By Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya
Just a few decades ago, people around the world knew how to make trash. Trash was that which was not only unuseful but it was processed to extract out that which could be used, in order to send away what was not usable. Only the remaining part was discarded.
This practice of creating trash had an inbuilt understanding of items that were not trash. If they could be reprocessed by soil’s bugs, they were composted. If they were fully degradable by nature’s water, air, and fire, they were biodegradable. If they could be recreated by a cycle of heat or fire, water, or easy compression or chemical alteration, they were recycled. Metals, paper made of wood, and cloth were made to be used for long periods and then recyclable.
Only after thought and consideration, everything else was trash.
In villages and towns all across the world, people processed their own discards into piles of segregated items, extracting out what was truly not able to be processed. They knew which items still had elements that could be pulled out and reused or repurposed. Not doing so was wasting something usable. Especially in big cities, it was important not to let discarded items with usable parts sit idle, as they would fester with rodents and rot. Throwing things into the rivers and oceans was not done carelessly, as people would eat fish from those same areas. They made sure wastes were not hazardous.
In the 1800s, at the prime of the conquests of one people over another, this wisdom was lost. It was discarded. The wealthy imperialists decided that one way to distinguish themselves from the common people was to demonstrate their excess. They had so much that they could not be bothered to waste time sorting, reprocessing, or reusing. They cast away whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted, presuming that the poor and less wealthy would take care of it. This attitude spread to the masses who tried to demonstrate wealth as a sign of upward socioeconomic mobility.
Meanwhile, the Ayurvedic Wisemen were watching this pattern of behavior from thousands of years ago. They saw what wasteful unextracted items did to ruin the environment. They watched what heat did to trash, how the wind carried it, and what water did to it. They witnessed natural calamities caused by obstructions in rivers, and extremes of imbalance in nature caused by pile-ups, and they watch patterns of coping and balance in the Universe all around.
Ayurveda was brilliant to use the metaphor of trash to understand the gut’s processing of food into the stool, especially in the summer when the heat is high in the environment but the central heater of the body is low and cannot digest food into the trash as well as it can in colder seasons.
In Ayurveda, food that has not been fully processed into proper trash is a great hazard to the body. It will fester and rot, calling in parasites and creating unwanted chemicals and life forms. Keeping the fire kindled throughout the gut is thus of the highest priority, and is known as Agni. Mistranslated a thousand times as fire, the Sanskrit term Agni means ‘that which consumes.’ Proper Agni in the gut was seen as an integrated process of full recognition, digestion, acceptance, absorption, and assimilation of nutrients into the body’s tissues. Without proper consumption, nothing would be processed to where it needed to go. This proper process was evidenced by watching a person with strong muscles and bones, strong resilience and body strength, daily bowel movements, daily early rising and good sleep, appropriate hunger on time, and a glow that attracted good relationships with family and friends. This state of optimal health and vitality is known as Ojas.
To achieve this, ayurvedic physicians correct courses regularly from imbalances. They gave remedies that would help the person rekindle the Agni and get rid of the trash before it rotted. The metaphor of extracting trash was used to understand the body’s digestion of food and which type of incomplete digestion caused which imbalance.
This elegant understanding of gut physiology runs through all the texts of Ayurveda. Unfortunately, many of today’s ayurvedic doctors learn modern gut physiology – which keeps changing its logic as its science develops. They mix the concepts of modern gut physiology with ayurvedic metaphors and lose understanding of the patterns of nature, unconsciously creating an indiscernible waste of wisdom.
Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya