Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 10: Healing of the Self > Chapter 3: The Origins of Illness
The Origins of Illness
The karma of the body
There is certainly evidence to indicate that man is dependent on his physical nature. There is also metaphysical evidence which reveals that the body is strongly influenced by the psyche. Materialist medicos are right so far as they go, but they cannot explain why such-and-such a person has a particular kind of physique, for example, which metaphysics can and does. That reason lies in former incarnations where concentration upon the present form took place. The quality of thought, plus the capacity to rise above it, are special keys to this problem.
All diseases are not, however, caused by soul illness. Destiny looms more largely in this matter than any physician is likely to admit, although it is equally true in the long run that man is the arbiter of his own fate, that the real self bestows every boon or ill upon its fragmentary expression, the personality, and bestows them with a just impersonal hand. But I must be content to leave the explanation of such a seeming paradox for another place and another time. Suffice it to hint that the past of individual men is infinitely more extended than is apparent at first glance.
As he penetrates deeper and deeper into that subtle world of his inner being, he finds that thought, feeling, and even speech affect its condition as powerfully as outer conditions affect his physical being. A complete falsehood or a gross exaggeration, when conscious and deliberate, stuns or inflames the delicate psyche. If persisted in and made habitual, the psyche becomes diseased and falls sick. This may be followed, soon or late according to the sensitivity of the man, by physical sickness. If sickness does not come, then he will be exposed to it in the form of a karma shadowing some future incarnation.
Where there is no obvious transgression of the laws of bodily hygiene to account for a case of ill health, there may still be a hidden one not yet uncovered. Where there is no hidden one, the line of connection from a physical effect may be traced to a mental cause--that is, the sickness may be a psychosomatic one. Where this in turn is also not obvious, there may still be a hidden mental one. Where all these classes of cause do not exist, then the origin of the sickness must necessarily be derived from the karma of the previous reincarnation--sometimes even from a still earlier one, although that is less likely. Under the law of recompense, the very type of body with which the patient was born contains latently, and was predisposed to reveal eventually, the sickness itself. The cause may be any one of widely varying kinds, may even be a moral transgression in the earlier life which could not find any other way of expiation and so had to be expiated in this way. Therefore it would be an error to believe that all cases of ill health directly arise from the transgression of physical hygienic laws.
It is possible to be quite enlightened without being quite free from physical maladies. For the body's karma does not end until the body's life ends.
It is hardly true that the attainment of spiritual consciousness automatically brings perfect health, only partly true that it brings better health, and only in certain cases does it do even that. The present-day human body too often has a toxic condition and a poisoned environment. The spiritual disciplines for attainment purify body and mind, thus leading to less sickness. It will not be until a future and better race of humanity has worked out these bad qualities and created a purer environment that a state of perfect health will be actualized.
In a broad general division, philosophy finds three causes of sickness. They are wrong thinking, wrong living, and bad karma. But because karma merely brings back to us the results of the other two, we may even limit the causes of disease to them. And again because conduct is ultimately the expression of thought, we may limit the cause of disease finally to a single one of wrong thinking. But this is to deal with the matter in a metaphysical, abstract, and ultimate way. It is best when dealing with sickness in a practical way to keep to the threefold analysis of possible causes. Yet the matter must not be oversimplified as certain schools of unorthodox healing have oversimplified it, for the thinking which produced the sickness may belong to the far past, to some earlier reincarnation, and not necessarily to the present one, or it may belong to the earlier years of the present incarnation. In those cases, there is the fruit of an unknown earlier sowing, not necessarily of a known present one. Therefore, it may not be enough merely to alter one's present mode of thought to insure the immediate obliteration of the sickness. If we shoot a bullet in the wrong direction, we cannot control its course once it has left the gun. But we can change the direction of a second shot if we realize our error. We can continue our efforts, however, to change our first thinking, to get rid of negative harmful thoughts and feelings and thus improve our character. For if we do this, the type of physical karma manifesting as the sickness which they create will at least not come to us in the future, even if we cannot avoid inheriting it in the present from our former lives. Study of this picture would reveal what sickness as a karma of wrong thinking really means and why it often cannot be healed by a mere change of present thought alone. The proof of this statement lies in the fact that some people are born with certain sicknesses or with liability to certain diseases, or else acquire them as infants or as children before they have even had the opportunity to think wrongly at all and while they are still in a state of youthful innocence and purity of thought. Therefore it is not the wrong thoughts of this present incarnation which could have brought on such sickness in their case. Nor can it be correct to suggest that they have inherited these sicknesses, for the parents may be right-thinking and high-living people. By depriving themselves of faith in the belief in successive lives on earth, the Christian Scientists deprive themselves of a more satisfactory explanation of the problem of sickness than the one they have. They say that it was caused by wrong thinking, and yet they cannot say how it is that a baby or a child has been thinking wrongly to have been born with or to have acquired at an early age a sickness for which it is not responsible and for which its parents are not responsible.
