4.2 Illness – An Inner Disequilibrium (Part 2)

Illness – Its Inner Causes

There are internal quarrels among the different parts of yourself. Supposing there is an organ (it happens very often) that needs rest and there is another that wants action, and both at the same time. How are you going to manage it? They begin to quarrel. … And then, at times, if you add to the physical the vital and mental; … well, if there is a dispute between them … you have a battlefield, and this battlefield can become the cause of all possible illness. They fight violently. One wants something, the other does not, they quarrel and you are in a kind of internal whirlwind. That can give you fever — you do get it usually — or else you are seized by an inner shivering and you no longer have any control. For the most important of all causes for bodily illness is that the body begins to get restless; it trembles and the trembling increases more and more, more and more and you feel that you will never be able to reestablish the balance. It eludes you. …

[The Mother, CMW 5, Questions and Answers – 1953, p. 174]

You see there are reasons! — many reasons, numberless reasons. For all these things combine in an extraordinarily complex way. …

But the difficulties that are within are also without. You can, to a certain extent, establish an inner equilibrium, but you live in surroundings full of imbalance. … You give and you receive; you breathe in and absorb. So there is a mixture and that is why one can say that all is contagious, for you live in a state of ceaseless vibrations. You give out your vibrations and receive also the vibrations of others, and these vibrations are of a very complex kind. …

[ibid., 177]

Unhappily there is much bad will in the world, and among the different kinds of bad will there is the small type that comes from ignorance and stupidity, there is the big type that comes from wickedness and there is the formidable one that is the result of anti-divine forces. So, all that is in the atmosphere (I am not telling you this to frighten you, for it is well understood that one should fear nothing — but it is there all the same) and these things attack you, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. …

[ibid., p. 178]

Therefore most microbes have behind them a bad will and that is what makes them so dangerous. … … The microbe is a very material expression of something living in a subtle physical world and that is why these very microbes … that are always around you, within you, for years together do not make you ill and then suddenly they make you fall ill. There is another reason. The origin of the microbes and their support lie in a disharmony, in the being’s receptivity to the adverse force.

[ibid., p. 180]

You may have opened the door through spiritual error, through a movement of vanity, of anger, of hatred or of violence … that can open the door.

[ibid., p. 185]

In the ordinary life of man progressive dislocation is the rule. The mental and vital beings of man follow as best they can the movement of universal forces, and the stream of the world’s inner transformation and evolution carries them a certain way; but the body bound to the law of the most material nature, moves very slowly. After some years, seventy or eighty … the dislocation is so serious that the outer being falls to pieces. The divergence between the demand and the answer, the increasing inability and irresponsiveness of the body, brings about the phenomenon of death.

[The Mother, CMW 3, Questions and Answers – 1929-1931, p. 87]

The phenomenon of contradictory wills is therefore not just an individual but also a cosmic phenomenon. There are contradictory wills, bad wills, revolted and resisting wills in the universe to whose influences we may open. This compounds the problem since we do not exist in isolation. We are all (the entire creation, in fact) tied in a knot of oneness for good or for worse. The positive side of this knot of oneness is that a progress in any one element anywhere leads to a corresponding progress in all similar elements across the globe. That indeed is one key towards freeing the earth of the scourge of illness. It is not through slogans and expensive medicines that the victory will be won for this earth, but by the collective effort of each individual to conquer one contradictory element in oneself and to align it rightly. The flip side, however, is that our individual recoveries and temporary cures are illusory and provide only a false sense of security. Here, as elsewhere, the formula is that nothing is achieved till it is achieved for the whole.

An illness, essentially a breach in our equilibrium, can therefore be understood at so many levels, each complementing the other. So seen, it becomes an opportunity to open a door to inner discovery. While one should never welcome an illness, yet when it comes, one can absorb the lesson and move forward. It is almost like the cry of a child (one part of Nature) drawing the attention of his parents (other more developed parts) to help him keep pace with them. It is indeed a cry for help, but as much a cry for inner help as outer. The outer help is sometimes like a milk bottle which an ignorant mother thrusts into the baby’s mouth, at other times like a violent slap, to stop the baby from crying, without really understanding the underlying need. The bottle and the slap do seem to work instantaneously but only for a while. They often confuse the child even more. The need returns and so does the cry. And thus humanity is caught up in a vicious cycle of illness-recovery-illness, rather than the positive cycle of health-illness-greater health.


