4.1 Health – A Dynamic Equilibrium


The past few decades have seen rapidly changing concepts of health. While the ancients could never view health in isolation and a human being as an egocentric special something, standing apart from the world, the last couple of centuries have become obsessed with the illness concept of health almost exclusively. The extreme reductionism of modern life sciences has also led to an overemphasis of such an isolation of ‘a part against the whole’, demanding an exclusive study.

All this has led to an extremely mechanistic or an almost a mechanistic view of life. According to this view, life is a machine, grossly physical with nuts and bolts to be replaced or overhauled, as and when wear and tear takes place. While the wisdom of the past had extended life not only to man’s immediate surroundings but also to the sun, the moon, the planets and the whole cosmos, the current preoccupation has been with a narrower and still narrower view of life. This has been further exaggerated by the modern tendency to specialise and overspecialize, whereby the same symptom means different things to different specialists and albeit even gets cured equally well or equally badly by them. Even among the super-specialists there is such a disagreement that it will be no exaggeration to say that the doctors today are becoming less comfortable with the living patient and are more at ease while dealing with dead tissues, observing their pathologies under the microscope. Let us examine some of these issues.


The Rhythms

The body is one. Indeed all matter, as we know, is one. If matter is taken to be the basis of all life, then physics is its philosophy. But the physics of today has already entered into a dimension of wholeness, whereby all is being viewed as a dynamic interaction between energy and matter. Matter, they say, materializes and dematerializes and changes from one form to another. Forms disappear into energy, energy flows in a vast arena of space, and space itself is valid only on the huge frame of time. Various forces and radiations are visualised that play with one another in an indivisible unity. Modern physics sounds as abstract as the ancient mystic’s metaphor — ‘All is a dance and a rhythm of the universal shakti that manifests the worlds and absorbs them again’. Where is the rhythm in the human body? And if so, what is its nature? Let us turn to the body itself for an answer.

There is an internal rhythm as we know. This is largely constituted by the hormones or the ‘rasa’, the principle of water, that regulates it. The internal rhythm in turn is influenced by the external rhythm of the environmental world around. There is also the rhythm of sleeping and waking, the process of expansion and contraction of the lungs, the beating of the heart and finally the rhythm of life and death — all, internal, dancing in accordance to their own cadence.

Now what determines these rhythms? In fact, the larger outlines of the phenomenal universe do represent an order. But the more one dissects and reaches the narrower and the smaller, the more one observes an apparent chaos — almost a total absence of rhythm. One school of thought says that this rhythm is environmental, as, for example, of light and darkness. But there is one striking anomaly. We have all observed at some time or the other that we can wake up at a certain time, in fact very precisely, if we consciously ‘will’ it before we sleep. This can easily be tested by anyone. Hence our sleep-wake rhythm can be influenced or is linked to our own thought. Why can’t, by the same extension of logic, our secretions (hormones) and other rhythmic functions be so influenced? That this is so is well demonstrated now by the psychological sciences. Our emotions disturb our rhythm but so can they put them right.[1] Our thoughts can derail our rhythm, but so can they entrain them. Unfortunately while psychiatrists, though few, believe in the former, they are not yet fully sure about the latter. Physicians and surgeons are largely unaware of the impact of our thought and emotions upon our body rhythms, including perhaps the rhythms of falling sick and recovering!


The External Factors

Coming back to the forces around us (that regulate our inner balance), we know of only physical ones like temperature, light, wind and humidity. But why not the earth and the moon? Indeed Leiber’s observation that lunar cycles do influence the mind is not all that presumptuous. Already a ‘concerted’ thought is emerging that drugs (e.g. lithium and other antidepressants) could be effecting a cure by re-establishing such a bodily rhythm.[2] And then, why not presume that the everyday human interactions and interaction with plants and animals could also influence our body? All that we experience mentally, consciously, does call for an adaptive integration. But even all that we do not experience consciously by the mind (e.g. radiation, cosmic bombardments) are also detected by a hitherto unknown ‘body consciousness’ and does call for an adaptation. In other words, the body’s equilibrium is not something static. It is constantly being influenced and changed by forces around it and within it, material and immaterial, calling forth at each moment a newer equilibrium. The people, the social matrix, the atmosphere, the environment, the words we read, the smells we experience, the sound signals we receive, the touches that slip past us, nay our very thoughts (if at all they are ours!) and emotions influence us. It is rather surprising that without our being mentally aware of it the body senses all these changes, rejects and eliminates what it should, accepts what it needs, re-organizes and integrates what it has acquired, assimilates the new and then maintains a so-called constancy or ‘homeostasis’ in its milieu interior. That all this is a mechanical, unconscious, unintelligent process arising out of some primordial chance or cosmic necessity at random will is something that would sound like an extravaganza or primitive logic confined to its narrow cave of experience.


