The spiritual importance of health
When a man's health has broken down, nothing seems so important to him as its restoration. It is only then that he really realizes the value of good health. This has been stated from the merely conventional and worldly standpoint. But what of the spiritual standpoint? The aspirant whose health has broken down becomes continually preoccupied with the condition of his body, so that the thoughts and time which he gives to it are taken from the thoughts and time which he could have given to his spiritual aspiration. And when he comes to his meditation periods, he may find it difficult to rise above his bodily states, so that even his concentration and power of meditation may be disturbed by it. For after all, the body is the instrument with which he has to work, and through which he has to achieve his high purpose during incarnation on this earth. This is why systems have been created to lay a foundation of health and strength for the spiritual endeavours of the aspirant. Moreover, if he seeks to be of service to his fellow men, his capacity to serve will be limited by the condition of his health, and may even be inhibited on the physical plane altogether. With good health he becomes more valuable to others but with bad health less so.
What is wrong with offering physical benefits to the students of philosophy? Why should it not make them healthier and help overcome their difficulties? Why should philosophy be indifferent to their personal welfare? Is it something fit only to be read about in library chairs or meditated upon in mountain caves? That is to say, fit only for dreamers and not for those who have to struggle and suffer in the world? No--it is something to be proud of, not something to be ashamed of, that philosophy shows us how to live so as to prevent avoidable sickness and how to find a path out of perplexing difficulties.
There is nothing meritorious in meekly accepting illness and disease because they are God's will. The human being is entitled to defend its body against them.
He should be ready to die at any time but not willing to do so. For the need of staying on in the body until a deeper spiritual awareness has been gained should make him care more for his health, fitness, and efficiency.
If the body does not become non-existent because, ultimately, it is a thought-form, neither does it become unimportant. For it is only in this body that we can attain and realize the ultimate consciousness. If, as has been explained in The Wisdom of the Overself, the physical wakeful state is the only one in which the task of true self-realization can be fully accomplished by the individual, then it is also the only state in which all mankind will ever accomplish it. As the social arrangements and living conditions in the world may accelerate or retard the process of enlightenment, it becomes clear that the nature of those physical arrangements and conditions is important in the eyes of those who care for mankind's spiritual welfare. Consequently, true wisdom cannot be indifferent to them but, on the contrary, will always seek to improve the one and ameliorate the other.
Why should we refuse, in the name of an other-world sanctity, the healing gifts of Nature because they help the body which belongs to this world? Are we such ethereal creatures already, have we attained the disembodied state, that we can afford to neglect the aches and pains, the ills and malfunctions of this, our earthly body?
Most of the individual's health troubles are the result of karma. The body is a source of pleasure and misery to nearly all; but both being temporary, the one balances the other. He should do his utmost to keep his body in good health by following the best program of physical living, diet, and so on, that his own experience and expert advice can suggest. He should try the most reasonable treatment for illness which both the Indian (including hatha yoga) and Western medical systems can offer. After he has done these things then there is nothing more he can do except to take his sufferings as a constant reminder of the necessity of seeking happiness in a spiritual self above the body self.
The question you ask about the inevitability of ill health on this path needs a page to itself. Generally speaking, there is no such inevitability. Indeed the cleansing of the subconscious mind, the discipline of the bodily senses, and the quieting of the emotional nature promote good health. Where, however, the student through ignorance or through outside factors fails to make certain necessary changes in thought, feeling, attitude, or living--necessary at a certain period for his further evolution--then his higher self forces those changes upon him through upheavals or upsets in his environment or in his body. This is done by sending down some karma. In the latter case it means, of course, illness or disease--sometimes "accident." This covers certain individual cases, but there are many others where ill health is only the ordinary karmic result of earlier transgressions of the laws of physical, emotional, moral, or mental health, and not the result of special Overself intervention. Finally, there is the third group where it is the result of the natural imperfection of life on this earth where everything, as Buddha said, is doomed to decay and perish. Nobody escapes this general law. Mrs. Eddy could not escape it nor could Buddha himself escape it, as he once explained when he fell ill with fever. Such imperfection is, however, one of the causes which drive mankind to seek a higher life, a diviner better existence; so it is not useless. This earth is not our true home. We belong elsewhere, nearer to God's perfection, beauty, harmony.
