The recent controversy over the unlabelled ingredients of a traditional medicine has stirred up an old discussion — the validity of ancient healing systems vis-à-vis the modern medical set-up. The votaries of the former believe that Allopathy, the child of modern science, is risky and dangerous, that it merely suppresses the symptoms rather than curing the illness and that its side effects are too many and can even be life-threatening. Those who side with the latter believe that all other systems of healing other than Allopathy are unscientific and unproven, that they do not have any effect or perhaps only a minimal effect, that it is dangerous to use them in serious illnesses since their non-effectiveness simply leads to a natural worsening, and that whatever cures are claimed are simply the result of a natural resolution of the illness rather than the effect of the medicine. Since either side holds to its beliefs, people are left to decide for themselves and choose whatever system they prefer. One thing is clear and that is we seldom see things as they are but rather as they are coloured by the lens of our beliefs and non-beliefs. And even when we claim to discard our beliefs as some of the scientists pretend to do, we still follow our belief in the methods of science and reason and the disbelief in things other than what our limited science or reason can dream of! Neither reason nor a superficial belief can show us the real nature of things or the truth. It is only by an ascension to a consciousness greater than reason and deeper than belief that we can find the truth of things. It is only the eye of wisdom that can give us true knowledge that is gained by identity with the object and it is only the deeper eye of faith that can point out the way to seek this wisdom.
If it is simply a question of each one’s belief, then there is no real issue. Each camp is left to fend for itself, each one is free to choose, and there is enough space for one and all. But the issue is much deeper than it appears on the surface and that is why Nature is raising this issue repeatedly before the modern mind so that it can be cleared of all the cobwebs of ideas and thoughts and cleansed of our scientific prejudice and spiritual dogmas, in order to arrive at a higher and greater reconciliatory synthesis. This synthesis of healing systems cannot be arrived by an indiscriminate combination since apparently each of them has a different rationale (or non-rationale), a different mode of action, different requirements from the patient, and perhaps suits different clientele. It is necessary to see these differences before we can go still deeper and discover the essence of healing that is common to all and thereby attempt a truer synthesis. Of course, it is a little hazardous to club and combine all traditional systems together. Nevertheless, for purposes of brevity one can do so taking care not to undermine the points of difference between each:
|ISSUE||MODERN MEDICINE||TRADITIONAL SYSTEMS|
|LEVEL OF OPERATION||Apparently works through known material processes and physical pathways.||Apparently the mechanism of action is unknown. Possibly works on material as well as non-material energies — like the vital (prana), subtle physical, psychological, etc.|
|ORIENTATION||Disease and pathology oriented in the sense that it identifies the illness and acts upon it directly without much consideration of individual patient factors.||Patient and health oriented in the sense that it takes into consideration the patient’s constitution and works to strengthen his natural resistance.|
|RATIONALE OF WORKING||Believes that there is only physical reality and therefore origin, cause and cure must all be physical.||Believes that there are other levels and systems of energy and consciousness and therefore origin, cause and cure may be subtle as well as physical.|
|ACTION||Precise and quick since it acts directly on the physical.||Action possibly more general and diffused since it acts on other levels as well, but also possibly more comprehensive or holistic.|
|DEVELOPMENTAL FORCE||Developed through observation, testing, experimenting under the stress of rational sciences.||Developed through intuition, empirical evidence and observation.|
Let us for a while leave aside these differences that are well known now to all except the few who refuse to see. Let us also for a while set aside the commercially driven motives behind the R&D search for new molecules. Let us for a while even forget the issue of side-effects: the issues are even deeper. For, gone are the days when Science was a bridge between the forces working behind Nature and their application upon earth for the betterment of mankind. It is a moot question whether mankind has truly been bettered by the rickety crutch provided by the vegetal kingdom polished to good looks, shape and size in the pharmaceutical industry.
