The following is a transcript of an interview conducted with Acharya Shunya, the renowned teacher of Advaita Vedanta & Ayurveda, founder of Vedika Global and the bestselling author of the book "Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom"
A school with a difference, Vedika Global's free offerings to the global community awaken health and consciousness via three systems of knowledge - Ayurveda, Yoga, and Vedanta.
Born in India, Acharya Shunya was recognized at the early age of nine as the future spiritual leader of a 2000 years old Vedic lineage.
The video interview can be accessed here on the Aroma Veda YouTube channel.
Aroma Veda: Hello everybody, this is Valdet from Aroma Veda and I am here today with someone who I feel so blessed to be able to speak with. Her name is Acharya Shunyaji. A little bit about her background, she is a renowned teacher of “Advaita Vedanta”, “Ayurveda”, Founder of Vedika Global and the bestselling author of the book, “Ayurveda Lifestyle and Wisdom”. A school with a difference, Vedika Global’s free offerings to the global community awaken health and consciousness via 3 systems – Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta. For those who don’t know, Acharya is a title from the Sanskrit language which signifies “Master Spiritual Teacher”. Thank you so much Shunyaji for taking the time to speak with me and our audience on a few topics in Ayurveda related to spirituality, skincare, beauty and plants.
AS : It’s such a pleasure to join you Valdet, thank you for having me.
AV: The first question I want to start with is an interesting topic. It’s about face assessment. Ayurvedic practitioners and doctors use many different protocols to assess somebody’s constitution, to understand where there may be an imbalance. I wanted you to explain a little bit more about how face assessment works; what can we tell about a person by simply just looking at their face?
AS: That’s a great question and believe it or not, there is a science to it. Our ancient scriptures of Ayurveda, “Charaka Samhita” which we place between 1 BCE and 1 CE, even in that we have details on the face, the size of the eyes, the look in the eyes - is it sharp or is it soft; is it calm or is it intense? The size of the lips, the size of the nose. So, when we study Ayurveda to become it’s practitioners or healers known as “Vaidya”, we look at the entire body but specifically the face. And, when a person who wants to be healed or come into their wholeness goes to a Vaidya or a healer, the word Vaidya (the word Vaidya originates from the root of the Sanskrit word “Vid” which means to know”). What do they know? They know because of some knowledge that they have received in the education process. So, the Vaidya or the healer is meant to do 3 things.
- Prashnam – ask questions which give you a clue not only to the kind of disease but also to the kind of person they are.
- Sparsham or touch – by taking the pulse, temperature of their joints or their skin
- There is another silent or secret technique that is going on which is known as Darshanam or observation. This is where we would look at the client’s face and be able to start making some assessments as to whether they are dominant in which energy system, known as the “Doshas” – “Vata”, “Pitta” & “Kapha”. And that helps because then we are able to pretty much know what challenges they may be facing, what would be their response to certain food items, so very useful! And we can even tell the temperament of the person and typically how much patience would they bring to a session. So, if they have a (more) Kapha face – bigger eyes, calm face, lucid and smooth skin, probably we can go a little slow & gentle and take the time we take because Kapha (people) bring a lot of patience to their discussion. But if they have sharp features, sharp eyes and petite but intense face, the Vaidya better get it right, be lucid in their explanation, keep it concise and be ready to answer questions. And if the person has a face where there are quick expressions changing on the face, maybe one eye is smaller or bigger than the other (in a subtle way), or if the eyes dart about a lot, you see the air (Vata) element being dominant so then you want to be more reassuring and quick because their attention span may also be short.
AV: So fascinating! Is it true that you can also assess something that’s going on internally with a person’s health, maybe in their organ systems based on facial lines, breakouts in certain areas of their face?
AS : Yes these kinds of teachings have not been mentioned in the scriptures as such but they are part of our oral tradition. I think it takes years to get there. Our face is called the “Darpana”, a mirror to our entire being. So, somebody could walk in to see my Grandfather (who was an acclaimed Ayurveda Master) and he would just know by looking that this person has a sluggish liver or has Prana congestion or they have mental issues. I used to look at that and think it’s a miracle! But now in my 54th year in practice, I can tell too! I think it’s experience and divine grace!
