Are Doshas Substances Or Energies?

By Dr Raghuram Y. S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B. A. M. S

Doshas, three in number, namely vata, pitta and kapha are present in every part and bit of human body. The 3 Doshas can be understood both as substances and energies. Let us explore in depth before we conclude.

Doshas – substances

Dosha are substances…??

Doshas have been given different zones like vata occupying lower, pitta occupying middle and kapha occupying upper part of body. They are just predominant zones. These zones are meant for gross understanding of doshas.

Likewise, there are five subtypes of each dosha. Each subtype has been allotted a specific anatomical site in body from where they operate and render their functions. Example, prana vata is located in head, avalambaka kapha is located in chest and pachaka pitta is located in stomach. These seats are for understanding dosha distribution and their multi-dimensional functioning. Read – Rasa Panchaka – 5 Qualities Of Substance (Dravya)

When these doshas get aggravated, they are expelled from their sites by administration of cleansing treatments in form of panchakarma treatments.

All these show that doshas are dravyas. Dravyas means substances.

Doshas as energy

Dhoshas are forms of energy…???

Doshas travel from one place of body to other through channels of body. Doshas moving all through body is present in each and every cell. Since they are minute and subtle, they cannot be perceived. Doshas and their presence can be known only through their activities and functions.

Since these doshas are beyond perception, subtle and can only be know through their functions, Ayurvedic scholars are compelled to think doshas in terms of ‘forms of energy’. Read – Prabhava: Special Effect of Herb

Even among three doshas, vata typically behaves as a form of energy rather than a substance. About vata it is said ‘avyakto vyakta karma cha’ which means vata, in spite of not been seen or felt is realized by functions it renders in body. With this property, vata is minute and subtle, beyond thought and perception and proves its presence through its actions. Thus presence of vata in body can be known through inference.

Example, when pieces of paper or dust fly in air, we learn that they are blown away by air, but we cannot see air. Even here, action of wind which makes things fly and mobilize things can be known through these actions, but wind is not perceived since it is invisible, minute and subtle. Read – Vata Dosha – Qualities, Functions, Imbalance – Charaka Sutrasthana 12

This vata controls all activities in body, mobilizes things including pitta and kapha and renders many functions.

Due to these properties of doshas, especially that of vata, a confusion is created. This confusion puts us in duality. Should doshas be considered as substances or forms of energy?

Ayurvedic classics do not accept doshas as forms of energy. They consider doshas as dravyas i. e. substances because they can be substantiated. Characteristic feature of a substance according to Ayurveda is – ‘A substance is that which gives shelter to qualities and functions in it and is also an inseparable or inherent cause of an eventual effect’.

We have heard about cause and effect relationship. An effect will have a cause. Effect can also be considered in terms of ‘work done’. For any work to be done, there are certain efforts in backdrop. A substance is characterized by presence of its peculiar qualities and capability of accomplishing a work, inherent within it. Due to presence of these qualities and functions, substance becomes a mandatory cause for accomplishment of any work.

Doshas also have gunas i. e. qualities and karma i. e. functions – capability of producing a work in them, and are also inherent causes for all functions taking place in body. Therefore ayurveda considers doshas as dravyas i. e. substances and not form of energy. Read – Involvement Of Doshas In Formation Of Organs

Substance form of doshas

Substance form of kapha

Kapha is a substance.

Heaviness, coldness, smoothness, unctuousness, sweetness, sliminess, slowness, softness and density are qualities present in kapha.

Functions like creating unctuousness, holding things together i. e. creating adhesiveness, producing stability, heaviness, virility, strength, immunity, endurance and detachment etc are located in and under control of kapha.

When kapha gets pathologically increased it is eliminated from body by administration of therapeutic emesis. Read – Ayurvedic Panchakarma Treatment: Relation With Dosha

Above said qualities of kapha can be perceived, most of them. Other qualities which cannot be perceived can be known through functions of kapha in body.

