1.1 Health – The Spiritual Perspective

Introduction

The recognition of a spiritual dimension of health by the World Health Organization (WHO) has indeed been a landmark event.  It is doubtful, however, that the full import and significance of this fundamental aspect of human existence has been grasped even by well-intentioned persons.  The reason is very simple.  The spiritual dimension is still a concealed possibility in the race as a whole. Even though its emergence is the inevitable next step in Nature’s scheme of things; yet it is a slow emergence.  There have been individuals no doubt, who have experienced a greater spiritual consciousness.  It is also true that such individuals have cut across the barriers of race and gender, language and culture.  Yet for the majority of humankind, the spiritual dimension still remains a possibility which many do not care to explore.  Most of us confuse it with philosophy, religion, morality and occultism.

While these four approaches can prepare man and even throw open a window to the spiritual truth, in themselves they are insufficient to solve the riddle of man and conquer for him freedom from suffering, limitation, death, disease and incapacity. Philosophy, religion and ethics prepare man’s thoughts, emotions and will for an awakening to the true spiritual impulse.  Occultism explores the inner hidden dimension of existence and its forces and powers and faculties.  All of these however miss the deepest truth.  At best they throw some reflection or hint and thereby act as a preparatory catalyst.  At worst they distract and confuse us by offering an imitation in lieu of the real spiritual truth.

Defining the Indefinable

The first need is therefore to get rid of this misconception of confusing the spiritual dimension with philosophy, religious values, ethical morality and even occultism.  When we thus get rid of these elementary misconceptions and understand the spiritual reality by self-identification, we discover that there is a unity of experience that cuts across the barriers of time and space.  The real figure is seen only if we sound the depths ourselves and try to fathom the vastness that hides behind the human persona of those who have truly experienced and lived a spiritual life.  Since such men have been few and scattered (though always present), it is doubtful if the statistical approach of interviewing the average or even an above average intellectual can help us understand this dimension better. Such a process may even be counterproductive by diluting or, worse still, falsifying or replacing the real thing by an imitative mimicry.  “The spirit is other than the mind” affirm the seers.  It is unity and oneness while the mind is duality and division.  It is peace and bliss while the mind dwells in pain, pleasure and indifference.  It is harmony and truth while the mind fumbles through error and ignorance. It is easy to understand from this that the spiritual dimension defies any simple definition. In fact, the spiritual reality does not necessarily need a language to communicate itself.  Rather, it is best communicated and understood in the silence and stillness of our being. This inability to define and describe the spiritual reality is not any limitation as many suppose.  It stems because firstly speech itself is a lesser term and faculty.  Secondly, since it belongs still to the mental domain in its manifestation, it evokes different meanings and images in different human beings. To obviate this dual difficulty, we can attempt to define the spiritual dimension as the highest perfection man is capable of through self-evolution.  This too, however, runs the risk of contamination by the mind which constantly confuses the human ideas of perfection with a spiritual one.  Human perfection is a quantitative thing.  It is the development of human capacities to their utmost pitch.  Spiritual perfection is however a qualitative thing.  It is the emergence of new faculties and capacities better and superior to what the human mind can at present imagine. For example, the Sanskrit word for health –  ‘Swasth’ – literally means “rooted in the (true) self”.  That is to say, true health exists only when man’s consciousness is firmly fixed in the spiritual self, the ‘sva’.  Short of it, there can be absence of disease ‘Arogya‘ or, physical prowess and fitness ‘bala’ but not health.  As Dr Bisht rightly pointed out in his recommendation to the WHO that “a pack of wolves are physically strong, mentally alert and socially well-knit but there is something more in man which marks him apart“.  And that ‘something more’ in him is not just the maximum development of his mind through education and learning but the wisdom and power of his soul.

