Ayurveda in Suzhou, China
Updated: Jan 3
Earlier this year, I was invited to moderate an Ayurveda panel for the At One International Conference under the auspices of the broader At One Festival in Suzhou, China. The conference had a bold purpose laid out by its visionary founder, Frederick Chavalit Tsao, who is also the author of Quantum Leadership. As a moderator, my panel remit was to address the following questions through a lens of Ayurveda within 45 minutes:
1. What is the purpose of life?
2. What is healthcare reimagined?
3. How do we get there?
The same questions were also to be examined from the perspective of Chinese medicine, Integrative medicine and Quantum medicine.
I started by noting the apaurusheya origins of Ayurveda. The essence of the word Apaurusheya is that one cannot trace Ayurveda to the ego of any single human being. It is timeless wisdom that is enshrined in nature. This wisdom invites us to become a seer in our own context and unlock nature's secrets.
Panelist Dr. M. S. Kamath, who is a governing body member of the British Association of Accredited Ayurveda practitioners, addressed the purpose of life from Ayurveda's perspective. Ayurveda recognizes the ultimate goal of life as moksha, or freedom from one's limited conditioning. We experience life through the narrow filter of our mind and its labels. Being able to experience life beyond labels is the goal of Indian philosophy and Ayurveda is situated in that context, aligning its healthcare model to advance us toward that goal.
Panelist Dr. Raviprasad Hegde, who is among only 150 Ayurvedic Psychiatrists in India, brought out the importance of the mind in attaining good health. He focused on the gunas and Ayurveda's three-fold therapeutic approach (see my past blog post on this topic). He also talked about the relevance of pranayama to calm the mind.
Panelist Dr. Prakash Kalmadi was a western medicine doctor who shifted to Yoga and Ayurveda after facing challenges with his own health. Dr. Kalmadi talked about the relevance of Hatha Yoga to wellness. He even demonstrated a headstand on stage to a packed hall to pay respect to his own teacher, Dr. B. M. Hegde, who was also a co-panelist, and to also show that headstands are possible at any age.
Panelist Dr. B. M. Hegde is a Padma Bhushan recipient for his contribution to healthcare. This is the highest civilian award given to citizens of India for their contribution. He is also known for his outspokenness, as you will see from his inspiring TED talk. He is a great supporter of Ayurveda and he talked about the importance of faith in medicine. Any modality of medicine requires faith from the patient, both toward the modality and the person offering it. In a twisted way, western medicine already recognizes this through the "placebo effect," while not taking formal advantage of it in furthering healing.
Panelist Dr. Satyam Tripathi is the Director of Union Yoga Ayurveda in Singapore. He rounded it off by sharing the Panchakosha framework of treatment in Ayurveda. This framework identifies levels of treatment and also determines applicability of each level. The levels are:
1. Annamaya Kosha (related to matter, and in the Ayurvedic context, food)
2. Pranamaya Kosha (related to the subtle breath)
3. Manomaya Kosha (related to the sensory mind)
3. Vijnanamaya Kosha (relates to the intellect)
4. Anandamaya Kosha (relates to the feeling of joy)
Each level is considered as an effect (or the body) of the next level. Disturbances are identified at the specific level and interventions vary quite dramatically from level to level. For instance, Annamaya kosha disturbances may have diet and lifestyle interventions. Vijnanamaya Kosha issues may have intellectual discourses as a prescribed intervention to clear up conceptual blockages.
It was a great experience being with my distinguished panelists. Each was so grounded and humble despite their achievements, not to mention the founder of the conference, Frederick Chavalit Tsao, who is out to make a dent in human evolution.
I also have fond memories hanging out with the octogenarian Dr. Hegde and being really touched by his humility.
I also had a chance to visit the beautiful Chongyuan temple in Suzhou. This temple was established by Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty and is considered to be over 1500 years old. It houses a huge 33m tall statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy.
The serene environment of the temple was adorned with Buddhist chants, incense and candles.
I found this environment quite healing. Far away from home in a different land, I was touched by the human connection with people. No matter what country you are in and what language you speak, there are no words needed for compassion and generosity. Kindness always gets transmitted in a space regardless of language barriers. In Suzhou, I was received with a lot of love and kindness that cannot be bought but only be received through grace.