The Three Great Cosmic Forces

The Doshas

Courtesy of Dr. David Frawley

The Doshas

Used with permission from Dr. David Frawley.


The Three Great Cosmic Forces

According to the Ancient Vedic seers, there are three basic forces in existence. First is a principle of energy that gives movement, velocity, direction, animation, and motivation. Life is nothing but a play of forces, continually changing and interacting. As modern science confirms, matter is energy and what seems solid is a static appearance of innumerable, subtle moving currents.

The energy of life is called Prana, meaning the primal breath or life-force. All energy follows a movement of inhalation and exhalation like the breath, expanding and contracting in a perpetual ebb and flow. All material energy is a development of the power of life itself. Energy is life and even an inanimate energy holds a secret life-force. The ancient seers perceived the energy of the universe as the manifestation of Prana, ever seeking greater awareness, freedom and creative unfoldment.

Hidden in all energy is the working of a conscious will. Energy is will in action in the outer world. Behind will is sentience or consciousness as the power of determination. Prana is also the Purusha; energy is also the primal spirit. Life itself is being, the consciousness principle. There s an inner working of intelligence behind the movement of energy in the world. This natural or organic intelligence is conscious and sure in its plan and method; not by choice or intention but intuitively and spontaneously as a movement of pure beauty and harmony. Its glory is manifest in all nature, from the flowers to the stars. The second of the triad of primal forces is a principle of light or radiance. Energy is light, Jyoti. Energy, as it moves, undergoes transformation, and gives off light and heat. Energy is an electrical force, which like lightning has its own luminosity. There is a natural warmth to all life and a natural light behind all energy. Behind all life is a principle of perception, a transparency that manifests as intelligence and consciousness. In all chemical reactions is concealed the power of light as the ability of consciousness to transform itself. Within the first spark is latent the light of the highest awareness. This principle of light goes along with life and guides its function.

The third of these forces is a principle of cohesion that allows for consistency and the development of form. Behind all manifestation is a common unity. There is an interlinking of forces into a single rhythm. There is an affinity of forces that links them together in one great harmony. This cohesiveness is not only a chemical property; it also reveals a conscious intent. It manifests the power of love, Prema. Love is the real force that holds all things together. Love unfolds the manifestation and ensures its continuity, sustaining all crteatures in their life and awareness.

These three principles are one--life is light, which is also love. The energetic principle (life) possesses a radiance (light), which in turn has a bonding power (love). We mus ever seek greater life, light and love because this is the nature of the universe itself.

In the Vedas, the great god Indra, the dragon slayer and wielder of the vajra (thunderbolt), symbolizes the power of life that can overcome all obstacles. The spirit of life is Agni, the god of fire, the divinity of vision and of sacrifice who upholds all transformations. The spirit of life is Soma, the nectar of immortality that gives nourishment and delight to all. Hidden in cryptic Vedic mantras is the primal code of cosmic law, the key to the universal force on all its levels. Through these Vedic mantras we can learn to balance and control the forces of life. This not only creates health but also gives the basis for rejuvenation of the mind and the transformation of consciousness. These three forces of life, light and love relate to the three great elements of air, fire and water. According to ancient mythology, in the beginning Heaven and Earth were one. There was no space between them for creatures to live. Then, by the will of the Creator, the gods came into being and separated Heaven and Earth, drawing apart the two firmaments. In the space between Heaven and Earth, the gods set in motion the life-force to give room for creatures to grow. This life-force became the atmosphere in which the elements of air, fire and water as wind, sun and rain provide for the development of life.


The Three Doshas

Ayurveda recognizes three primary life-forces in the bod, or three biological humors called VataPitta and Kapha, which correspond to the elements of air, fire and water. As the active or mobile elements, they determine the life processes of growth and decay.

The Ayurvedic term for humor is dosha, meaning that which darkens, spoils or causes things to decay. When outof balance, the doshas are the causative forces behind the disease process.


VATA is the biological air humor, also translated as wind. It means 'that which moves things'. Vata dosha is the motivating force behind the other two doshas, which are 'lame', incapable of movement without it. It governs sensory and mental balance and orientation, and promotes mental adaptability and comprehension.

PITTA is the biological fire humor, also translated as bile. Its meaning is 'that which digests things'. Pitta dosha is responsible for all chemical and metabolic transformations in the body. It also governs our mental digestion, our capacity to perceive realtity and understand things as they are.

KAPHA is the biological water humor, also translated as phlegm. It means 'that which holds things together.' Kapha dosha provides substance and gives support, and makes up the bulk of our bodily tissues. It also provides our emotional support in life, and relates to positive emotional traits like love, compassion, modesty, patience and forgiveness.

 Each dosha exists in a second element that serves as the medium for its manifestation, acting as its container.

VATA, air, is contained in ether. It resides in the empty spaces in the body and fills up the subtle channels.
PITTA, fire, exists in the body as water or oil. It exists mainly in an acid form, as fire cannot exist directly in the body without destroying it.
KAPHA, water, exists in the medium of earth, which contains it. Our physical composition is mainly water contained within the boundaries of our skin and mucus membranes (earth).


Qualities of the Doshas

Each dosha has its primary qualities according to which we recognize them. An excess or deficiency of these qualities indicates an excess or deficiency of the particular dosha. This, in turn, brings about various pathological changes. According to Vagbhatta, one of the great Ayurvedic commentators:


Vata is dry, light, cold, rough, subtle and agitated in qualities.

Pitta is a little oily, is sharp, hot, light, unpleasant in odor, mobile and liquid.

