Immunity And
Ayurveda Parameters

The Basic Constitutions

There are three basic constituent - complexes, called the Doshas or the Dhatus. These two words may be considered synonymous for the purpose of this article. They have often been interpreted as humours (analogous to the humours of the Greek Medicine) but, as you will see shortly, the interpretation falls short of the full content of terms.

So far it has been easy to find the English equivalents for the Ayurvedic terms used here. But the words Dosha and Dhatu ( the irreducible ultimate basic metabolic principles governing the entire psychosomatic structure of the living organism) and their classification into Vayu (or Vata), Pitta and Kapha (or Shlesma) which constitute the hard core of the Ayurvedic concept of the living matter as, also of health and disease, can not be easily rendered into modern medical terms. How ever, an attempt can be made to give a fairly clear idea of psychosomatic picture intended to be conveyed by these terms.

Doshas or Dhatus (We need no go into the etymology of the terms) are the three irreducible basic classifiable metabolic psychosomatic constituents, or rather, constituent - complexes, of the living matter is twofold: animate and inanimate. Ayurveda divides the animate matter into two categories namely, the Jangama (animal) and the Sthavara (plant) Kingdoms.

The following translation from four verses from Vriksha Ayurveda - (a chapter in Sri Sivatatvaratnakara) will give the modern biologist some idea of the extreme limits to which the Ayurvedic physicians of yore had stretched their psychosomatic classification in case of even the lowest forms of life, such as plants.

“The (health and) disease in plants, as in human beings is based on their respective (normality and the abnormality of the functions of ) vaya, pita and kapha. Therefore, the doshic abnormalities should be removed. Whether tall or short, when a tree exhibits the characteristics of leanness, dryness, sleeplessness and subnormal sensibility, and is deficient in bearing flowers and fruits, its constitution is vatic. Again, if a plant cannot tolerate the heat of the sun, is pale, deficient in the branches, prone to ripen before time, it is paittic in nature. A plant which has fully developed with a heavy stem and branches, is resplendent with flowers and fruit, has a large girth and is covered with creepers, is of kaphaic constitution”[8]

Exidently, the Ayurvedic pioneers had given serious thought to the task of sonatotyping not merely the humas but every form of life they had to deal with, including the plants. The inclusion of plants within the doshic life structure shows that the doshas are not the humours of Hippocrates which are confired to the human, or at the most, the animal metabolism. The doshas are the ultimate irreducible systems of every type or living protoplasm.

Along with all other living beings, the humans were divided into three somatotypes or, to be nearer the Ayurvedic concept, psychosomatic types namely, the vata- prakriti, the pitta -prakriti, and kapha -prakriti. It is interesting to note that the observations of Dr. W.H.Sheldon who in his modern classic on somatotyping, ‘The varieties of human physique’, has divided the humans into three basic types ; ectomorphs, mesomorphs and endomorphs, bear, in some respects, a resemblance to the observations made by the prehippocratic texts of Agnevesha and Sushruta. To a certain measure, this holds true even in the case of R.W.Parnell’s threefold classifications of men into Linear, Muscular and the fat types.

It will be convenient (and adequate for the purpose of this article) to translate the complex Sanskrit term, Prakriti (constitution, temperament, nature) as type, it being etymologically more flexible than the term ‘morph’ the latter being too confined to physical forms to embrace the psychic attributes of a type. We will therefore refer to vata, pitta and kapha-prakritis as V.P.and k types. And the use of he words vatic, paitic and kaphaic as adjectives will be an apt and useful compromise between Sanskrit and English. The differences between the psychosomatic characteristics of the three(V,P and K) types, both inherent and acquired, arise from the respective predominance of the influence of the vatic,paittic and kaphaic factors, be they physical physiological or psychological, on the living organism as a whole.

Since ‘medicine’ covers thought, action, word, experience or substance that exists in the world, there is nothing we can think of that shall not fall into one of the three categories of the vatic, paittic and kphaic kingdoms.