Spirit and Body: A False Opposition

We have also to understand spirituality not as an escapist-illusionist tendency but the awareness of a fundamental spiritual Reality behind every form and name.  This is sup-ported by the experience that it is the spirit that has become all beings and things including matter.  This is well reflected in the evolutionary Indian parable of the ‘Dasavatara’ where the incarnation of the One Divine becomes the fish, the tortoise, the boar, the half-animal, half-man etc., through evolution to a perfect mental man.  The missing link in our evolutionary journey may not be the Archaeopteryx but the mediatrix Consciousness that runs as a common thread through all phenomena.  The story of evolution is still a half-told tale.  The adventure of the Spirit upon earth is not yet over.  It will continue till Nature evolves a body capable of manifesting the Perfect Consciousness. Unless we grasp this, we will continue the mistake of regarding the spiritual dimension not only as a separate but also an exclusive dimension that exists in isolation without any hold upon the creature that inhabits it.  If that is so then all hope of spiritual health remains a chimera and the great utterance of the spiritual dimension of health becomes only an idealistic doctrine.  The spiritual dimension includes the material and can and does intervene subtly to alter the laws and processes of the material universe and to change the course decreed by the so called purely material and biological forces.

Measuring the Immeasurable

If defining spiritual reality is difficult, studying its complex effects is even more difficult. Statistics are useful for recording phenomena.  The present scientific methods and equipments register gross events.  To pursue and discover subtler truths and spiritual laws we have to follow another method whose usefulness has been verified since ancient times.  Firstly, we need to trust the word of those who have awakened the spiritual consciousness in themselves.  Secondly, we must begin to observe ourselves and the movements of subtler levels in us.  The effects of those subtle movements escape conventional data collection since most of us are not conscious of these subjective psychological events. ‘We are asleep there’, to use an Upanishadic image.  The scientist must first and foremost make himself the field of his observation and record his experiences.  Such cumulative records over a period of time would be very helpful for all who wish to explore this dimension.  But simultaneously we should avoid the rash attempt to codify too rigidly the experiences.  Our mind always likes to formulate laws but the spiritual field being very subtle and plastic escapes the rigidities of human logic.  Thus, if in a certain state of consciousness, say ‘peace’, the patient recovers faster or is even cured of an acute emergency like a heart attack or appendicitis, we can truthfully record it.  We can equally record the effect of negative emotions on health and disease.  But we should not rush to reduce it into a system.  Peace for example may not always cure.  It may not always be readily accessible either.  But even though not reproducible, a single event of ‘cure by peace’ is significant and opens doors of enormous possibilities for those who can and will.

The Law of Averages

The method of studying, analysing and understanding physical phenomena has its great utility in the physical domain.  The accuracy and predictability are somewhat more reliable here because in gross matter, there is not the free play of other subtler domains.  But to extrapolate the same method mechanically in the spiritual domain may lead to gross errors.  The reasons are threefold.  Firstly, our equipments are not yet geared to register and record subtler energy impacts.  However in these we can find the presence of the anomalous and the unpredictable.  As all practitioners of medicine know, medicine is not an exact science like mathematics.

Secondly, there is a whole range of phenomena which are subjective and cannot be measured.  And yet these may be quite crucial in matters of health and healing.  For instance, peace and faith are two such non-measurable units that do determine our state of health.

Thirdly, and most importantly, scientific methods deal with phenomena.  But as spiritual experience constantly affirms, behind the phenomena of name and form there is a supporting and sanctioning consciousness and force.  It is difficult to envisage how we could possibly measure the quantum of spiritual consciousness and force in units of grams or kilograms or god-knows-what, that goes into healing a malady.  Even where a method is used, there is always the secret force and consciousness that makes all the difference.  The force can use one particular method or another.  It may even dispense with all methods and techniques.  A given method is after all only one condition of spiritual awakening.  Just as clouds and lightning are one condition for the emergence of electricity.  Besides, the force and power of electricity exist as principles even if we have not discovered the method to tap them and likewise, spiritual force and power are a latent possibility in every human being.  They can be awakened and brought to the fore by a number of methods.  The method is however only an excuse for the emergence.  The real essence escapes the technique. When human evolution reaches a certain crucial and critical inner point the pressure of the spiritual consciousness bursts the limited bounds of our ego and we emerge in a larger and freer consciousness. Spirituality is essentially this change of consciousness from the human to that which is greater than man and beyond him.

