by Satyanarayana Dasa: Everybody has the innate desire to be healthy, happy and immortal. Yet everybody experiences sickness, sadness and death. By nature we are healthy and sickness is an abnormal state. The word for healthy is svastha or ‘situated in the self’. Thus, being unhealthy or sick means …
verybody has the innate desire to be healthy, happy and immortal. Yet everybody experiences sickness, sadness and death.
By nature we are healthy and sickness is an abnormal state. The word for healthy is svastha or ‘situated in the self’. Thus, being unhealthy or sick means to not be situated in one’s self. How can one not be situated in one’s self? Where else can one be situated? How is it even theoretically possible not to be situated in one’s self?
The answer to this riddle is given by Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. He says that a living being is a combination of prakriti and purusha, matter and conscious being.
Purusha or atma means conscious of entity or soul. The union between prakriti and purusha has no beginning. The purusha or an individual being is conscious by nature and prakriti inert. Purusha is immutable, immortal, healthy and happy by its very nature, and prakriti is ever in flux.
Although purusha and prakriti have opposing qualities, they have been together and their union is causeless and hence beginningless. The awareness of the purusha can be either self-oriented or the other-oriented. When it is self-oriented, the purusha is said to be situated in the self and hence svastha or healthy. When the awareness of the purusha is other-oriented i.e. engrossed in the objects of the world, which are products of prakriti, the purusha is said to be not situated in the self or asvastha i.e. unhealthy or spiritually sick.
In the present state, a living being is other-oriented because he is not aware of his true nature distinct from the body and the mind. Therefore, in the view of the Bhagavad Gita, every living being is sick. Even the so-called healthy person is unhealthy. Therefore, everyone suffers continually unless one becomes self-realized and thus self-situated.
In our present state, our consciousness is diverted to the mind, senses, body and the objects of the world. These are all creations of prakriti. In other words, right now the purusha is oblivious of its own self and absorbed in prakriti’s products. The consciousness of the purusha makes the ego, mind and senses conscious in the present body.
The ego, called ahankara, gives a particular purusha or soul its sense of individuality in the acquired body. Purusha has its own real ego, but at present, the purusha is conditioned by the material ego in the particular body. The material ego or ahankara has an important role to play in our material health. In other words, we can say that there are two types of health – spiritual and material. Spirtually everybody is sick; materially, some are healthy and some ill.
When it refers to material health, svastha means to be situated in sva or ego. The word ‘sva’ here means material ego or ahankara and not the purusha. This isn’t the Freudian ego, but ahankara, the power of individual identity that separates every living being from other living beings.
This is a material element and gives me my identity. It makes me know that I am I and not you, he, she, it, or they; it perpetually reminds me that I am ahankara or material ego. Because each of us has a body, a mind and a soul or purusha, we each have a body-I, mind-I, besides the soul-I. To be materially healthy, we have to be situated in body-I and mind-I. Therefore, a strong sense of individuality is important to the health of an individual.
In spiritual societies often there is stress on renouncing one’s ego, making spiritualists prone to illness. People who practice a spirituality in which stress is placed on renouncing the material ego or individuality without realizing the spiritual identity, invariably become sick.
Traditional societies, such as India, gave a strong sense of identity to an individual. This was one of the functions of varnasharam system (wrongly translated as caste system). In fact, in an individual’s life, many rituals were performed to make him/her aware of his/ her identity or a change of identity with change in one’s body or social status.
In modern society, this beautiful science is getting lost, which is one of the reasons most people are sick. Identity crisis or confusion is a big problem for the immune system.
Modern people tend to disregard their cultural roots in the name of globalization. People living in New York, London, Munich, New Delhi, Bangkok or Tokyo seem to dress, eat, behave and live in a similar manner. The world, they say, is a melting pot in which all cultural identities have been boiled into a soup called confusion. This confusion is translated as freedom.
We have assumed false personalities derived from veneer of addictions to our sensory indulgences, defining freedom as unlimited sensual gratification. We forget that we are not free if we are not aware of our true selves. We are being exploited by consumerism which indoctrinates us through enticing advertisements.