A New Taxonomy

So far we are studying and classifying illnesses on the basis of outer appearances. Clinical diagnosis is at best syndrome based. The physical appearances and the changes thereof are no doubt more easily observable and recordable. It is easy to handle clear-cut syndromes based on outer symptoms and signs and then launch a search for discovering specific therapies to correct these outer symptoms. Our views however change when we discover that these symptoms and signs are not the illness but only an outer manifestation of deeper pathologies. The same pathology may express itself in very different ways and through very different outer manifestations. Let’s take the case of hypertension. The outer recordable anomaly is the elevated blood pressure. However, even when we reduce the blood pressure, the damage carries on in other systems due to a common underlying cause, say of atherosclerosis. Also the outer manifestation of elevated blood pressure may be due to a number of inner causes. This much is very obvious to all physicians. If we extend the logic a little deeper, it may not be very difficult to surmise three or four common roots for all illnesses and perhaps just one common seed corrupting the tree of human life and afflicting disease and death upon this planet. Tackle this seed of death and we have finally uprooted the whole tree of diseases for the human race. Remove the roots and we have effectuated a lasting cure for the individual. True, it may take a while before the shoots shrivel up, deprived of nourishment, but the surgery is radical and the cure permanent. In contrast, leave the roots and the seed while trimming off the wild and ungainly branches and the problem returns again and again in another form and name.

Thus we have a fourfold progression of illness:

  • The first or the seed state is the common inheritance of the entire race. This inheritance is however not a genetic one but a psychological and spiritual one. It is the seed of falsehood planted deep in the inconscient foundation of life that corrupts everything. This seed is nourished by the soil of ignorance that guards it safely in the dark depths of matter from a too rapid awakening to light.
  • The second level at which the illness manifests are the roots thrown up by this seed of falsehood and ignorance. These roots are in our psychological nature in the form of desire and its accompanying fear, anxiety, greed, agitation, doubt, division, disharmony. Its tentacles spread out from the subconscient to the physical and lower vital nature of man. The poison flowing up from this unhealthy sap can reach even the mind and afflict it with wrong and unhealthy and negative thought patterns.
  • This is the third step leading to formation of wrong patterns of flow of consciousness, energy, physiological and electro-chemical functions, and habits of response of life and body.
  • The last and final step, the fourth level of manifestation of the illness is the physical pathology and organ/system affliction.

From the consciousness point of view there is a need to evolve a new taxonomy classifying illnesses as arising at the different levels of our nature. This will have a practical bearing upon the modes of treatment. However, given the common inheritance of humanity and the unregenerate subconscient and lower vital nature, one may proceed to act without necessarily going into the finer subtleties of the inner phenomenon. That is one big advantage of the consciousness approach. You don’t just tackle individual diseases but the disease. Each disease becomes a door of possibility for getting rid of all diseases. Besides, it can supplement and complement any approach or system of medicine by taking care of other levels and all levels ignored in systems that work in isolation and mutual exclusion. The consciousness approach is therefore not an alternate method, not even an alternate paradigm, but a new approach and a new paradigm that gives us a truly holistic vision of the phenomenon of illness and health. It is a total and integral view of health and illness because it is based upon a total and integral view of man and creation.

Living in an age of appearances, our view of power and control is equated with the capacity to alter appearances. It has its meaning though. For appearance is the last step through which a web is woven by the pattern and design of phenomenon in such a way that consciousness and energy fully hides behind it. It is like the gift-wrapper that gives the impression of the quality of the gift inside. But in reality, an appearance is only a mask. And just as the same psychological type of humanity can hide behind different colours of the skin, cutting across nations and races, so too the same inner disequilibrium can give rise to different clusters of symptomatology. This will explain many things like the variation of symptoms with the same underlying pathology.