AV: It’s something to aspire for, that’s for sure. It’s so different from what you get here in the West in terms of diagnostics and assessments and things like that. This is very fascinating and I hope people find it interesting and worth looking into.
So, for my second question. I read recently that Ayurveda can not only be seen as something that adds years to your life but it also more importantly adds life to your years. I find that it is a beautiful way, an expression of trying to show and demonstrate what Ayurveda is all about. So how does it work, not only to add vibrancy, vitality. How does Ayurveda work that way?
AS: It’s such a beautiful life affirming science, it is not just about battling disease or being one up on germs out there. It is about remembering that you are a divine being, and you have been given this supremely intelligent body and mind. And mother nature is there to support us. Ideally in Ayurveda, we are all supposed to live for a hundred years (Sanskrit: Shata Ayu). And we are meant to live a healthy hundred years, even a hundred and twenty years. We are not meant to live diminished lives with too many problems. We are meant to be ageing; aging is natural but it is not meant to be dramatic. And we can slow down the aging, make it super-natural Vs dramatic. For example, there is the concept of “Rasayana” or immunity and we have various adaptogenic herbs which improve your response to emotional or physical stress, even the stress from ageing and wear & tear. And in the deeper teaching in our texts, we find teachings on that. Every 10 years the body is aging and it is having biological losses and compensatory requirements. So, every 10 years, we should add a special herb. For example, from birth to ten years, we should add the herb “Bala” which helps with muscle growth and physical dexterity. From ages ten to twenty, we should be (for example) taking the herb “Amalaki” (Indian Gooseberry) because it improves our youth and beauty and vitality. So on right up to a hundred years! It is cognizant that between the ages of forty and fifty, your vision will be challenged, between fifty and sixty, you skin will be challenged. And for example, I am now between fifty three and fifty four, I know the herb for the decade that I should take so that my skin can remain the best possible without needing make-up or foundation or artificial things. So, this knowledge of how to maximize and optimize nature’s intelligence working with us, it seems like Ayurveda has figured out what you need on a day to day, seasonal and age basis. Even based on your “role”. Like when you are a young girl, you may need a different type of support when you are just menstruating, you are planning your pregnancy, you are pregnant, you have delivered or you have menopause – just speaking for women. And then we have a different set of recommendations for men, different ones for aging, for teenagers, oh my God, this knowledge should be taught in high schools and primary schools and mothers should have it! We would all be healthier for it! And every student, seeker I have touched over my several decades – they start leading healthy lives – they don’t have drama no more… and they thank me! But I always remind them that we are so Karmically fortunate as you felt when you read Dr.Lal’s book and took a trip to India and got so blessed, you left a career of two decades to pursue Ayurveda – why? Because it’s the truth and we humans need this support and we need this harmonious relationship with nature Valdet! And when we work with nature, it is said in Sanskrit, there is a teaching - “Ayusho Vedah Ayurveda” which means Ayurveda is the “Veda” of “Ayush” – long life, happy life and vital life… Veda means knowledge. It is the knowledge. You want to be happy, vital, and live your due life that is not shortened by ill health – then go for Ayurveda.
AV: Ah, this so good! You are already answering all my questions combined. You just started talking about anti-ageing and I don’t think there is anyone on the planet that doesn’t think about ageing or worry about ageing. The other thing is happiness too right? What are some Ayurvedic secrets for antiageing. Just general secrets for antiageing.
AS: I think sleep, sex and food! These are as you know the three pillars of health. I feel that we should focus on sleep, but to sleep well, we need to lead our day pretty calmly and with balance. We think about sleep – “when we hit the bed …. why isn’t it coming”? But actually sleep is connected to how you spend your waking day - did you eat in time, did you eliminate in time, did you walk enough or were you just bingeing on Netflix? So a good sleep represents a day well spent being awake. So, sleep is very important, because according to Ayurveda and Yoga our whole being restores and our spirit withdraws from the body, the senses and the mind and touches God/Goddess internally. So, we wake up not remembering anything much, we wake up happy – why? Because we visited our deeper being there. So, sleep is very important and that’s why in my book Ayurveda Lifestyle and Wisdom, I dedicated a whole chapter to it. I have people writing to me from the whole world saying “we feel that simple tips like oiling my feet with warm sesame’ oil at bedtime or applying a little bit on top of my head or on my ears or chanting a mantra; deep breathing; drinking a certain recipe’ has changed my life”. These are ancient teachings but they work. So sleep is really important for anti-ageing. If we don’t sleep well we age faster and our organs age faster. Our skin and our beauty along with our enthusiasm lessens.
