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The Nobility of Medical Profession

Swami Brahmeshananda (Former Editor of 'The Vedanta Kesari' and Senior Monk of Ramakrishna Order) has graciously sent the following article to be put on this site. I have shortened it a lot. But I hope the readers would get the message.

Of the various professions, I consider three as the noblest: the medical, the teachers', of a spiritual instructor's (guide, guru or monk). For, these three make the three gifts: of health, of learning and of spiritual knowledge. Unfortunately many persons in the medical profession really do not appreciate its nobility. They think that it is a very lucrative profession and they can gain name, fame and prestige by it. It opens up a number of opportunities for worldly success.

While engaged in professional activities, being busy with the technical and academic pursuits of their professional science, the doctors and para-medical people are at times apt to lose sight of the ethical, human, psychological and spiritual aspects of their profession. This is all the more true in the modern times, which can be termed as a period of 'technicalization', specialization and commercialization. These developments have seriously hampered the doctor-patient relationship, which only a few decades ago was very healthy and fulfilling. Today, medical profession has come under the purview of the 'Consumer Protection Act'. Indeed, medical activity has now become a business, a contract, made and executed on financial basis, rather than an act of worship, which Swami Vivekananda had envisaged.

Some of the medical personnel may not be inclined to bring in God into their profession. For them--indeed for all--let me quote a passage from the Introduction of the First Edition of the Harrison's Text-book of Medicine, which emphasizes the glory and dignity of the medical profession in a forceful manner:

"No greater opportunity, obligation or responsibility can fall to the lot of a human being than to become a physician (or a doctor). In the care of the sick he/she needs technical skill, scientific knowledge and human understanding. He/she who uses these with wisdom, with courage and with humility will render a unique service to his/her fellow beings and would build within himself or herself, an enduring edifice of character. A physician must seek for his/her destiny no more than these. He/she must be content with no less."

The Aims of Medical Profession: Service and Character

The author has the boldness to state plainly that the aims, the goals, of the medical profession are only two: service and building one's character--not money, name or fame, prestige or position. These will come. Swami Vivekananda says: "In the world take always the position of the giver. Give everything and look for no return. Give love, give help, give service, and give any little thing you can, but keep out barter. Make no conditions, and none will be imposed. Let us give out of our own bounty, just as God gives to us." Unfortunately in our short sightedness, we forget this. 'Unselfishness is more paying, only people have not the patience to practise it,' says Swami Vivekananda.

How does the medical profession provide the greatest opportunity! Does not a monk of the Ramakrishna Mission, for example, get greater opportunity for service and character building? No, the medical professional has much greater opportunity. He can serve his patients as God. By considering the patients as God, he will be able to convert his work into the highest spiritual practice -a means of liberation or moksha. Thus medical profession not only gives an opportunity to serve, but can also lead to the highest spiritual goal of life: Moksha. It is conducive to all the four purusharthas: dharma, artha, kama and moksha.

Swami Vivekananda says, 'Money does not pay, nor name; fame does not pay, nor learning. It is love that pays; it is character that cleaves its way through adamantine walls of difficulties.'

Human Understanding

While we have scientific knowledge and technical skill, the author has also mentioned human understanding. This is something, which one may not learn in a medical institute, but may have to learn by personal experience or from the example of the seniors. This is a very important quality. Doctors must be very careful not to reduce themselves into medical technicians who only mend a human machine, which has become defective. Man is not merely a biological unit made up of certain cells and organs, but he has also a psychology. He is a social and psychological unit. Disease is a tremendous stress on him, mentally, economically and socially. A doctor must have this understanding of the other dimensions of the patient's personality. One person falling ill disturbs himself as well as his family, his office, and many more units also, of which he is a part.

If you have human understanding you will not only decide to serve the poor, the less privileged in society, but your approach towards each individual will also be one of sympathy and deep understanding. You will win friends as well.


Finally, the author of the article asks the doctors to have one rare quality: humility, lack of vanity, pride and arrogance. A conscientious medical professional is bound to gradually become humble. No other profession than the medical shows us greater miracles of God. Those who have long years of medical experience would testify how many times their judgment have failed. There are cases, which the doctors consider, from the medical point of view, hopeless, with no chance of recovery or survival, but they survive. And are there not scores of cases, which the doctors thought are doing well but suddenly deteriorate and succumb? A conscientious doctor, with faith in God cannot but realize that he is merely an instrument in the hands of a far greater power and intelligence who is moving him at will like a puppet.

Sri Ramakrishna says that God laughs twice: Once when two brothers divide a piece of land by a line telling this much is mine, that one yours. God laughs to think that after all the land belongs to me. Second time God laughs when a doctor assures the mother of a sick child that he will save it. The doctor forgets that life and death are in the hands of God.

Let the doctors therefore humble themselves so that they may become fit instruments in the hands of God. Let them begin their professional day with a prayer to God that he may make them his fit instruments. Humility is a sublime virtue. It adds to the luster, as it were, of the noble character of a knowing and efficient medical professional.

Medical Profession as Worship

The Medical Profession can also be practised in the spirit of worship of God. Swami Vivekananda, while establishing the Ramakrishna Mission a century ago, gave it a motto: 'Shiv Jnane Jiva Seva': service of the human being considering him or her Shiva or God. And he also showed how to do it. He said, 'You have read, "Look upon your mother as God, look upon your father as God"--but I say, "The poor, the illiterate, the ignorant, the afflicted--let these be your God."' In the Ramakrishna Mission, the monastic members as well as the lay devotees try to put this into actual practice.

At the Ramakrishna Mission's 230-bedded hospital at Varanasi the monks serve the patients considering them as gods. There is no temple. The hospital itself is the temple. The hospital kitchen where patients' food is cooked is called 'Narayan Bhandar' i.e. the Kitchen of the Lord. At around 10 o'clock, food is served to the Rogi-Narayana - patient-gods, and the same food the monks eat around 12 o'clock. That means the food, having been first offered to Narayana has now become a sacrament, prasad, which the monks, the worshippers partake with reverence.

This is the spirit with which monks served and are still serving patients at the Ramakrishna Missions medical institutions. For them, the medical service is neither a profession nor even a service, but a spiritual practice, sadhana comparable to meditation that would lead them to God or Moksha. And every doctor can and must sublimate his medical activity into a spiritual act. What is required is a change in one's attitude. Let them begin the day with reminding themselves that the patients we are going to meet are veritable embodiments of God, and let them try to act accordingly.
Swami Brahmeshananda

Also Read: "Revival of Medical Ethics: Swami Vivekananda's Guidelines."

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