Mind, Body, Soul|Oct 28, 2004 6:03 AM| by:

Health: Mental versus Spiritual Perspective


The recognition of a spiritual dimension of health by the WHO has indeed been a landmark event. It is doubtful however that the full import and significance of this fundamental aspect of human existence has been grasped even by well-intentioned persons. The reason is very simple. Only like understands like. The spiritual dimension is still a concealed possibility in the race as a whole. Even though its emergence is the inevitable next step in Nature’s scheme of things, yet it is a slow emergence. And often; in its infant beginnings this new consciousness wears the garb of its lesser members. Most of us see the shadow and the garb while the reality itself escapes us. These lesser reflections are translated in the human consciousness as philosophy, religion, ethics and occultism. While these four approaches can prepare man and even throw open a window to the spiritual truth, in themselves they are insufficient to solve the riddle of man and conquer for him freedom from suffering, limitation, death, disease and incapacity. Philosophy, religion and ethics prepare man’s thought, emotions and will for an awakening to the true spiritual impulse. Occultism explores the inner hidden dimension of existence and its forces and powers and faculties. This however misses the deepest truth, the last secret, and therefore, fails miserably in the end unless it enlarges itself by an act of surrender to the spiritual substance.

Defining the indefinable

The first need is therefore to get rid of this misconception of confusing the spiritual dimension with philosophy, religious values of ethical morality and even occultism. When we get rid of these elementary misconceptions and understand the spiritual reality by identification, we discover that there is a unity of experience that cuts across the barriers of time and space. The real figure is seen only if we sound the depths ourselves and try to fathom the vastness that hides behind the human beings who have truly experienced and lived a spiritual life. Since such men have been few and scattered (though always present), it is doubtful if the statistical approach of interviewing the average or even an above average intellectual can help us understand this dimension better. Such a process may even be counter-productive by diluting or worse still falsifying or replacing the real thing by mimicry.

‘The Spirit is other than the mind’ affirm the seers. It is unity and oneness while the mind is duality and division. It is peace and bliss while the mind dwells in pain, pleasure and indifference. It is harmony and truth while the mind fumbles through error and ignorance. It is easy to understand from this that the spiritual dimension defies any simple definition. As has been pointed out by many, ‘Truth is simple so long as we do not define it’.

In fact, the spiritual reality does not necessarily need a language to communicate itself. Rather, it is best communicated and under-stood in the silence and stillness of our being. This inability to define and describe the spiritual reality is not any limitation as many suppose. It arises because firstly speech itself is a lesser term and faculty. Secondly, since it belongs still to the mental domain in its manifestation, it evokes different meanings and images in different human beings. To obviate this dual difficulty, we can attempt to define the spiritual dimension as the highest perfection man is capable of through self-evolution. This too, however, runs the risk of contamination by the mind which constantly confuses the human idea of perfection with a spiritual one.

For example, the sanskrit word for health ‘Swasth’ literally means ‘rooted in the self’.

That is to say, true health exists only when man’s consciousness is firmly fixed in the spiritual self, the ‘sva’. Short of it, there can be absence of disease ‘Arogya’ or physical prowess and fitness ‘bala’ but not health. As Dr. Bisht rightly pointed out in his recommendation to the WHO —

“… if we compare a group of human beings to a pack of wolves, and restrict the components of health only to physical, mental and social parameters, then the pack of wolves, who would be physically strong, mentally alert and socially well-knit, would be, according to the definition, ideally ‘healthy’. The group of human beings would be no better than the pack of wolves.”

So, for man to be truly called ‘healthy’ something more is needed. And that ‘something more’ in him is not just the maximum development of his mind through education and learning.