It might be said that most organic physical disease is karmically caused and most functional physical sickness is mentally caused.
The recognition that he is a victim of serious disease embitters one man but humbles another. Which of these two effects will arise depends on his past life-experience and present mentality.
It is said that Ramakrishna died because he took on the karma of others. This is also offered by some disciples as an explanation of why Ramana Maharshi, like Ramakrishna, died of cancer. But the truth about this matter is not known; only opinions and theories about it prevail.
Deep hurts and bitter experiences from a former unknown incarnation throw their shadows on the present one.
Some are aroused from their thraldom to sexual slavery, or to dietetic sensuality, by the sudden descent of illness, trouble, or impending disaster. From this suffering they derive some strength to amend their ways.
Plotinus was born in Egypt, studied with Ammonius Saccas, planned to travel to Persia and India, but was brought by fate to Rome instead. There he passed his life, writing and lecturing with great success on Neoplatonism. He was a sage, an ascetic, and a rapt concentrated genius. Yet why was he so often sick? He could not care for his own body, could not do like his near-contemporaries Jesus Christ and Apollonius of Tyana did--heal his own body.
The man who follows an evil course habitually and determinedly must one day suffer a moral and emotional and mental collapse.
Another cause of illness is that God sends us tests and ordeals on this path, which may take the form of illness. But in that case we emerge spiritually stronger and wiser, if they are passed, and so benefit.
There is no inevitability of physical suffering on this path generally, but there is for certain individuals. Karma comes down more plentifully at certain times for certain aspirants, but as mind and body are highly interrelated, this is offset by the purification of body and emotions. Hence students need not be afraid of this. Again, spiritual healing is a real fact, but it works in a mysterious way dependent on divine grace; but here also it applies only to certain individuals.
The karmic relation between undisciplined passion and physical disease is obvious in the sphere of sex. It is not so obvious in other spheres.
It is a mistake to believe that because any art of healing--whether it be a material or a spiritual one--is able to heal a particular kind of sickness once, it is consequently able to heal all similar cases of sickness by its own merits. Forces outside it have something to do with the matter. There are some cases where failure by material methods is preordained by the higher power of destiny. There are others where failure by spiritual methods is also inevitable, because the heart of the sick man has not been touched. As elsewhere, there are limits to human effort set here by certain laws.
Disease may re-emerge again at some later time, or if it doesn't, it will do so in the next birth. We are not saying here however that all sickness and all disease are caused by wrong thinking in this present reincarnation but that some of them are. How great or how small that part is depends entirely upon the individuals concerned. With some, it is a very high proportion, with others it is a small one. In the former case, therefore, we must look back to anterior lives for the wrong thought or wrong conduct which produced the sickness of the present physical body as bad karma.
Although Mary Baker Eddy--of whom I am a great admirer--was quite correct in saying that the Real Self is free from sickness, pain, and suffering, the simple denial--by the individual--of these obviously present symptoms will often fail to banish them. Philosophy takes a broader view: it does not attempt to deny the undeniable. It recognizes that all prolonged or intense suffering, being karmically self-earned--whether in this lifetime or in a former one--carries with it a message. This message must be learned and actively taken to heart while, at the same time, every available means--physical, mental, and spiritual--within reason should also be applied in the hope of relieving the suffering and restoring normalcy. The practice of Christian Science is one part of these means, and a most valuable part, but still only a part.
We earlier mentioned that successful healing could never be guaranteed and was only occasionally possible. The healing cults are quite correct in looking for a practical demonstration of successful spirituality in the affairs of daily living, but they are quite wrong in believing that this demonstration always takes the form of perfect health. It is so far from fact that some adept yogis and sages have been known to take on their own shoulders the diseases karmically incurred by disciples closely associated with them, for just as such a one can transfer his own karmic merit to others in order to help them, so he may take from them their karmic demerits. But ordinarily man is not entirely a free agent in this matter, whatever credulous enthusiasts may assert to the contrary, and does not have the last word to say in it, karmic and cosmic evolutionary forces being also at work.
