five simple principles of holistic health

To be whole is to be healthy. The Sanskrit word Swastha is defined as, ‘to be established in self’. Seen this way, to be healthy is not merely to be physically fit. Nor is it mere absence of physical ailments. The ancient medical practitioners, not only in India but elsewhere, took into account all dimensions of existence while recommending healthy ways of living.

There was also much importance on preventive methods. It is said that in China the family doctor was paid his annual honorarium if nobody in the family fell ill during the year. What an advanced concept!

The ancient health exponents have recommended five basic principles to be inculcated into daily life. These are in terms of food, work, rest, mental purification and direct contact with the five basic elements.

  1. Food: When you go to an Ayurvedic Doctor for any ailment, first the doctor ascertains the composition of your three basic humours known as bata, pitta and kapha. According to Ayurveda the imbalance caused in the three humours is the main reason for all ailments. Hence food can be divided into three categories in terms of their effect on a particular or a combination of humours.  – (1) Foods that suppress, (2) Foods that aggravate and (3) foods that bring in balance. The humours are also related to the mental attitude of a person. Hence food for a particular individual is decided keeping in view the ratio of humours in one’s body, one’s mental state, the type of work one is engaged in and the time of the year. It is good for everyone to know his or her dominant humour so that food can be chosen or avoided accordingly. One should never over eat. To have a balanced diet one should have food consisting  of all the six tastes –

  1. Work: Here work implies physical labour. Most of the lifestyle diseases today are attributed to lack of physical activity. Physical activity is also closely related to hunger and food. These days, there are many who never feel hungry. Hence they try to compensate this by inventing ways to make the food more and more delicious and thus palatable. People, whose nature of work is sedentary, must find time to do some physical exercise. Combined with other forms of physical exercises, yogasanas and pranayama are very good for overall mind body balance.

  1. Rest: Along with food and physical activity, rest is a vital need for life. Rest and activity are complementary. Sound sleep in the night rejuvenates the body. Usually people give rest to the body but not to the mind. Body may lie still but the mind keeps on moving, even in sleep in the form of dreams. Meditation is the best way to give rest to the mind. Likewise, living a pure life keeps the mind away from unnecessary agitations. It is only when both the body and mind rest that one gets rests in the true sense.

  1. Mental purification: there is a close relationship between the body and the mind. Now even modern medical science is slowly waking up to the fact that man is a body-mind complex. When the mind is purified one gets positive thoughts that give rise to beneficial actions for self and the society. When the mind is agitated due to excessive greed, anger or envy, the body’s defence mechanisms get weak and it is an invitation to hosts of diseases. To keep the mind cool and be in a pleasant mood one should engage oneself in doing good deeds, reading good literature and  avoid bad company.

  1. Direct contact with the five basic elements: Our body is made up of the five basic elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Ether. Direct contact with these elements in their purified forms depending upon the seasons is beneficial for health. Modern lifestyle in cities dotted with skyscrapers and filled with smoke emitting vehicles prevents one from being in direct contact with these elements in their purified forms. It is good to go to a remote place once in awhile to be in touch with mother nature. While in college,  I spent most part of my vacation in a remote village, either my own or somewhere else being part of the NSS team. I made sure that for the most part of the stay, I  walked barefoot, swam on the water bodies in the surroundings, sat near the blazing fire in the kitchen or a yagnakund if it was happening,  remained outdoor as much as possible and slept under the open sky on the village cemented chouraha. After a few days it gave me a feeling of ‘returning to source’, even though I did not do any’ formal’ meditation then. Now such an experience would be the ultimate luxury. May be one has to cough up hefty sums to a health resort or nature cure centre and book months in advance to get such an experience.

Uncle Moon’s Magazine

In response to Indispire Edition #163 of Indiblogger

indispire 163

Which is the first book I read all by myself?

Well, frankly speaking I do not remember. But, I can guess with a fair degree of accuracy about some of the books and magazines which were part of my reading in my early childhood.

The Magazine Chandamama being one of those. Strictly speaking, it may not fall under the category of books. But the magazine was so much part of my regular childhood reading, I would love to assign it the status of my first love with reading material outside the school curriculum.

The magazine was published in a number of Indian languages and English. I used to read the Oriya version which was titled ‘Janhamamu’.