Disease has hidden causes
Diseased conditions in the human body are often traceable, by a subtle and penetrating analysis, to diseased conditions in the human soul. Medical science deals chiefly with the physical organism, and so long as it persists in regarding only that part of the being of man, so long will it continue to find its theories falsified, its carefully prepared experiments turned into blind guesses, and its high percentage of failures maintained. I might make my point clearer, perhaps, by stating that the body is after all only a sensitive machine, and that if the thinking and feeling man who uses that machine in self-expression is distorted, unbalanced, or discordant in any way, then these undesirable qualities will reproduce themselves in the physical organism as appropriate disease or functional derangements.
The causes of disease with which conventional medicos deal are too often themselves the effects of still deeper causes. It is because unconventional healers recognize this that they are able to achieve so much higher a proportion of dramatically successful cures than the medicos can achieve. And their principal recognition is of the spiritual nature of man, along with the mental emotional influence on the body.
When plague broke like a wave over the heads of mankind in the fifteenth century and spread with startling rapidity through the nations of Europe, the obvious physical causes were in themselves but agents of the less obvious soul-causes, defects in the very character of humanity. Insomnia and cancer, to take but two of the representative illnesses of our own epoch, are no less plaguelike in their menace to people of today, no less the products of causes inherent in imperfect human character, habit, or environment.
Although we can often find the physical causes of physical ailments, behind these physical causes there are quite often maladies of the soul. Heal the soul and the bodily healing may follow. Obviously there are many cases where no success would result.
The first step in healing, for both the healer and the patient, is to pray, to ask for enlightenment about the true and first cause of the sickness. What act or what thought of the patient was primarily responsible? Once learnt, it must be corrected.
A disease may well be the outer expression of an inner conflict, or an inner weakness, or an inner misery.
He may push the problem away for a time, but it will be only for a time. One day it will return and he will have to deal with it again.
Those who violate the laws of their own being will suffer in health.
When Jesus told the woman he healed to sin no more, he added that it was her sinning which brought her ill-health upon her. Here then is one of the potent causes of sickness.
So long as we remain alienated from the Overself, so long shall we suffer misery and spoil life.
The claims of the inner life for attention and satisfaction are too often thrust aside, with a consequent unbalance. This deplorable condition increases until in middle life bodily malfunctions and maladies begin to appear, nervous and emotional stresses begin to cause trouble. It is then that the little "I" starts to break down. But because those claims are still, consciously or unconsciously, resisted, the cures are either temporary or followed, later, by new forms of ill health. This is not to say that there is only this single origin of sickness or disease, but it is certainly a very modern one.
If the change begins in the body's behaviour it may influence the mind to a very limited extent, but if it begins in the mind's thinking it will influence the body to a very large extent. That is the difference.
If, when we consider a subject from the standpoint of medicine, psychology, biology, or philosophy, we treat the body and the mind as two entirely separable things, it would be a mistake. They have a common origin.
We agree with all those virile advocates of health who assert that it is the foundation of human happiness. But we would widen its definition and make it include mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
The psychological causes of disease have only recently come under investigation by the strict methods of modern science, but the general fact of their existence was known thousands of years ago. Plato, for instance, said: "This is the great error of our day, that physicians separate the inner being from the body."
What needs to be learned and accepted is the mentalist law of reproduction--as apart from the biological law--which teaches that sustained thoughts or violent feelings may produce physical-body effects.
Many of the conventional ideas prevalent in the medical profession are still materialistic, although some members of that profession do not shut their eyes to the dominant role of mind in the mind-body relationship. When the perceptions of the inner being are developed, the all-importance of healing wrong thought-emotion becomes clear.
The belief that disease exists entirely in the mind is an exaggerated one. The opposite belief that it exists entirely in the body is equally carried too far. In both cases experience and reflection must ultimately produce a reaction, provided prejudice is not stronger than the spirit of truth-seeking.
Nothing that happens to a man happens to his flesh alone or to his mind alone. The one can never exclude the other, for both have to suffer together, or enjoy together, or progress together.
Here again mentalism makes it possible for us to understand the basic principle which is at work. The entire body being a mental construct, it is occasionally possible to apply mental forces so as to repair wastage, heal disease, and restore healthy functioning. We say "occasionally" advisedly, for reasons which will shortly be given.