Again, these enthusiasts have to face this problem. The thoughts of God must necessarily be expressive of the will of God. It is quite impossible to separate the one from the other. It logically follows that suffering and sickness being present in the world, they must also be the expressions of God's will.
We have inherited a body which, after ages of mistreatment, degradation, and wrong feeding, cannot quickly change itself and accept the new habits and the new feeding with its organs in their present condition.
If the millions spent on research for cancer cures have so far failed, and if a simple change of faulty thought, belief, conduct, and goal cures it, the worth of this method is thereby demonstrated. If Sai Baba will take twenty cases of advanced cancer and cure them, under world inspection, he will do more to bring humanity out of the threatening danger of total war than all his preaching. For part of his message must be abandonment of war.
Metaphysical or faith cure is an oversimplification of the healing problem and consequently yields only a part-truth. Bodily healing is an occasional by-product of the healing of thought and feeling, or the re-education of moral character; it is not at all the invariable result of such processes. Sickness may come to advanced students for a variety of causes, some of which arise from outside the individual. Karma is the commonest, but one such cause might be the application of a test or ordeal from the divine soul to the human ego that aspires to evolve more rapidly.
If wrong living breaks hygienic laws and provokes disease, wrong-doing also breaks karmic laws and provokes disease, as one form of retribution out of several possible forms. A hereditary affliction would obviously be of karmic origin ultimately.
It is not possible for me to agree with the statement that mentalist doctrine could banish disease if it were firmly established in the race consciousness. Is this also the Christian Science view? Such a statement would be quite correct if the body-idea were wholly a human creation. But it is not, for the World-Mind (God, if you like) or Nature is also responsible for it. The individual mind and the cosmic mind are in indissoluble connection, and out of their combined activity the human world-idea is produced. It would be correct to say, however, that the redirection of thought and feeling would largely help to eliminate disease. As the race learns to substitute positive for negative thoughts, aspiration for passion, and concentration for distraction, it will inevitably throw off many maladies that originate in wrong attitudes.
Certain maladies in the physical being may quite easily be directly traced to evil impulses in the mental being. It is not only man's diseases which are the consequence of his bad thinking, however, but also man's misfortunes. If he is healthy in body he may be unhealthy in fortune. Karma's retribution expresses itself in a variety of ways. It is a mistake to narrow this linking of wrong thinking and ill feeling with the body's sicknesses alone. They are to be linked with all forms of bad karma. Disease is only one form. Their effects may appear in other forms instead. Disease is merely one of them.
Mental states and physical conditions
States of mind are directly or indirectly connected with states of health. A mind sinking under the heavy weight of responsibilities, or filled with the heavy stresses and pressures of business, or depressed by frustration unhappiness or unrest, or shaken by the ending of a close relationship, may soon or late reflect itself in disease, sickness, or breakdown as in a mirror.
Wrong thinking expresses itself in the end in wrong functioning of some organ of the body. The nature of the thoughts and the nature of the malady correspond to each other.
The man who gives himself up to negative destructive thoughts or a feverish tempo of living for years and, later, finds himself sick or diseased, usually fails to think there is any mutual connection between the mental thoughts or unrelaxed way of life and the physical state. He does not even dream that he has been called to account.
Quite clearly, it is as disorders of the various organs, as functional troubles, or as abnormal conditions in one or another part of the body that emotional, nervous, and mental disharmonies first show themselves physically.
Definitions: A sickness develops into an ailment, which if not cured becomes a disease.
There is dissension between heart and head, between feeling and reasoning, and there is disease in the body itself.
There is an undesirable physical reaction for every undesirable emotional activity.
Most people are careless about their mental habits because these seem of trivial importance by contrast with their physical habits. They do not know that sinning against the mind's hygiene may manifest in the physical body itself.
The body's organs are affected by the mind's states. Worry or fear, shock or excessive emotion may disturb, reduce, increase, or even paralyse their working for a time--in some cases for all time.
The clouds of adverse fortune and ill health pass and change over the earth of man's body. In that body there is ultimately reflected his own mental and emotional reactions to them.
The human being is a whole, but has different aspects. What manifests itself as an emotional disturbance in one aspect may also manifest itself later as a bodily sickness.
The body's health and the ego's fortunes eventually match the good or ill shape of the ego's thought.
