The answer to this loaded question, as with many other hotly debated topics, is “it depends on who you ask”.

I first heard Ayurveda described as “Consciousness-based Medicine” by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in one of his discourses that I watched at a small Transcendental Meditation centre when I was in Medical school. The description made me very curious, and it triggered what became a lifelong journey into the depths of this “Knowledge of Life”. To be honest, when I first flipped through the pages of Charaka Samhita in the library at my medical school, some of the methods and treatments seemed strange, unscientific or outlandish.

However with time one begins to realize that every native system of healing and medicine which has developed over millennia across the Earth from Mexico and South America to Africa, India and China, all had common elements that connected the human being with finer forces that operate in the Universe. Attuning to these forces was possible in cultures that led simple lives where the innate human intelligence blossoms without an over reliance on the tendency of the intellect to reduce things to observable phenomena. To be sure Ayurveda quantifies and measures – deriving from Sāṁkhya, the Vedic philosophical system that also implies “number”, or “right knowledge”. But this quantification is part of a broader understanding of the non-physical which is understood via the lens of Consciousness, not the Mind.

Within the academic Ayurveda community, this debate on what is “scientific” has been freshly ignited, with two factions staunchly defending their positions: on one hand the traditionalists who hold on to the view that Ayurveda traces its epistemological origins to Sāṁkhya darshana, and so, has a valid non-material view of the origins of the physical human body and mind; and on the other hand the modernists, who believe Ayurveda to be protoscience (a less disparaging word close to pseudoscience) with theories that have become mostly superseded by modern scientific discoveries of the human physiology. Modern Medicine of course views Ayurveda only through limited model of double-blind randomised control trials, the benchmark of “evidence”.

All great art springs from a blossoming of the heart. It is created from a singular space of consciousness which contains within it timeless beauty. This triggers a similar state in one who views or witnesses such art. Pure art facilitates transcendence and an expansiveness in the artist as well as the audience. This was the original goal of Ayurveda and all native methods of medicine. The Ayurvedic approach is meant to restore and elevate the human being back to the original state of integrated wholeness. This wholeness is aligned with Natural Law, and facilitates the state of body and mind that makes it possible for the human being to connect with deeper aspects of the Self and the Universe. 

It is tragic that Medicine has been reduced now to only the physical, and with every advancement in greater technological sophistication via pharmaceuticals or surgery, we move away from the spirit of true Medicine. Ayurveda itself has become subject to this constricted view of material Medicine, with over reliance on herbs that are exploited and fast vanishing. Herbs were meant to be our allies in Consciousness, a vibrational remedy to help bring the human body back to its lost state. They have now become reduced to “active molecules” in the manner of modern pharmaceuticals.

Shamans in South America pass on the knowledge in their lineages about great spirits and Demi gods who embody and govern medicinal herbs. Their rituals were designed to tap into these deities to facilitate the movement of the diseased body and mind into spiritual wholeness. This too has been corrupted over the past decades into offering sacred rituals to outsiders who want a quick fix psychedelic “journey” before they head back into their urban lives.

So, to get back to the original question, is Science the only valid method of knowledge-seeking? If tested using the rigid dogmatic methods of Science, Ayurveda encounters many difficulties. A system of individualized diagnosis and treatment is reduced to standardized cohorts based on diagnostic parameters which do not belong to it. How then is it fair to expect good outcomes of such a method of investigation?

The Vedic methods of understanding a subject of investigation include direct observation, inference as well as reliance on “authority”. Usually such authorities are the Rishis and Acharyas, Masters of their domain who originally documented the timeless principles which are still in use today. Authority also refers to the accumulated cultural wisdom that stands the test of time. If it were faulty, it would eventually have fallen out of favor. A grandmother would train the young mother in cultural practices for the health and wellbeing of her new offspring. And science now rejects such practices as “anecdotal”, or “pseudoscience”. 

It is time for us to re-evaluate our arrogance in rejecting all that cannot fit our modern reductionist scientific criteria. After all in cosmological cycles, we have been through such ages innumerable times, only to return to simplicity and a deep connection to the Divine forces that operate within and without, above and below. Everything ancient must not always be discarded because we “know better” now. Indeed, do we really know better?