Psychosomatic medicine deals with physical diseases caused by emotional or mental factors, by moods or fears, by hidden conflicts or repressions. It has steadily been rising into an influential place of its own in recent years.
Mentalism affirms the true nature of the body, and hence of the nerves in the body. Pain is a condition of those nerves and hence must ultimately be what the body is--an idea in the mind.
What healing agent can be used successfully to cure a pathological condition whose first origin is in the mind? Should it not also be mental?
The power of bodily conditions to control thinking is admittedly true. Experience tells us that this is so, that physical causes are effectual in producing mental-emotional results. But this is not the whole truth. The reverse fact, that spiritual and psychic forces can heal or injure the body, that thoughts and feelings can affect its functioning, must also be admitted into consideration.
Even if it be hard to grant by sceptics that the mind is the whole cause of a particular sickness, they may be willing to grant that it is at least a contributing cause.
If the individual mind were completely cut off from the Universal Mind, if it really lived in a realm composed only of its own thoughts, then the formation and continuation of the world-image would be fully under its control. But this is not the case. Consequently it lacks the freedom to mold the body-thought as it would or prolong its life at will.
The treatment of unpleasant realities by not including them in his picture of the world comforts but at the same time befools a man. None of the great prophets like Jesus and Buddha denied the existence of sickness, the reality of pain, or the significance of suffering in the cosmos. No--they acknowledged them as being inseparable from human life but pitied the victims and offered them an inward comfort which was based on truth and reality.
The animal part of us is doomed to oblivion, the spiritual part is ageless and deathless. The physical body belongs to the animal part. All attempts to perpetuate it must fail and arise from confusing the two levels of being, the transient and the eternal.
People ask Why, if all is mind, if--as you say--our bodies are only ideas, can we not control regulate and improve our bodies by controlling regulating and improving our minds? Why not go further still, with Christian Science, and play with the possibility, not only of these achievements, but also of rendering the body immortal by thinking it so?
The answer is that nobody can deny the creative power of the mind. It may do all these things, except the last. That it will never do. Why? Because we live in a world whose fundamental law of being--as Buddha discovered and Jesus taught--is decay and death, change and transition. Indeed, it was because they were so painfully aware of these truths that they sought and found the only true way of escape for man and that was into Nirvana, into the Kingdom of Heaven--not into the physical body again! No Christian Scientist from the first founder down to the latest follower has ever achieved physical immortality, nor ever will. "Man will never tire of seeking immortality," wrote Dr. Alexis Carrel, whose biological researches, yet mystical sympathies, entitle him to speak with high authority. "He will not attain it, because he is bound by certain laws of his organic constitution. . . . Never will he vanquish death. Death is the price he has to pay for his brain and his personality."
Now as for the other things, the possibilities of spiritual healings of pathological conditions, miraculous mental cures of disease, and rapid acceleration of organic repairs through concentrated thinking, I repeat that we do not deny them. They have always existed, always been demonstrated. The relation between psychological and physical processes must certainly exist if our doctrine is true. But there are two other factors at work in human life which must also be considered and must not be ignored. What are they? The first is the factor of destiny, self-earned in previous lives and now awaiting physical expression in the present life. It has something to say, whether we like it or not. The second is the factor of renunciation. When you accept the doctrine that all is mind and each individual thing is but an ephemeral idea, you must perforce accept the doctrine that you as an individual, as the ego, are also an ephemeral idea. Now when you go further and declare that you want reality, you want to find eternal and not ephemeral life, you will have to abandon the fleeting idea for the eternal Mind in which it occurs: that is, you will have to sink the ego and merge its will in the greater universal will of the Infinite Being. Do this! What will you find next? That your personal desires have sunk with it, that your individual wishes and hopes and fears have dissolved and disappeared. The desire for bodily betterment, however very attractive, would have gone too. You cannot have a single desire and yet enter the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus pointed out. So good health, the care of your painful diseases, the healing of your disturbed organs--right, necessary, and desirable as they undoubtedly are--are nevertheless matters which you must try to effect in a desireless way; you may try to cure them but you must leave the result to the higher will. If you insist that the body must yield to your desires of a cure, to your personal desires, then your ego, not the real universal self, has got the upper hand and is directing you. In that case you will be no better off, for you have no guarantee of success even then. Most Christian Scientists experience a score of failures for every cure. Whereas if you do your best mentally and physically to put your body right, but do it impersonally--accepting failure, if it comes, with as much equanimity as you can--you will certainly be no worse off than the Christian Scientist so far as the possibilities of cure are concerned, and you will be infinitely better off so far as realizing truth is concerned, with all the wonderful peace that will bring in its train. This is one meaning of the words "Not my will but Thine be done" which Mrs. Eddy failed to learn.