To overlook the psychological factor in the cause of sickness and to concentrate solely on the physical factor is much too narrow-minded and not truly scientific. At the present stage of human knowledge, it is almost too simple and naïve an attitude to cover all cases.
Mental causes cannot be put in a test tube and examined; this is one reason why they have been overlooked.
What we have been saying does not deny the physical causes of disease; it only refers them back to an earlier start in the mind.
We know that a person can worry himself into a state of physical sickness, but there seems to be less acceptance for the opposite idea that emotions and thoughts can also produce healing and not injury.
When fears and doubts, negative thoughts and pessimistic moods strongly dominate the inner life for long periods, or for a shorter one more strongly, they may provoke repercussions in the physical body and create disease.
The subconscious activity of mind provides the working link between thinking feeling and the flesh through brain and spine, through sympathetic nerve system and delicate nerve plexus. In this way the interplay of character health and fortune is brought about.
When a man is ever bitter, resentful, unkind, and critical; never gentle, constructive, praising, and compassionate; then poison trickles through his inner being and must in the end reappear in his bodily being.
Some of the thoughts which poison mind and blood, negatives to be cast out and kept out, are: spite, ill will, unforgiveness, violent conduct, and constant fault-finding.
The sins of the heart bring on a diseased psychic being and this in turn, if not changed, brings on a diseased physical being.
All negative states of mind and emotions are destructive. They work harm to some one of the body's organs or interfere with its functions. If those states are continuous, they sink into the subconscious and the results appear as disease. This is possible because the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the automatic functions of the body, such as circulation and elimination, digestion and nutrition, is open to influence by the subconscious mind.
The emotions and moods which work destructively on the physical body and may be the real origin of its sickness include fear, hatred, anger, jealousy, despondency, anxiety, worry, doubt, and inordinate excitement.
It is not his occasional thoughts which create sickness or affect fortune, but his habitual ones.
Those who nurture hate or vow revenge, slowly shorten the life period of their physical body.
The overactive hyper-irritable nerve and brain fatiguing kind of life in which civilized man has entangled himself builds up much inner tension and loads him with useless psychic burdens of negative feelings.
Depression, melancholia, and despair have been known to bring on wasting ailments and even death. The mind's suffering, if too intense and too prolonged, may shift to the flesh.
Of these lower emotional causes of ill health, fear and shock are perhaps the commonest.
Many an illness or the malfunctioning of an organ or a disease begins with a strong negative thought, and, by the latter's constant repetition until it hardens into a chronic mental-emotional condition, builds up to a crisis in a subsequent year.
It is the routine activity of the brain, and especially the mental tendency toward anxiety and fear which is expressed through it, which interferes with Nature's healing processes--whether these be spiritual or physical or both--or obstructs them or delays them or defeats them completely. This anxiety arises through the sufferer's confinement to his personal ego and through his ignorance of the arrangements in the World-Idea's body-pattern for the human body's protective care. The remedy is in his own hands. It is twofold: first to change from negative to positive thinking through acquiring either faith in this care or else knowledge of it; second, to give body and brain as total a rest as his capacity allows, which is achieved through fasting and in meditation. The first change is more easily made by immediately substituting the positive and opposite idea as soon as the negative one appears in his field of consciousness. He trains himself not to accept any harmful thought and watches his mind during this period of training. This constructive thought must be held and nourished with firm concentration for as long as possible. The second change calls for an abstinence from all thoughts, a mental quiet, as well as an abstinence from all food for one to three days.
To the extent that he can release himself by inner discipline from his negatives, to that extent will he release himself from many troubles which might otherwise descend upon him. As irritations fall away from his personal feelings, ills of body, circumstance, or relationship fall away from threatening his personal fortunes.
If the mind of a spiritual healer can help to remove disease, it is equally true that the mind of some other person can contribute to cause it. If one's own wrong thinking may be partly or wholly responsible for one's diseases, others who are thinking constantly or powerfully about one may be partly or even wholly responsible for them too. This is the basis of sorcery in the Orient and of witchcraft in the medieval West.
The mental and emotional adjustment to frustration or loss which philosophy brings about is definitely therapeutic.
If ignorance of the laws of our psychophysical being causes many people to contravene those laws and become sick, carelessness about obeying them brings illness to some who do know them.
Selfish people, worrying people, negative people, complaining people, venomous people need to find this inner peace. It will heal them of their moral maladies, which in turn may be the causes of their physical maladies.