Each issue contained a mixture of stand alone stories, serialized stories bases on mythology, classic literature, new stories, contests and knowledge tidbits suitable for schoolchildren. Every article had  accompanying colourful illustrations to create visual interest. The stories also had a moral or a practical lesson to teach.

The magazine not only delivered the stories and messages of mythologies and classical literature in an interesting and suitable way to the children, but also kindled interest for further reading. One of the serialised popular features of the magazine was the stories of Vikram and Vetal. Subsequently,  when I came across the original book, I could not resist myself reading it. Of course the magazine authors took the liberty to create their own stories in line with the originals.

At present the magazine is not in circulation, either in print of e-format. However, it survived long enough so that I could buy the magazines for my own children. Only difference being while my children had many options with regard to children’s periodicals, I had very few. Of course many local children’s magazines were available. But, nothing to beat Chandamama.

Another regular feature of the magazine was the caption contest. There were two unrelated photos, and one had to find a suitable caption linking both the photos. I tried my luck on a number of issues, even though I could never make it to the winning stage.

It is sad to know that the magazine started by B Naggi Reddy (also a famous film producer)  and Chakrapani in 1947 is no more in publication. It reached its peak in the 1970s and the 1980s, being published in thirteen languages with a circulation of 2 lakhs.

The best thing about Chandamama was that most of the stories were desi,  unlike today’s periodicals for children. Of course some times it contained abridged and illustrated versions of many western classics. Maybe, that is how I got interested in English classic literature too.

For those who would like to relive the days of Chandmama or have a taste of the magazine, here is link for the archives:


An Inquiry into the Nature of Reality

In spite of so much development in science and technology, even scientists are baffled by the elusive nature of the sub-atomic particles. So in my attempt to inquire into the nature of reality, I am reminded of one of the vedic skeptic statements known as the Nasadiya Sukta. It is a hymn in the Rig Veda and is regarded as the first agnostic statement of our civilization.

The last stanza of the Sukta reads thus:

Whence all creation had its origin,
he, whether he fashioned it or whether he did not,
he, who surveys it all from highest heaven,
he knows – or maybe even he does not know


In this context it is worth being reminded of the famous zen story:

The great Taoist master Chuang Tzu once dreamt that he was a butterfly fluttering here and there. Suddenly, he awoke and found himself laying there, a person once again. But then he thought to himself, “Was I before a man who dreamt about being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams about being a man?

Even after thousands of years of evolution, we have not reached finality with regard to the knowledge of the ultimate reality. Who can say for certain what is reality and what is illusion?

Many mystics and metaphysical poets have had visions of reality that they tried to express it in their own mystical ways. It is difficult to decipher them for the lay man. It will be like deciphering the babbles of a drunk for the sober ones. But certain aspects of reality can be experienced in an altered state of consciousness, or so it is claimed (including amateur mystics like me).

The Buddhist view of reality is that it is all nothingness, things are born of nothingness and go back to nothingness (Sunyabaad). Adi Sankara, the proponent of Adwaita Vedanta,  had a contrarian view. He said that it is all fullness. Even the first sloka of Isavasya upanishad propounds :

Ishabashyam idam sarvam jat kinchit jagatyan jagat.

(What-so-ever there is, it is all filled with the essence of Ishwara)

While the eastern approach to reality has been an intuitive one, the western approach has been scientific. Or, we can say the eastern approach has been to look within where as the western approach has been to look outward. Hope at some point of time, they converge and east and west do meet.

The latest development is that science has nearly come to discover  the God Particle which would solve the mystery about the nature of the ultimate reality. The basic fundas about the God Particle, in simple terms, are as follows:

Electron, proton and neutron are the trinity of the atomic science and each has some mass however negligible. An atom contains these three basic particles which are in turn formed by interaction of mass less particles called quarks.  How these basic particles acquire mass has remained a mystery for the scientists. In 1964, a British physicist, Peter Higgs, came up with this idea that there must exist a background field passing through which particles acquire mass by being dragged through a mediator, which was subsequently named the Higgs Boson. The scientists sometimes call it the “God Particle” — it is everywhere but remains frustratingly elusive.