The Outer Equilibrium

What are these cosmic forces around us and what are the basic pathways through which the body relates and interacts with its milieu exterior? As regards the cosmic forces, we have just begun to learn that there are several ways of perceiving them. There is a very narrow perception of our crude external senses. These forces are mainly heat, light, sound, electricity, gravitation and finally magnetic or the electromagnetic. Since our organs of observation (with which incidentally all our sciences begin) are grossly limited, it is noteworthy to stress that there do occur two traditional ways of expanding our horizons of observation. The way of the oriental psyche has been to refine these very senses into subtler and sharper grades and develop other means and ways of sensing things. That this is possible is shown not only by the many recorded and living experiences of mystics all over the world but also by the more accepted fact that loss of one sense can be compensated for by another and loss of one area of the brain and its functions can lead to its awakening in other parts of the brain. The other way is that adopted by the occidental psyche. This lays stress on increased refinement of the external aids, the microscopic eye and the radiation sensors. Both have their utilities and limitations. These forces can be broadly divided into the sensible and the supra-sensible. The two may not be exclusive. The sensible and the supra-sensible may and perhaps do coexist, one overriding the other. The sensible exists as a piece of mechanical physicality or substance perceivable by the senses while the supra-sensible exists as a will and conscious intelligence or as an idea behind it. Physics has already started viewing this world as the manifestation of a conscious will. Life sciences too could easily conclude the same. For example, the same form of bacillus can be harmful or useful depending upon the species, the defence system of the body and the environment around. Observing any mechanism in its purely physical aspect without capturing the idea or the will behind it is meaningless. Is a microbe essentially an expression of a kind of harmful will? Is an observed physical change in an organ necessarily a pathology or an adaptive change? Are all the symptoms of illness, namely fever, vomiting, or diarrhoea, signs of illness or an attempt of the body to rebalance itself and thus favourable indications? That these are favourable has been perceived by Ayurveda and Homoeopathy.[3]

The same form can represent illness or health. Thus, the white blood cells can multiply in defence or in malignancy. Of course, certain markers are useful, like altered forms or excessive quantity, denoting again a type of disequilibrium. But the central theme becomes clearer, the idea and the will are more important than the form. If we see the form alone we may be grossly misled. One form of antibacterial is replaced by another. One symptom is suppressed and another emerges. One illness is eradicated and another makes its appearance. While illnesses due to malnutrition are controlled, those due to rich diet appear. The drugs which control cancer also kill the body. In fact, the overuse of drugs has disturbed our body’s natural adaptations so greatly that now life may become impossible without external aids and props — with caffeine to stimulate and arouse and a pill to sedate. Nothing can be more dangerous than this. Few of us realise it or even give a serious thought to it. Yet this was realised by the occult sciences developed in ancient India and Egypt. Helplessly, thrown amidst the vast array of cosmic forces, with no instruments to aid, these great civilizations captured the truth of the will and idea behind the physical world which was often regarded as symbolic. Elaborate systems were developed to manipulate both the physical symbol and the psychological idea. It worked and still works for those who have eyes to observe or care to experiment.


The Bridge of Essential Forces

All this is about the cosmos around us. What about the mediators between the world within and the world without? It is the senses that open us to the vast influences of the world around us. This is very obvious. The next line of communication is the nerve channels which transmit these sense contacts to local and higher nerve centres. Though each organ has a certain degree of independence, the feedback is regulated through nerves and hormones. The nerves use both chemicals — rasa and electricity — vidyut. The blood, lungs and digestive system usually use and produce the element of heat or agni through the various metabolic processes which supply the energy for the body’s dynamic activities. This energy is drawn from outside through the breath and food. Certain medicines and psychological processes can increase or decrease ‘heat’ or agni in its jada (root) form within us. As of date, this is the most important factor needed for all life: the breath that is prana and the agni that is will. The elements of agni or heat interact with the elements of vayu or air and aid the natural flow of rasa or water within the gross body or the prthivi. All these elements are held together in a coordinated manner in Space or akasa.