Psychosomatic illnesses are curable by physical means. But either the cures are temporary or other symptoms of a different kind appear and replace those which have disappeared.
Merely to express belief in faith healing is not enough to receive healing. There must also be willingness to make needed moral and psychological adjustments, if they are directed towards the inner causes of the illness.
Everyone without a single exception wants to be healed of his diseases but how few want just as much to be healed of their hatreds, their rages, and their lusts?
It is sometimes possible to deduce the nature of the wrong-doing from the nature of the subsequent affliction.
People do not understand how their destructive moods, thoughts, and emotions affect the cerebro-spinal system and through that eventually the intestinal organs to the degree of creating poisons within those organs. It is not enough to take care of the diet and to eliminate foods which are harmful to physical health. It is equally necessary to take care of thoughts and feelings, and to eliminate all those which are harmful both to spiritual and physical health.
To cover up an unhealthy condition is not to cure it. And so long as a man is immersed in an entirely separative and selfish outlook, so long as he habitually fears, worries, holds grudges, or hates, so long must he be regarded as "sick" and "unwell."
Theory left unapplied is only one-third of knowledge. A surgeon knew and taught that anger would raise the pressure of the blood and strain the heart in proportion to its severity. Yet it was anger that eventually killed him.
The influence of body on mind is shown by the efficacy--in his case at least--of Socrates' method of smiling at himself when counterattacking a negative emotion while it was yet in its slender beginning.
There is a corrective purpose in the existence of disease. Any cure which removes the symptoms but fails to correct the inner mental or physical cause of them is merely a temporary expedient, not a real cure. It serves the ego's present convenience. But the future must necessarily be menaced by a reappearance of the same disease, or of a different one which will also express the cause. And this may happen either in the same lifetime or in the next.
A disease whose origin is physical will not need more than a physical remedy to cure it. But one of a psychical, mental, or moral nature can be reached and overcome only by corresponding means.
The long walk which might fatigue your strength and become difficult drudgery becomes easy and endurable if, at the same time, your mind is deeply absorbed in concentration on some lofty matter. Why? Because you are not then thinking of your ego. Such is the power of the mind over the body.
If a man lives only and wholly in positive harmonious feelings, if he consistently rejects all negative and destructive ones, the result must certainly be that he will enjoy better health in the body as he already enjoys the best in the mind.
The materialist who tries to find a physical explanation for every sickness is nevertheless forced to admit that the mind does have at the very least a limited influence upon the body. This is proven by mental shock hastening the heartbeat; by worry acting on the nervous system and affecting the flow of secretions, thus contributing towards indigestion; by violent anger raising the blood pressure. Because fear liberates toxic poisons, the expression "died of fright" may be literally true.
If one emotion brings a blush of blood to the face, another takes the blood away and leaves pallor. In the first case, it has led the minute arteries of the skin to expand; in the second case, it has led them to contract. If this is what a momentary state of mind can do to the body, imagine what a persistent state can do!
Intense happiness felt on hearing some important good news will start a smile on the face. Intense anxiety wrinkles the forehead and depresses the mouth; if it becomes habitual and chronic, the bowels become constipated. These two facts about wholly opposite moods are known to nearly everyone, because the line of causality is straight, obvious, and universally witnessed. What is less known because harder to discern is the third fact that selfish inconsiderate stubbornness and constant hatred create the poison of uric acid in the bloodstream and this indirectly leads to rheumatism. What is first felt mentally is almost immediately reflected physically.
The Chinese system lists the following inner causes of functional sickness: fear and untruthfulness weaken the kidneys; anger affects the liver; depression and worry affect the lungs; excessive joy affects the heart; overactive mentality affects the stomach; timidity, indecision, and cowardice affect the liver by producing insufficient bile.
A mother who is overwhelmed by powerful negative emotions like anger or grief while nursing her infant, could be the cause of its spasms and convulsions.
Even medical science admits that a depressive kind of emotionalism contributes towards causing hardening of the arteries and hence earlier old age.
Whenever Gandhi had an important decision to make, and went through protracted self-wrangling in the process, the physician who attended him noted that his blood pressure rose considerably. Once Gandhi went to sleep in such a condition. Next morning the pressure had fallen to normal. During the night he had ended the mental pressure and arrived at a decision!
Angina pectoris is recognized by many physicians now as a very serious disease, often fatal and always painful, mostly brought on by extreme nervous tension.