Thus, sun is paittic and the shade is kaphaic or vata-kaphaic in nature. A stimulant is a paittic drug and a sedative a kaphaic drug. An alcoholic drink, being paittic will increase the paittic activity in the body, and the anti - paittic or kaphaic cocoanut water will counter the action. Again anger will promote the paittic activity in the body and cheerfulness the kaphaic and the anti - paittic activities.

No true mono-doshic individual exists. Matter, in order to be animate, has to be tridoshic. Life is inconceivable in the absence of even one of the doshas. An ideal balance between the activities and structure of the three respective doshic factors constitutes the ‘absolute normality’ of the constitution. I.e. a perfectly normal state of health from the metabolic viewpoint. In reality, however, such a ‘norm dose not exist as the psychosomatic and metabolic structure is not fixed and rigid. It fluctuates not merely from individual to individual but within the individual himself. Therefore it is the general predominance of the activity of a particular dosha in an individual that decides his ‘type’ and not the absence of the other doshas. Even where dosha is predominant the activities of the ‘non - predominant’ doshas can not fall below a certain minimum. If the imbalance exceeds the limits of the latitudes within which the minimum tridoshic euulibrium must be maintained to make the possible, the organism cases to ‘live’. Between this lowest limit and ‘absolute’ normal, there exist innumerable permutations and combinations of the tridoshic activities which represent as many deviations from the normal.

No psychic, physiological or physical phenomenon can exist without having a doshic bearing on the living matter. The three organic phenomena-complexes, vata,pitta and kapha are collectively called tridosha which merely means the three dosha. The term ‘dosha’ has been used here as the adjectival form of dosha.

In attempting to understand what exactly the three doshas are, it is essential to know what they are not - they are not the humours of Hippocrates. A dosha is more of a synergistic hormonal psycho - physical - complex than a humour.

No thought, word ,action ,experience, occurrence or substance, coming into physical or psychic contact with the living organism, fails to exert as influence, howsoever small, on its doshic equilibrium. The P type, when subjected to purely physical factors like hot weather. Sunshine, tropical climate, or drug-diet factors such as makaradhwaja (a ‘heating’ Ayurvedic stimulant),musk, asafoetida, ginger, chillies, brinjals, or their modern counterparts, such as adrenaline, thyroid, hydrochloric acid, etc., fish, pistacio and walnut, stimulants and hot spicy foods or emotional factors like an upsurge of courage or anger and wrath, will find them acting adversely on his constitution as all of them, being paittic in nature, will aggravate his already pitta-dominating metabolism. Contrarywise, these very factors will prove beneficial to the K-type and they will counter his proneness to kaphaic disorders.

Since every conceivable physical, physiological or psychological phenomenon in its relation to the living organism influences the three ultimate, irreducible basic psychosomatic constituents of the living matter, the tridosha complex could be covered by the expression ‘physico-physio-psychological organismal phenomena-complex’, or merely,`biological phenomena- complex’.

It may be re-emphasised that the Ayurvedic division of the humans into the three doshic types dose not mean that there exist any ppurely unidoshic types.

It may be re-emphasised that the Ayurvedic division of the humans into the three doshic types dose not mean that there exist any purely unidoshic types.

The human being, like all living matter, is essentially tridoshic in constitution. The three doshic categories have to maintain certain doshic equilibriums for the organism to be ‘alive’, although within the limits or the latitude of the equilibrium, variations in the overall dishic balances exist or occur leading to the respective verities in the physical and the mental make-up of the individual.

Just as a moving automobile ( howsoever inferior its make) cannot be conceived purely in terms of its motion, or the heat generated by the motion, or the lubrication or cooling systems which counter heat generated by motion, which would otherwise destroy the machine, even the most primitive protoplasmic matter cannot be conceived without the three balancing psychosomatic basic structure-function-complexes which are roughly analogous to the three respective phenomena of motion, heat and lubrication-preservation in the foregoing example of the imaginary automobile.

It has been stressed that a strictly unidoshic or didoshic type is non-existent and inconceivable. However, permutations and combinations of the psychosomatic activities and manifestations of the three doshas have resulted in the existence of innumerable types, and types within types, and once the disturbances in the equilibrium cross the limits of the wide latitudes provided for the concept of health as defined earlier, the prakriti (normal condition of psychosomatic health) changes into vikriti (vitiated normality, disease).