It may be however noted that not all allopathic drugs have serious side effects. On contrary, though most have some unwanted effect on organs other than the targeted one, yet they are usually mild, remain unnoticed and seldom serious enough to take cognizance. In fact, one of the trends in allopathic drug research, where it is genuinely done, is to create molecules specific to the target cells so as to act with maximum precision and minimum side effects. Equally, it would be preposterous to say that medicine in traditional systems have absolutely no side effects. Though, because the latter acts upon the person as a whole, it is only natural that the medicine while correcting one point of problem does not ignore the rest and also because they tone up the natural reserves of the body and vitality, the possibility of side effects is largely reduced. What Allopathy is trying to achieve through an increasing precision, the traditional system achieves through a holistic balance.
Yet, in the whole process man is being increasing crippled from within. His natural defences have become increasingly weak and, even though he can prolong his life through artificial external support, his resistance to illness and his ability to master his body by the powers given to him by Nature have come down markedly. The difference is too obvious to go unnoticed and it is becoming increasingly more obvious in the health and illness pattern spread over the rural-urban divide. It is a strange paradox that our so-called primitive ancestors had a much more robust health and natural immunity and could enjoy a relatively healthy life despite unhygienic conditions of water and living when compared to our more informed, well-bred and medically cared for modern city dwellers.
Of course, the reason for a decline in natural health and vigour is not only due to the excess use of modern medicine but several other associated factors such as overcrowding, industrial pollution, lack of fresh air, a life with a feverish pitch and restless pace, the exposure and consequent addiction to crippling comforts, little time for rest and exercise, the disturbed sleep-wakefulness cycle, prevalent fondness of junk food, the poisonous chemical admixtures in everything from insecticides and food preservatives to cosmetics and fabric, and added to this the unseen invasion of electromagnetic fields, noises and radio waves from all sides into our homes and heads. That apart, there is the imbalanced lifestyle with an overstress on the almost exclusive development of certain parts and faculties of the mind and crude vital enjoyment that titillate and exhaust as well as drain the vital energy that would otherwise go into keeping the balance of body and mind intact. We could almost say, without fear of any exaggeration, that modern science and among its offspring, modern medicine reflects a certain self-view of man and as an extension his worldview. In contrast, most traditional methods reflect another kind of self-view and worldview. This divide is clearly seen in the road map of development of the two modes of approaching the human problems of illness, suffering, death and pain. We can briefly turn to some of these differences now:
|VIEW POINT||APPROACH OF MODERN SCIENCE||APPROACH OF TRADITIONAL SCIENCES|
|MAN||Man is just a body, a by-product of genes and chemicals developed accidentally under the stress of chance mutations.||Man is a spirit evolving in and through Nature. His body is an instrument for a higher design and he has within him several other layers and levels of consciousness apart from the physical.|
|HUMAN BODY||The human body is a machine and like any other machine, it is unconscious and incapable of rectifying itself on its own without any external support.||The human body is an instrument, that is a purposeful machine. It is permeated with consciousness in an ascending scale that acts upon it and influences it from within. It is itself not so unconscious and is capable of becoming more and more conscious.|
|LIFE||Is all about struggle for survival and preservation of self and the species.||Life is an evolutionary journey towards a greater and greater self-exceeding and self-finding.|
|AIM OF LIFE||To be somehow more and more comfortable and happy.||To achieve inner perfection of ‘itself’, self-transcendence and self-mastery.|
|ILLNESS||The result of chemical imbalance, genetic aberrations, infections and other such physical causes.||Apart from physical causes, there are other subtler moral, psychological and spiritual causes.|
|DEATH||The end of our existence since we are the body and die with it.||A passage, a beginning of another journey on another plane of existence or in another body.|
True, much of modern research and discoveries of science themselves refutes its own previous view of an unconscious mechanical universe where the world and we have somehow come into existence. Our bodies respond and react to any external insult or injury, even without our conscious mental intervention, with a precision and perfection that may well put even some modern armies to shame. The life and structure of a cell and the coordination between cell to cell, organ to organ, and even between the human body and its environment, the elaborate and complex network of neurons and blood vessels, the ceaseless ticking of the heart from birth to death, ability of brain to modify learnt behaviour through self-corrective insights can be a model for a modern town-planner, a model yet to be replicated. Men working with Artificial Intelligence know how difficult it is to create even an elementary system functioning somewhat like a rudimentary human intelligence. Why only human beings, lower-order animals and even plants reveal the functioning of a Supreme Intelligence that is working as if from behind the living cell even though limited by the limitations of the instrumental organism or species. Yet within its limitation of range it is precise, accurate, well informed and perfect. Could it then be that this Supreme Creative Consciousness-Force or Intelligence is working to evolve higher and higher forms that are more and more capable of expressing It completely? Could it be that birth and growth, decline and death, illness and all the rest including evolution is not a meaningless story of chance mutations, accidents and errors with struggle for survival as the last word? Could it be that each of these events serves a purpose in the grand evolutionary design, a purpose that our ordinary outward-looking mind cannot fathom but which an inward sight released by an ascent of the mental consciousness to its own sublime heights can see? Could it be that evolution has a double purpose — an outer evolution of forms and, through this, a greater and greater capacity to manifest a higher and higher quality of Consciousness-Force or the Supreme Intelligence? Could it be that we have misread the whole story of life and our hasty attempt at rescues are like an ignorant man’s cutting off and removing the constricting cocoon of a caterpillar prematurely and rashly, ignorant that this constriction was the birth pang of a butterfly?