The power of the mind over flesh is proved convincingly even by such simple, everyday experiences as the vomiting caused by a horrible sight, the weeping caused by a tragic one, the loss of appetite or positive indigestion caused by bad news, and the headache caused by quarreling.
The need to take care of the nature of our thoughts was illustrated by the life-story of Eugene O'Neill. The gloomy themes of his plays, the gaunt tragedy and overhanging doom with which he deliberately permeated them, brought him down in his later years with an incurable disease. His palsied hand could not write, and dictated material always dissatisfied him. Those who deny the line of relevant connection between his grim thinking and his sickness ignore the fact that he was an ultrasensitive man--so sensitive that a large part of his life was occupied with the search for a solitary place where no people could interrupt him and where he could live entirely within himself.
Why is it that in the stage of heavy sleeping trance a hypnotic subject's nervous system fails to make the usual reactions to a burning match applied to the hand or a pointed pin stuck into the flesh? Why does the usual sensitivity to pain vanish so largely, often completely? If consciousness really lay in the nerves themselves it could never really be divorced from them. It is because consciousness does not arise out of the material body, but out of the deeper principle of the immaterial, that it can function or fail to function as the bodily thought-series. Hence when the consciousness is turned away from the body, when it is induced to cease holding the nerve system in its embrace, it will naturally cease holding the pleasurable or painful changes within that system too.
Fear retards digestion; anger hurts the spleen; excessive lust leads to inflammations, infections, or impotence; jealousy creates excessive bile; a shock caused by bad news may turn hair white.
The person who holds such negative feelings as chronic gloom and constant fault-finding, who worries self and nags others, is walking the direct path to either a disordered liver or high blood pressure. Vicious mental and speech habits injure the person's own body and demoralize other people's feeling.
How much was Carlyle's bitter, rancorous mind, as expressed in his bitter, epithetical speech, responsible for the malady of dyspepsia which afflicted him for so many years?
Anger brings the liver's function to a standstill; this throws its bile back into the system, and bilious indigestion follows.
Vincent Sheean, in his autobiography, says of his intensely ardent friend Raynal Prohme, "She died of inflammation of the brain, thus literally, and all too aptly, burning away."
The tears which well up in the eyes are physical, yet the self-pity which causes them is plainly mental.
The connection between breathing and thinking has been noted by the yoga of physical control. The connection between breathing and feeling also exists. Apoplexy--a fit of choking, the inability to breathe at all--may seize and kill a man during frustrated rage. The breath catches and almost ceases when bad news is suddenly heard.
There is a direct line between emotional shocks fears or worries, and stomach ulcers.
Saliva may become poisonous in anger. Gastric juice may stop flowing in shock of bad news.
A Berlin opera singer went to the United States on a visit. While there she received the unexpected news of her husband's sudden death. The shock severely affected her feelings. That same week she became afflicted with diabetes and suffered greatly from it for several years until she died.
The emotion of fear may bring on a cold sweat even in an environment of tropic heat.
At last medical science is coming to recognize the power of feeling to make disease in the flesh, the contribution of mind and mood to the body's sickness. In deep-seated emotional anxiety it has found the primary cause of diabetes, the manifestation of excess sugar in the system being a legacy from that.
The importance of hygiene
Both common sense and practical experience inform us that some sicknesses come solely from physical causes. The proper way to treat them is to use physical methods, that is, to find those causes and remove them, and to apply physical remedies.
Those who transgress against the body's law of being and suffer the penalty in ill health, cannot reasonably blame God's will when they ought to blame their own abuse, neglect, or ignorance.
The penalties of violating hygienic laws may in some cases be escaped by spiritual means, but the penalties of continuing to violate them may not. The cause which engenders a malady must be itself removed, or else the removal of the symptoms which are merely its effects will be followed eventually by their reappearance or by those of a different malady. Wisdom here tells us to obey the laws and to regard disease as a warning of our transgression of them.
Those who seek healing only to be restored to sensual courses and selfish designs, may commit further errors and be worse off in the end.
It would be just as wrong to argue that every physical disease proves a moral fault or mental deformity to exist, as it would be to argue that the absence of such disease proves moral or mental perfection to have been attained. Many animals are quite healthy too!
Where physical laws of hygiene have been broken and continue to be broken, where gluttonous or ill-informed eating and intemperate living have led to bodily disturbance, the sufferer must still rectify his physical errors whether his spiritual healing is successful or not.