This space or akasa is not an empty vacuum but contains electrical forces and magnetic elements as well as light and sound. Heat would also naturally produce the element of light as is seen in the aura photographed using the Kirlian methods. Since the cosmos can be classified into various elements as delineated above, a whole field of research of interdependence of the human organism and his world is opened up. In other words, we breathe and draw air as well as take food. These elements of vayu and prthivi are taken up and converted into agni. The agni in turn changes into vidyut which through nerve channels circulates all around and within the body. This vidyut projects itself within the internal and the external akasa. However the occult vision of India goes still further and to a conversion of vidyut into virya or the spiritual energy. In some way we already see among mystics that the opening of spiritual faculties is often related to the capacity of drawing energies directly from space and also the expansion of their aura or electrical field.

These elements can also be psychologically classified. Prthivi may represent stability, dullness, obscurity, heaviness; jala may represent movement, but also consciousness; agni more clearly the will and dynamics; vayu, speech and thought; akasa, the element of expansion and capacity to grow all around; vidyut, the pure activity of the mind, reason and intelligence. They may have corresponding regions in the body, for example, the base as prthivi, the abdomen for jala, the lungs and vocal apparatus for vayu, the heart for agni, the head and around it for vidyut and akasa. Ancient wisdom saw these forces and ideas not as unconscious forces but as conscious will, which we can consciously contact and influence. Since the whole cosmos is one and symbolic as well as interdependent, it follows that through concentration upon the corresponding centres, one can reciprocally influence the cosmos around.

All this, of course though logical, may not appeal to a scientist shut in the shell of gross substance. One has to experiment, above all upon oneself, to discover the degree of validity of these truths of ancient wisdom within us. The path, in its broad outlines, has been laid down by the ancient seers. It has been verified, experimented and confirmed through 5,000 years of experience by people of all races, sexes, religions, and strata of society. In this not enough to call each of us to rediscover these facts? Is it not a cliché to call it absurd? And, is it not a scientifically rationalized superstition that we believe in methods which within a century or two of their discovery have begun to show their failure and to not even give thought to systems which have helped humanity over thousands of years? Perhaps, if science is a dogma, we may, like the religious fundamentalist close our eyes, and live in our make-believe world. But if science is a search for truth, we need to explore how and with what modes of knowledge and experience our forefathers discovered truths which despite its advances science is only beginning to understand.


The Link Channels

Two important parallel nervous channels need to be considered here as important elements of this homeostasis or dynamic equilibrium. These are the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous systems. They are grouped as the autonomic nervous system because they are usually not under voluntary control. The two systems meet within the brain in a peculiar organ, the hypothalamus, which controls these as well as the glandular secretions of the body. This organ is in turn under the influence of the cortex. The two pathways travel down and influence most body functions which include the blood circulation, digestion, regulation of temperature and metabolism, breathing and the immune system, which establishes a physical basis for mediation between the mind and the body. These systems characteristically form certain plexuses around the important organs. The parasympathetic deals with anabolic or building up processes, generally slows down the heart and has a ‘calming’ effect upon the body in general. The sympathetic stimulates the heart, releases energy by processes of breakdown and has an ‘excitatory’ effect upon the body in general. It is now known that the two systems have a mutual rhythm. There is another interesting observation. The lifespan of a species is inversely proportional to its heart rate and breathing. This in turn is perhaps programmed genetically for a species if it is not altered by accidents (in a broader sense). Now, here again we find a parallel in Indian thought. The ancient books describe two nerve channels, the left-sided and the right-sided, which have different and complementary effects. A balance of these two channels is preferred. In fact, by practice it has been claimed that autonomous functions like the heart rate and breathing can be brought under voluntary control, thus prolonging life. Regular physical exercise undertaken methodically can also decrease our heart rates and so do meditative processes as is reasonably well-established today. This system and its further exploration open yet another field for integrating the concept of dynamic equilibrium as a basis of health.