The Truth that Escapes Us

It is a fact that human consciousness is not the highest and man not the last word of creation.  Man is a transitional being to be surpassed by a more perfect being.  Till that new step in evolution happens, man’s life will be riddled with death, his efforts at outer conquest marred with inner defeats, his glorious successes sum up into specious failure.  Man’s commerce with life and forces around him will remain precarious at his own level of evolution.  Even at best, he may arrive at a healthy equilibrium with his environment as a pack of wolves or a species of plants.  But Nature would not allow this. It is thus that disease, death and infirmity pursue man.  All stress and strain that besieges this race is in essence a call to evolve.  All crisis is a challenge and stimulus to growth and liberation.  All pain and suffering is Nature’s hint and reminder that the joy we experience is imperfect and the power we command is yet a narrow and limited one. Each limitation we experience is a pointer towards our own incomprehension and ignorance.  To remove this stamp of death and seal of suffering, we must remove ignorance and divinise this dust that wakes to life in plant and climbs to thought in man.  This is the inner significance of disease and illness as seen from a spiritual consciousness.

The Central Disease

The central root of our difficulty lies mainly in our sense of separateness and its attendant problems of want, greed, lust and desire.  It is this that translates itself physically and psychologically as self and not-self.  The sense of ‘not-self’ leads to effort for adaptation as well as imbalances of various kinds at physical, vital and mental levels leading to disease and death.  Our true identity is neither physical nor psychological but a spiritual one.  And this spiritual individuality is not opposed to other spiritual individualities but is conterminous with a sense of universality and oneness.  It widens us and by widening liberates us from suffering and makes us more capable of receiving the peace and bliss that heal our maladies of body and mind. For spiritual health to emerge we have to dissolve the false sense of ego-self and replace it by the true “I”, the soul in us.  The emergence brings, as testified by all who have had the contact, its attendant effects of peace and fullness and joy, and openness towards truth and harmony and light, a freedom from the stress and strain of want and desire.  This spiritual change has a positive effect on our entire constitution bringing health and fitness in the body, quietude and goodwill in the vital, clarity of understanding, generosity and broadness as well as balance in the mind.  Overall it results in progress and harmony and a general sense of well-being, security and satisfaction.  The effects are there so long as the contact remains. But it is difficult for most of us to retain a constant contact.  The old person that we are comes back to the surface with all its habits, conditioning and unhealthy preoccupations and preferences.   The peace is replaced by restlessness, clarity by confusion, generosity and goodwill by narrowness and bigotry, and health by want of balance and illness.  These periods of light and darkness alternate till the spiritual element is fully freed in us and once purified of all egoism it sets the other parts of our nature to its own harmonious rhythm.  The spiritual self holds the key to release the forces of progressive harmony and health in us.  Under the stress of the soul the human consciousness begins to grow deeper, wider and higher.  All our values of understanding, sensing, feeling and living start undergoing a marked qualitative change which is superior to the mere philosophising idealism, ethical and moral piety, emotional fervour and exalted sentimentalism.  The mind opens to intuition, illumination, visionary revelation and prophetic inspiration.  The heart opens to a deep, pure and calm capacity to love without possessiveness and turbulent attachment.  The life-force and will, bereft of the heaving disturbance of desire, becomes a dynamo for selfless Divine work in the world.  Even the body shares the spiritual touch which translates itself in terms of calm and balance, trust and an absence of fear, things that help us immensely in healthy living and even cure us of disease.  Yet this is not enough. More is needed.  A greater perfection can emerge by the total transformation of nature wherein an immunity from all types of diseases is possible, not just for a few exceptional individuals, but as a potentiality for the entire race.

