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The Fourth Dimension of Health

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Man, perhaps, has been the only animal who has the capability of actually participating in his own evolutionary progress, since in his heart burns a perpetual fire for achieving a higher and higher degree of satisfaction. Towards this end, health would play the most important role. It is rightly said that health may not be everything, but everything without health is nothing. It is thus necessary for us to know what should be real health.

Health of human beings vis-à-vis a pack of wolves

The Constitution of the World Health Organisation defines health as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” In 1978, I mooted the idea of enlarging the scope of this definition. The reason for doing so was that so far, health has only been associated with well-being in its physical, mental and social connotations. And, if it would be so, then man would be no better than an animal. For example, 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. It is necessary, therefore, for health to be perceived in a more ‘human’ perspective, subjectively involving the qualitative values of life.

Additional component of health – Factor ‘X’

Here in the East, we often call that aspect of a human being which makes one transcend the animal as being ‘spiritual’. But this word has been used in many different ways and has acquired various connotations according to the perception of this word in relation to one’s own socio-religious and traditional backgrounds. There are many people who simply do not believe that there is anything like ‘spiritual’. Ignoring the semantics of the word, it can generally be conceded that there is ‘something’ that makes us human beings, and hence, differentiating us from a pack of wolves. This ‘something’ can be called ‘Factor X’ since it is necessary to have word labels. It could be used until we are able to justifiably replace it with some other word, or perhaps even consciously incorporate it totally within the word ‘mental’, pertaining to the mind.

Health as a means to achieve param purushartha

Health can only be considered as a means to achieve the highest goal of life, Param purushartha. To consider health itself as a goal is quite ambiguous in the evolution of human development. Dr. Albert Einstein once stated that the greatest difficulty of the 20th century was the ambiguity of the ‘goals’ and the perfection of the means. The goal of life as a liberation of the soul or absolute bliss has been emphasized by many ‘metaphysicists’ and ‘seers’.

The idea itself deserves more attention than what has been given to it in the present century.

Most of our programmes in the world are perhaps aimed at perfecting the means for achieving what at best can be termed as ‘ambiguous goals’. Health should, in fact, be the means to produce a group of human beings with all human qualities. Thus, as life can only manifest out of a material base and the mind out of a life base, so the ‘spiritual’ can only manifest itself on a mental base or as a progressive unfolding of the mind.

Man’s happiness is to move higher in evolution. Blaise Pascal has stated that “man wishes to be happy, and only exists to be happy, and cannot wish not to be happy”. Using traditional wisdom, it can be said that man’s happiness is to move ‘higher’, to develop his ‘highest’ faculties. If he moves ‘lower’, he develops only his ‘lowest’ qualities which he shares with the animals, then he makes himself deeply unhappy—even to the point of despair.

Three men were talking one day about the frailties of people. The conversation was lively, with each giving his interpretation.

Said the first man: “The trouble with most people is that they eat too much”.

The second man objected, and said, “It isn’t how much you eat, but what you eat that counts.”

The third man, commented, “It’s neither what you eat nor how much you eat. It’s what’s eating you that is important.”

Only man is the real basis of study of man. Without the qualitative concept of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’, it is impossible to even think of guidelines for living that lead beyond individual or collective utilitarianism and selfishness. It is consciousness and self-awareness that distinguishes between the higher and lower levels of being. There has been commendable research work to determine a relation between consciousness and awareness, utilizing the animal model to fit in with the human being. Neither the study of physics nor chemistry, nor its investigation into the Life Sciences can explain this phenomenon. That is the reason why it has been said that only man himself can be the real basis of the study of man. This can be achieved only by ‘self-awareness’ as Schumacher calls it, or ‘self-realisation’, as Sri Aurobindo puts it. For this, it is necessary for man to transcend the physical, mental and social parameters and to deal with the qualitative values of life—the ‘spiritual’ aspect, or ‘Factor X’, which convincingly differentiates a human being from an animal.

Dr. D.B.Bisht

(Dr D.B. Bisht retired as the Director-General of Health Services, Govt. of India. His idea of health put forth in this article was the theme for an inter-disciplinary seminar comprising of physicians, psychiatrists and scholars on mysticism at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences, Bangalore.)

(Sourced from The Heritage, March ‘86 )