Quantity of kapha in body is said to be 6 anjali. 1 anjali is quantity of a substance which fills cavity formed when both hands are brought together, roughly 192 grams measure. Since it is measurable like body tissues like blood etc, it is a substance.

Due to above mentioned criteria, kapha fits into category of a substance. Therefore it is not a form of energy. Energy is by itself a quality and is embedded in some substances. Read – Sankhya Shaareera: Count Of Body Parts As Per Ayurveda

Substance form of pitta

Pitta is also a substance.

Qualities which are present in pitta are unctuousness, heat, intensity, liquidity, sour and pungent tastes and flow.

Functions rendered by pitta in body are enabling good vision and visual perception through eyes, enabling good digestion, causing body temperature, timely hunger and thirst, softness of body, providing colour and complexion and providing intelligence etc. Read – Types Of Doshas And Their Functions

Some qualities of pitta are seen and felt and some other are reflected through their functions in body.

When this pitta increases in body by pathological proportions, it is eliminated from body by administration of therapeutic purgation.

Quantity of normal pitta available in body is said to be 5 anjalis.

Since, like kapha, pitta too can be quantified and has embedded in itself qualities and functions it is obviously a substance. Read – Dosha Chaya, Kopa, Shamana – Accumulation, Aggravation, Auto-pacification

Substance form of vata

Vata is also a substance.

Qualities embedded in vata are dryness, coldness, lightness, minuteness, movement, roughness and not having form and shape. Since vata is shapeless and has mobility, its shape, size and quantity cannot be known. Since it doesn’t have any form, it cannot be perceived by visual perception.

Vata performs functions like bringing about enthusiasm, causing inspiration and expiration, initiating different activities and functions in body, keeping tissues and body elements in balance, excretion of wastes from body etc. This shows that these actions are situated in vata. Read – Understand Vata Dosha By Its Functions

Presence of vata in body can be known from its activities and above mentioned functions. Though vata by itself is not perceived or seen just like air around us in external world, its functions are perceived by sense organs. Some of its qualities are perceived by skin, which is one of predominant site of vata, other qualities are perceived by functions of vata.

When vata gets increased and progresses towards causing pathological manifestations in body, it is expelled from body by administration of medicated enemas.

Quantity of vata is not explained in Ayurveda. In an ancient treatise named Padma Purana, quantity of vata is said to be 1 palaka. This might be possible by measuring all vata in body after solidifying it.

Due to all above mentioned reasons, vata too can be considered as a substance.

Reasons to tell that doshas are not forms of energy

Energy of a substance is always located within related substance and cannot exist independently. Vata, pitta and kapha too exhibit different forms of energy which are concealed in these doshas and are displayed as and when needed for carrying out bodily functions. Thus energy is a quality and doshas are substances which hold them.

If we consider doshas as forms of energy, statements like ‘pittam pachati’ i. e. pitta digests food and ‘vaayuh shoshayati’ i. e. vata dries up everything cannot be made. ‘Digestion’ caused by pitta and ‘dryness’ caused by vata are functions of those doshas respectively. Functions or ability of doing functions reside in doshas but not in a quality like energy, because energy is a quality and it too resides in doshas. Read – Relationship Between Doshas And Digestive Fire

Doshas are made up of sections and proportions, just like a substance. Thus, doshas have form. This is because when doshas decrease or increase, they are proportionally decreased or increased. These doshas should be brought to normalcy by proportionally increasing decreased doshas and proportionally depleting increased doshas by administering suitable foods, lifestyle changes and medicines. If doshas weren’t substances they couldn’t have been replaced through addition and depletion. Read – Importance Of Diet (Pathya) For Specific Diseases

Only those substances which can be numbered have form. Converse is also true. Doshas are three in number. Thus we have numbered doshas. Therefore they have form. Thus, they are substances and not just forms of energy.

