Finding The Balance Between Profit + Practicing Ayurveda

This was what was given to me as a title for an article exploring, I suppose, a question or even a dilemma over the personal profit from and the impersonal aspect of practicing Ayurveda as our service (seva).

Of course, I immediately went to Charaka and his Code of Ethics for the impersonal answer and more on that in a minute.

But when it came to the personal, I was understandably reminded of my own beginnings. My teacher was very gracious to me and I studied for pennies. Thus when I hung up my own shingle, I proudly wanted to do the same and welcomed the penniless with free consults and advice. It was for naught 99% of the time. And it left me impoverished financially as well as in despair. No one took my advice seriously.

So there is the question of the ethics of the client to consider too. In this case, their relationship with dharma. Now, dharma is an interesting word, loaded with meanings, including, in this case, the duty of a client towards their own wellbeing.

While I had very little success with the free consults, my paying clients were doing rather well.

Was the value of dharma being distorted by our societal neurotic relationship with money? Were we so driven by money as the only form of respectable exchange of energy, that given a free consult meant it had no value?

I know that in India, where I came from, it would have been quite the opposite. This gift I was able to give would have put such a burden on the patient that they would do everything in their power to heal so that my faith in them was validated.

Now let us digress to Charaka and the ancient codes of Ayurvedic Ethics.

Charaka Samhita along with Sushruta Samhita and other Ayurvedic texts do talk quite a bit about this but the one phrase that really hit home for me was this: ‘those who trade their medical skills for personal livelihood can be considered as collecting a pile of dust, leaving aside the heap of real gold’.

Somewhere between this personal and the larger picture lies the ability to both make a profitable livelihood out of your work and a successful practice in helping others heal their life experiences. If our motivation is primarily one of fostering better wellbeing for others, then as per the yogic theory of karma, you will indeed reap personal wealth.

It is just that we are often in too much of a hurry to see the results. I struggled for years in a very successful (for the clients) practice but I trained myself to let that be my reward. It was never that I suffered for money; it is more that I made do with what I got. And every morning I offered thanks that my practice put a roof over my head and food on my plate. Over the years the money increased and today I marvel that I still choose to live under the same roof and eat the same food.

So, what do Charaka and company have to say about these ethical questions?

Well, Charaka for one can be rather lofty in goal setting for an Ayurvedic physician/practitioner: ‘she who regards kindness to humanity as her supreme religion and treats her patients accordingly, succeeds best in achieving her aims of life and obtains the greatest pleasures’.

Sushruta does no less. An Ayurvedic physician must be one of whom it can be said… ‘the patient may doubt his relatives, his sons and even his parents but he has full faith in the physician. He [the patient] gives himself up in the doctor’s hand and has no misgivings about her. Therefore, it is the physician’s duty to look after him as her own son’.

(The changes to these texts are mine and reflect the growing reality that many in our Ayurvedic world of practitioners-no physicians in America by law- are now female.)

So after I learned to start charging even those who came to me begging impoverishment, I found my middle ground. I made it a rule that no matter what, they had to raise the money for their initial consult. That they would follow through on their wellness plans and if they found value in it, I would then work with them on a sliding scale. I have had to use this sliding scale less and less as somehow once they find value in our work together, they find also that abundance is coming their way once more and they rarely need to use the sliding scale. Which quite often, I continue to give to them anyway.

Lest we forget that healing is a universal language and doctors/healers of all nations and teachings have often used ethical codes as their guides over the desire for financial gain, Sir William Osler, a founding father of John Hopkins and an eternal prankster, told that “the physician must be friend, philosopher, well-wisher and guide of the patient and the family under his care”.

To put things even more in perspective, we have come very far from the manner in which the ancient physician made a living. We have heard it told that the physician of then would not even charge the patient! If the patient got better, then out of gratitude he would make a donation, not always large and not always small either!

In fact there was a set commission for what a vaidya could charge as per the medicine he made and many Ayurvedic physicians in India still follow this. Later as the making of medicines moved out to medicine shops, he made his commission off of what they charged his patient and no more.

Finding the balance between making a profitable livelihood and following our dharma can be very simple. Follow the Ayurvedic principles for yourself. It is not how you profit monetarily but the abundant satisfaction you get when your client regains some wellbeing that should be your reward. In time, with patience, the karma of this reward will spill into your own financial wellbeing.

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