Kapha is wet, cold, heavy, dull, sticky, soft and firm.

Ashtanga Hridaya I. 11-12


Each dosha has one major quality of its own and shares another quality with one of the other two doshas. However, in terms of shared qualities there is a difference. Vata as air is lighter than Pitta as fire. Vata as air is colder than Kapha as water. Kapha as water is is moister than Pitta, which has an oily quality (blood and acids).


Prime Attributes of the Doshas














Actions of the Doshas

Their actions, on both the body and the mind, are described as follows:


The root of the doshas, tissues and waste materials of the body is Vata. In its natural state it sustains effort, exhalation, inhalation, movement and the discharge of impulses, the equilibrium of the tissues, and the coordination of the senses.

Pitta governs digestion, heat, visual perception, hunger, thirst, luster, complexion, understanding, intelligence, courage and softness of the body.

Kapha gives stability, lubrication, holding together of the joints and such qualities as patience.

Ashtanga Hridaya XI. 1-3


VATA is the most important or primary of the threebiological humors. It governs the other two and is responsible for all physial processes in general. For this reason, disturbances in Vata have more severe implications than the other two doshas, affecting the mind as well as the entire physical body. The quality of our life, through our care of the life-force, is the primary factor in both health and disease.

PITTA governs all aspects and levels of light and warmth in the body and mind. KAPHA is the material substratum and support of the other two doshas and also gives stability yo our emotional nature.


Aggravated States of the Doshas

When aggravated, the doshas give rise to various symptoms and various diseases.


Vata in excess causes emaciation, debility, liking of warmth, tremors, distention and constipaton, as well as insomnia, sensory disorientation, incoherent speech, dizziness, confusion and depression.

Pitta in excess causes yellow color of stool, urine, eyes and skin, as well as hunger, thirst, burning sensation and difficulty sleeping.

Kapha causes depression of the digestive fire, nausea, lethargy, heaviness, white color, chills, looseness of the limbs, cough, difficult breathing and excessive sleeping.

Ashtanga Hridaya XI. 6-8


HIGH VATA (high air) results in the prana and the mind losing their connection with the body, causing decay and loss of coordination. There is hyperactivity at the expense of the vital fluids and the physical body begins to waste away.

HIGH PITTA (high fire) results in the accumulation of internal heat or fever, with inflammation and infections. We literally begin to burn ourselves up.

HIGH KAPHA (high water) results in the accumulation of weight and gravity in the body, which inhibits normal function and causes hypoactivity through excess tissue accumulation.


Sites of the Doshas

Each dosha has its respective site in the body.


Vata (air) is located in the colon, thighs, hips, ears, bones and organ of touch. Its primary site is the colon.

Pitta (fire) is located in the small intestine, stomach, sweat, sebaceous glands, blood, lymph and the organ of vision. Its primary site is the small intestine.

Kapha (water) is located in the chest, throat, head, pancreas, sides, stomach, lymph, fat, nose and tongue. Its primary site is the stomach.



Bodily Systems

The human body is composed of innumerable channels that supply the various tissues of the body. The Sanskrit word for such channels is srotas, with the plural being srotamsi. Health consists of the proper flow through these channels. Disease is improper flow, which may be excessive, deficient, blockage, or flow out of the proper channel altogether. The excess doshasmove into the channels causing these various wrong flows. The channes are similar to the different physiological systems of Western medicine but also contain subtler energy fields such as the meridian system of Chinese medicine. A complex symptomology of channel system-disorders exists in Ayurveda. Diseases are classified according to the systems they involve. Examination of the channels by various diagnostic measures is one of the main tools for determining the nature and power of disease.

Three channels connect with the outside environment and bring nourishment into the body in the form of breath, food and water. Seven channels supply the seven tissues of the body.

Three additional channels connect to the outside world and allow for the elimination of substances from the body. The waste product of breath is sweat, that of food is feces, and that of water is urine. These three waste materials are called the three Malas and they can also be damaged or obstructed by excess accumulations of the doshas.

The mind exists as a special system. It connects to the nevous system (majjavaha srotas) and the reproductive system (shukravaha srotas). The movement of energy in all the channels depends upon the stimulus that arises from the mind.


The Channel Systems (Srotamsi)


Channels that carry Prana, the breath or life-force, primarily the respiratory system and circulatory system

Originates in the heart and the g.i. tract, primarily the colon


Channels that carry food, the digestive system

Originates in the stomach and left side of the body


Channels that carry water or regulate water metabolism

Originates in the palate and pancreas


Channels that carry plasma (rasa), the lymphatic system

Originates in heart and blood vessels


Channels that carry blood (rakta), circulatory system

Originates in the liver and spleen


Channels that supply muscles (mamsa), the muscular system

Originates in the ligaments and skin


Channels that supply fat or adipose tissue (medas), the adipose system

Originates in the kidneys and omentum


Channels that supply the bones (asthi), the skeletal system

Originates in adipose tissue and the hips


Channels that supply the marrow and nerve tissue (majja), mainly the nervous system

Originates in the bones and joints


Channels that supply the reproductive tissue (shukra), the reproductive system

Originates in the testes or the uterus


Channels that carry sweat (sveda), the sebaceous system

Originates in adipose tissue and the hair follicles


Channels that carry feces (purisha), the excretory system

Originates in the colon and rectum


Channels that carry urine (mutra), the urinary system

Originates in the bladder and kidneys


Channels that carry thought, the mental system

Originates in the heart