Definition: Ca. Vi 1.21.1 Prakriti is svabhava which is the natural existence of properties like guru, etc. in substances used as food and drug.
DEHA PRAKRITI Ca Su 30.25, AH Sa. III.83 (Note: For the advanced student there is a dialog among scholars about the use and meaning of the terms deha prakriti and dosha prakriti and sahaja prakriti. These writings will not clarify this issue, however. Because there is lack of uniformity on this topic we will not pursue it further here.
Dosha prakriti Ca. Vi. 6.13
Vata characteristics: >Ca. Vi. VIII.98 Due to roughness the persons with predominance of vata have rough, undeveloped and short body, constantly rough, weak, low, adhered and hoarse voice and sleeplessness; due to lightness light and unsteady movement, activities, diet and speech; due to mobility unstable joints, eye brows, jaw, lips, tongue, head, shoulder, hands and feet; due to abundance talkativeness and abundance of tendons and venous system; due to swiftness hasty initiations, quick irritation and disorder, quick in fear, attachment, and disenchantment, quick in acquisition but with a poor memory; due to coldness intolerance to cold, continuously infliction with cold, shivering and stiffness; due to coarseness coarse hair, beard/mustache, small hairs, nails, teeth, face, hands and feet; due to clear cracked body parts and constant sound in joints during movement. Because or these qualities persons with predominance of vata have mostly low degree of strength, life span, progeny, means and wealth.
Ca. Vi. VIII.97 Due to hotness the persons having predominance of pitta are intolerant of heat, have hot face, delicate and fair organs, moles, freckles, black moles, pimples, excessive appetite and thirst, early appearance of wrinkles, greying and hair loss, generally soft, sparse and brown beards/mustaches, thin hair and hairs; due to sharpness sharp prowess, intense fire, taking ample food and drink, lack of endurance, frequent eating; due to liquidity lax and soft joints and muscles, excess sweat, urine and feces; due to fleshy smell fetid smell in axilla, mouth, head and body; due to pungency and sourness little semen, sex and few progeny; from these qualities the person having predominance of pitta is moderate of strength, life-span, knowledge, understanding, wealth, and means.
Ca. Vi. VIII.96 Due to unctuousness the person with predominance of kapha has unctuous organs, due to smoothness smooth organs, due to softness pleasing, delicate and fair organs, due to sweetness abundant semen, sex, and progeny, due to nature of essence excellent, compact and stable body, due to solidity all organs well-developed and symmetrical, due to dullness dull in activities, diet and speech, due to rigidity delayed initiation, irritation and disorder, due to heaviness movements supported with essence and stability, due to coldness little hunger, thirst, pyrexia, and perspiration, due to sliminess will united and strong joint ligaments, due to clarity clear eyes and face with clear and unctuous complexion and affectionate voice. From these qualities the shleshma person is strong, wealthy, learned, brave, calm and long-lived.
Vag AH Su. I.l0 Vagbhata states that from shukra and artava at time of conception there arises three kinds of prakriti just like poisonous worms arise from poison; they are the hina, madhya, uttama (weak, medium, strong). That prakriti arising from equal proportion of them is the samadhatu prakriti, which is ideal. Those arising from combination of two doshas are nindya (denounced).
Sharngadhara Ch 7.21-23 persons who have scanty hairs, dry, and thin body, who are very talkative, of unsteady mind, dream as moving in air are of vata-prakriti; persons who have premature grey hairs, who are very intelligent, very angry, sweat profusely, see fire in dreams are pitta-prakriti; persons who are steady in mind, hefty physique, smooth haired, very strong, see reservoirs of water in dreams are kapha=prakriti.
Persons possessing the features of two doshas are called dvidoshaja-prakriti while with the features of all three are tridoshaja.