In Ayurvedic classics specific seats have been mentioned for specific doshas and their subtypes. Doshas occupy and stay in mentioned seats, tissues or visceral organs. Occupying given spaces is specific nature of substances. If doshas were not substances, they would not occupy space. Therefore three doshas are substances. Read – Kapha Dosha Dominant Places in Our Body

Doshas also have weight of their own. Only those substances with weight are heavier or lighter in comparison to other substances. Heaviness and lightness are qualities of doshas, like vata and pitta are light and kapha is heavy in quality. Due to presence of these qualities doshas are considered as substances.

Doshas can be perceived by sense organs like other substances. Therefore they are substances. Those substances which can be perceived by sense organs are materials, have form, are heavy, compact and composed of mass. Since substances are materials, they have specific shape and appearance. Since pitta and kapha are materials, their form can be perceived and known through eyes. Vata doesn’t have form; therefore it is shapeless. Therefore it cannot be perceived by eyes. In fact it can be perceived by skin, i. e. through touch sensation. Vata being minute in nature is invisible. But vata can be known through its functions. Read – Relation Between Doshas, Sense Organs And Perception

Three doshas are made up of five elements of nature. Five elements of nature are substances. Therefore something made up of substances is also a substance. Thus, doshas are substances and not form of energy.

Dosha Dravyatva – Substance Nature Of Doshas

Classical references

3. Understanding the doshas from the classical references regarding their form – Pitta and kapha have forms, vata is formless – Seeing the composition of the doshas, it looks like kapha and pitta have structure. On the other hand, vata will not have shape and structure. It is formless. Though invisible, the functions of vata display its presence and significance in the body. In fact the unseen vata is said to be the controller of all activities in the body. We can understand this concept from classical references.

Pitta is said to have drava i.e. liquid form. Apart from this it is unctuous, hot, has foul smell and flows. Kapha is said to be a semisolid substance, it is smooth, unctuous and cold. These qualities are those which can be visible or felt. This explains pitta and kapha as substances with form.
Read – How To Balance Pitta Kapha Dosha? 6 Factors To Consider

4. Understanding the substance nature of doshas from the classical reference of quantity of doshas – Quantity of doshas has been mentioned. The quantity of normal and balanced kapha is said to be 6 anjali and that of pitta is 5 anjali. Vata quantity has not been specified because it is all pervading and is present everywhere, like the wind. Anjali pramana is the unit of measurement of liquid substances in Ayurveda. The quantity which fits into each individual’s anjali i.e. both hands (palms) joined together to form a cavity is called 1 anjali.
Read – Anjali Pramana: Volume Measurement As Per Ayurveda

Anatomical view

5. Understanding the substance form of doshas from anatomical location point of view – Doshas and their subtypes have been allotted with specific locations in the body. Locations and seats for all the doshas has been mentioned in the classics. Specific locations for dosha subtypes too have been mentioned. This means to tell that the doshas should have shape and they take the shape and size of the organ or tissue they occupy. Predominant seat for vata, pitta and kapha have been mentioned to be colon, navel and chest respectively. Other seats are also mentioned. Giving examples of subtypes of doshas, prana vata is said to be located in the head, bhrajaka pitta in the skin and shleshaka kapha in the bony joints. Similarly the seats of all five subtypes of vata, pitta and kapha have been specified. Thus, doshas are always in relation to certain anatomical structures of the body including the organs, spaces, channels and tissues. Doshas are all pervading. It is said that the doshas travel in all the channels of the body and hence are capable of carrying out their normal duties. When the moving doshas are blocked somewhere in the body due to the structural deformities of the channels of the body, the doshas get lodged in the tissues making up those channels and cause many diseases.
Read – Are Doshas Substances Or Energies?

Vata, pitta and kapha, each dosha has five subtypes. These subtypes too have specified locations in the body. They have local importance and defined roles to play in the body. The qualities and functions of the dosha subtypes stick to the norms of the mother dosha. The variability of their functions depends on the location in which they are seated, the organs and tissues that location is made up of and the type of action needed of them.