Don't you think, having seen so much illness around you for so many years, that life is forever striving to instill into us through pain what Buddha learned through reflection--that both body and world are doomed to decay and die, being subject to the law of universal incessant change? The experiences of life are the lessons of a guru, for we get just the kind of karma whose silent instruction is needed at the time. The whole world, more or less, is having to learn this great truth at present but it is too blind and too ignorant to grasp the lesson in its clarity and entirety.
How far the duration of human life can be extended is not known. The claims of hatha yogis are unauthenticated, while the theories of Christian Science and the experiment of Sri Aurobindo have still left it an uncertain matter. It is true that stories of centenarians being found in different parts of the world are not few and often pass unquestioned. But the difficulty of proving the date of birth usually remains. Most centenarians belong to the illiterate peasant class, to those who have not taken care to retain a correct knowledge of their age, for it was not so important to them as it is to the educated classes. There is hardly a record of payment by life insurance companies for the life of a centenarian. It is reasonable to ask, however, why, if the reparative and destructive elements in the body could be balanced, men should not live for centuries. In the absence of authenticated cases, we may only take the stand that Nature seems to have set her own limits to human life.
Some "back-to-nature" schools of therapy assert that all diseases are the consequences of transgressing the laws of health, just as some esoteric schools assert they are the consequences of incurring karmic debts. The first often point to the wild beasts as being perfectly healthy examples of living according to Nature. But those who have firsthand acquaintance with jungle life will refute this claim. Not only are all animals--whether domesticated or wild--subject to sickness, but even plants, grain crops, trees, fruits, and vegetables are subject to it by blight and rust.
The young and the strong may glory in the satisfaction of being alive, but the old and decrepit, the sick and the infirm, feel no such response to their existence.
The pain and unpleasantness which beset human experience at times--mentally or physically--are not without their complementary pleasure and joy at other times.
We would all like a happy beginning, a happy middle, and a happy ending to our story, but life betrays us: only in fiction is the craving really fulfilled.
If the pain is there, racking the physical life, the peace exists behind it, permeating the inner life.
Another of the great errors for which Mrs. Eddy was responsible is the idea that physical death will ultimately be conquered by the practice of Christian Science. Mrs. Eddy herself, the foremost exponent of her own system, could not demonstrate that conquest. No other Christian Scientist has yet demonstrated it. And I might add the prediction that no Scientist will ever do so. Here again there is a basis of actual truth behind the erroneous teaching, and the whole doctrine provides an apt illustration of the tendency of Christian Science to enter a region of misunderstanding the moment it attempts to apply its true principles to things of this earth.
There was a time in the far past of the human race, a time now lost in the dim mists of antiquity, when the life of man was stretched to a number of years far in excess of what it is today. That time has been hinted at by hoary legends of a Golden Age and by biblical stories of a pre-Flood race. Such a time will return in the cyclic course of our planet's history, but naturally it is faroff in the future. Nature herself is in no hurry. She has plenty of time to accomplish her purposes. And in those days men will again have a normal life-span of hundreds of years.
There exists in Asia a certain ancient knowledge--whose name may conveniently be translated as "The Art of Yogic Body Control"--which promises its votaries astonishing benefits in longevity. This age-old art is not the same as the alchemy of medieval Europe, when men sought vainly in experiments for the elixir of life. It is of such antiquity that those who hand it down tell us that it was born just after the time when the fabled gods had ceased to walk this earth. The exponents have almost disappeared from the world, but the tradition is widespread throughout the East that solitary individuals still practise it in remote and unfrequented places. So difficult are the exercises which belong to this system, so laborious are its practices, so ascetic the self-discipline which it involves, that one can understand why it has almost faded out of existence. It performs strange feats such as stopping blood circulation and lung action, permitting knives and daggers to be run like skewers through the living flesh without harming it and with an extremely rapid drying of blood, and even the burial alive of an entranced body beneath the ground and its safe resurrection several hours or some days later. The principal basis of these feats consists in making certain changes in the breath rhythm, changes which involve such risk to life and health that we are not prepared to assume the responsibility of describing here the exercises for the development of such powers. It is also necessary to live a celibate and chaste existence, to refrain from expending energy in worldly work and business, and to reduce diet to an astonishing minimum.