Much of the help given by modern medical science is of this nature. It maims us while healing our hurts, it limits us while liberating us from pain, and it psychologically amputates us while supporting us biologically. This it does inadvertently by focusing on the isolated organ pathology alone or at best on man as a body and brain alone. And even though, as we have just seen, scientific discoveries themselves point to a hidden (to our senses) but sensible (to our reason) fact of a Supreme Intelligence or Conscious Force behind the brute machine, yet in practice it still refuses to see or admit it. For whose benefit, we do not know. For the drug companies perhaps or maybe for the sake of comfort that Ignorance provides, absolving us of all inner labour. Yet, if admitted, this could be a fresh breaking ground and meeting point of the diverse systems. Most of the traditional systems, especially Ayurveda, intuitively know it and trust the greater plan. As a result, they have not developed very aggressive or intensive modes of therapy. Even the emergency medicines work simultaneously on the peripheral pathology as well as the central body-consciousness to stimulate its defences. If these cannot be stimulated, then one accepts the transit gracefully. But instead, it has focused much more on health and longevity (Ayurveda literally means that), on promoting means and ways to tone us up so that the body becomes naturally immune and healthy. Here again the methods are different from what is done in Allopathy. Thus, for example, inoculation vaccination as done in Allopathy is through a strong and almost violent challenge to the body against a precise and specific antigen. The reaction can be sometimes overwhelming leading to other disturbances, including, who knows, the immune cells destroying the body’s own tissues. Ayurveda and Homeopathy, in contrast, would stimulate the body’s vitality in general rather than in a specific way. What we forget in our over-attention to a single detail is that this detail has a relation to the whole.
An illness does not exist in isolation as if cut off from the rest of the patient and his personality, his socio-cultural backdrop, his characterological strengths and weakness. Yet the whole stress of Allopathy has been to focus on one point first and ignore the rest. It is only natural, since that is the direction of its R & D — to isolate a pathology, to isolate a molecule and to see how they interact with each other. Thus, we have here a linearity and specificity of cause and effect. In Ayurveda, there is a generality and wholeness. To put it simply, if someone has a sore throat, the allopathic approach is to find out which organism caused it and what drug can blast the organism out of the system. The Ayurveda approach would rather be as to what lowers the human being’s defences and resistance to illness leading to these afflictions and how can we boost him in a way so that he can fight out and throw away the illness. A clean line of demarcation can be seen leading to a single practical guideline of action as follows:
- Use simple remedies made by plants and herbs or flowers for most illnesses so long as they do not run out of control.
- However, in an emergency situation where a specific targeting is required and one cannot wait for the body defences to tone up, then one can opt for Allopathy. Such emergency situations may comprise hardly 10% of all illness-related symptoms of an acute nature and sufficient severity to qualify for an emergency.
- Also, subsequently and even concomitantly, there should be no fundamental harm in combining at least some of the systems.
- Ayurveda and Allopathy, for instance, since both approach the same problem differently but not opposingly, can well complement each other.