6. Understanding substance nature of doshas from the concept of residence-resident relationship between tissues and doshas – Doshas occupy and reside in the tissues and excreta of the body. This theory is further substantiated by the concept of ashraya ashrayi bhava i.e. the relationship of the tissues and doshas in a relationship of the residence and resident wherein the tissues are the residences and doshas are the residents. Vata is located in the bones. Pitta is located in the blood and sweat. Kapha is located in lymph, muscles, fat, bone marrow, semen, urine and feces. The tissues are structural components of the body and have form. The doshas occupying the tissues too take up the shape and size of the tissues. The quality and quantity of doshas in the tissues too should be balanced for the maintenance of health of the tissues. Increase or decrease of doshas inside the tissues will lead to pathological damage of the tissues.
Read – Dhatu – 7 Body Tissues As Explained In Ayurveda

Physiological, Pathological Views

7. Understanding the substance nature and authority of doshas through the physiological and pathological perspectives

The presence and participation of doshas in all the activities of the body be it normal or abnormal, be it physiological or pathological, can be known and understood through knowledge gained through inference. Proper understanding the qualities, functions, signs of increase and decrease, signs of balance and actions will help in knowing the status and behavior of doshas in the body.

The collective presence of the qualities and actions of a dosha indicates its presence. When there is abnormal increase in total or partial qualities and functions of the dosha indicates their hyperactivity. This is a pathological state and demands intervention. On the other hand if there is decrease in qualities and functions of a dosha, it indicates its hypo-functioning. This condition may not require treatment but the doshas need to be balanced, individually and relatively with other doshas too.
Read – Natural Dosha Increase During Day And Night

Example –

  • Increase dryness of the skin indicates that vata has increased; in fact the dryness quality of vata has increased. On the other hand there may be relative decrease in the unctuous quality of pitta and moistness of kapha which protect the skin from consequences of excessive dryness. If there is laxity of joints or limbs and if there are excessive and uncontrolled movements, the movement quality of vata has increased. On the other side, the stability quality of kapha is decreased.
  • If there is burning sensation or raised heat in particular part of the body, like a bony joint, the pitta, mainly its heat quality is increased. Similarly if the digestion capacity of a person has decreased, the food digesting action of pitta has become less or imbalanced. If there is excessive coldness of the skin and the temperature is below normal, pitta, mainly the heat quality of pitta has decreased. On the other hand, vata or kapha might have relatively increased.
  • If there is heaviness in the head, kapha has increased, mainly the heaviness quality of the kapha. If the joints have become weak and instable, the action of kapha to keep the joints stable has decreased. Also the stability quality of kapha might have decreased. On the contrary vata will be increased in the joints relatively leading to their degeneration, laxity of joints, flabby muscles and increased involuntary movements.
    Read – Abnormal Vitiation Of Doshas – Vaikruta Dosha Dushti

8. Understanding the substance nature of doshas from the normal and abnormal color manifestations of the doshas – Abnormal manifestation of color in skin, urine, feces, eyes and nails enables the physician to diagnose the imbalances of doshas in the body. Turmeric color in the body structures indicated abnormal increase of pitta and diagnosis of conditions like jaundice. Similarly excessive blackish or grayish discoloration depicts increase of vata and excessive whiteness indicates kapha aggravation of the body. Thus the doshas can change colors by interacting and reacting with various tissues and components of the body. This shows that the doshas are substances which tend to cause reactions.
Read – Independent And Dependent Dosha Imbalance – Explanation, Example

Therapeutic View

9. Understanding the substance nature of doshas from therapeutic angle – Therapeutic emesis and therapeutic purgation are the best treatments for vitiated kapha and pitta respectively. One of the classical parameters for accessing proper expulsion of kapha in emesis is the visibility of pitta at the end of emesis. It is said that the emesis shall be stopped when pitta is seen. Similarly one of the parameters for accessing proper expulsion of pitta in purgation is the visibility of kapha at the end of purgation, in the motion. It is said that the purgation shall be stopped when kapha is seen in defecation. These are the classical references to tell that kapha and pitta are substances having form and can be seen.

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