Next is food, in Ayurveda it is said: “if your food is right you don’t need medicine and if your food is wrong, medicine is of no use”! We have the concept of eating according to our age, the season, the time of the day. We read an article in a magazine or come across a restaurant etc essentially following our taste-buds. But Ayurvedic cuisine can be so delicious and also scientific, when you start eating according to that you are at your best. I am so happy Valdet that I want to show off a little bit! I have students in every part of the world, I don’t have a single case of the Coronavirus as yet in my worldwide community and may the Divine Mother keep it that way! I also feel that this is because they might be eating right!
Thirdly is sex. It is interesting that we human beings have put ourselves in knots around sex. And we have somehow made celibacy very important or being “immaculate” and “perfect” being not sexual. But that is one perspective in spirituality - not it’s totality. And Ayurveda comes from a deeper spiritual tradition known as the Vedas – ten thousand years old and all the seers both men and women who have contributed to Ayurveda and Yoga were sexual and active. According to Ayurveda, when you have a regulated sex drive and a well-expressed sex drive, not perverted, not suppressed and not impulsively indulged either. It is held with mindfulness – it leads to beauty, intelligence, auspiciousness, blessing. So, I feel like if you are in a sexually active stage of life, or say you may not have a sexual partner for now but just acknowledging your sexuality is really important. So, it is interesting that these three things would be the best ways of becoming mindful along with herbs like Ashwagandha, Amalaki that we can take to build our immunity.
AV : We are going to come back to that, I am so happy that you are speaking about sex, health, sexuality as I didn’t really know what Ayurveda says about it – in the way that you are explaining it….. it makes sense as all of Ayurveda is totally a logical science and healing system to me. So, it makes absolute sense that a healthy strong sex life nourishes a person. And helps with anti-ageing and immunity. So thanks for sharing that and that was a good one.
AS : Oh yes. And I talk about it all the time because as a spiritual teacher and an Ayurveda teacher I find that we have a lot of judgement around our own sexuality. So, we calm down and stop pointing fingers at each other, understand our own rhythms, our age, and understand Ayurveda’s recommendations on sexuality; for example, it even goes into details around sexual positions, it talks about intercourse not after a full meal but a few hours later. So even those teachings are helpful and they can be found easily through my writing.
AV: Wow that is a topic on it’s own that we can take a workshop on or a book!
So, I would love to get into a little bit about herbs. Aroma Veda uses a lot of beautiful key ingredients found in Ayurveda, for example Gotu Kola and Neem and many things for the anti-ageing, beautiful benefits they have for the skin. What are a few herbs that you can speak to, that can help with anti-ageing, dry skin and wrinkling? What are some of the herbs that help with so many skin conditions that people are struggling with e.g. psoriasis, eczema, intensive acne? How does Ayurveda address the root causes of these conditions and what herbs, herbal powerhouses can you speak to?