The problem thus seen goes beyond either-or. There is enough place, scope and field of work for both and each should have a healthy respect for the other. But one thing is sure — to develop only along the lines of modern medicine or Allopathy is to subsequently end up by progressively weakening the resistance of the race. This is already becoming apparent within less than half a century since the first antibiotic was ‘serendipitously’ discovered. There are already plenty of mutant strains whose full impact and effect on living systems we do not yet know. While longevity has increased, what has also increased is man’s dependence upon drugs. The economically and scientifically more developed countries or sections of society have a weaker body and mind resistance. The toll has been worse on the economically deprived. Due to a progressive decline (lack of funding/out of fashion/no more glamour in career/proliferation of modern hospitals almost at war footing) in the traditional system the average man has been forced to load himself with new chemicals prepared artificially in MNC labs. The result — on one hand he has lost his balance of natural health and faith in established traditional systems that helped him so far, on the other hand, the modern system is itself becoming increasingly expensive, almost unaffordable for the common man’s pocket. These are all relevant issues and not merely a superficial talk about which system is better.
In fact, the question about systems is itself a complex one. Just as different people have different dietary habits that suits their climate but may not suit another group or in another climate, so also each system has its maximum validity and utility in the land where it has originated and evolved and in those people who have put their trust in it, have depended upon it for millenniums and have deep memories of its efficacy traced in their subconscious. The climatic conditions, the physical constitutions, the psychological make-up of a group, and above all, its faith in the system and its unique worldview all go into the healing process. Modern science and its aggressive marketers have unfortunately jilted this faith by producing scores of ‘impressive’ statistics. But it has carefully hidden the data of failures that comes out subsequently when a ‘new and better’ drug or method is marketed. The traditional systems have their own rationale and science. It has evidence but it has not been written on paper (a serious lapse no doubt) but written on the tablet of the heart and mind like the Vedas themselves. The very fact that some of them, like Ayurveda, have persisted for millenniums is proof enough, to say the least, of its efficacy. Some of them, like certain yoga practices, are even more ancient and their benefits scientifically proven beyond doubt right up to modern times. Of course, there are sometimes exaggerated claims made by the protagonists of traditional systems which is another marketing strategy that capitalizes on people’s beliefs to popularise themselves. Nevertheless, no system can claim to be a sole panacea for anything and everything. This is as much true of traditional systems as for Allopathy.
Perhaps there are no panaceas. Perhaps Nature does not intend to give away its last secrets lest instead of using them for our total growth, we turn it into yet another means for generating comfort and wealth and power domination. Perhaps man still needs the goad of sickness, suffering, pain and death to spur him on in his evolutionary journey. For if there is an external cure for illness, why would one grow inwardly to develop his own healing capacities? Perhaps, and this is most likely, the last secret is not to be found in systems and methods or drugs and pills, but within us. That is what we need to explore, for Nature is the all-round healer and each system, however effective and powerful within its limits, has caught only one window glimpse and process, perfected and uses only one line of its working. Thus, modern medicine or Allopathy uses the principle of ‘concentration and elimination’ found in Nature. When there is an infection or injury the body resources and defending cells rush to the spot to kill the offending agent or else to provide relief to the injured part. The body can do it at the expense of an immediate depletion of its resources. It reads it as an emergency situation and its forces rush to rescue and salvage. Later it may feel exhausted by the effort and if due care is not taken to supplement its reserves in time, it may begin to show unwanted effects in the other organs. Allopathy uses this principle of selective concentration found in certain natural healing processes, only it substitutes them by external chemicals and mechanical aids. But equally, in some other instances, the body simply holds the illness at bay, not allowing any effects upon the body, by boosting its overall natural resources and resistance — a principle used well in Ayurveda. There is yet another principle Nature uses in certain other illnesses, that which we refer to as an illness running its full course and then suddenly disappearing after a crisis. In olden times, as well as in the present day, physicians recognized it and provided support to the body till Nature healed certain maladies like typhoid and pneumonia. Viral fevers still heal this way. It is as if the body purges itself of deep possibilities of a disorder but when it is finally healed, the cure is radical and there is a long lasting immunity. Homoeopathy works in a very similar way by bringing out a suppressed disorder into the open and then eliminating it in toto.
