From NASA to VYASA!
Nandini Sarkar probes the mind of Dr H R Nagendra, the founder of a yoga institute, who has revolutionised the concepts of health and healing globally while miraculously treating innumerable terminally ill patients
This is the Super 30 story of a brilliant Indian scientist turned rishi. Call it destiny or a chance encounter, our meeting with the saint-scientist, Dr HR Nagendra, president, VYASA (Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana), was like a journey into thrilling space. Padma Shri Dr Nagendra is known as the yoga guru of our prime minister, Shri Narendra Modi. However, his contribution to the art of healing goes way beyond that. VYASA’s research on cancer and diabetes cure through yoga has won global recognition and funding. He also states that he has yogic cures for every possible disease. This ex-NASA rishi’s work has become the living Upanishads, to inspire modern man, who is suffering from so many harmful-lifestyle-induced diseases. My husband, Sushobhan, was introduced to Dr Nagendra by Professor Akhilesh, dean, Management Studies, IISc, Bengaluru. They were together at IIT Guwahati, at the invitation of the director, Dr Manjunatha, who plans to promote yoga there. Intrigued by the rishi-scientist’s pioneering research and impressed with his humility, Sushobhan decided to visit him at his Bengaluru VYASA campus. So, there we were, the very next month, sitting in a spacious verandah, waiting for Dr Nagendra. Monsoon winds blew all around us, keeping us cool. Large clusters of trees and vegetation kept our sights refreshed. Finally, in all-white attire, the curly-haired, soft-spoken, and unassuming HRN emerged from his private enclosure to greet us. He showed us a news clipping of the previous day, with the governor of Chandigarh at a yoga event and readily agreed to be interviewed for Life Positive magazine.
Could you tell us a little about your childhood? You are now 76 years old and the founder of this huge Vyasa university. Your research on the yogic cure of cancer, diabetes, and other diseases has received global recognition. Did you have a premonition that your life would be devoted to the cause of yoga?
If I go into flashback mode, right from my childhood, our family—especially my grandmother—was extremely patriotic. They wanted all the children and grand children to be devoted to the country. So we were brought up in such an atmosphere. My uncle HV Sheshadri was a gold medallist and had a very lucrative career. He gave it up for social service. He was the general secretary of the RSS, Karnataka, and inspired thousands of workers. An excellent writer, he received the Karnataka Sahitya Academy Award. A great nationalist, a great writer, a great journalist, and a great organiser, he was my role model. He would keep speaking to us of the Bhagavad Gita. At age five, I started reading the verses and learning the Gita by heart. That’s how the whole thing happened. I didn’t understand it then, but because I was so inspired by him, so much in awe, I went on memorising the Gita. Later, when I was doing my doctorate at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, a group of five of us used to meet and discuss the Gita.What is the real meaning of life? What is the objective of modern science? What should be the direction for modern technology? These were the fundamental questions.
How old were you then, Sir?
About 20 years old. At that time, I was also very fortunate to gain the company of the renowned scientist-philosopher A Satyanarayana Shastri, a wonderful perfectionist, a great professor of chemistry, and a great Sanskrit scholar. I have met Nobel Laureates but he was a genius and nobody was his equal in brilliance, creativity, and practicality. He focused on the Upanishads. Satyanarayan Shastri guided us to understand the inner state of the mind and the power of silence and calmness. I found such precious and vast amount of knowledge in him that I decided to start studying the original Upanishads. In 1968, I went abroad to start working at NASA. I had also decided that I would satisfy my intellectual curiosity by spending four to five years in the best foreign universities before coming back to India. But my intellect was satiated earlier than I thought, so I decided it was time to return.
So your NASA, Harvard, and other Western university experiences could not satisfy your hunger for knowledge. What was the turning point when you decided to change direction, from science to spirituality?
I saw that Western learning is limited only to the physical world. In 1975–1976, people thought that they had understood everything about the physical world and there was nothing more to be understood. But then came the big breakthrough book by Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture. That book sold in millions during that time. He traced the development of science from the time of Newton and said it was inadequate to guide human behaviour and policy with regard to modern technology and ecology. He said that society needs to develop the concepts and insights of holism to solve its complex problems. I was 23 when I went abroad to see the best of things in the world, but I was not satisfied. Capra’s book germinated the seed that had been planted in childhood. It was time to come back to study the Upanishads.
Once you were back in India, how was the seed for VYASA sown?
My house in Bengaluru was near the Ramakrishna Mission. I used to go there and meditate. I read the complete works of Vivekananda. He inspired me like none other.
Professor Akhilesh told us you have experimental labs here where people are asked to sit in meditation and you connect them to electro-magnetic waves to study auras and brain waves?