Because they demand a special and severely ascetic training which is the work of several years devoted wholly to this austere task, such feats are necessarily uncommon. The ordinary layman could hardly be expected to find the time for such training, nor is there any necessity for him to do so. These displays are certainly spectacular but have primarily only scientific, medical, and theatrical values rather than a general one. Meanwhile, Nature has set her brief term to the human body, and those whose attachment to the body is not overweening will resignedly accept that term while the others must do so unwillingly.
But this is a different matter--living in the fleshly body for ever and ever, a notion which must seem insupportable to many who find the present brief term of man's existence quite enough for them to cope with. If Nature cared so much to preserve the physical body of man, she would not introduce earthquakes, eruptions, hurricanes, famines, pestilences, and floods into the scheme of things. The fact that she does do so indicates rather that she regards his body as being only a fragment of the man, not as the full man himself. It was Mrs. Eddy's idea, of course, that in those days sin and sickness would also have disappeared from the world, so that our existence would be a halcyon one. It is a pretty picture, but man's true home is not in the tabernacle of flesh; it is elsewhere. The fleshly body is but a temporary abiding place at best, and when man has arrived at a state of perfect spirituality he will abandon it and use a vehicle more consonant with his high condition, an electromagnetic body that will more easily and more faithfully represent him. Yes, death will be conquered, but not in the way that Christian Scientists imagine. It will be conquered firstly, by extending the duration of human life to a constantly increasing period; and secondly, by completely abandoning the physical body for a subtler one.
Mary Baker Eddy saw clearly enough that the real inner man--his spiritual being--is undying and immortal. For her statement of this truth, she deserves much credit, although it is certainly not a novel one. But when she began to consider that inner being in relation to its transient earthly tenement, the body, she became confused and misunderstood the nature of that relationship. The hour of every man's death is fixed by a higher will than his own, by that power which some call destiny but which itself takes its rise out of the Infinite Power, and no Christian Science practitioner or ordinary physician has ever "saved" the life of anyone. A man's own Overself fixes the dates of certain major events in his life prior to the moment when he utters his first cry as a babe, and the date of his death is but one of those appointed hours.
The Dhammapada says: "Not in the sky, nor in the depths of the ocean, nor by entering the caverns of the mountain, nowhere in the world can such a place be found where a man might dwell without being overpowered by death."
We are as flies on the wheel of the Universe. For all our loud buzzing it still rolls along on its own path. And yet these people confidently imagine they set the great Laws of Destiny at naught, and interfere with the workings of the Cosmic Plan.
Christian Science, like Sri Aurobindo, sets up the goal of physical immortality. Neither has yet succeeded in turning this from a theoretical into a demonstrable achievement. I believe, with the Buddha, that neither of them ever will. But this is something which the future must settle. What we can settle with certainty now is that the goal is inconsistent with the general teaching. For in the case of Christian Science, matter is ardently proclaimed to be unreal. Why then all this bother to immortalize a material body? Why should any consistent Christian Scientist be so attached to an admittedly false concept of his own consciousness as to wish to perpetuate it for all eternity? And in the case of Sri Aurobindo, the arch-exponent of yoga, we ask why, if the attainment of the divine consciousness is the declared goal of yoga, death should not be regarded as being the failure to seek this consciousness and true immortality as being its successful realization? It is perfectly true, as Christian Science asserts, that there is a world of being where error, evil, and sickness are quite unknown and also true that man can penetrate and dwell in this world. It is, however, quite untrue to assert that he can thereby abolish his life in the lower world where error, evil, and sickness do exist all around him. He will, in fact, have to carry on a double-sided existence. Within, all will be harmony, goodness, health. Without, much will be discord, baseness, and disease. He can liberate himself from the flesh and its environment, but only in his attitude towards them. Both will still be there. He can, by intense inward concentration resulting in a trance-like state, think them out of his existence completely for a time, but not for all time. Nor can he change their character; that is, he cannot convert the body into a tree in actuality, nor a tree into a river.
