Integrated Medicine - Can your guru give you medical advice
by Dr. Dayal Mirchandani
With this the last article from me in this column, I would like to write about a growing trend in recent times that I feel strongly about. Increasingly people are consulting various types of ‘spiritual advisers’ about their medical treatment and relationship problems. For want of a better word I use the term ‘advisers’ to include swamis, feng-shui masters, spiritualists and new age healers of many kinds. This can often have disastrous consequences as in the case of a patient of mine who was advised by her yoga teacher to stop all her medicines for high blood pressure and diabetes, with a near fatal outcome.
Shruti had slashed her wrists in an attempt to commit suicide. Very depressed about a broken relationship she felt life was not worth living. Her parents took a long time to bring her in for psychiatric treatment. When after some time I found that she had not improved and was still actively suicidal, I dug deeper to find that her parents had only been giving her half the prescribed dosage of medicines because their guru had advised them to do so.
Initially they refused to increase the dose until their guru returned from a yatra. It was only when I asked them how much they valued their daughter’s life that they relented. These were not uneducated villagers; both parents were professionals. The intrusion continued for some months and once she was better I recommended they see a psychiatrist who was also a follower of the same sect to make things easier for them.
Faith is a powerful tool that has even helped cure terminally ill patients and I have often written about it in my earlier columns. Faith in one’s guide and spiritual teacher is often an anchor that strengthens the will to live, to recover and makes an unbearable situation bearable. But modern medicine is becoming increasingly complex and it is difficult to be able to give advice based on spiritual knowledge. Therefore, it is important for people to use spiritual information as one factor among others while taking important decisions. Even medical intuitives usually only claim to have the ability to help people make treatment choices between those of equal effectiveness or of deciding whether one should adopt a doubtful or experimental treatment.
Medical science is a God-given means to cure and treat people. When I feel medication is absolutely essential I frequently tell patients the story of a very religious man who climbed into a tree when his village flooded. As the water rose, a boat approached and the people in it asked him to jump in. He refused saying: ‘‘God will protect me.’’ Later in heaven he asked God: ‘‘Why did you let me down?’’ God replied: ‘‘But I sent you a boat….’’
There is no doubt that there are many contradictions in modern medicine. But medical treatment in the hands of an honest doctor has become much safer than ever before. Thanks to the internet, any intelligent person can educate himself about his treatment and where appropriate find rational alternatives. Also, today it is not too difficult to find a doctor who is willing to discuss the treatment and look at rational alternatives. Many doctors trained in modern medicine have also adopted the practice of complementary and holistic medicine, making it possible for one to genuinely look at alternatives without jeopardising one’s safety.
It is not that a spiritual adviser’s intentions are questionable, merely that his knowledge of the spiritual may not equip him to deal with the realities of the rapid changes in culture and science in the modern world. It is not that they are insincere in their beliefs. When a friend of mine, who is an astute intuitive, had to undergo cardiac surgery, he consulted his cards to decide on which cardiac surgeon should operate on him. Everyone advised him against the surgeon he chose, insisting that he was much too old. My friend however insisted that the cards had indicated all would go well. He emerged from anaesthesia paralysed and unable to speak at all. This shows that though he believed in his art it was not exact enough to have made such a critical decision.
It is important for people to choose their spiritual advisers carefully, more so given the fact that there are some beguilers in this field. For me personally the advice of Ramana Maharshi, one of India’s greatest saints, strikes a chord. When asked how one should choose a guru, he replied: ‘‘Choose that one where you find you get shanti (peace)’’ and ‘‘He who instructs an ardent seeker to do this or that is not a true master. The seeker is already afflicted by his activities and wants peace and rest. In other words he wants cessation of his activities. If a teacher tells him to do something in addition to, or in place of, his other activities, can that be a help to the seeker? Activity is creation. Activity is the destruction of one’s inherent happiness. If activity is advocated the adviser is not a master but a killer. In such circumstances either the creator (Brahma) or death (Yama) may be said to have come in the guise of a master. Such a person cannot liberate the aspirant, he can only strengthen his fetters.’’
(All names and identifying details have been changed to protect the identities of the affected persons.)
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