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Vedanta for Health Care Professionals
Knowledge and Epistemology
Epistemologically, in an experience two things are involved, I and You, the subject and the object. During consultations, the doctor assumes the form of I (subject) and the patient You (object). Hence, the dialogue that ensues (the consultation process) is meant to arrive at a conclusion (the possible diagnosis) through a question and answer session. As we shall see later, this session proves to be the most vital link in the ensuing process of diagnosis and treatment. The initial working diagnosis is further corroborated by specific laboratory tests until a final diagnosis is reached. At this stage, a definitive conclusion based on facts is essential to think of a treatment plan.
There are several questions at this stage. How true are the collected facts? Is it free of perceptual errors? Does it remain true after a certain time has lapsed? Have I as a 'Doctor' identified myself with the experience of my patient? Have I correctly determined the cause of my patient's illness? Am I truly knowledgeable so that I can trace the evolution of the illness from the very beginning? Most serious illnesses of a chronic nature have the cause submerged in obscurity. What is visible is the external manifestation of an underlying change process. For example, a cancer of the breast need not always have a cause in the breast itself. It is more likely that the malignant change process has begun in more subtle planes of the mind and eventually manifested as a cancerous tumor of the breast.
It is said that all gross manifestations in the material world is preceded by subtle manifestations in the inner world of consciousness. In other words, all patients with chronic disease have a history of 'dis-ease' for several months or years before the gross manifestations. They must be motivated to search for the primal cause through the collective experience of the conscious and the unconscious. In Vedanta, the true seeker of Absolute Truth is said to be on an endless journey of time and space that eventually culminates in Self Realization. This approach is to be encouraged for all patients and could lead to a journey of self-discovery that ultimately leads to the root cause of their ailments.
Could the transformation of normal cells to malignant cells have a spiritual basis? If this is true, then there is a powerful tool available for reversing the malignant process. The process of inner transformation and self-realization through a synthesis of Bhakti yoga, Karma yoga and Kundalini yoga is an appropriate approach to complement and harmonize with the medical treatment. I would like to emphasize at this point that all known forms of medical treatment for benign and malignant diseases is aimed at the gross manifestations of disease only. While such an approach is essential and appropriate in the short term to halt the progress of disease (manifestations), it is harmful to believe that it is the central core of all treatment strategies. External treatment cannot be expected to result in inner transformation.
As Sri Shankaracharya states in his Advaita philosophy and writes in a small treatise 'Pancikaranam', ontological enquiry should lead us to the determination of the primal cause of the fact of our experience, which the world is. There is only one Reality that exists and that must be sought. As it happens during oncological consultations, different sub specialists offer different views on the possible cause/ causes and then suggest equally differing treatment options. A surgical oncologist naturally favors surgical treatment while a medical oncologist will suggest chemotherapy. If Reality is one, then these differences will negate the benefits of treatment in the long run. Then the apparent 'cure' is not real but due to imaginary attribution (Adhyasa) only. The faith in the reality of our treatment plan is so deep rooted in our minds that it is very difficult to get to the stage of seeking suitable alternatives. However, a holistic approach is imperative if the resurgence of disease in a 'cured' person is to be avoided.
Yoga in Healing
A combined integrated approach wherein the 'doctor' administers medical treatment while the patient simultaneously embarks on a rigorous practice of inner transformation and realization will prove to be the most effective weapon against disease. Inner transformation is achieved through a synthesis of Bhakti yoga, Karma yoga and Kundalini yoga. Correct knowledge passing through the minds of 'doctors' is a healthy safeguard in the battle against disease. An important question arises here - what am I witnessing during my interaction with my patient? What am I seeing? If I have to get convincing answers to my questions in order to make a diagnosis, could it be that true that my questions itself have to address real pertinent issues? In medical language, the method of history taking may have to be re-discovered in the light of new knowledge to include questions that indicate trouble in the mind more than in the body!!
In the past, rigorous yogic (mystic) discipline, which was not an end in itself, helped to purify the mind so as to enable it to reason most correctly. But such discipline is almost impossible under present conditions. The modern mental outlook is pre-eminently scientific owing to the great progress science has made. And the best method of forcing the mind from its inaccurate ways of thinking is to imbue it as fully as possible with the scientific spirit. However, the materialism inherent in medical education today is much to be lamented. A judicious admixture of science and philosophy is to be recommended for all seriously concerned with the healing profession.
The understanding is, identification of the real cause of an illness requires clear perception and reasoning. The ability to make reason (Buddhi) as the highest means of enquiry into an illness (and reduce dependence on laboratory investigations) has far reaching implications.
The study of Vedanta as a whole is to be recommended for all health care professionals eager to excel in intuitive diagnosis. This in turn helps him to discover his SELF. Traditionally, Western system of Medicine has taught that diagnosis implies recognition of symptoms (manifestations) and signs (changes) that conforms to a known disease (name). For example, a patient who has joint pains (manifestations) and deformed fingers (signs) is diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis. Thereafter. The process shifts to either confirmation of diagnosis by laboratory tests or immediate treatment for pain relief. Despite tests being negative, the same thinking is allowed to persist albeit giving a new name (sero-negative arthritis) to allow conformity of opinion to continue. Here, reason is forfeited at great cost.
Whenever we attempt to diagnose (perceive) an illness in a person (object) we find four hindrances in the way. These hindrances are created by avarana-sakti (the veiling power of Maya). These hindrances cause errors in judgment, incomplete understanding of the nature of an illness and finally a definite limitation to the possible treatment options we can offer. However, patients by their own efforts can remove the veiling power of Maya and contribute to their healing. This pro-active partnership is central to the philosophy and practice of Holistic Medicine.
Study of Vedanta provides powerful insights into the reality of sickness and healing in an incomparable manner and is to be recommended for all health care professionals who are eager to replace the monotony and drudgery of routine daily practice by zest and enthusiasm.
Dr Jayanth G Paraki
Consultant in Holistic Medicine
Bangalore (India): [email protected]