The doshic manifestations themselves are twofold, healthy and unhealthy. Enthusiasm and fear, courage and anger, cheerfulness and dullness, exemplify the respective healthy unhealthy manifestations of the three doshas, vata, pitta and kapha, respectively, on the psychic plane. Similarly, physical agility and lightness of limbs on the one hand, and pains and aches in the body on the other, are both vatic characteristics but the former is a manifestation of the vata dosha functioning in a healthy state in the body, the latter manifests the vitiation of the vata dosha. The degree of vitiation is determined by the degree of the ‘deviation from the normal’ (vikriti) and the severity of the resulting symptoms. The aim of treatment is always to correct the deviation, and restore and maintain normality. At the psychic plane, a single emotion may be didoshic, e.g., cheerfulness is a kaphaic emotion, but if it turns into intense joy, the happiness is kaphaic and the keenness or the thrill or it vatic. In steady courage, courage is basically paittic but the attribute of steadiness is kaphaic and, if the emotion partakes of the attribute of enthusiasm which is vatic, the emotion becomes actually tridoshic in its psychic type-structure.

If reader can keep in mind the essentials of Ayurveda contained in the brief and rapid survey outlined above, he will not find it difficult to grasp the more detailed treatment of the subject at the end of the Historical Survey which follows immediately.


The essence of the practices of Ayurveda lies in developing a knack or a feel for the dosha (see the next paragraph) patterns and relations existing between the disease or to be more Ayurvedic, between the patient on the hand and the drug, diet, practice or environment, seasonal, climatic or any other factor having a possible bearing on the state of health of the patient, on the other.

Doshas or dhatus are the three irreducible basic bio-complexes outside which no phenomenon, which has any bearing whatsoever on life, can exist. The domain of each of the three bio-complexes constitutes a leg of the tripod of life. For life to exist, even as a cell, animal or vegetable, the three bio-complexes should support each other in a harmonious balance which should be maintained within certain permissible variations or latitudes. The live protoplasm, whether of animal or vegetable origion, has got to be tridoshic. Otherwise, it will be a mass of inanimate matter.

While the three doshas of Ayurveda are considered by some to be analogous to the four humours of the Greek medicine, even the scholars of modern and Greek medicine, and of medical history, who have actually studies Ayurveda, assert that they do not constitute identical concepts.

The late Captain G. S. Murty, an eminent Indian doctor, who exercised equal mastery over modern medicine, in which he had graduated, and Ayurveda, which he had assiduously studied, had this to say on the fallacy of identifying the Ayurvedic doshas with the Greek humours, in a memorandum on The Science and the Art of Indian Medicine, submitted by him to a Government Committee on Indigenous Systems of Medicine: “ The first thing to note about them (the doshas or the Ayurvedic bio-complexes) is to learn what they are not. Hence I consider it necessary to repeat at the very outset that the three Dhatus ( i.e., Doshas, functioning normally) - Vata ( Vayu ),Kapha - are, most emphatically, NOT the three ‘humours’ Wind, Bile and phlegm. What then are they ? … they are ‘metter’ in evry sense of the term - not mere abstractions …

“Next ,they are the three elementary units from which the whole and every part from minutest to the grossest of our body is built; as it is that they are called Dhatus, which literally means ‘supporters’; they are, in literal truth the mainstays and supports of the body, where they are not there the body itself is not; without their constant support everywhere in the body will perish; when they are in normal equilibrium it is health, and ill-health when they are not, in which case the Dhatus are technically known as Doshas, literally ‘faults’; this is because, in this condition they give rise to faults or ill-health in the body. Some however use the term Dhatu and Dosha as synonyms…” [41].

For the purposes of the present treatise the words may be treated as synonyms.