Ca. Vi. 3.24-27 Prakriti according to the ages (yugas): In early times too, no undesirable consequence arose except from adharma. During the initial age (kritayuga), people were having prowess like the sons of Aditi (gods), exceedingly pure and with vast influence, having perceived the gods, godly sages, virtue, religious sacrifices and method of their performance; with the body compact and stable like the essence of mountains, and complexion and sense organs clear, having strength, speed and valor like the wind, with well-formed buttocks, endowed with appropriate measurement (size), physiognomy, cheerfulness and corpulence, were devoted to truthfulness, straightforwardness, gentleness, charity, control of senses, observance of rules, penance, fasting, celibacy and vows; devoid of fear, attachment, aversion, confusion, greed, anger, grief, conceit, illness, sleep, drowsiness, fatigue, exhaustion, lassitude and holding and were having immeasurable life span. For those having exalted mind, qualities and actions the crops grew endowed with inconceivable rasa, virya, vipaka, prabhava and other properties due to the presence of all qualities inn the earth, etc. in the beginning of kritayuga itself. In treta, greed gave rise to malice, speaking lies, passion, anger, conceit, dislike, roughness, violence, fear, infliction, grief, anxiety, excitement etc. successively. Thus during treta a quarter of righteousness disappeared due to which there was reduction of a quarter in the yearly duration of the yugas and consequent degradation of quarter in unctuousness, purity, rasa, vipaka, prabhava and other properties of the crops. Because of this the bodies of the people due to intake of food degraded by a quarter in properties and other behaviors were not resistant as earlier and as such were pervaded by agni (pitta) and vata and were attacked first by diseases like fever, etc. Thus the living being were gradually affected by decrease in their life span. In yuga after yuga a quarter of righteousness is reduced in this order along with similar reduction in the qualities of living being leading finally to dissolution of the universe. After completion of one hundred years, there is a loss of one year in the life span of the living beings in respective ages. Thus is described the initial origin of disorders.
Kash. Sa. 1.2 features of prakriti in different yugas: In krityuga, compact body of living being, named Narayana is born; that is why it is said his head is solid without skull, the bones are endowed with sattva and the features are motionless and hard like vajra; in his heart are only ten big vessels; his head and skin are impenetrable and indivisible; shukra is in entire body; his height is one yojana (about 9 mils); his intra-uterine life is seven days; he is capable of doing all the acts immediately after birth; he is not troubled by hunger, thirst, exertion, languor, grief, fear, envy, non-religiousness, worry, psychological disorders and senility and is not dependent for sustenance upon breast ilk; he is endowed with spirituality, penance, knowledge, scientific understanding, stability, attitude and means. His longest life is said to be half of the palitopama. In treta, the solid body of living being named ardhanarayana is born. His body is made of singe bone without flexion and extension. Intra-uterine time is eight months and depends upon breast milk; has two skull bones on head; twenty blood vessels in abdomen and shukra; the longest life is one fourth of palitopama and there is half decrease of the qualities from the former age. In dvapara, the body of hair thickness is born; the bones are hair-thin, minute and porous. The joints are separated apart, has strength like big elephant, the body is covered with veins, his shukra is in joints of the body, longest life is one-eighth of palitopama and has reduction of half of the qualities from the previous age. In kaliyuga, well arranged, fleshy, solid body is born. His bones are 360, very porous, filled marrow, tubular/long, susceptible to fracture; 400 muscles, seven hundred veins with roots in heart, nine hundred snayu with roots in mastuluniga (brain); two hundred arteries with roots in palate; one hundred seven marmas, three mahamarmas, ten seats of life; five hearts; three hundred eighty one joints, fourteen tendons, forty two k³rca (fanned out bunch of muscles, arteries, or veins appearing like a brush), six layers of skin, seven tissues, and two types of srotamsi, the teeth erupt after birth, intra-uterine life is 10 months, stands and speaks after one year, his longest life is 100 years, is surrounded by pleasure, sorrow, psychological disorders, old age and death.. complete body; has hunger, thirst, heaviness, fatigue, laxity, desire, envy, anger, distrust, greed, miser, infatuation and separation etc. Indulges in worldly affairs, is susceptible to diseases. Two yugas each are influence by sattva, rajas, and tamas. Thus, the cause of birth of human being is described.