Whereas Christian Science denies the reality of a diseased condition and doesn't deny the physical body altogether, philosophy denies only the materiality of the physical body and accepts the existence of the condition. Again, whereas Christian Science asserts that physical sickness was never given a place in God's scheme of things, philosophy says that it was given a place and fulfils a part of the divine purpose in our human evolution from a lower to a higher state of consciousness.
There is no disease which can affect the man's divine soul, no sickness which can lay it low. It is his incorruptible element. Hence it is certainly true to say that the perfect man does not suffer from these things. But what is usually ignored or generally unknown is that "the perfect man" does not exist on earth, only "in heaven"; never in the flesh, only in the spirit. This earth and this body have been given over to the alternations of decay and growth, of death and birth--in short, to processes of change involving corruptibility. There is only one sure, permanent, and impeccable way of overcoming disease or sickness, and that is to live consciously in the Overself as well as the body. Whoever understands all this will find it easy to understand that the same causes prevent the possibility of living forever in identically the same body, and thus of attaining physical immortality. The laws which influence the building up of the body are precisely the laws which also influence its eventual breaking down. There is no trustworthy record in history that any human being has so far evaded the operation of these laws and survived the planet's vast evolutionary cycles. That man may discover how to prolong his life beyond the present average span or how to preserve his body in good functional and organic health is, however, a possibility which need not in any way be denied by these statements.
That alone can exist forever which is not compounded together out of different elements, for it is a law which we see everywhere at work in the universe that all such composite things must become decomposed again in time. We may be able to devise means to prolong the body's life, but we shall never be able to immortalize it.
When so many others fall victim at some time to sickness or accident, there is no certainty that he will remain indefinitely immune.
The truth is with Jesus, who said that flesh and blood will not inherit eternal life.
Life brings its sufferings to every quester, as to every nonquester, as to all beings who move on this earth. Successful completion of the quest may free him from some of them but could it ever free him from all of them? The happiness he may find cannot be an absolute; it must be qualified.
The characteristics stamped upon earthly life are in part unpleasant, miserable, and painful. Sickness and struggle are not merely the result of wrong thinking, as Christian Science avers, but native to and almost inevitable in our existence. Were it otherwise, we would be so satisfied that we would never aspire to a higher existence, but anxieties goad us eventually into seeking inner peace, worldly troubles stir us to seeking an unworldly refuge, fated frustrations drive us to seeking diviner satisfactions, and bodily illness to seeking spiritual joy. Ours is the world of the imperfect. The perfect reality could never be expressed amid its limitations. No one has ever "demonstrated" conquest over death, or complete freedom from human afflictions before death. These things are inherent in our lot. Through death's presence we are aroused to the need of eternal life; through afflictions to the need of eternal serenity. They exist only in the spirit. So the health and prosperity we can demonstrate are essentially spiritual.
Out of this physical suffering he should have learned the lessons of a deep wisdom: first, that this earth is not his home but only a camp; second, that this body is not his true self but only a garment; third, that suffering, disappointment, or discontent is inseparable from earthly life, real happiness is to be found only in the super-earthly life; fourth, that the full force of the mind must be developed by renunciation, sacrifice, concentration, and aspiration so that it can even here to a large extent create an inner life that continues peacefully in whatever state the body may find itself.
The Philosopher's body
The pains and maladies which accompany and punctuate physical existence are not taken away from the spiritually aware man. Their presence continues to act as a reminder--as much to him as to all other men--that just because they do accompany the body's life, that life is an imperfect and unsatisfying one. His five senses are working like all other men's and so must report the painful as well as pleasurable sensations. But what he does gain is a peace deeper than the body's sensations, and unbreakable by their painful nature. One part of him--the lesser--may suffer; but the other part--the greater--remains undisturbed. In his higher and spiritual nature he is well fortified against these afflictions, sustained by heavenly forces denied to other people.
The Buddha was not immune from disease. The austerities he practised during his search for enlightenment permanently affected his health, and his ceaseless activity for forty-five years greatly weakened him towards the end of his life. He often suffered from a severe headache and in his old age he suffered from severe backache which sometimes forced him to stop a sermon halfway and ask one of his disciples to continue from where he left off. The unsuitable meals which he was sometimes forced to eat were responsible for a dyspepsia which persisted throughout his life, culminating in his last fatal illness of dysentery. But none of these ailments prevented him from being always ready with help for those who needed it.