It is the all pervading tridoshic unity, in the diversity of existence of all that the mind or the body can sense and experience, that constitutes the bedrock of the Ayurvedic definition of ‘medicine’ (in the sense of a ‘therapeutic agent’ and not of ‘medical science’) that ‘nothing exists that is non-medicine’. The ancient Ayurvedists observed the ‘heating’ emotions like anger and wrath, ‘heating’ physical factors like sun or proximity of fire, ‘heating’ drugs like ginger, musk, asafoetida, adrena;in, alcohol, etc., or ‘heating’ foods and spices like walnut, cashew, Pistachio, chillies, brinjal, etc., and found that all these different categories of phenomena - physical, physiological and psychological - had some similarity in their respective effect on an individual, even though all the individuals did not react to these common-factor-phenomena in an identical manner. Thus, all these synergistic factors will have more or less an identical action on a mesomorph or an endomorph, but their action on the mesomorph will not be the same as on the endomorph (please read the Introductory Summary given earlier).

The Pitta-prakriti, referred to as P type in the Summary, will experience a similarity of effect when subjected to the influence of these paittic, i.e., roughly (and imperfectly) speaking, thermogenic or thermometabolic factors. All emotions, diseases, medicines, foods, hereditary factors, seasonal and climatic conditions have been divided by Ayurveda into three doshic (not humoural) categories, vis-à-vis their bearing on the human together without producing or losing energy. In the case of the moving automobile, the energy is produced in the form of heat . To control the heat thus produced, the machine has to be provided with an anti-heat factor to save it from disintegration through uncontrolled heat. The water in the radiator, the oil in the engine and the grease for lubrication of various parts are some of the constituents of the car’s total anti-heat complex.

In this extremely simple and crude example, if we compare the motion with vayu, the heat with pitta, and the lubricants with kapha or shleshma, of the human body, we will have a base to dwell upon and explain, at a lower level, the structure of the tridoshic equilibrium.

Ayurveda used the word dosha for each of these three complexes. It will now be easy to understand why no living being can exist in a strictly monodoshic state. In the analogy of the moving car, the existence of the single factor of motion is inconceivable. Apart from the fact that pure motion without a body can have no base to exist; even in relation to the body it cannot exist outside certain norms. For example, if the car desides to move at the speed of light, it will cease to be a car. It will become a streak of light. The heat, too, has to act within its norms. When it falls below a certain level, the car refuses to move. During the winter season in the north we have to put hot water in the radiator and cover the bonnet with a blanket to be able to start the engine. But, conversely, the car cannot be overheated. If the automobile turned unidoshic, for example, just heat and nothing else, it would be automatically burnt out and destroyed, and without heat and motion there will be no moving body but a lifeless mass of inanimate matter.

Even the lubrication has to remain within certain limits, otherwise the oil will clog the plugs, part of the engine, etc., through excess or overflow.

There is plenty of latitude for the equilibrium to fluctuate within the normal limits, but the fluctuation must not exceed the permissible limits. Even in the case of the car, an imbalance indicating disturbance beyond the maximum permissible limits, will stop the efficient functioning of the car. In case of excessive deviations, the car will stop functioning altogether.

An Ayurvedic physician, in collaboration with modern experts, working in a hospital unit or wing, maintaining correct data from both the modern and the Ayurvedic angles, will be a good proposition for the moderns to study and evaluate Ayurveda; as only by continued observation and practice can the proper knack be developed by the western physician to practice the Ayurvedic medicine successfully. In the practice of Ayurveda there is very little danger of injudicious medicational deleterious side-effects. The only drawback in the pure observational and intuitional approach, howsoever well-developed, lies, in certain cases, in diagnostic mistakes. For example, a cerebral tumour, undetected by the physician in the absence of modern diagnostic, can be mistaken for migraine. This can be prevented by the collaboration technique offering hospital diagnostic facilities, as suggested above. Such an experiment conducted in the West, with the characteristic efficiency and thoroughness of a western scientific effort, should pay rich therapeutic dividends.