The conception of body typing in Western thinking has its roots back in the Greek and Roman cultures—Hippocrates and Aristotle. They considered person’s representative of the 4 humors—yellow and black bile (choler &melancholy), phlegm (phlegmatic), and blood (sanguine). Each person would be typed according to one of these and medicines would be prescribed to restore balance—balanced expression of the four humors. Modern typing includes a scheme using the types endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph. Person’s expressed development predominating from the endoderm and manifesting through the internal viscera or abdominal area, development from the ectoderm and manifesting through the skin, slender physique, active brain and nervous system, and from the mesoderm manifesting through the musculature, bones, and connective tissue, respectively. What the ancient Ayurvedists offered, however, was a system approach. Every thing in creation could be shown to have an interactive role based upon themes that pervaded the inanimate and the animate. So the article which follows will attempt to describe and explain Ayurvedic body-typing—called prakriti.
The V.S. Apte Practical Sanskrit Dictionary defines prakriti to mean—“the natural condition or state of anything, of nature, of a natural form.” It's verbal root is “kri” meaning to make or to do and its prefix “pra” means forward, forth, in front, onward, before, away, etc. Thus it evokes notions of first cause or first action.
The ancient rishi, Kapila, explored the world in his mind and in the philosophical system, Sankhya, proposed that there has to be an unmanifest cause to the creation. He further opined that this entity must be eternal, intelligent, and unchanging but still active in a creative way—enough to create the universe. He described this original source of the material creation as the unmanifest (Avyakta) field of Consciousness with two permanent dual facets--Purusha & Prakriti—an eternal co-existence of the opposites non-change and change. From the field of creation we look upon this duality as a co-existence of non-material and material—Prakriti is the primordial matter/substance although unmanifest. Also, this pair can be understood in the useful metaphor—cause and effect. Purusha is eternally silent and witnessing but Prakriti (often translated as Nature) is eternally active but only as Purusha endows It with energy. In this sense acting or action inherent to Prakriti, is latent in the cause--Purusha. Prakriti acts as if conscious because of the presence of Purusha. It is the active or dynamic expression of the creative potential latent in Consciousness / Purusha. It is the Divine Will. Prakriti becomes active just because it can but according to Caraka—Ca. Sa. I.75,76—especially when it comes in contact with mind. When Purusha knows that it exists then it becomes intelligent and creative.
The embryo is produced of the self. The self of embryo is the internal self which is known as jiva (source of life) and also as ever continuing, devoid of illness, old age, death and decay; not subjected to incision, excision, agitation, having universal forms and actions, unmanifest, beginning-less as well as endless and without any transformation. He entering into the uterus and combining with sperm and ovum produces himself in the form of embryo that is why the embryo is called as “the self.” The birth of that self is not possible because of his beginning-lessness. Hence (both the statements that ) he produces the unborn embryo while born and unborn are incorrect. The same fetus by the lapse of time attains the stages of childhood, youth, and old age gradually. During the stage which he exists in, he is called as born (or become) while during the preceding stage he was would be born ( or become). In this way, he is both born and unborn simultaneously. Where both these—bornness and unbornness—are present he is produced while born and the same in future conditions produces himself while unborn. In fact, birth is only transformation in respect of age and conditions. For instance, in spite of sperm, ovum, and the self, they do not attain the state of embryos until they are combined together; this comes into existence by combination. Similarly, the same person does not attain fatherhood before the birth of progeny which thereafter he does. In the same way, the embryo, though existing, is said as born or unborn in respective stages. Ca. Sa. III.8
Ayurveda has borrowed heavily from this concept. Thus, when in Ayurveda we talk about prakriti we are talking about our roots in something primordial. It’s a state of uniqueness because it’s different from our witnessing awareness because it’s active. It’s a state of permanence that co-exists with our permanent non-changing nature, Consciousness. And it’s a state of balance within that uniqueness. This we can infer from its permanent co-existence with the unmanifest. As long as there is stability to or order in creation then there is balance. This is a dynamic equilibrium not a static one. It can be argued also that prakriti is a state of imbalance, in as much as the creation is viewed as an imperfect mirror of the Divine Reality / Consciousness. Prakriti is action and according to Sankhya it’s a disturbance of the primordial equilibrium that yields the creation. But there is a kind of order within this disorder. Here disorder merely means change, in fact orderly change—it’s a disturbance of the state of Pure Witnessing Awareness.
