By Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Oregon, USA
As humble humans devoted to progressing spiritually, we all love God. But does God love us? Yogi Bhajan always taught that searching for God was a waste of time. (“Look in the dictionary under ‘G’,” he said.) He frequently boiled down the essence of his teaching to something on the order of making yourself so radiant and bright that God could not help but find you. “And just how will I do that?” you ask. Start with refining your mind.
Over the ages, yogis have classified certain herbs that have a powerful impact on the mind. Using these healing tools, Ayurveda and yoga give us a deeper understanding of our essential selves and help us reach ever higher consciousness. So many of us are seeking to understand ourselves better and to truly reach total well-being, so let’s let Ayurveda helps us make the connection with the Infinite.
The Three Gunas
Yoga talks about three primal gunas of the Universe: sattva, rajas, and tamas. From the three gunas come all the aspects of the mind. Sattva (essence) is potential creative energy and brings contentment, joy, peace, and harmony to our lives. Rajas (activity) is vital force, and causes change, emotion, and turbulence. Tamas is potential destructive force, often described as inertia. It represents rest, dullness, depression, spoilage, and resistance.
Each guna plays its part in the human life. On the whole, the goal of yoga is to move toward being in a sattvic state of mind, and to lead a sattvic life as much as possible. The objective is to develop the neutral mind.
According to Yogi Bhajan, the mind produces one thousand thoughts per blink of the eye. Few ever bubble up to the level of conscious awareness. He describes the mind as being three separate entities:
- Negative Mind: acts first to calculate danger in any situation, takes immediate action to avoid danger, assesses the possible negative outcomes of any action, brings the character trait of obedience
- Positive Mind: acts second to calculate the benefit in any situation, takes action to derive benefits, assesses the possible positive outcomes of any action, brings the character trait of optimism
- Neutral Mind: takes the information from the negative mind and the positive mind and calculates the net consequences, brings the character trait of service (Attaining the neutral mind is the goal of yoga.)
Medhya: Healing the Mind
Medhya is a concept that implies intellect, or wisdom. It is mental development, or mental therapy. Medhya means something that is mighty, vigorous, and pure as well. There are many ways to bring medhya into play in the mind. Anything that promotes the sattva guna can help in our quest, and the yamas and niyamas of Patanjali are aimed at this. Here, Ayurvedic herbal medicines play a role. Yogi Bhajan often mentioned mineral (bhasma) preparations containing emeralds, gold, and diamonds as important mental treatments.
Medhya herbs and therapies are typically thought of as those that promote the capabilities the Western world calls the mind. Medhya herbs engender and summon intelligence, memory, and mental perception. They make the mind worthy of sacrifice to the Divine.
Bitter taste is made from air and ether tattvas, and these tattvas predominate in the mind. Bitter herbs open the mind and increase sensitivity, awareness, and mental functioning. Since bitter herbs are cooling and calming, they combat mental dullness, allowing us to reach our full sattvic potential of becoming radiant and divinely loveable.
Gentian is an especially bitter herb, one that is revered in Ayurveda and European herbalism. Several species of this potent root are used interchangeably in India and Europe. Besides the mentally cleansing sattvic aspects, bitter taste cleanses the liver and stimulates digestive secretions. Gentian root, an anti-inflammatory and fever remedy, also forms the basis of a well known European herb combination for sinus infection.
Anti-inflammatories, gentian included, are necessary in colitis and other hot digestive conditions, and can be dramatically beneficial. In formulas, Ayurveda often substitutes bitter gentian with other comparable bitters, such as chiretta (also in the Gentian family) or kutki, all of which cleanse the mind and make a person more sattvic. Gentian might be a bitter pill to swallow, but it is renowned for getting your mind clear and your digestion going. Use 1 or 2 grams per meal for that oh-so-intense bitter experience.
Chiretta is a close relative of gentian, in the same botanical family. It is used similarly to gentian, as a very general, very cold bitter. It is also similar in action, bitterness, and use to kalmegh (Andrographis), another Ayurvedic star. Chiretta is a popular digestive bitter that clears toxins and inflammation (amapitta) from the intestines. Unlike other bitters, which as a rule tend to be constipating, it acts as a mild laxative. It balances the liver, so it can stimulate the appetite. And this bitter anti-inflammatory medicine alleviates asthma, lowers fever, removes impurities from the blood, and is used in skin diseases.
Mahasudarshan (literally “the great formula for good vision”) contains bitter herbs that cool and cleanse the eyes, and is the main Ayurvedic eye remedy. The formula contains chiretta, guduchi, barberry, black pepper, long pepper, ginger root, and the triphala combination. Want cosmic insights, visions, and high flying thoughts? Embrace the bitter, baby!
Chiretta is used with cardamom, turmeric, and kutki for gastrointestinal tract inflammation. It is combined with neem, manjishta and gotu kola for inflamed skin. Yogi Bhajan had this to say, “There is a kind of dried long grass in India called chiretta, which is very bitter but highly purifying to the blood. Soak a handful in water at night. In the morning pour the water off and drink one cup. But it is very, very bitter. The next day put another handful in water and make into tea. You will never have any skin problems. You must take ghee or almond oil in milk along with this, because it is very drying.”
Why be bitter about your life? Embrace the bitter, climb up to a sattvic life, and become so radiant that God will not only find you, but will cuddle you in His cozy, loving arms, and you’ll never be lonely again.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Yogaraj, DN-C, RH, is the president of the American Herbalists Guild. He mentored in Ayurveda with Yogi Bhajan for 32 years. The Healing Cures of Yogi Bhajan is his homage to Yogi Bhajan and the wealth of information he had the blessing to learn from his master. Karta Purkh has presented over 150 times at professional conferences, has written over 3,000 articles on health topics and is the author or editor of 30 books on health, including his latest, The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs. He is curriculum director and lead instructor in the Portland Community College Nutritional Therapy Program and heads the herbal education department of the Northwest Institute of Ayurveda. He lives in the Northwest with his wife and daughter. [email protected]