The Higher Equilibrium

Lastly, for this review, we come to another set of forces around us which calls forth the body’s capacity to equilibrate. These are the evolutionary forces or the evolutionary urges. In fact, the two pioneers in this field, Darwin and Lamarck have shown that evolution takes place both as an evolutionary environmental pressure for adaptation or a ‘random’ change of genes from within. Is there any conscious evolutionary urge and if so can there be a wilful participation in it is a question that needs careful and serious inquiry. Let us examine it, hence, in a little more detail. What are the fundamental principles of evolution? One, as we have already seen, is an adaptation in terms of survival, due to environmental changes, aided by or caused by random mutations. This theory of random mutations would not however explain the following anomalies:

  • What determined the step between the evolution of life from matter? According to the ‘Primordial Soup Theory’ propounded by Stanley Miller and Harold Urey as well as J.B.S. Haldane in the early fifties, it was chemical interactions due to specific environmental conditions. But this hypothesis has been supported by belief rather than proof. In fact, repeated experiments in this line have failed to produce life in any form whatsoever.
  • Experiments have demonstrated that a bacillus and an amoeba, though not equipped with a mind, still exercise a choice. Even an atom exercises a choice of the electrons in its orbit and even its smallest elements choose and change as they interact with their observer. This should logically lead us to think that a mind, an intelligent will, and a consciousness is already involved within the so-called elements and evolution only releases them in higher degrees, thus indicative of a directed process rather than random chance. The same is true of the findings of rudimentary emotions in plants and a rudimentary reason in animals.
  • Mere survival-oriented mutations would not explain the biggest of all anomalies, that is, the advent of the human being, who in terms of adaptive survival was indeed inferior to lions, gorillas, elephants, snakes and the birds.
  • And finally, why should chance mutations stop now and not evolve different forms?

These are only a few of the glaring anomalies among many others. So let us for a while view the evolutionary urge from a different standpoint — the psychological one.

In principle, all elements seek some fundamental urges — the joy of union, the striving towards immortality (crudely termed ‘survival of the self and the species’), freedom and expansion and an increasing degree of complexity[4]. Interestingly, the form changes too to adapt to this. While in the plant life, the basis is at the roots, in the fully developed or yet to develop human being the basis is in the brain (or the head). There is another urge — the urge of growth from darkness to Light, represented in human beings as a need for knowledge (for just as light illumines that unseen in the physical field, knowledge does the same in the subtler fields).

If this be so, then could it be true that repeated interaction with the forces around us is meant or led by a conscious Evolutionary Force towards an equilibrium of a higher nature. So what we view today, as an increase of illnesses in the last few centuries has nothing to do with germs or illness in the conventional sense at all, but are rapid experiments of Nature aided by a release of forces within us towards a higher evolutionary form. What we observe today are beings in transition. All periods of transition have witnessed similar phenomena, the increased threat to survival sometimes leading to the vanishing of the entire species and other phenomena which are outside the present scope of discussion.


The Future Science of Health

We find that gradually as a result of our understanding, in some measure, however small, the terms mental health, spiritual health, a state of perfect health as well as holistic concepts of health are being evolved. Health, in a new science, would be regarded as a state of equilibrium between the elements within and around. This state of harmony would be the right basis of (w)holistic medicine which would regard all illness as a potential or actual disequilibrium and aim its treatment towards moving into a higher state of equilibrium rather than a fall back into the old ways and habits. Here, illness would be a chance for the body to grow with the rest of its being and cosmos rather than a mere threat to survival. And a growth-oriented psychological medicine would be a greater boon than a mere prolongation of life and extension of one’s sickly sojourn upon this earth.


[1] M.C. Moore-Ede, F.M. Sulzman, C.A. Fuller. The Clocks That Time Us. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982. C.P. Richter. Biological clocks in medicine and Psychiatry. Springfield IL: Charles C Thomson, 1965.

[2] C.F. Stroebel, Biological Rhythms in Psychiatry. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, 1980.

[3] Boericke William, Organon of Medicine Aphorism. New Delhi: B. Jain Publishers, 1992.

[4] Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 21-22, The Life Divine, ‘The Human Aspiration’, p. 3