are based on logical reasoning, cause and effect, and understanding how the physical universe functions and came into being.
The systems of Yoga, Mimamsa, and Vedanta are based on finding an understanding of our inner reality. Their focus is on our spiritual evolution and how we can obtain our highest spiritual self. All six of these philosophies have as a base the desire to alleviate pain and suffering, which is common for all human beings.
The Ayurvedic approach concentrates on finding the balance in life that is correct for us. Each individual has a unique Constitution and therefore has their own individual path to full health and spiritual enlightenment. Ayurveda is unique because it incorporates medicine, life style changes, and spiritual practice into one system that can bring us back to balance and into compete wholeness.
A famous Vedic prayer encompasses the idea of Ayurveda:
Lead me from darkness into light
Lead me from untruth into truth
Lead me from mortality to immortality.