Yes, at that time, my objective was to measure prana (life force) and see the koshas. The Upanishads state that every one of us has five bodies or koshas, each made of increasingly finer grades of energy. I studied the Kirlian photography developed by the Russians to see auras. Today, this is also called GDV testing, which stands for gas discharge visualization. It can show you the chakras (energy centres) as well as the pranic imbalance in every organ and system in the body. It’s a very wonderful thing and supports the Upanishadic claim of koshas.
So if VYASA has found the answer to chakra and pranic imbalance, how do you plan to get this across to modern medical science? Don’t you think an institute like AIIMS in Delhi, which caters to more than 10,000 OPD patients a day, would benefit from your research?
I work for the world. In India, we work closely with the Ayush Ministry and there is great interest in yoga in various state governments. The Houston, Texas, Cancer Center is one of the biggest in the world. We introduced yoga there and produced some good research papers. We gave customised yoga to 600 patients of breast cancer, apart from the normal cancer treatment. Yoga, pranayama (yogic breathing) and meditation practices are tailor-made by us, depending on what sort of cancer a person has or at what stage of cancer the person is in.
So what is the success rate you have experienced Sir, in curing cancer through yogic practices?
Let me share an interesting example. The Bangalore Cancer Institute sent a cancer patient to VYASA. He had such a big hard tumour jutting out of his throat, he couldn’t even swallow his food. He had a tube inserted in his throat and was fed on liquids. They gave him three months to live and asked him to die peacefully at VYASA, listening to lectures on yoga. We showed him his koshas and put him on a customised yoga-pranayama-energisation-relaxation-meditation plan. He was surprised to know that he had five bodies and that he would actually never die. In fifteen days, his tubes were removed and he started eating on his own. In about a month’s time, when the director of the Cancer Institute was scheduled to visit VYASA, we asked him to stand at the gate and surprise the man. Needless to say, the director was shocked out of his wits! The man smilingly asked the director to join him for lunch and showed him how he could swallow food on his own. The director asked the man to come back for a biopsy. The report showed that the tumour had shrunk and from the earlier hard, rock-like mass, it had become very soft. The doctor asked permission to operate the remaining tumour but the man refused, saying that he was no longer afraid of death and did not care about the tumour any more. Within a few more months of yogic practices and lifestyle, his tumour disappeared, never to come back. Through yoga and Upanishadic wisdom, he had discovered the root cause of cancer. So, it could not come back to afflict him. He lived for another 20 years without any fear and finally passed away at 83. Today, you have radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery; everything is being looked at from the physical body viewpoint, but the root cause is not researched. That’s why even people who get an early diagnosis of cancer are not cured. Every day, a billion cells get created and a billion cells get destroyed in the body. Unless your mind is turned inward and is aware of the root cause of disease, the body is unable to create good health.
So, in your experience of handling cancer patients, what was the minimum time needed to change the root cause, i.e., beliefs, lifestyle, and other factors?
The root cause issue is discussed in a few lectures, maybe three lectures. Then, to actualise that takes time. Stress suppresses the immune system, making it lose its capacity, and, therefore, has to be reduced through deep relaxation. That’s what we do in yoga and deep relaxation of the system. We have developed special modules for that. It’s basically an inner treatment.
How long do you keep your patients here? Does it depend on how soon they accept what you’re telling them?
Normally, intelligent people will understand it in one lecture. Cancer patients come as residents and stay here for at least a week or 10 days. How long they stay here depends on the severity of their condition.
How can yoga help cure diabetes?
In diabetes, the immune system sees insulin as an enemy, unlike cancer, where it sees the cancerous cell as a friend, so it sends a signal to the pancreas to stop producing insulin, creating a big immune barrier. So whether it’s cancer or diabetes or any other disease, the body needs to be put on a DNA repair mechanism. The diabetes incidence rate in India is becoming bigger than that in China. Five years from now, we are going to become the diabetes capital of the world. So what can be done to prevent it? We took up a study in 60 districts covering 2.5 lakh people.
How did your association with Prime Minister Modi come about?
Through my uncle Sheshadri and the RSS. I admire him more than anybody else. I have seen him since 1983. How he has evolved! Today, no one is his guru; everyone can learn from him. His memory, meticulousness, untiring energy, and love for the country is unparalleled. I have met many politicians but none like him. He is a statesman. Even I cannot match him.
Lastly, do you feel love for God?
My aunt lived here at VYASA in her last years. She used to chant Ram-Nama continuously. She used to go into bhava and claim that Rama visited her every night. I am very influenced by Swami Vivekananda. In India, we have so many gods and goddesses with different attributes. We pick one whose qualities we identify with. Unfortunately, our education system doesn’t know how to deal with our emotions. When we encounter different types of challenges, problems, and failure, we can lose our way, commit suicide, or get into depression. The trick for controlling this is called bhakti yoga, the science of sublimation.
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