Human beings understand life through models or symbols. True reality is too difficult to comprehend: who can grasp and process the infinite number of events that occur in even a single second? So we filter, we generalize, and we create models to represent reality in simplified forms. In essence, we make life comprehensible.

All systems of thought or philosophies are models for reality. They are not reality, they are symbolic representations of reality. Ayurveda is a philosophical system and a model for the human body. It uses the forces and elements of nature as symbols to represent the forces and elements of the body. In doing so, it makes the body comprehensible, and it reveals and illuminates the interconnectedness of all things.

When learning about Ayurveda, or any philosophical system, it is important to remember the difference between model and reality. When we say that the Pitta body type is composed of fire and water, there is no need to summon the fire department. What we mean is that the characteristics of fire and water are analogous to the Pitta body type.

A great philosopher once said it quite succinctly, although he was referring not to Ayurveda, but to Buddhism. He said: The words of the Buddha are but a finger pointing at the moon. Pay no attention to the finger, look at the moon.

The symbolic elements of Ayurveda are but fingers pointing at the true reality of life. Pay no attention to the symbols, learn about life.

Let us begin your journey into the world of Ayurveda with a discussion of the panchamahabhutas, the five elements that represent all of creation.