Take for instance angina (angina pectoris). The same phenomenon may arise due to coronary blockage (or even no blockage), others with 2 or 3 vessels, still other after 5 arteries are blocked. What is even more surprising is that there are those who live on to old age and die of some other problem despite the post-mortem revealing a triple vessel block. The association is fixed more in our minds than in the human body. For in the body, many more forces and factors are at play at any given time, both in causing as well as in curing a disease. We have to look at these forces, within the individual and in the cosmos, and their relation to the corresponding planes with regard to health and diseases.


Forces of Illness

The human body has been in the habit of responding to all kinds of forces that lead to illness. But it is not yet habituated to open to the One Force, the Divine Force, or even to the forces of a New Consciousness that come to make it grow and progress. The body is unable to respond adequately or even to keep pace with the evolutionary pressure. The result is an increasing dislocation, an increasing inability to respond to the forward-going current of life. This is what translates itself as illness and old age and subsequently death. In other words, disequilibrium can arise within the various planes of our nature. This may happen when one part of nature advances at a fairly different pace than the other parts. This leads to an internal conflict, a locking up and dissipation of energies, a disharmony and consequent illness. The main seat of this difficulty is usually in the vital nature. It pulls us in different directions and leaves us at the mercy of every passing wave. The cosmic forces of illness usually enter through this lower vital door, especially when our consciousness is less vigilant as in sleep, fatigue or in the company of people who lower our consciousness further. An excess of vital movements forces the body to work beyond its normal limits leading to strain and disintegration. Strong movements of greed and desire, anger and fear, ambition and vanity let loose the forces of disintegration through our vital nature. Essentially these forces create turbulence in nature, a restless movement of energies and agitated vibrations that disturb calm and peace, two forces indispensable to cure.

Sometimes these forces of disintegration can enter through sympathy with someone who harbours these forces. The true movement towards the sick is therefore not sympathy or pity but compassion and kindness. Pity and sympathy are weak movements and put us in relation to the forces that we recoil from or attach ourselves to. Compassion and kindness is a higher movement, like goodwill, and understand and help from above without getting caught by the forces they work upon. Compassion and goodwill are essentially soul-movements; sympathy and pity are largely vital and sentimental movements sharing the general obscurity of the vital nature.

Then of course there may be other movements of the mind and vital supporting the illness. Thus, anxiety, worry, doubt, depression, negative preoccupation of thought, etc. prolong the illness and allow the morbid forces to flourish since the mind and vital support it by constantly dwelling upon them. A diversion of the mind and vital from these unhealthy, morbid preoccupation with the disease is a prerequisite to an early cure.

Disease is needlessly prolonged and ends in death oftener than is inevitable, because the mind of the patient supports and dwells upon the disease of his body.

[Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 12, Essays Divine and Human, p. 474]


The Fear Factor

It is through fear that the door is opened and you catch the illness. Those who have no fear can go about freely and generally they catch nothing. But still … you may have no fear in the mind, you may have no fear even in the vital, but who has no fear in the body?… Very few.

A strict discipline is needed to cure the body of fear. The cells themselves tremble. It is only by discipline, by yoga that one can overcome this fear. But it is a fact that one can catch anything through fear, even invite an accident. And, you see, from a certain point of view everything is contagious.

[The Mother, CWM 5, Questions and Answers 1953, p. 166]

Disequilibrium may also arise between the inner and outer being. The individual may be in circumstances that do not allow a full expression of his inner being. Or they may retard the possibilities of progress for the inner being despite an urge for the same. This divergent pull within and without may lead to accidents, other forms of illness and in an extreme cases even death. This happens when the inner being decides that staying in a particular form of body and environment is coming strongly in the way of future development and therefore decides to change over. When there is a dispute between the inner and outer being, the choice of the inner being must prevail even if it means a radical psychological surgery for the person. Man suffers not only from a suppression of the subconscious, but much more from a suppression of the inner being and the superconscious.