Thus, each has its place. Allopathy is very effective for acute emergency situation while homoeopathy is effective for radically curing certain recurrent and chronic ailments provided their momentary acute exacerbations do not become life threatening. Ayurveda is excellent both as a supplement to other systems and on its own to increase the life-energy and natural resistances and thereby facilitates Nature’s healing in conditions which defy allopathic control or which modern medicine can at best contain rather than cure. So also with other systems. Interestingly, one could say that most medicines are hardly a healer apart from emergency situations. They are perhaps useful only in less than 10% of conditions. But it would not be right to say that other systems do not have any side effects. Only, it may be technically inaccurate to term it as side effect since they are either effects of illness brought in increasingly in the open (as in homoeopathy) or effects of illness continuing till the body takes over (as in Ayurveda). Reiki and Pranic healing utilise certain other occult principles of Nature, that is, illness is due to an imbalance in the passage of the life current through the body. This imbalance is purported to be set right by projecting the universal life-force from within through the help of a Reiki channel or opening the inner channels through which the life-force runs as by acupressure, acupuncture and many other similar techniques such as breathing exercises and asana posture, etc.
But all these are inadequate means and temporary measures. These are glimpses of a mighty Force that works in and through Nature. That ‘Force’ is hidden deep within the secret heart of Nature itself. It is manifest everywhere in all the workings of Nature as a vast and complete Intelligence at once operating in minute details through its million-trillion processes as well as comprehending and uniting each of these smallest elements and processes into a simple harmonious whole. So wonderful and detailed is its organization that even the smallest change is not left unnoticed or unattended. Likewise, in its organization of the whole, it links up the distant stars and the smallest particle of dust through a subtle unseen link that yet allows them to mutually influence each other in however an infinitesimally small way. All that escapes our senses, all that our minds cannot fathom, all that even the most brilliant human intellect cannot seize or capture is nevertheless recorded and worked upon by It. All this science itself reveals, even though it has discovered only a small fraction of the marvel, probing only the surface of the words. The scientist (modern or traditional) believes erroneously that our human mind can study, understand, know and utilize all of Nature’s processes! Perhaps the traditional systems were more humble and knowing how little they could actually do, left it to Nature’s mighty force to work out the rest. But modern science in its period of rash adolescence believed that it can conquer Nature by studying its processes and solve all problems by the might of human intelligence. In its stumbling pride, it forgot that human intelligence is itself only a small wave from the vast and complex ocean of consciousness. So how shall the part comprehend the whole, unless by some mechanism in Nature it can transcend itself and become one with the whole? For then alone it can see and be as Nature and do what Nature does.
Modern science does not admit this possibility of the part growing into the whole even though it has found luminous hints that point towards a deep subtle truth that each element of the universe contains, as if in a miniature state, the entire universe. In fact that is how it is interlinked with the whole and everything has an effect on everything else, however small it may be. The traditional sciences (at least some of them) admit this possibility that through ‘Yoga’ one can open oneself directly to a Oneness with the vast and mighty Force and Intelligence (or Consciousness) behind Nature. The Ayurvedic physician was supposed to be dwij or twice-born, an initiate into the mysteries of the spirit as much as in the mysteries of the physical universe to which he outwardly belongs and amidst which he is physically born. Of course what have taken over now are commercial and other interests and so-called ‘alternate healers’ and ‘yoga-experts’ and ‘new-age gurus’ are no exception to this gross misrepresentation. Nevertheless, the inner possibility exists in man to go beyond himself, beyond his limited human intelligence, beyond the laws and systems, whose framework he has accepted, beyond suffering and pain and finally, beyond death.
 Yoga, not as we understand it today to mean certain physical exercises, but rather essentially ‘a means’ by which man can grow into his diviner possibilities by Transcending himself. The fact of transcendence is the real thing, the methods (and there are quite a few) are subordinate elements. Unfortunately, modern mind is too preoccupied with phenomenon and curiously watches and sometimes studies the outer techniques but misses the real issue. It forgets the inner psychological movement of Yoga by its overstress on the outer technique, bartering the spirit for the form, the truth for the symbol, the end for the means.