The Right Medicine
by Devamrita Swami
In his book Perfect Escape, Devamrita Swami comments on the teachings of the saint Jada Bharata to King Rahugana, found in the Fifth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Having heard from Jada Bharata, King Rahugana is now speaking.
"Because of the material conceptions that have shackled my mind, I declare myself diseased. My body, made of matter, is full of dirty things, and my vision is polluted by pride. Your words of nectar are the right medicine for me, like vaccine for one bitten by a snake. Like cooling water, your instructions relieve one from the scorching fever of material attachment.”
Have you ever known anyone afflicted with a terminal disease like cancer? Of course, in one sense everyone is a terminal case, as the death of the body is common to all. Nevertheless, we all want to live a full life span. Longevity is our expected privilege as members of the developed world. Just think what happens when an educated person of sufficient financial means receives a medical diagnosis that the end is near. Once the initial shock wears off, the person at once begins a desperate search for a brilliant doctor. We are all trained to believe that the frontiers of science will continuously offer new prospects for miraculous cures.
A wealthy patient eagerly researches even the most remote leads. Consider, for example, the famous American basketball player Magic Johnson. When he learned he was HIV positive, he at once deployed his millions to seek out the premier AIDS specialists in America. No possibilities were left unexplored.
Suppose you have bone cancer. Fortunately, friends in the alternative medical scene tell you of a doctor who has astonishing success reversing deterioration in patients who surrender to his or her radical prescriptions. Just visualize what your attitude would be upon arriving at the treatment center: “Doctor, I’ve heard all about your special therapy and its extraordinary possibilities. Conventional doctors have given me no chance to live, but I’ll do anything you say to save my life. Your reputation is famous throughout all the journals of alternative healing. Please treat me. At least put me on the waiting list. I promise I’ll follow your every instruction completely—no matter how much I have to change my living habits.”
Bernie S. Siegel, alternative doctor and author, has sold millions of books recommending attitudinal healing. “Hope is therapeutic,” he says. Although statistics show that a person with x number of terminal symptoms will die in y number of months, he tells of special possibilities. You could be among the exceptional cases—if you change your mentality. He advocates love, laughter, and doing what you like to do. Especially you should “live life to the max.” Then you may qualify yourself for a complete remission, or at least a partial mitigation. People naturally flock to him for personal care.
Siegel says he wouldn’t describe himself as a consummate optimist. Early in his medical career, he saw that although he was trained to help people live, everyone in fact dies. So he feels that if he can spread some happiness amidst the anguish of life, he has made a significant contribution. “I’m a realist,” he said in a radio interview. “I know there’s pain and trouble ahead, but I choose joy. As Joseph Campbell said: ‘I’m here to participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.’ Life is tough, but since I’m here for a limited time, I choose joy. That’s a choice we all have to make or we’re not going to be grateful for life or be happy.”
Judging by sales of Siegel’s book, people appreciate his efforts. Like other alternative-medicine authors—Deepak Chopra, Larry Dossey, Andrew Weil—Siegel firmly insists on a reciprocal relationship of love and trust between the doctor and patient. The doctor must resonate with the patient’s inner nature, so that the patient can arouse the dormant inner strengths crucial for the healing process.
The Western world easily accepts devotion to Siegel and his methodology. We cherish a doctor reputed for postponing disease and death. For a transcendentalist, however, the public’s attitude differs. Society has hardly any idea how to encourage a genuine spiritual teacher. We don’t understand the dynamics of the relationship between a bona fide spiritual guide and a student. Nor do we understand the goal of that relationship.
Take for example Joseph Campbell, the famous popularizer of mythology. Commenting on Westerners’ seeking spiritual guides, the late scholar said: “I think that is bad news. I really do think you can take clues from teachers; I know you can. But, you see, the traditional Oriental idea is that the student should submit absolutely to the teacher. The guruactually assumes responsibility for the student’s moral life, and that is total giving. I don’t think that’s quite proper for a Western person. One of the big spiritual truths for the West is that each of us is a unique creature, and consequently has a unique path.”