Nature has implanted true instincts in our body to sustain and protect it. If we, through slavish acceptance of society's bad habits, pervert those instincts or dull their sensitivity and poison our body, Nature forces us to suffer sickness and pain as the warning consequences of such perversion.
Insofar as man through ignorance fails to observe nature's laws or through weakness persistently disobeys them, he is everywhere suffering the penalties attached to his wrong habits.
The truth is that no man is free to please himself and eat what he fancies. All men, including all teachers and members of the cults which claim this freedom and who trespass against themselves in this matter, will have to pay the penalty in some way or at some time.
The man who revels in his sensuality will naturally defend it. But when some form of great suffering comes to him as a direct consequence, and he sees it for the first time as a sin, he will cease doing so.
Ill health disturbs the mind and, if prolonged or serious, may bring on neuroses.
The way one views oneself and others, one's life and the world, has too often been affected by chronic disagreeable sensations in a small part of the body, too often been improved by improving the physical condition, to assert that physical causes are unimportant.
Why is it that the number of deaths from cancer has been increasing so rapidly in our times, and so disproportionately to the increase in population? Why is it that this is happening in all those parts of the world where civilization has been spread? Why is it that those people who live in the most modern way--the Americans--have the most cancer? Is there not a hint here that our present way of living contributes something to its cause?
How many people who would never dream of committing murder upon someone else, commit it upon themselves!
Health troubles show up the value of good health, since the physical body's condition has a strong influence upon the mind's condition. It is worth the trouble of studying the body's true needs to keep it a useful and efficient servant.
To take up an air of indifference to the actual and physical surroundings, to assert to oneself that the circumstances do not matter, may be mere pretension or pathetic self-deception. Environmental conditions do matter. Flesh and blood, nerve and body have reactions and responses which laugh at our theory.
The search for mental, moral, and emotional causes of bodily effects is valid only in a proportion of cases, not in all cases. For there are physical laws governing the physical body, laws which, when broken, automatically bring punishment.
Those who neglect the body and break the laws of its health can gain no cure by mental means but only a temporary respite.
Philosophy grants at once that physical causes like bad environment, faulty heredity, broken hygienic laws, germ infections, and improper feeding may cause disease.
The emptiness of conventional salutations and the futility of conventional greetings are not realized because they are not thought about. What is the use of formally wishing anyone good health when he is constantly breaking hygienic laws and thus moving nearer towards ill health? Instead of writing such phrases in letters to him or uttering them on parting from him, it might be more beneficial in the end to draw his attention to those neglected laws. But to do that would be to sin against the sacredness of convention. The shock of such reminders might hurt his feelings but it might also arouse him to take a different course.
If so many sicknesses are the effects of preventable abuses, is it not rational to tie oneself down to a regime which prevents those causes? Then, so far as humanly possible, we have done what we can to gain and retain good health, and if sickness comes it will be "by an act of God" and not by our own.
Dangers of drugs and alcohol
Alcoholic drinks must be banned not only for obvious reasons--their effect upon the mind, the emotions, and the passions--but also for their effect upon the body itself. The man who is trying to purify it cannot afford to admit into his organism the foul microbes of decomposition which they contain.
Those who have witnessed the ghastly results of becoming addicted to drugs may not know that at a certain point the addict may become involved very easily with what is called "black magic." This is the forbidden path which seeks to obtain a higher spiritual result by the wrong means, by forbidden means and, in the end, causes a man to lose his own soul and become a slave of evil forces.
Strong alcohol paralyses the brain centre controlling spiritual and intuitive activity for two hours, and so nullifies meditation, which should not be practised within two hours of drinking it. Those who take such stimulants and still want to unfold spiritually should restrict their drinks to light wine or beer.
Smoking not only harms the body but also depresses the mind. The cumulative and ultimate effect of the poison which it introduces is to lower the emotional state by periodic moods of depression.
Drug experience may lead to hallucination, obsession, paranoid monstrous prehuman evolutionary images, or highly overdrawn images of human experience.
It is the strong spirits which influence a man more dangerously than the light wines. It is they which tend to drag him downward to the animal plane of development.
"The illumination-contemplations which visited me daily for several months disappeared for a few hours if I drank alcohol," a very advanced European meditator told me.
A narcotic experience may give a distorted reflection of the real; it cannot give the real itself. Even so, the price that must be paid for the mirrored images is even greater than the attendant perils.