AS : I want to say that just like you said sexuality is it’s own topic, I think beauty and skincare is it’s own topic actually. Ayurveda is an ocean made up of several oceans. So, they all take a whole lifetime to study. Because I am a woman and I have grown up worshipping the Divine feminine, I have always taught on beauty not just for women but for men too. Our skin is the largest organ of our body and it is the first defense system. It is also the mirror of our being. So if our skin is shining and radiant there is a chance that something is right inside us. When we are looking after our skin, we are actually looking after our entire body. In some of my workshops, I have talked about our “entire-body packs” and I always go out into the garden, into nature so on my website our listeners can find my teachings on this. I call them Ayurveda ancestral teachings on herbs. I have gone into all the flowers used by Ayurveda. I would say just some of the common topics you have picked up – you are familiar with them. E.g. Acne – it can really benefit from Neem – even just dry Neem leaf powder. Just mix it with water and apply it a little dab on your acne or a part of your skin that gets inflamed – keep it on for half an hour or so. Wash it off with tepid water. Neem is not just an anti-bacterial but it is a purifier of the blood and it pacifies Pitta or the heat and it balances Kapha. What happens is that the skin gets the food it needs to balance itself. There is a big tongue twister Sanksrit word that I am just going to throw out there - “Swabhavo Paramvad”. What it means is that your body wants to heal itself – it is super intelligent – it just needs your support and then it will do what it needs. Neem is for example something I love to use for oily skin and blemish-prone skin. And then we all grow roses, a little paste of roses with milk, cream or just water - applying it on your skin for Rosacia and burning skin or redness is amazing! I remember once in my school at Vedika Global, we used to do these community “Sanghas” or meets with hundreds of people coming over…. We told everybody to bring roses. Everybody pulverized the roses and then stuck them on to their skin and laid down. It was a hundred people being blessed by roses, people were in tears, they felt that their heat had come down. One of the benefits of roses – (it is not just a beauty herb, in Sanskrit it is known as Hridya) which means it calms the mind. So, if you are anxious just take a rose and keep smelling it till you calm down. And when you apply it in a face pack and when you use an aroma product people will feel this great benefit of mind and body. And then of course we have Marigold – it is great when you have redness and oiliness. Marigold helps with “Pitta – Kapha”. People go like “what just Marigold?” Yup! Just go out there, the leaves and the petals – both are high level medicine. So, I have had people using these herbs – they go to my classes and check them out. Fortunately, some of my students make sure they are recorded and they are there for posterity. I believe you heard me with David Crow on the Shift Network talking about herbs and aromas – while I am a spiritual teacher of the spirit – I feel I very comfortable with plants and if you came to my home in the hills here, I have a backyard full of herbs and flowers and trees that I take care of myself. I water each one of them every day in the busy lifestyle of authoring books, speaking, teaching. I don’t forget to water my plants, trees and herbs because they feed me and bless me. So it’s a very touchy topic because it touches my heart when I talk about this.
AV : I totally understand, I feel the same way about flowers and herbs. There is no separation and I am going to share a little bit about my story with it in a few questions from now. They are very powerful and beautiful.
AS : Anyone who wants to study Ayurveda but doesn’t smell the roses or doesn’t pulverize the herbs and doesn’t feel the herbs on their face – they haven’t even met the Divine Mother in Ayurveda yet.
AV: Beautiful explanation! So, there are three words that I have recently been using to describe my own personal experience with Ayurveda. Those words are “Truth, Beauty and Purpose” - because I feel like that’s what Ayurveda has given to me and I feel like now I want to be able to give that to as many people as possible. What are those from a spiritual perspective – what does that really mean? What does truth really mean? What does true beauty really mean and why is it important for somebody to discover and find their purpose?
AS : I like your choice of three words and they show me what level you are looking at engaging with Ayurveda so I like that. It’s way beyond just the “Doshas”. The “Doshas” are a great opening door but you have to go deeper, that’s what my teachings are all about … to go deeper. And each person will walk away with these three words probably, but I think the truth from my perspective in Ayurveda is the truth of “Self” and Ayurveda has described the true “Self” as “Atma” and “Atma” can be defined as “Apnoti iti Sarvam Atma” which means that it is boundless. So the discovery of your boundless health, your boundless joy, your boundless nature, boundless flexibility is one of the goals I think the search of truth is that we study something like Ayurveda, Chinese medicine and even western medicine and purportedly we go to our doctor or to a hospital to find something that has become constrained to make it unconstrained. And Ayurveda has actually laid it out there saying you have a body, you have a mind but you are a beautiful boundless being and you need to discover that. And so, when we heal our self or come into wholeness with our mind really touching; touching and coming back, by touching our “Self” is when the actual healing takes place. You can put Neem all you want on your face but the people who put Neem on their face and find a God experience and those who just say so what… the difference is that somebody touched their “Self” and they relaxed into it and they surrendered into a deeper healing. So, truth for me is truth of spirit and that’s why I support Ayurveda because everything is touched by that “Self”. And even we go to trees or herbs, it’s the same “Self” in them blessing us, you know we bow to the “Tulasi” (Holy Basil) and “Ashwagandha” and literally there are mantras which say thank you for allowing me to benefit from your body but you and I are one deep inside. Beauty perspective is that beauty is health. Health and beauty go together. Wherever there is health, there is beauty.
AV : Beautifully said.