All this of course relates to the individual. Then there are forces in universal Nature at each corresponding plane. It is these universal forces that keep throwing the dust each time we clear it. The principle here is that each one of us works like a dynamo to generate forces that keep circulating in the universal pool. The forces we generate return back to us sooner or later. The law of a curved physical universe applies to all planes. The curvature is such that each force thrown out comes back multiplied a hundredfold to the point of its apparent origin. This happens often when we no more have its utility for ourselves and we forget that these are the energies that we apparently set into motion. This compounds the difficulty of conquering individual problems. More immediate to us is the environmental consciousness, some forces thrown out by us recently, some attracted by us through secret affinity, some such as bad-will, thrown out by others and catching us unawares because of a breach in our defences. They may also enter our environmental consciousness by default contamination through close association (for example, the sexual act) with those who carry these forces in their atmosphere. The true contagion is indeed a psychological one and we are strangely complacent about it while all the time being worried about physical contagion.

Then there are distinct subtle forces whose very work is to eat up and attack and destroy. Their true function is to test the resilience and the defences of the individual but they often overdo their job and of course with support from us. These forces actively playing their role of disintegration are mainly of two types — the Adverse Forces and the Hostile Forces.

The adverse forces play upon the universal problems and make them appear too magnified and insurmountable. They distort appearances making things of small magnitude appear large and those of real significance appear small. Thus, they may exaggerate the possible consequences of an illness thereby making us feel an increase of symptoms. They may quietly suggest to us that this is an incurable illness and nothing can really help. They may aggravate fear, anxiety, greed, and distress creating a sense of helplessness against formidable difficulties. This state of helplessness makes us fall in our consciousness to a tamasic state. This actually impairs our capability to heal ourselves leading to a vicious cycle of a self-fulfilling negative prophecy and prognostication. On the other side they may create the sense of incapacity of will and faith, thus creating hurdles in our recovery.

The hostile forces are far more vicious and dangerous. They throw heaps of doubt and confusion, truckloads of guilt and depression, perverse thoughts and suggestions, create abnormal fears leading to an utter chaos. They disrupt the smooth functioning of any part that is vulnerable which they choose to attack. They disrupt thought so that the individual can no more think coherently and clearly, disrupt the will and even pervert it to flow towards lower pursuits. They eat up not only the will but also the faith, thereby hammering us thoroughly. Thus battered only those elements can survive that are truly touched by the soul and are under its influence; the rest fragment. Of course something in us opens to their influence, something in us is always vulnerable to their attacks, but they seem to have a special attraction for those individuals and groups who are apparently making an effort to progress. It is as if the sincerity of our effort and readiness could not be perfected without their evolutionary challenge and testing devices!

The lower nature is ignorant and undivine, not in itself hostile but shut to the Light and Truth. … The forces of the lower nature are often rebellious and resist transformation out of attachment to the familiar movements of the Ignorance, desire, vanity, pride, lust, self-will etc., but they are not in their nature hostile.

[Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Letters on Yoga – IV, pp. 763-764]

the adverse forces take advantage of any perturbation of that kind, for it opens, as it were a passage to their action. Fear is the one thing that one must never feel in face of them, for it makes them bold and aggressive.

The hostile forces are anti-divine, not merely undivine; they make use of the lower nature, pervert it, fill it with distorted movements and by that means influence man and even try to enter and possess or at least entirely control him.… When this happens there is often a temporary possession or at least an irresistible influence which makes the thoughts, feelings, actions of the person abnormal — a black clouding of the brain, a whirl in the vital, all acts as if the person could not help himself and were drawn by an overmastering force.

The hostile forces have a certain self-chosen function: it is to test the condition of the individual, of the work, of the earth itself and their readiness for the spiritual descent and fulfilment.

[ibid., pp. 758, 763, 765, 782]

These then are the forces that we have to tackle in our brush with illness. It is only possible by injecting ourselves with the forces of health and integration. For just as there are forces of disease and death so too there are forces of health and life and upon these we must focus more.