Search versus Research

How are we going to do that?  By research or by search, by convincing statistical proofs or by living example?  This is a question everyone has to answer for oneself.  However, history shows that one example in this regard is far more convincing than a whole mass of data and statistics. Data and statistical analysis reach out only to a small section of the human mind — the scientific one.  Often, it only helps to convince the already convinced.  The sceptic continues to disbelieve, for such is the nature of mind that it can interpret the same truth differently, and by a subtle twist of logic and change of premises arrive at totally different and even opposite conclusions.  But example touches much deeper and has a wider range of action.  It is like fire. Talking about fire can ignite only curiosity but actual contact with it can light up a similar fire and convince one of the mass of heat and light that fire is.  One such living fire is of far greater value than a whole pile of figures that often gather dust in our libraries.  Thus it is the pressure of the spirit that wakes up the sleeping soul of man. There are no other means for it.

A Practical Programme for the Future

How are we going to implement all this in our collective health programmes?  This is not a simple question and perhaps there are no easy answers.  A few approaches can however help us integrate the spiritual dimension with the others.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Subjective psychological experiences like peace, joy, faith, etc. should be included in our research designs. So far, scientific studies have largely ignored personality factors of the patient and therapist in health and illness.  These need to be included.
  • There is a need for health education programmes creating greater awareness about the role of our psychological states in health and illness. This awareness needs to reach both physicians and health educators as well as their clientele.
  • From a scientific point of view it may be better to approach the spiritual dimension through a better understanding of our subjective psychological states than through an understanding of religion. Psychological states are universal whereas religions have become a source of misunderstanding, confusion and division rather than being one of the means of arriving at higher states of consciousness.
  • At least, a minimum stress should be put in our medical education curriculum on the spiritual aspects of human existence. This can be done by inviting guest speakers to give lectures or perhaps going on experiential tours for a couple of weeks to places which carry a spiritual atmosphere.
  • Medical training should include knowledge of self-help techniques that would help physicians develop greater calm and confidence. They can in turn extend and apply it to patients.  Many such methods for self-development and self-mastery exist but need implementation.
  • Individuals and institutions with expertise in the field of self-mastery and self-growth and willing to help impart the necessary knowledge and skills to selected workers can be identified. These trained workers can then serve as a link between the community and the public health system.
  • A serious and sincere study of the psychic sciences and their interface with other aspects of our biology and psychology needs to be undertaken. So far, mainstream science has only maintained distance, seeing it with a sceptic’s eye and denying it even before exploration.
  • Above all, a paradigm shift is needed about our concept of man himself. One could work towards this end by inviting more constructive debates amongst leading men in each field, who feel the necessity to go beyond the present notion of man and life. These alternative views need to be publicised and presented to the health workers.  At present they are made aware (as if almost deliberately ) only about the physical side of man even though enough data and material already exist to show that man is not just a biological organism but something more.
  • An open minded study of ‘consciousness’ and ‘self-experience’ will be of great help.  The study and corresponding literature and publications could be funded through world bodies dealing with health and education, like the WHO and UNESCO.  The persons identified to study this must be those having a reasonably good understanding about these aspects.
  • We have to understand that even a highly qualified person with good standing in his specialised field may know next to nothing about ‘consciousness’ and ‘spirituality’.  His opinion carries little or no meaning.  On the contrary, there are specialists in ‘consciousness’ and ‘spirituality’ just as in other fields.  It is on these that initially the responsibility for a deeper exploration of the spiritual dimension must rest.
  • Finally, serious efforts should be made to study the psychological evolution of the human race, especially as it is happening now. The key to the spiritual dimension may well be found there.

Conclusion

The task therefore before us as physicians is not just the relief of symptoms but to seek deeper into the layers of our psychology where the roots of health and illness lie.  The illness is a crisis point which leads us, as if by Nature’s irony, to the doors of our own concealed possibilities.  We suppress one form of illness but another returns.  It is so because we have failed to take note of the hint and refused to learn from the wisdom of Mother Nature.  We can avoid this responsibility of learning what Nature intends to teach, only at our own peril.  We can ignore the lesson and the leading, only to face the threat of extinction.  But if we are to not only survive but progress and evolve beyond our religions and ideological cults, then we must open the doors to this greater and vaster spiritual consciousness and allow its influx in us.  It is in this spiritual emergence that lies our hope and future as a race. The spiritual dimension holds the key to the enigma called ‘man’ and the solution to the paradox called ‘life’.