AS : And purpose for me means… a life of purpose is a life of coming back to our re-engagement, reacquaintance- like the prodigal son returning home. We children who walked away from mother Nature’s lap and abused her and raped her, taken her for granted and hurt her. We can go back … so I feel like Ayurveda… when it really comes to you in a true form gives you your life purpose to become simple and less demanding. And more grateful of mother nature. And you want to walk softly on earth so that your footsteps don’t cause anyone any damage.
AV : You melt me! That is so beautiful!
This next question is a little bit about a continuation of what we were speaking. When I first started to study in 2009 and went to India, I had the such a profound transformation happen when I really cleaned my body on a cellular level. So, I wasn’t just studying Ayurveda and what it means to do powerful cleansing Panchkarma - but to experience it was another thing. To be in a room for thirty days and not go out and to be with my own mind, my own spirit and to feel such a transformation happening because I believed in Ayurveda and my doctor at the time. There was a tree that I remember … I had a window in my room and I made best friends with it through my window. One day, I was coming upstairs from my treatment and suddenly I hear a guy with (electric shears) chopping down a tree branch. I felt like my arm was getting chopped off. I felt so powerfully connected to this tree that it felt like he was cutting my arm off. It might sound woohoo to some people, I don’t know. I just knew what it meant for me and I just understood in that moment the true power and connection that Ayurveda gives to people if they truly embrace it… and this is on a deeper level. When we talk about macrocosm and microcosm, the five elements are everywhere so there was no difference between me and that tree. I feel that ever since then, my perception of life and my perception of everything shifted. So, I wanted you to explain if you can a little bit on how Ayurveda works on a deep cellular level for healing to take place and for people to come to know their true nature. How does it work?
AS : Yes, I think that’s a beautiful description and I think here when we are talking about Ayurveda working at a cellular level, what you just had was a spiritual relationship with a tree – with the macrocosm around you. So, then we are entering what is known as Vedic Ayurveda – integrated with the sciences of Yoga and Vedanta (non duality) where you feel oneness with all beings and from that perspective then - a clean room, like a personal space, impacts the space within you. If you sit near a waterfall it will impact the water element within you. Then you have to get to this space within mentally which you described earlier how you stayed in this room for thirty days without any kind of distraction so you were actually in a state of Yoga with yourself and with whatever was in your field without trying hard to change it. And what was karmically determined to be there is the tree. It could have been something else, it could have been a building. But it was this tree. A pure mind is a no mind. When you are in a pure mind/no mind space, you are purely then the soul, the “Self”, the “Spirit”, the boundless one. And at that level, everything around you is affecting you at a very deep level – pain as well as joy. So, if that tree went into buds or blossoms, it would create a blossom within you too. Now this is a deeper level of conversation, because not many people can get there but I do want to acknowledge that when you study Ayurveda with teachers like myself who teach the entire Vedas, not just Ayurveda, I find how Ayurveda is talking to everybody. Somebody may want to go to Ayurveda and say – wait, I just want to fix this pimple on my nose or a cheek and okay, apply this, eat this, have a purge, you are good to go and your pimple will resolve. But somebody might say that I want to get rid of this tendency to have pimples and we can say – you know what.. have a Panchakarma and cleanse your being and it’s going to keep you clean for a good year or so if you go to a good place and have it done properly you will be in a very good place. And then somebody might just say it’s not just about the pimple, I want to know why do I fluctuate between disease and health when I know that my destiny is health, why do I even have this movement towards pain and suffering? And that’s when you go towards a deeper, cellular level cleansing and this is where we have to go towards non-duality and a state of Yoga. Now the same way in which you were in symphony with that tree and it’s arm cutting off was like your arm cutting off…. You could also use the same beautiful mind if you get in that zone and reimagine health for yourself at a cellular level and bless that tree without its arm. So, it’s like joy and sorrow become a mental choice, a use of our lucid imagination and creation of an alternate reality through the usage of mantras and presence and blessings. So, I don’t go somewhere else (Laughs)
AV No it’s perfect.
AS – So whatever that moment you had of Yoga with that tree….
AV – It doesn’t leave me ever since then, it’s how I see life. I am in California now and everywhere I look I see beauty. There are flowers everywhere, there are hills, there’s water, there are lakes here where I live. It feels like everything is one. I feel the interconnectedness, I don’t feel separation. It feels perfect!
