Interview with Atreya 24 Jan 2016

A young French man named Guillaume Laflaquiere asked to interview me. As we where not able to do this in person, or on Skype (because one of us was always in India) we have done the interview on paper. Here it is:

Hello Vaidya Atreya Smith, you studied Ayurveda since 1987 and you teach Ayurveda since 1998. Your teacher gave you the title of Vaidya (the meaning is who knows Ayurveda) in 2005. Also you have studied biology and Jyotish (astrology).

Actually, in October 1994 I arrived in Paris with 200 US dollars, 40 kg of Indian books and two suitcases of Indian clothes (Kurta). I did not speak French and the only skill I had that would adapt to Europe was Ayurveda. So I began practicing and teaching Ayurveda in January 1995 in France and Switzerland. I started my own school in 1998 after three years of teaching for other schools or institutes.

I would like to know more about your plans because you said on that you will start some research about Ayurvedic herbs, can you tell us a little more about that?

I was born in Santa Monica, California and when I was 12 years old my family moved to Hawaii. I have lived two times as an adult in Hawaii, in fact I was living on Maui before I moved to India in 1987. So I want to study and classify Polynesian and tropical botanicals according to Ayurveda. This is the same work I started in Europe in 1995 – to classify European food and medicinal plants according to Ayurveda. This time I want to dedicate the next 20 years to the place where I grew up and that I still feel is home to me in many ways. It is important to give something back to nature, to the environment that nurtured us as children because it completes a cycle of karma.

Also I would like to know what are your suggestions for somebody who wants to become an Ayurvedic practitioner?

The only way to become a practitioner of Ayurveda is to practice Ayurveda. This means first and foremost to live Ayurveda yourself – not in a dogmatic manner, but as a joyful discovery of what makes you healthy and happy. The second step is to share it with other people. People are not stupid and feel intuitively if you live what you are advising them; if you don’t live Ayurveda people will sense it and your practice will fail. Having teachers is useful, I have had many teachers. The most important teachers I have ever had and will ever have are my patients. My patients have taught me more than any doctor I have worked with in the last 29 years.

The most important advice I got in 1996 from a famous Ayurveda doctor, Vaidya Ashvin Barot, when I moved to Europe was: “Don’t listen to anyone, read the classics and try to understand them. Then make your own experience”. I have found this advice to be the best that I have received from any Ayurvedic doctor in the last 29 years.

What is the best things to learn first and the good attitude to have?

The most important thing you want to learn professionally is humility. Life is too vast and complex to understand. It is the same with the human body and pathology. Hence, if you go into the profession of Ayurveda being humble and inquisitive will help you more than anything else.

The first thing to learn is Ayurvedic anatomy and physiology. Without a good understanding of this it is impossible to diagnose the patient correctly. Everything else comes with practice.

How much study time does it take to be practitioner?

Ayurveda is the science of life. This is like asking when will I understand life? After 29 years of studying, working in and teaching Ayurveda I can say that I am slowly understanding a few things. I will study Ayurveda, and practice Ayurveda, my whole life. Ayurveda has taken hold of me and guides me. So I would advise anyone wanting to study Ayurveda to study until Ayurveda takes hold of your life and being – this is what we call when the Vidya, or Ayurvedavidya dawns on you. When we become worthy of this beautiful science then the Ayurvedavidya will take hold of us, guide us and give us knowledge. How long this takes is not important. What is important is to have enough humility and to study hard enough the basics to be chosen by the Vidyas.

What can I learn with your program?

Whatever Indian science I teach it always begins with the basic principles. These have to be memorized and understood. No teacher can teach you to be a practitioner of Ayurveda – anyone who tells you this is either ignorant or trying to fool you. To be a practitioner you only need to work with people, be humble and try to learn from everyone and everything in life. What is enormously helpful in this journey is a good foundation in basic concepts and rules of Ayurveda. This is what I teach and what we published in books for French speaking people in 5 volumes. Additionally, my wife has helped me publish 14 books in English over the last twenty-one years. At this time in my life I will continue to teach for a few more years in English and French.

Have you got something you want to share with us?

My advice to anyone who wants to learn Ayurveda is:
1. Look for teacher who lives what they teach, not someone who smokes and lies to people.
2. Look for a teach who practices Ayurveda professionally, not someone who just gives simple dietary advice like telling everyone to eat khichari.
3. Look for someone who has lived in India, not someone who went once or twice to do a course.

The main problem in all medical sciences is the gap between the intellectual who studies and ends up as an academic, and the clinical practitioner who is not an academic, but is able to help relieve the suffering of humanity by removing the pathology. Therefore, as a student your main search should be to find a clinician, because this is the person who will help you to help humanity. That is, after all why we want to be Ayurvedic practitioners.

Hari Om

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