At the material level of creation the functioning of the body—physiology—is governed by the DNA/RNA complex. But at a deeper level of reality this is a material expression of our very (non-material) Consciousness. Consciousness is the intelligence that preserves the integrity of DNA itself. Hence this DNA has a ring of permanence to it. Consciousness is eternal and we think of our DNA as permanent for life--DNA is symbolic of permanent blueprint for change.
While an Ayurvedist most commonly uses prakriti to refer to one’s physical constitution or body type, prakriti is also used to denote mental types. This notion of constitution in reference to the body is described in terms of the three basic principles of life—vata, pitta, & kapha--motion / energy, transformation / heat, and structure / lubrication / secretions, respectively. (See article Concept of Doshas). Thus when we consider possible combinations of these three principles we find that there are 7 possible body types—3 mono types, 3 duals, and 1 triple. My mentor uses a pulse system that actually places a number value in its ranking scheme—V3P2K1 would show the predominance of vata, for example. A dual doshic scheme might look like V3P3K1 and the triple doshic scheme would look like V3P3K3. Ancient writers, such as Caraka, refer to mental typing in terms of the primal functional modes—sattva, rajas, tamas. Caraka describes more than a dozen types of psyches in terms of these energies. (See article Concept of Sattva, Rajas, & Tamas.)
Rigveda refers to the three bodily principles and the theory of life based on them as tridhatu or tridhatu siddhanta. Tri means three, dhatu refers to something fundamentally supporting, governing, and constituting, and siddhanta means theory. Life is supported or governed by three dhatus. In a way we can say that they are three distinct processes. In Ayurvedic texts however, which have a more recent origin than ¬gveda, we mainly see references to these principles as tridosha. So it is that vata, pitta, & kapha have come to be known as the principles of the tridosha theory of functioning of the body. They refer explicitly to the way a body is governed and the way it expresses the energies involved in each of the terms. (See article The Concept of Dosha for more discussion about these terms.) As suggested above they are the functional agents of the DNA blueprint of each person’s physiology.
In the Caraka Samhita we read that the cause of all incarnations comes from the influence of rajas and tamas-- seeds of desire for the pleasures of the senses—Ca. Sa. I.68-69. The soul takes rebirth time and again until these seeds are roasted or the pleasures are renounced.
According to Caraka the determinants of constitution or prakriti are 6-fold: excellence of sperm, ovum, Self, conditions of the uterus, time, and diet and lifestyle. Each of these factors contributes something to the nature of the fetus—its prakriti. Ca. Sa. II.6-10. Note that Vagbhata (AS and AH Sa. I) describes only 4 determining factors—sperm, ovum, time, and condition of the uterus at time of conception. Whether the child is male or female is determined by the dominance of the sperm or ovum, respectively. Twins, etc. arise from the splitting effects of increased vayu acting on the ovum conjoined by the predominant sperm or ovum. Ca. Sa. II.12,13.
The condition of the uterus plays an important role in fetal development. If vata in the mother is out of balance during pregnancy then it will bring about unusual fetal developments. This statement applies to a wide range of anomalies including hermaphrodites, eunuchs, congenital defects, miscarriage and spontaneous abortion, jaundice, and a wide range of functional disorders present at delivery. In part, Caraka states, the mother gets the kind of infant her mind is attracted to during conception and throughout gestation. Emotions play a profound role in the health of the fetus, too. Bhela, Vi. IV.12-16, states that diet and lifestyle factors having a vata or pitta, or kapha predominance mixes with the oestrus blood and the dosha to determine the constitution. The following verses (17-27) describe the psycho-physiological traits for mono-doshic types.