AS – The non-dual vision - it heals a lot pain of alienation and estrangement for sure.
AV – Last question – I was listening to one of your “Satsangs”, you said mind and spirit are as important as the “Doshas” in the body. It’s a continuation of what we are speaking about. We have “Doshas” and we have mind & spirit. You say they are as important if not more. Can you go into that a little bit?
AS – Absolutely. You know we have this trend to fix the “Doshas” which is healthy and I teach it too by changing your food or changing your lifestyle. I wrote a whole book on it. But if you read my book you will find that I keep persuading the mind to be in a better place too. Because if the mind is not aligned then you know you can learn all you want about the “Doshas” but there will be non- cooperation. You will drink a certain healthy tea or apply a certain face-pack for half a day and then even if people offer to do it for you it will feel too much. So, the mind has to want to recover from I would say the original wound of worthlessness, insignificance, and purposelessness and that’s why I am a teacher of philosophy and I bless you my dear child, you are as old as my son - that may you continue this journey of bringing people to a more full spectrum invitation because otherwise the mind is running here and there, you put the body in a few little habits and then you self-sabotage. I think the mind is a big player here. They say in the “Bhagavat Gita” “Manushya eva Manushyanam Karanam Bandha Mokshayoho” – the same mind can become the reason for bondage and suffering and addictions and attachments and clingy behavior or self-sabotage. And the same mind can become the harbinger of liberation and harmony and cooperation. So, the mind is very important. We can’t just say “I will just work at the body level, it’s all going to get fixed”. Ancient/classical Ayurveda was not without contemplations on the mind. “Charaka Samhita” our ancient text is not just a teaching of the physical bodies, Charaka (the author of the text) the teacher was a psychologist who gave us all about the “Doshas’ – he predates Freud and Jung and all these teachers. My next book is on Ayurveda psychology and the deep mind and Dharma teachings and how to be ethical. And why it should bother you if the tree outside your window get cuts down and you are not separate and all of that. So, if you mind is not connected, you can’t really work on the body. And then from a soul perspective, we are all spirits and according to Ayurveda we need to find a certain direction in our life. So, if the direction of the embodied soul is only to have fun, enjoy itself, ate what it’s senses tell it to eat, and have sex with whoever you want to have sex with - no matter how many “Dosha” balancing teas you drink, sooner or later your life is a problem waiting to happen to you. But if the soul is saying I want to make a U turn, I want to become the master of my life. I don’t want my senses to tell me what I should eat, who I should play with, who I should distance with – I want to be a sovereign being, that’s why my next book coming out this winter is called the Sovereign Self. Sovereignty should be our theme. The spirit is stronger than the mind. When the spirit becomes determined that “I don’t want my lifetime to be wasted”, the mind becomes more contained and the body starts shining as a result. I lament the diminution and minimization of the great potential in Ayurveda to merely saying drink this tea, eat this powder. You have been to India, nowhere is it more obvious than the country of it’s origin because India went through colonization. And Indians’ own knowingness got colonized, and now we are just following the western medicine paradigm. But I am appealing to look at Ayurveda on it’s own feet and look at the “mind-body-soul“ and not just say it. I have worked with countless people who have not had success in the past, who have undefeatable diseases but they have defeated them and I have talked about them in my book. Say you are working with someone with an eating disorder, they have bulimia, anorexia or multiple sclerosis or infertility… but when you go deep down it’s the mind and when you go even deeper it is the soul and it needs to be connected to something divine and bigger inside them. I guess that’s a longer answer to what you asked.
AV : No it’s perfect and I hope everybody finds you and learns from you. I think it is truly important to continue to speak about the mind and how important the mind-spirit-soul in how we really and truly live health.
AS : Well we just to believe in what we have to believe in. 12 years ago I started my school with 30 students who believed in me and now we have students in every part of the world. My book has been translated in 7 languages and more coming. You believe in it, more voices come your way and more than that you help yourself and whoever wants to walk with you. That’s all you do.
AV : But you got to start
AS : You got to start!
AV : Thank you! Om! Thank you so much for taking the time again and answering these questions. I hope I can speak with you again on specific topics at a later date but I hope everyone benefits from our talk today.
AS : Many blessings and thank you everybody for listening.