Of course, the analogy of the car, which does not go even as far as experimentation on animals, cannot go very far in the matter of comparison with the human being. The automobile, unlike 5the man, is incapable of auto-repair. It can not adjust itself to changed conditions. Every car of a similar brand behaves identically, consuming the same type of petrol. It has none of the complexity characterizing human nature and functions. There are no male and female cars, nor is one car attracted by another beautiful car, creating a number of psycho-somatic complexes. They do not laugh or cry. They are not jealous. They do not tell lies. They do not want to destroy each other. As already stated above, even the analogy of an animal, subjected to vivisection or other experimentation, is not entirely adequate to describe the human complexities under identical circumstances. The analogy of a car is bound to be much more inadequate, but it can serve as an elementary example to help the reader to understand a highly generalized pattern of the three doshas which is to be explained in greater detail in following pages.

An example of widely different capacities for adaptation to undesirable conditions among human being will be found in the studies of anaemia conducted by the Ayurvedic Research Institute at Jamnagar, Saurashtra, India. Generally ,when haemoglobin falls below 3 grammes per 100 c. c. of blood, the condition is considered incompatible with life. The Jamnagar Institute, while conducting research on anaemia, received, among their patients, a number of women whose haemoglobin was found to be as low as 2.5 grammes; and yet they walked the distances from their houses to the Institute, to receive treatment, carrying children in their arms and even cooking meals in their homes. When people who have been meet-eaters all their lives decide to become vegetarians all of a sudden, many of them suffer acute symptoms of indigestion, flatulence and abdominal distress. But if they persist in sticking to vegetarianism, in spite of this suffering, they get over the symptoms without any treatment as the system adjusts itself to the changed conditions. In countries conquered by stronger nations, particularly by despots or totalitarians, the proudest of the land learn to live in subordination and indignity. This, too, is an adaptation, howsoever painful to the individual. Those who refuse to adapt themselves to such degradation, are eliminated. Reverting to the complexity of man, even these differences of behavior do not fall outside the activity patterns of the three doshas which are all pervading.

Therefore, the vata, pitta and kapha of the human being are a far cry from the motion complex, the heat complex and the counter-heat complex of the car. The variety of the last complex, for example, is be confined to merely the water in the ndriyatva) radiator, the oil in the engine, the grease in the axies and the excellence of the heat resistant material or the workmanship which makes a superior car comparatively more resistant to the destructive effects of high temperatures. In a certain sense, even the solid body of the car itself constitutes an anti-heat principle.

The doshic types differ in health. They also differ in disease. They differ in susceptibility to disease, to action of the drug, to allergies to various substances, emotions and conditions. One may get urticaria due to anger, another due to cashew nuts, yet another due to pollen or dust, to humidity, to dryness, to heat, to cold, to sun, to rain, to the absence of one’s spouse or to the proximity of one’s spouse. In each case, the doshic constitution and the doshic relationships play the major role, and amelioration or restoration of the doshic equilibrium constitutes a cure. By and large, one type is prone to one set of diseases, and another to another. This holds true in case of seasons, foods, climates, emotions, all factors that have a bearing on the psycho-somatic mechanism of the being. The physician’s job is to evaluate the doshic picture of the patient and the disease. In the modern medicine, it is important to know what type of disease the patient is suffering from. In Ayurveda, it is even more important to find out what type of patient is suffering from the disease. The Ayurvedic physician has to elaborate the tridoshic pattern of the deviation from the normal in relation to every drug, diet or practice-factor, also the vitiating or doshadisturbing causes - physical, physiological or psychological - and then endeavour through the administration of drugs, diet and \or practices to restore the doshic equilibrium is attainable in the case of curable (sadhya) diseases and unattainable (or partially attainable) in the case of incurable (asadhya)diseases. The amelioration (shamana) is a matter of degree - amounting to mere improvement, relief, or cure and immunity, the last being permanent or impermanent, depending on the relative effectiveness of the dosha-prashamana (pacification of the vitiated dosha or doshes) and the subsequent correct behavior (jitendriyatva) of the patient.

Viewing everything from the doshic angle, one should familiarize oneself with the type of the disease he is suffering from (i.e., to which doshic category the disease itself belongs), the types of drugs, diets and factors that would counter the doshic imbalances.

We will take up the classification of some of these categories as viewed from their doshic attributes.


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