Yes, each of us is an individual. Krishna, in the Bhagavad-gita, confirms the eternal individuality of both the minute living entity and Himself, the Complete Whole: “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” (2.12) Yet when living entities forget their relationship with the supreme source, they all suffer a common disease. Everywhere you’ll find the same plague: misidentification with the body and mind, concurrent with an intense struggle to live an illusory life separate from Krishna, the Complete Whole.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam (5.5.18) warns that no one should become a spiritual teacher who cannot rescue a student from the cycle of repeated birth, disease, old age, and death. In fact, the text cautions that one should not even become a parent or a spouse if one cannot accomplish this most important task. Therefore, all Krishna conscious literature advises that one not accept the tutelage of a spiritual guide without investigating whether he can indeed supply all the spiritual necessities. But when you find a doctor who can actually heal the tumor of material existence, why not humble yourself in love and trust?
Doctors like Bernie Siegel aspire only to ease the pain in an admittedly tough and trouble-filled world. Certainly we do need to keep our bodies in the best possible health, and for talented medical help we should be grateful. But we should remember that even the most acclaimed doctors can offer only stop-gap measures in a temporary, precarious existence. For their critical aid in pursuing the ignorance that feels like bliss, we adore them. We desperately seek their guidance like drowning men battling for air. No arguments, just, “Doc, I know you can help me where all others have failed. Whatever you advise, I’ll do without argument.”
Actually, everyone is a terminal case—the death rate is 100 percent. Yet fed by scholarly and popular misunderstandings, we fail to value real therapy, real medicine, and to take advantage of Krishna consciousness.
“Physician, heal thyself.” Why merely take part in so-called joy in the sorrows of the world? Why not learn to rise above illusion and teach others to do the same? The Srimad-Bhagavatam (5.5.4) says: “When a person considers sense gratification the aim of life, he certainly becomes mad after materialistic living and engages in all kinds of sinful activity. He does not know that due to his past misdeeds he has already received a body which, although temporary, is the cause of his misery. Actually the living entity should not have taken on a material body, but he has been awarded the material body for sense gratification. Therefore I think it not befitting an intelligent person to involve himself again in the activities of sense gratification by which he perpetually gets material bodies one after another.”
Here we find a clear invitation to real welfare work: teaching others to avoid material existence altogether. That is the greatest gift. Rather than offering only temporary help, why not get to the root of the entire problem? Cure the bodily conception of life and alienation from the all- attractive reservoir of pleasure.
King Rahugana next tells Jada Bharata:
“Whatever doubts I have regarding spiritual life I will ask you about. Although you have imparted to me mystic knowledge for my enlightenment, your meaning appears too difficult for my grasp. Please repeat your instructions in a simplified way so that I can digest them. I do have a very inquisitive mind, and I certainly desire a clear understanding.”
The sage has adequately explained to the king a basic lesson in spiritual knowledge. A sincere student, however, does have the right to humbly petition the spiritual director for clarification. Krishna consciousness is the most profound art and science, and as such it requires continuous guidance through a heartfelt intimate bond between teacher and student. Contrary to foolish fears, the relationship does not resemble a dictatorship. For instance, Krishna is the Complete Whole and therefore the original guru. Yet after speaking eighteen chapters of the most wonderful knowledge to Arjuna, Krishna clearly indicated that Arjuna still had his options:
“Thus I have explained to you knowledge still more confidential. Deliberate on this fully and do what you wish to do.” (Bhagavad-gita 18.63)
Krishna lucidly delineates the results of all possible choices. Yet even the Supreme Infinite, the original teacher, does not interfere with the tiny independence of the minute, finite living entity. Those giving knowledge and guidance on behalf of Krishna also do not wring submission and agreement out of potential students. Krishna consciousness is a voluntary affair of devotional love and service. The best way for a newcomer to approach it is through careful deliberation.