Because of this lack of proper identity, we have become violent to ourselves. We do not hesitate to eliminate any part of our body if we are convinced that it is not beneficial: wisdom teeth, tonsils or appendices. We take chemotherapy, antibiotics and antiseptics to kill bacteria or virus in the body. If this does not work, we do surgical operations. To look beautiful, we do plastic surgery.
We destroy the body in order to save it or make it look attractive. One who can be violent to himself will not hesitate to be violent to others. No wonder there is violence all around. Our art, music, literature, everything depicts this violence. Even our farming has become violent. We spray our crops with harmful chemicals to kill worms and weeds. This ultimately finds its way back to us through food with carcinogenous effect. This is how karma works.
When ahankara or ego is weak, it cannot fight with the rebellious cells in the body. The cancerous cells challenge the ahankara in a civil war to take over the possession of the body–which interestingly is referred as ksetra or land by Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.
Although ahankara is in love with the body (its ksetra or kingdom) and tries to stay alive as long as possible, if the willpower to live is weak or ahankara is not very strong, it succumbs to its rival. There have been many amazing stories of people recovering from cancer because of their sheer willpower or strong ahankara. But if one becomes hopeless because of some intense shock in life, then even well-integrated people can become victims of cancer. Even a temporary stint of hopelessness may be enough to initiate a cancerous state in the body if there is ama (undigested food) accumulated in the body for a long time. Exposure to powerful chemical or radioactive carcinogens engender hopelessness in the healthy cells of the body. They sense the fatal implications of such an exposure. This cellular hopelessness weakens the ahankara further which eventually culminates in the death of the body. Ahankara is a material element and becomes affected by the health of cells in the body.
When an individual undergoes a mental or physical experience utterly indigestible to the ahankara, it sows the seeds for cancer. This experience just awaits an opportunity to find an abnormal rebellious cell in which to live and thrive. Ahankara controls the millions of cells of the immune system that safeguard us from potential mental and physical parasites.
Cells of the immune system discriminate between that which is body and that which wishes to enter it. They are like the homeland security force, knowing what to heal and what to kill. Only when one has a clear memory of one’s identity can immune cells can discriminate between body and parasites. But, by not willing to face the indigestible experience, ahankara herself isolates and provides an opportunity to this indigestible experience to acquire an identity and individuality of its own.
When this rebellious identity finds a suitable host cell in the stored ama (undigested food stored in the body), it possesses it just as a ghost may possess a human being. Undigested food and undigested experience make a good combination and nourish each other. This is the reason that cancer patients don’t have good digestion. Cancer cells receive their physical nourishment from ama and their mental tonic from hopelessness.
People who are starving for love in their social relations are vulnerable to cancer because ahankara does not like to exist without the sense of love and affection. One who cannot bond externally cannot bond internally. This encourages the alien or rebellious cells to bond.
Potential cancer patients often feel a deep sense of existential loneliness in their lives. Any powerful frustration can weaken one’s ahankara. Therefore, strong ahankara is important for good health in general and specifically to fight cancer. Love and affection are tonic to ahankara. No wonder, everyone craves it incessantly, although only few fortunate ones really get it. True love is possible only when one is spiritually healthy.
Here it may be noted that having strong ahankara does not mean becoming materialistic and forgetting our true identity as a purusha, a part of God. Without this realisation, everyone is unhealthy.
Even if we have a strong ahankara we are not free from sufferings of life coming from our own mind and body, from other beings or natural catastrophes. If we take stock of our life’s pains and pleasures, we will find that life is strewn with more pains than pleasures. We are not aware of that because we tend to forget the pains and remember the pleasurable experiences.
The root cause of all suffering is ignorance of our self. We try to know about everything around us, spend hours surfing the Net but pay no attention to the true “I”. This ignorance is the real cancer. It cancels our whole life into nothingness. We are born empty-handed and die empty-handed. The bodily cancer finishes with the body, but the cancerous disease in the form of ignorance of the self is carried on to the next life. We have been carrying this cancer in our previous lives and shall continue to do so if we do not cure it now.
by Satyanarayana Dasa
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