Spirit and body: a false opposition

We have also to understand spirituality not as an escapist-illusionist tendency but the awareness of a fundamental spiritual Reality behind every form and name. This is well reflected in the evolutionary parable of the ‘Dasavatara’; where the incarnation of the One Divine becomes the tortoise, the fish, the boar, the half-animal, half-man etc., through evolution to a perfect mental man. Thus the missing link in our evolutionary journey may not be the Archaeopteryx but the mediatrix Consciousness that runs as a common thread through all phenomena. Unless we grasp this, we will continue the mistake of regarding the spiritual dimension not only as a separate but also an exclusive dimension that exists in isolation without any hold upon the creature that inhabits it. If that is so then all hope of spiritual health remains a chimera and the great utterance of the spiritual dimension of health becomes only an idealistic doctrine. The spiritual dimension includes the material and can and does intervene subtly to alter the laws and processes of the material universe and to change the course decreed by the so called purely material and biological forces.

Measuring the immeasurable

If defining spiritual reality is difficult, studying its complex effects are even more difficult. Statistics are useful for recording the phenomenon; the present scientific methods and equipments register gross events. To pursue and discover subtler truths and spiritual laws we have to follow another method whose usefulness has been verified since ancient times. First, we need to trust the word of those who have so awakened. Secondly, we must begin to observe ourselves and the movements of subtler levels in us. The effects of those subtle movements escape the conventional data collection since most of us are not conscious of these subjective psychological events. ‘We are asleep there’, to use an Upanisadic image. The scientist must first and foremost make himself the field of his observation and record his experiences. Such cumulative records over a period of time would be very helpful for all who wish to explore this dimension. But simultaneously we should avoid the rash attempt to codify the experience. Our mind always likes to formulate laws but the spiritual field being very subtle and plastic escapes the rigidities of human logic. Thus, if in a certain state of consciousness, say ‘Peace’, the patient recovers or is even cured of an acute emergency like a heart attack or appendicitis, we can truthfully record it. We can equally record the effect of negative emotions in health and disease. But we should not rush immediately to reduce it into a system. Peace for example may not always cure if the patient is not receptive to it. It may not always be readily accessible either. And even though not reproducible, a single event of ‘cure by peace’ is significant and opens doors of enormous possibilities for those who can or will.

The law of averages

The method of studying, analysing and understanding physical phenomenon has its great utility in the physical domain. The accuracy and predictability are somewhat more reliable here because in gross matter, there is not the free play of other subtler domains. But to extrapolate the same method thoughtlessly in the spiritual domain may lead to gross errors.

The reason is threefold. Firstly, our equipments are not yet geared to register and record subtler energy impacts. We are still too bound by the limits of our earth sense and physical facts still remain for us the only facts. However in these we can find the presence of the anomalous and the unpredictable. As all practitioners of medicine know, medicine is not an exact science like mathematics.

Secondly, there is a whole range of phenomena which are subjective and cannot be measured. And yet these may be quite crucial in matters of health and healing. Eg. peace and faith are two such non-measurable units that do determine our state of health.

Thirdly, and most importantly, scientific methods deal with phenomena. But as spiritual experience constantly affirms, the phenomenon is not the last word of existence. There is behind every phenomenon of name and form, a supporting and sanctioning consciousness and force. It is difficult to envisage how we could possibly measure the quantum of spiritual consciousness and force in units of grams or kilograms or God-knows-what, that goes into healing a malady. Even where a method is used, there is always the secret force and consciousness that makes all the difference. The force can use one particular method or another. It may even dispense with all methods and techniques. That is why all who have pierced behind the veil of phenomena look upon everything as a marvellous act of Grace that unfolds each event in time and space. Brahman, the eternal reality extends itself as Space. The same reality in dynamic mobility becomes Time. Limited through a process of self-absorption and concentration it becomes form and process and name. This one thing, the most important fundamental thing would always escape our grasp.