Environment and Illness

We are neither alone nor isolated in the world. Rather there is much more intermingling than we really imagine. Fear enters us through and despite the tightest doors. Desire pours upon us in streams in spite of isolation. The true contagion is not just physical but even more psychological. We have already discussed its role in illness. However, it has a role in accidents as well. Accidents are due to two main reasons. The first and foremost is of course a moment of unconsciousness within. There is, in addition, an atmosphere in which accidents thrive. These may be accident spots as we know already. These spots are not explicable by purely physical reasons. There are mischievous entities that make us blind for one moment, and it is a mischief which is very expensive for the one who is blinded.

Added to this, there are some people who carry this atmosphere of accident within them and are as if not only accident-prone but also attract accidents around them. This collective atmosphere is very important in group tragedies.

There is a moment for choice, even in an accident. For instance, one slips and falls. Just between the moment one has slipped and the moment one falls there is a fraction of a second. At that moment one has the choice. …. Only, the consciousness must naturally be wide awake and one must be in contact with one’s psychic being constantly. … Between the moment one slips and the moment one is on the ground, if the mental and psychic formation is sufficiently strong, then there is nothing, nothing will happen — nothing happens.

[The Mother, CWM 5, Questions and Answers 1953 p. 402]

Afterwards there is yet another moment. … One has fallen, one is already hurt; but there is still a moment when one can change things for the better or worse … And this — this is the sort of thing one sees all the time, all the time here! There are people who could have been killed and who came out of it unscathed; there are others for whom it was not serious, and it becomes serious.

[ibid., p. 403]

Some have such an awakened consciousness … at the second it is required they call the help. Or they invoke the divine Force. But just at the second it is needed. So the danger is averted, nothing happens. They could have been killed: they come out of it absolutely unhurt. Others, on the contrary, as soon as they have the least little scratch, something gets dislocated in their being: a sort of fright or pessimism or defeatism in their consciousness which automatically comes up — it was nothing, they had just twisted their leg and the next minute they break it … it is an attitude of the being, it is the consciousness reacting in the right way. It goes quite far, very far, it is formidable, the power of this attitude…

[ibid., p. 404]

In collective accidents, what is interesting is exactly the proportion, the sort of balance or disequilibrium, the combination made by the different atmospheres of people.

[ibid., p. 406]


A Shift of Focus

What is necessary, therefore, is to shift our focus from outer to inner causes of health and illness. We have to also shift our focus from ways of curing diseases to ways of inculcating health. We need to be preoccupied more with health and methods to stimulate immunity and boost natural defences rather than spending so much energy in morbid phenomenon. To inculcate health is to keep away every possible disease. To re-establish a state of harmony and health is to cure oneself irrespective of the outer pathology. And when we speak of natural immunity to diseases, we do not wish to confine the vastness and complexity of nature to physical nature alone but include supraphysical and non-material means of immunity as well. There is a means of immunizing oneself against attacks of illnesses that is appropriate to each plane. Just as we use physical means to boost physical immunity so too we can use inner psychological and spiritual means to defend ourselves against these various attacks.

We have already alluded to these means earlier while talking about the various planes. In short, we fall ill when we veil the inner healer or the soul within us. We recover and prevent every possible illness when we awaken and put our troubled nature in contact with the soul. We can take an analogy. Supposing there has been no rain for consecutive years leading to famine. Now one approach is to reach out immediate help by digging deeper wells, shifting water from other places, conserving available water, etc. It has its place in the short term. But this exercise becomes counterproductive in the long run if we do not address the real issue and focus our attention on ways and means of getting back the rain. Health is and should be the natural state of a human being. Disease is an anomaly and therefore our focus should be on getting back this state of health once again. The best way to dispel darkness is to create light rather than struggle with approximations. Consciousness is precisely the key that helps us understand the barriers that obscure and veil the natural state of health in us. We can best understand this with reference to the various planes of consciousness and their relation to our health and diseases.