Hinduism on Health and Illness

India is home to one of the oldest still functioning medical traditions in the world. Ayurveda medicine, dating back to the first millennium BCE, is practiced in India today as it is around the world, promoting the goal of longevity through good health. It is linked back to basic metaphysical assumptions—that the human body is homologous with the universe, and that a microcosmic and macrocosmic correspondence of elements determines our well-being. Health, then, reflects a proper balance and a smooth functioning of the body, and medical practice seeks to promote this balance by means of nutrition and a minimum level of invasive intervention. Other ancient healing traditions in India were more magical and recognized the work of invisible powers in the health of humans. Healing was thus a matter of incantations, sorcery, and magical manipulations—not as a replacement for but as a supplement to the use of herbs, medicinal plants, and proper nutrition. Although the doctrine of karma appears to link illness with sin, equating bad health with the consequences of evil committed in a previous life, the pursuit of spiritual goals does not overshadow the value of medical practice in the Hindu tradition.