The truth that escapes us

The simple fact is that human consciousness is not the highest and man is not the last word of creation. Man is a transitional being to be surpassed by someone more perfect than him. Till that happens, man’s life will be riddled with death, his efforts at outer conquest marred with inner defeats, his glorious successes sum up into specious failures. Man’s commerce with life and forces around him will remain precarious at his own level of evolution. Even at best, he may arrive at a healthy equilibrium with his environment as a pack of wolves or a species of plants. But nature would not allow this. It is thus that disease, death and infirmity pursues man. All stress and strain that besieges this race is in essence a call to evolve. All crisis is a challenge to growth and liberation. All pain and suffering is Nature’s hint and reminder that the joy we experience is imperfect and the power we command is yet a narrow and limited one. Each limitation we experience is a pointer towards our own incomprehension and ignorance. To remove this stamp of death and seal of suffering, we must remove Ignorance and divinise this dust that wakes to life in plant and climbs to thought in man.

The central disease

The central root of our difficulty lies mainly in our sense of separateness — the individuality and its attendant problem of want and greed and lust and desire. This too, however has a place and purpose in our evolution. The sense of ‘not-self’ translates into effort for adaptation as well as imbalances of various kinds at physical, vital and mental levels leading to disease and death. But a premature shedding of the individuality may mean a collapse into a subconscient mass or an opening to universal forces of ignorance.

The answer

Thus, for spiritual health to emerge we have to dissolve the false ego-self and replace it by the true ‘I’, the individual soul in us, the chaitya purusha, that which Sri Aurobindo calls the Psychic being. The Mother describes its effects as —

“…This peace and fullness and joy given by the psychic contact… gives an openness towards the true consciousness… So long as the openness is there, the peace, the fullness and the joy remain with their immediate results of progress, health and fitness in the physical, quietness and goodwill in the vital, clear understanding and broadness in the mental and a general feeling of security and satisfaction. But it is difficult for a human being to keep up a constant contact with his psychic…the old person comes back to the surface with all its habits, preferences, …shortcomings and misunderstandings; the peace is replaced by restlessness, the joy vanishes, the understanding is blinded…(2)”

This psychic consciousness has to emerge out of the veil and stepping in front take charge of our breath and speech and act. It is the vedic agni, the leader of our evolutionary march, the purifier that straightens all that is crooked in us, the immortal in the garb of our mortal poverty. The Psychic being holds the key to release the forces of progressive harmony and health in us. But it is difficult for human nature to live always under the influence of the psychic consciousness. True, under the stress of the psychic, the human consciousness begins to grow deeper, wider and higher. All our values of understanding, sensing, feeling and living start undergoing a marked qualitative change which is superior to the mere philosophical idealism, ethical and moral piety, emotional fervour and exaltation. The mind opens to intuition, illumination, visionary revelation and prophetic inspiration. The heart opens to a deep, pure and calm capacity to love without possessiveness and turbulent attachment. The life-force and will bereft of the heaving disturbance of desire becomes a dynamo for Divine work in the world. Even the body shares the psychic touch which translates itself in terms of calm and balance, trust and an absence of fear, things that help us immensely in healthy living and even cure us of diseases.

Yet this is not enough. More is needed. A greater perfection can come by the supra-mental transformation of nature wherein a total immunity from all types of diseases and even death is achieved, not just for a few exceptional individuals, but for the whole race.

Search vs. research

How are we going to do that; by research or by search, by convincing statistical proofs or by living example, is a question everyone has to answer himself or herself. However history shows that one example in this regard convinces many more than a whole mass of data and statistics. Data and statistical analysis reach out only to a small section of the human mind — the scientific one. Often, it only helps to convince the already convinced. The sceptic continues to disbelieve, for such is the nature of mind that it can interpret the same truth differently and by a subtle twist of logic and change of premises arrive at totally different and even opposite conclusions. But example touches much deeper and has a wider range of action. It is like fire. Talking about fire can ignite only curiosity but a contact with it can light up a similar fire and convince one of the mass of heat and light that fire is. One such living fire is of far greater value than a whole pile of figures that often gather dust in our libraries. Thus it is the pressure of the spirit that wakes up the sleeping soul of man. There are no other means for it.


1. Bisht, D. B. The spiritual dimension of health. New Delhi, Directorate General of Health Services, 1985, p. 14.
2. The Mother. Collected works of the Mother, Vol.12. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1978, p. 45.