This reminds us of the Upanishads where God is conceived of as the substratum of everything, subtler than an atom, pure energy, present everywhere but elusive. Coincidentally, quantum physicists have found that their theories are not much different from the teachings of the Upanishads.

In March 2009, the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory came close to finding the God particle. What prevented them from finding the particle was a component malfunction in the Lab. Even though it still remains elusive, the scientists have come closer with each subsequent experiments at the CERN laboratories in Switzerland and elsewhere.

I am hopeful that if scientists continue with their experiments, one day they will definitely nail the elusive God Particle. God willing, of course. 😀

Till then there is nothing that prevents us from enjoying the mystery of reality, illusion, delusion, the gods or the God Delusions.

Transcendental Mathematics

As far as the evolution of the Indian thought system is concerned, zero has been as much a mathematical concept as a spiritual one.  The whole philosophy of Buddha is based on sunyata, nothingness. By the way the Sanskrit word for zero is sunya. When the philosophy, spirituality and mathematical use of zero was at its zenith in India, their western counterparts wondered how can nothing be something.

In India of the vedic age, there was no distinction  between religion and science. A highly developed form of mathematics was used to place various temples in the geography of India and to construct individual temples. The Garbhagriha – sanctum sanctorum  –  was the sunya griha where for a moment the mind of the pilgrim went blank.

In eastern philosophy, existence was conceived as the paradox of being and nothingness. Buddha’s view was that the whole existence is a great void, it is all empty and nothingness. Then came Shankara who said there is fullness in everything.

While ‘nothingness’ was the basis of a rebellious religion and philosophy, ‘nothing’ was the starting point in the evolution of mathematics.

To make things simple, and from a mathematical point of view, let me divide all mathematics into three categories.

First of all, is the logical sequential common sense mathematics where two plus two is four. It has tremendous use in our day to day affairs. All scientific progress and commercial transactions are based on this. This is the mathematics that we learn as a part of curriculum in our educational institutions. Let us call it the logical mathematics.

Secondly, there is this mathematics of the group dynamics or for simplicity let us call it the dynamic mathematics. There is a proverb in Hindi –Ek aur ek gyarah – one plus one becomes eleven. According to the logical mathematics if one person does x amount of work in a day and another does y amount of work in a day, then both will do x+y amount of work. However according to dynamic mathematics both will do much more than x+y amount of work. Whenever two people work together they create a third force in the form of group dynamics or synergy that adds something to the total output. Of course if this third force is negative, then the total output will be less than the sum of individual outputs. If two people are able to lift a stone to a height of one meter it does not mean that one person will be able to lift it to a height of half a meter. One person may not be able to lift it at all.  When a bird flies with its flock in a formation it uses less energy than it would do for the same distance if it flew individually. The synergy among the birds is such that even a sick bird that can hardly fly is carried along once it is a part of the formation.

Then, there is the mathematics of the transcendental or the mathematics of the mystical experience. Most of us are familiar with the first declaration of the Ishavasya Upanishad – Purnamadah purnamidam purnat purna mudachyate. Purnashya purnamadaya purnamevavashishyate. That is whole, and this also is whole. For only the whole is born out of the whole; And when the whole is taken from the whole, the remainder is whole.

This sloka attempts to describe the mystical experience of the ultimate reality. It is beyond logic. One has to transcend logic to get a glimpse of such mystical experience. Along with the illogical concept of zero,  when some western logicians came across such declarations, they thought that the eastern seers who composed the Upanishads were lunatics.

Even though it is difficult to understand this sloka with our logical mind some indications can be given. Now water can be divided but not liquidity. When a jug of water is taken out from a bucket full of water the quality of liquidity is neither improved nor downgraded.

Or let us take another example. There is a rose plant. We cut a branch and plant it at another place where it grows into a plant again. When we cut a live plant what we are actually taking out is the tree-ness or the essence of the tree. However the tree-ness or the essence of the first tree remains whole at the same time the new branch also grows into a whole tree. We cannot say that by cutting the earlier tree the wholeness in either has been affected.

To make things simpler (or, more confusing),  substitute the ‘purna’ in the above sloka with zero. Now you have something to argue with the logician, who has at least accepted the concept of zero i.e something is possible out of nothing.

To make things the simplest, meditate with Buddha or listen to  Shankar’s Bhajagovindam. You will realise the nothingness of everything either way.

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