The health of the male parent determines the condition or vitality of his sperm. The tissues of the fetus are linked to the parents in a special way. In this way excellence of health in progeny is linked to the health of the parents at the time of conception. The parts or tissues in the fetus linked to the father are bone, teeth, nails, veins, ligaments, hair—bodily, head, facial, and semen. The condition of body parts and tissues—skin, blood, flesh, fat, navel, heart, pancreas, liver, spleen, kidneys, bladder, colon, stomach, intestines, rectum, anus, omentum, and mesentery relate primarily to the mother. Ca. Sa. III.6 But interestingly, Caraka states that the area of past life karma for the parents is yielded into their seed and ovum. Each of the 4 maha bhutas (referring to the 5 elements), except space element, contribute in this way to the attributes of the fetus. Ca. Sa. II.23-27.
The element of time as a determinant of prakriti involves time of day of conception, the season, the maha yuga, lunar phase, the odd or even day of conception measured from the onset of menses, and so on. A child conceived during the summer when pitta is aggravated, in nature and parents both, tends to produce pitta predominance in the progeny. This applies to vata for fall conceptions and kapha for winter and spring conceptions. If the duration of the pregnancy is long or short this affects the health of the child especially in significantly premature births. A child born in kaliyuga—the epoch operating for the past 2 millennia—will be covered by much ignorance and ill health compared to satya yuga, for example. Satya yuga was a period of human existence blessed with perfection in health, happiness, and godliness. Some feel that the full lunar phase represents female energy and the new moon relates to solar (male) energy. Lunar energy is associated with tendency for female progeny to arise and solar energy gives rise to male child. Odd days of the menstrual cycle are associated with giving birth to male progeny and female progeny ensue when conception occurs on even days following menses.
The diet and life style of the mother convey a continuing theme of influence on the fetal development. If there is harmony, happiness, balanced rest and activity, proper diet the infant will thrive in the womb. If there is constant change in the life of the mother then this will adversely affect the fetus. Foods of spicy, sour, and salty quality will ten to promote jaundice in the fetus, for example. Caraka lists a wide range of outcomes relating to the lifestyle and diet of the mother.
The final determinant in this list, the Self, is quite important, too. It carries the memory of all past life sensations, emotions, and experiences. The memory of all past life deeds is found in the mind, which resides in Self. The status of mind, sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic (pure, active or attached to stimulants, or dull, inert, and insensitive) plays a large role in determining how the present rebirth will be conducted. The manner of intellect, thoughts, emotions, speech, and behavior are all governed by the state of mind. And this is determined by past life incarnations.
In the section on fatal signs--Indriyasthanam I.5--Caraka gives another list of components that affect constitution: caste, e.g. purity among brahmanas; family, e.g. purity with regard to character and conduct in a good family; locality among people of antarvedi region; time, e.g. purity in the satya yuga; age of the patient, e.g. impurity in childhood; the individual, e.g. purity rarely found in some individuals. (PV Sharma gives the list as follows: birth (genetic factor), family, place, time, age, and individuality.) The importance of these factors is to allow for additional considerations that make up cause. In other words, the attributes that are imbued in an individual stem from these elements of life and ultimately express as individuality. These represent cultural forces at play, for example.
Thus Ayurveda supports modern understandings about the field of genetics and its impact upon the progeny. Indeed an entire field of Ayurveda is devoted to improving the seen and ovum—called eugenics. The term most often seen in the translations of the classics is “aphrodisiac.” This is such a poor translation of the Sanskrit term that it only serves to obfuscate the real meaning and importance. The ancients recognized that so many themes are attributed to the area we now call genes and chromosomes. Dispositions to diseases occurring along family lines was well understood—generally attributed to defects of seed or ovum. Above we mentioned the tissues and organs associated with the genes. Races were known along blood lines, generally but no always, tracked according to the maternal side of the family. Blood lines were part of the casts system in ways. Marrying outside of the blood line in India today is frequently frowned upon.