The United States government has, for some time, made efforts to reduce the use of tobacco in order to improve public health. These efforts have not succeeded at all. Why? For that same reason that women took to smoking and that men still smoke even though they know it is harmful. They will tell you, or you will see, that they resort to the cigarette, the cigar, or the pipe because it soothes their nerves, and they feel a need of achieving this result. The tobacco plant itself was used long ago in the antique period of both North and South America and on the other side of the world in the Near, Middle, and Far East. But tobacco was not the only plant they used. They had several others which have come down to us, such as the poppy plant and a certain mushroom. And from them modern knowledge has created chemical drugs. What does this mean? The stress which produces nervousness is more common among the moderns than it was among the ancients. What were, and are, all of them seeking? It was either relief for the ego or uplift of conscience or the attainment of the spiritual awakening.
Drugs weaken and may eventually even destroy reason.
Alcohol is a drug which removes symptoms. But, like most drugs, it removes them only temporarily.
Even a little liquor may excite a man, and much liquor makes him mentally unbalanced.
G.K. Chesterton wrote voluminously in defense of drinking wine and beer (he never touched spirits), yet he drank himself into a long serious illness which nearly cost him his life and after which he was forbidden for some years to take any alcohol at all.
Contrary to common belief, the drinking of alcohol does not make a man more "human." It deprives him of truly human characteristics and makes him more animal.
It is not only intoxicating drinks which can cause man to become heedless and lose self-control; certain drugs can have the same result even though the symptoms are different. Therefore they are banned except when used medically in some situations.
Do not confound the drugged vision of God with an authentic one.
Those who try to find the kingdom of heaven through drugs, whether plants like Mexican mushrooms or Indian hashish, or chemicals like lysergic acid, may gain glimpses, get signs, and receive hints, but they will not, cannot, escape paying the price of inner deterioration in the end.
The fascination which follows the taking of those drugs which seem to have given instant mystic experience is deceptive. A scrutiny of such experience shows that there are liabilities because the seeming enlightenment is illusory, and the taker has no control over the drug and its effects--some of which can be quite bad. He has no means of judging in advance how tolerant his body and mind are towards it, whether it will give him nausea, sickness, headaches, nightmares, or momentary insanity instead of the alleged enlightenment.
The drug hashish affects the brain centre which controls the speed of the pictures which pass through consciousness, as well as the dimensions of those pictures. Caffeine affects a different centre in a different way. But neither drug affects consciousness itself; it affects the mechanism which conditions a product of consciousness--the ego in its wakeful state.
Both drugs and alcohol interfere with the proper practice of meditation, and after taking one or the other one would have to wait a period until the effect wore off before the real practice of meditation could begin.
Just as the imagination can weave all kinds of phantasies and experiences in dream which are simply not true, so can it do precisely the same during drug usage.
The mystic who meditates with open eyes and is able to sink himself into the last stage of contemplation, staring with glassy but unseeing orbs, is duplicated for the observer in outward appearance only by the drug addict who takes stronger drugs and who has been taking them for quite a time. He too shows the symptoms in his eyes, in the paleness of his skin, and in the trance-like, coma-like condition into which he often falls.
The resort to drugs for spiritual purposes can never be justified, for the same drug which raises or widens the taker's consciousness today may cast him into a pit of devils and horrors the next week.
One of the bad effects of drugs, in certain cases, is to create schizophrenia.
To gain apparent serenity at the cost of real sanity is hardly a profitable transaction.
In their impatience and eagerness to get the mystical experience, some resort to taking either infusions of drugs like Indian hemp or ingestions of them like lysergic acid. The effect is usually euphoric at first but startlingly fantastic afterwards. LSD is the latest of them all and probably the most powerful of all--certainly the most amazing of all.
We know that there are drugs which enhance the movement of time twofold and threefold until impatience arises in them at what seems the extraordinary slowness of others around them.
Because chemical drugs can affect the mind, can induce states of consciousness, it is claimed that the excesses or the horrors which have been produced through their means show that spiritual consciousness is entirely related to the physical brain, that the greatest attainments of the yogis can be produced in a hour or two instead of many years or a lifetime by taking a simple drug, and that therefore modern science has achieved the opening of a door to spiritual self-realization which many would-be yogis have failed to achieve--in other words, that the Kingdom of Heaven is not within you but within a pill or a tablet.
It is true that a number of persons who have used a plant (not chemical) drug have had visions of previous embodiment in animal and human forms. But because they got it in an illegitimate way, they often have to suffer a penalty, either in self-damage or in self-entangled karma.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.