Will man ever be able to retain and maintain the same physical form permanently? To some it would be the height of happiness to realize such an aim, whereas to others it would be a sentence of captivity without hope of release. Is the sage able to prolong his physical life far beyond the normal period? Is there any truth in the Indian legends of yogis who live for a thousand years or more? If not, why should such advanced men lack this power? The answer to the first question is in the negative; to the second question probably in the negative. The answer to the third question is that transiency is the law governing all formed things; that death is the inevitable complement of birth because, as Buddha pointed out, whatever has a beginning in time must likewise have an end in time; and that the truth is that the sage does not really die for he persistently reincarnates in order to help mankind.
We need also to remember that the attitude of the advanced soul towards personal suffering is not the same as the common one. His standpoint is different. So far as we know human history on this globe, all the facts show that sickness, pain, disease, and death are parts of the conditions governing the physical body's experience because they are inescapable and inevitable parts of all physical-plane experience for highly organized forms, whether human or otherwise. That is, they are part of the divine plan for man. We humans resent such experiences, but it may be that they are necessary to our rounded development and that the Illuminated who have approached closer to the infinite wisdom perceive this and drop their resentment. Here we may recall Sri Ramakrishna's attitude towards the cancer in the throat from which he died, Saint Bernadette of Lourdes' attitude towards her painful lingering and fatal disease of consumption, Ramana Maharshi's fatalism about his bodily pains and ailments, and Sri Aurobindo's reply to the physician who attended him for a broken knee after a fall: "How is it that you, a Mahatma, could not foresee and prevent this accident?" "I still have to carry this human body about me and it is subject to ordinary human limitations and physical laws."
With time, the body deteriorates, its youth and beauty vanish, its health becomes uncertain or, worse, precarious. The young Gautama, overwhelmed by this sudden realization, sought in the mind a better and more lasting condition.
The vain delusion that death will have no power over the prophet, and over those followers who faithfully practise the prophet's teaching, has appeared in modern times in Western as well as Oriental mystical circles.
Even Gandhi shared and propagated the view that a sinless man would necessarily have a perfectly healthy body. When, later, he suffered from appendicitis, he blamed his own failure to control passion and thought for its appearance.
If he can succeed in refusing to identify himself with the suffering body, he will not suffer with it.
When Buddha's favorite disciple, Ananda, remarked that his master no longer looked so fine and well as formerly, Buddha replied with the instruction: "Thus it is Ananda that upon youth follows age, upon health sickness, and upon life death."
The Buddha himself could not escape from suffering various illnesses; H.P. Blavatsky was a notorious sufferer of the most painful maladies; and even Mrs. Eddy herself suffered from pneumonia in her old age, although her illness was kept secret.
All the high-sounding babble will not remove the stark fact staring them in the face; all the glib consolatory theorizing will not waft away the terrible spectacle of the guru stricken by cancer.
Because he is not a hatha yogi he will feel the pain of his body when it suffers, but he will also feel that the pain is itself enclosed by a sea of serenity. The ordinary man feels the pain alone. The philosopher feels both the pain and its antidote--Being.
Such is our ignorance that we weep when one man, who is weary with age, escapes from his body, and we perform a dismal ceremony of lament when another man, tired with sickness, separates himself from it. We pretend to believe in God, in a Mind infinitely wise, and yet we have not learned to accept death as a wise event in nature and one as proper as birth. These cults which seek to perpetuate earthly life thereby question the divine wisdom and reveal their own materialistic and egoistic attachments.
The attainment of spiritual consciousness does not automatically bring with it the attainment of healing powers, any more than it brings mathematical powers or musical powers.
The fallacy that the body is automatically healed of its diseases when the mind is healed of its ignorance, needs to be exposed because it is so specious and so attractive.
I prefer to take truth from Buddha rather than from Mrs. Eddy. As against her claim that Christian Science could demonstrate immortality in the flesh, Buddha declared: "That which, whether conscious or unconscious, is not subject to decay and death, that you will not find."
