Structuralism and the Plant Kingdom

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Frodsham (Chester), Cheshire, United Kingdom
Interests: Philosophy, Homeopathy, Ayurveda, Buddhism, Psychosynthesis, Hypnotherapy and R.E.B.T.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Rasa (taste) and Virya (energy)

Rasa and Virya

The interaction of the elements with the Doshas

The Rasa (taste) and Virya (energy) of a substance or food (food is regarded as medicine in Ayurveda) can be used to predict what effects it will have on the doshas using the principle of 'like increases like'.  Kapha, which is cold, heavy and dull is increased in winter, and Pitta, which is hot, mobile and sharp, increases in summer. Vata, which is dry, light and cold also increases in autumn as the cold winds begin to blow.

 Kapha, which is basically mucous, is a mixture of the earth and water elements, has the properties of fluidity and density.   If we add a dense, sticky substance to a site of Kapha aggravation the site will become even denser and eventually blocked.  Knowing this we should try to reduce the Kapha aggravation by prescribing a substance with the opposite qualities, i.e. dry, light,  and hot. The light and hot qualities can liquify heavy, fatty obstructions. The drying quality can reduce the stickiness, or oiliness of the obstruction. These particular qualities are found in pungent foods and herbs.   

An imbalance in the doshas can be corrected quite easily by paying attention the aggravating factors. When the doshas first become unbalanced the endoderm is affected quite quickly, first giving rise to quantitative psoric changes. If the prodromal psoric symptoms are ignored the aggravation grows and spreads until eventually sycotic symptoms arise in the ectoderm.  When the inbalance is severe enough, and prolonged enough, the deeper tissues of the mesoderm are structurally affected giving rise to more sycotic and even syphilitic changes. 

It is important to recognise the early signs of disease and do something about it!  A change in dietry habits, especially an informed and thereby increased sensitivity to the bodies own promptings and cravings for different tastes may be sufficient. In most cases (i.e. other than addictions) your cravings are telling you what to do.  This is why food cravings are given such emphasis in Homeopathy.

The attributes associated with Rasa and Virya are so important that the original Sanskrit name, Gunas, is still used today to describe their interaction with the three doshas.  An assessment of these Gunas, or attributes, is starting point for the  determination of potential  interaction of any substance with the Doshas.

The listing of the twenty opposing Gunas  below shows their Doshic affinity in brackets.  The doshic affinites are highlighted in the illustratation on the right.

The Gunas and their relationships with the Doshas.
Heavy (K)   <->  Light (P)
Cold (V) 
<->  Hot (P)
Static (K) 
<->  Mobile (V)
Soft (K) 
<->  Hard
Oily (P) 
<->  Dry (V)
Transparent (V)
<->  Cloudy (K)
Dull (K ) 
<->  Sharp (P)
Smooth (K) 
<->  Rough (V)
Gross (K) 
<->  Subtle  (V)
Dense (K)  <->  Liquid (P)

Gunas,  can simply be regarded as elemental forces - heating, cooling, heavy, light and so on.    Consider, the description of Kapha  - at the start of the article,  a warming influence on cool, sticky Kapha secretions induces expansion and  softening, hence a static, sticky clump becomes more dynamic and liquid.

Tissues can withstand quite a lot of abuse before collapsing.  Long before that any  imbalances in the Doshas will make themselves known.

Once the insulting influence is removed and Doshas rebalanced the tissues will normally begin to heal.  The figure, right, shows how a substance (e.g. food or herb) high in Pitta and Vata qualities might affect the sticky Kapha obstruction already described.

As one gradually becomes more familiar with Ayurveda one starts looking at available foods in a different way.  The biochemical approach to nutrition, that of studying proteins, carbs, vits and so on begins to seem rather mechanical.   One begins to use observation and gradually develop a deeper appreciation of how these qualities affect us our body. We can gradually become sensitive to what our body is asking for - instead of mechanically applying some formulaic dietary plan.

In principle, astringent substances, which are  drying, cooling and heavy will reduce  Kapha in certain conditions.
- In a condition of excess Kapha, such as a runny nose, the drying energy reduces the excess liquid. Astringency, having an earthy component makes Kapha heavier and denser.  Following this line of thiking an pungent substance (e.g. garlic), wich is light, drying and warming would  benefit a cold where there is heavy congestion more than an astringent substance (e.g. rhubarb).