This concept of prakriti also has other implications for present life health and disease. In one way, prakriti represents a predisposition towards having certain systems and tissues act in a very strong and dominating way for a given individual. (In Western herbal traditions this embraces the concept of diathesis.) This can be inferred from the predominance of one dosha over others in the pulse assessment. While this distinction or discernment becomes blurred without pulse a skilled practitioner can use visual cues supplemented by astrological information to help arrive at a proper body type assessment. Hence for those individuals with a single doshic body type the dominant theme represents the strongest of the three. This principle will govern in a more lively, strong way than the others. Whereas, in a dual doshic person two doshas will share the limelight, so to speak. In a triple doshic person, each principle shares equally in governing the physiology and generally this situation guarantees the native a very healthy physical existence. But this type of prakriti is rarely seen by doctors. This may be because they are so rare or because they are so healthy. My mentor, Dr. Lad has observed that he has only seen 1 or 2 triple-doshic prakriti in his entire career.
But on another level stating that a dosha is predominant also gives, because of its natural liveliness, the native a tendency to experience diseases along the lines of the predominant principle. This is true because the energy of the dominant theme is so lively that it takes less disturbance in a way for it to go out of balance. Hence, a pitta person will tend to manifest inflammatory changes, rashes, ulcers, infection, and so on more readily than signs and symptoms of vata or kapha.
There is a variety of terms used in Ayurvedic circles to describe the body type that presents at the time of observation of the patient—deha prakriti, janma prakri, dosha prakriti are three common ones. Dr. Vasant Lad uses the term janma to refer to the status of the infant determined at the time of conception. It might include past life karmic themes as well as the genetic themes from the parents. Another term, deha prakriti, is sometimes used to describe the condition of the body as it is now. Thus at the time of birth we might find congenital defects, or in an adult we might find a long term imbalance. In either case, this prakriti is the one the mind and body relate to, have adapted to and become content with. It represents a deviation from the original blueprint but the person does not perceive much discomfort about it. The doshas have adjusted to the imbalance and govern the physiology as if it’s ok. Thus there are times that an imbalance is so chronic and deep in the physiology that the pulse examination does not find the true / original information. And since knowledge of pulse is so rare most vaidyas have only visual cues for body typing assessment. Thus many vaidyas treat the presentation as the real parkriti. This may pose a dilemma for both the patient and the practitioner is the imbalance changes after some time. Often people will report that they have been told different prakriti’s by the same of different vaidyas. The final term—dosha prakriti—is sometimes found in works of modern writers. There seems to be little use in the distinction as often is relates to temporary imbalances of the doshas that one treats as disease.
Finally, there is in the classical texts some reference to the doshic terms but with certain suffixes—“ka/ja” and “la.” When reading these terms—vatala, pittala, kaphala (aka shleshmala)—for example, one should infer that the writer is describing the prakriti in the sense of the person’s nature. Vatala means that person has a vata constitution. The vataka, paittaka, and kaphaja terms refer to a way to represent the imbalance of the person—in effect calling the person’s doshic imbalance dosha prakriti. This is not really prakriti, as we have defined it—a permanent state of balance. The use of these terms does suggest that those experiencing a substance will find that it acts as agents for aggravating imbalance in the specific dosha. Thus paittaka relates to foods of a spicy or sour nature, etc. that produce imbalance or increase in pitta dosha. Caraka notes that this is a disease of a severe nature—trying to restore health will implement measures that go against the person’s basic nature (see Ca. Vi. VI.12-18).
Ca Su. XXI.18-19 Persons having balanced proportion of muscles, compactness, firmness in organs does not fall prey to disorder. Those having balanced musculature have tolerance for hunger, thirst, sun, cold, and exercise; they possess balanced agni and normal metabolism.
In summary we have explored the origin, meanings, and determinants of the term prakriti. Its roots in philosophical antiquity embrace the notions of balance, permanence, disease predisposition, uniqueness, and cause of all becoming/being and action. Its nature is to create, whether it’s the physical universe or the body of a woman or man. It represents a kind of physiology governed by the relative participation of the three doshas. It affects our mental and emotional being as well as our physical state.
See CA Vi VIII95-97 for description of each
1. Deha – The body & 3 Factors:
a. dhatu sara—tissue essence
b. longevity proportions
c. 8 “despicables”—thin/fat, tall/short, skin color (black/white), hair/no hair
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