It is a curious bifurcated kind of consciousness where he is aware of what the body is suffering but where he can also feel the support of infinite peace at his centre. Thus both pain and peace are within it.
"I had a joyous certainty that deafness and blindness were not an essential part of my existence since they were not in any way a part of my immortal mind."--Helen Keller in Midstream, her autobiography
Shomo believed it until the very moment that he was killed in a carriage accident in 1871. Benjamin Purnell's cult, the House of David, held to the same silly idea until he was thrown into jail for disgusting crimes and his following fell away. Father Divine claimed to be approaching one hundred years of age and to be exempt from mortal death. The deaths of these leaders were unexpected to the followers, and sometimes even to themselves. Thomas Lake Harris, who founded the community "Brotherhood of the New Life," maintained this delusion until the very year of his own death at the beginning of the century. Mary Baker Eddy taught it as a truth but failed, in her own terminology, to "demonstrate" it when she too died soon after Frederick Howland, leader of the little sect Adonai.
When Ramana Maharshi was stricken with cancer, his resident disciples were dismayed. When he died in agony, they were stunned.
Do these yogic dignitaries contradict each other? "Physical health is essential for true spirituality," says Bhagat Singh Thind, a contemporary Sikh-Indian lecturer and teacher of yoga in the U.S.A. Yogananda, who claimed to have been granted the title of Paramahamsa (Great Master) by his guru, stated flatly in one of his lessons on Self-Realization: "The presence of God cannot be felt while the darkness of overpowering disease prevails." Yet Sri Ramana Maharshi, suffering from a fatal cancer, affirmed the contrary and declared the body to be nothing.
King Milinda said: "You have declared that the Arhats feel no pain of mind though they are all subject to pain of body, but does not the mind subsist because of the body? Is the Arhat without authority, mastery, or supremacy over the body?"
Nagasena replied: "It is even so."
Milinda said: "This does not appear to be right. Even a bird has authority over his nest."
Nagasena said: "There are ten things that in every birth accompany the body, namely: 1. Varna (colour) 2. Tapa (heat) 3. Khuda (hunger) 4. Thrisna (thirst) 5. Mala (feces) 6. Mutra (urine) 7. Nidra (sleep) 8. Vadi (disease) 9. Khaya (decay) 10. Mritya (death). Over these ten an Arhat exercises no power."
Milinda said: "Will you kindly explain to me how it is that this occurs?"
Nagasena said: "Because of the earth all beings exist, the earth cannot be commanded by all these things. In like manner, because of the body the mind exists, the mind cannot command or control the body."
Nagasena said: "Because there has been no accomplishment of Vidarsana and other exercises by which the mind is brought into subjection. There is a hungry bull that is tied only by a small withe which it breaks in its anger and then runs away. In the same way, when the mind is not under discipline, it becomes irritated, breaks away from fear and the voice of sorrow; thus there is pain both of body and mind. But the mind of the Arhat is under proper discipline; it does not disturb the body; it is bound as to a pleasure of Nirvana, and the Arhat is therefore free from the pain of mind, whilst he is still subject to the pain of the body."
Milinda said: "But would it not be a thing to be esteemed as a wonder if when the body is quieted or agitated, the mind were to remain tranquil? Kindly explain to me how this can be."
Nagasena said: "The branches of a tree are shaken by the wind but the trunk remains unmoved. In like manner as the mind of the Arhat is bound to the firm pillar of Samadhi by the cord of the Four Paths, it remains unmoved even when the body is suffering pain."
Even in the midst of bodily sufferings, he will still keep and not lose this beautiful serenity of mind. And he is able to do so precisely because he is able to differentiate the flesh from the mind. Inevitably, it must counteract, even though it may not obliterate, the body's pain.
Pain and suffering, sin and evil, disease and death, exist only in the world of thoughts, not in the world of pure Thought itself. They are not illusions, however, but they are transient. Whoever attains to pure Thought will also attain in consciousness to a life that is painless, sorrow-free, sinless, undecaying, and undying. Being above desires and fears, it is necessarily above the miseries caused by unsatisfied desires and realized fears. But at the same time he will also have an accompanying consciousness of life in the body, which must obey the laws of its own being, natural laws which set limitations and imperfections upon it. This much can be said to be the element of truth contained in some theoretical doctrines of Vedantic Advaita and Christian Science.