Similarly the cooling energy will reduce pitta and tend to make kapha molecules move slowly, become sticky and even solidify.   

We have to consider all three Doshas when selecting a therapeutic food or a herb. Pitta dosha, the fire of combustion and chemical energy in the body, is increased by substances with warming energy, especially by the pungent taste, which is light, drying and warming.  At the same time  warming energy makes kapha more mobile.  The consequence of increasing Pitta is that excess Kapha will be burned off.

Vata, which is by nature quick, dry and cold, is increased by the dry quality of pungent substances and decreased by the heat.

The elemental qualities of the Six main Tastes

Taste  is imparted by the sap of the plant - its essence. The dominant elements affect the taste, e.g. Sweet is a mixture of Earth + Water. Sweet taste has a warming energy.

Salty taste is a mixture of Fire + Water. It has a warming energy (think of hot water), which increases Pitta.  The water element makes salty tasting substances quite heavy.  This tends to increase Kapha.

Astringency has drying (air) and heavy (earth) properties. The drying property reduces kapha (earth/water). Since astringent herbs have a cooling effect they tend to reduce pitta (fire). 

The bitter taste has drying, light rasas and cooling virya.  The rasas increase vata and reduce kapha, whilst the cooling virya decreases pitta.

So - its possible to re-classify the plant remedies according to Rasa/Virya. There's no conflict with Misha's circular Mappa Mundi system of elemental correspondancies. The two layouts, one circular and the other vertical, as above, compliment each other.

Homeopathic Potency and Ayurveda 

Ayurveda, like Herbal Medicine, is a study of substances, often in the form of tictures or powders, which are derived from the mother substance, usually the living plant. Homeopathy is a study of the behaviour of the same substances in potency.  The Nutritional and Homeopathic pathways differ slightly - I would like to suggest that the homeopathic pathway seems to be the reverse.  The energetic attributes (gunas) of the remedy appear to affect the subtle layers first.

Mother substances and tinctures, when taken orally first impact on the digestestive tract, the Anna Vaha Srotas (food channel); after being broken down they circulate through the body in the plasma (rasa dhatu). Eventually superfine molecules circulate through finer and more subtle channels and dhatus to the nerves, spinal cord and brain.

The superfine molecules help nourish Ojas which is derived from Kapha dosha, Tejas which is derived from Pitta dosha, and Prana which is derived from Vata.  Para Ojas is present as subtle drops of 'nectar' in the heart chakra and gives rise to great bliss in meditation. It is described as soma in Rig Veda.  

Dr. Vasant Lad describes Tejas as "the burning flame of intelligence", and it gives rise to pure awareness when we meditate on emptiness.  Prana allows us to combine bliss with emptiness. This meditation enhances all the Koshas, the subltle sheaths of the body and mind which are intimately connected with the Chakras.

Substances in potency affect the subtle channels immediately.  The subtle Koshas, especially Manomaya Kosha (discrimination), are directly affected, via Mano vaha srotas (subtle channels and inner winds*) instead of  being transported and transformed by the delicate processes in the body.  

A prescription, in higher potency, which is truly well indicated will affect the subtle Koshas and Chakras beneficially and stimulate a healing response. The healing changes and adjustments then emanate throughout the body from these subtle levels down to the tissues.   

A poorly selected prescription, which does not correspond to the patients real inner being, is experienced by the subtle sheaths as alien, causing proving symptoms to appear, possibly along with aggravation and shock.   According to Dr. Lad the same happens with injections, because the vaccine isn't naturally and gently transformed by the bodies subtle energies (agni in sanskrit). 

Clearly, even more care is required with very high potencies.  In Ayurveda, as in Homeopathy, the deepest curative potential of any herb will not be demonstrated in any individual selected at random.  The Ayurvedic practioner takes a full case to determine the discrepancy between an individuals Prakriti (original constitution) and their Vikruti (clinical presentaion).

* Different traditions describe the subtle channels and winds in their own way.  All seem to agree that these channels connect us to to the outside world of experience and converge on the chakras.  The simplest way I can think of to explain the concept of 'inner winds' is to imagine what would be left if your thoughts stopped.   This is exactly what happens in Mahamudra meditiation - the inner winds, from gross to subtle, are drawn into the central channel by the force of concentration.   As these winds settle thoughts and delusions decrease untill we are left focussed on the nature of the mind itself.

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