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Ill Health and Lifestyle
Riana: I do have a question for you, if I may ask (speaking as a jiva). I wanted to ask recently, but it just didn’t happen. It is about the physical condition.
I have an autoimmune disease (systemic lupus erythematosus). With me, it has the form of an inflamed liver, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s disease (dry mucosa, like eyes and mouth) and psoriasis. It is chronic, and at any moment there can be more inflammation.
Due to that, my body is always in pain. Now, if I understand the guna teaching correctly, that is rajas. At the same time, due to the inflammation and pain, my body is tired and heavy. And if I understand correctly, that is tamas.
Apart from taking care of my body by living and eating as healthy as possible to the best of my knowledge, is there, in the light of managing the gunas, anything that can be done? I came to think of it because Ramji mentioned that any illness has also a blockage in the prana body of rajas or tamas, something like that, if I remember correctly.
This all does not diminish my happiness. And if nothing else can be done, that is no problem. However, if managing the gunas in this area can contribute to better taking care of my body, it would be nice.
Sundari: I am happy for you that your ill health does not diminish your happiness. However, James and I observed that you are not looking well and have put on a lot of weight. We also observed what you eat, and a lot it is carbs. Perhaps you need to look at changing your diet, as a diet high in glucose (essentially, all carbs are sugar) is the first thing to correct if inflammation is rampant in the body. If you eat too much sugar, the body becomes insulin-resistant, and on top of inflammation, you could well be on the way to diabetes, if you are not there already.
All grains, beans and pulses (also all carbs) are high in lectins (such as gluten) as well, so if you are lectin-intolerant on top of being insulin-resistant, you have the perfect conditions for most diseases to take hold, systemic inflammation. Lectins are indigestible plant proteins that pass through the walls of the intestine and lodge in all the organs, causing huge inflammation throughout the body. If you have eaten grains and legumes all your life and are addicted to them, you may find this hard to believe because you think you are eating healthy. The only way to know how they affect you is to stop eating them for at least 30 days and observe the unseen results. You may be amazed how much you were normalizing the abnormal.
Physical pain is prarabdha karma, which has its origin in the causal body. It can be self-inflicted karma in the form of binding vasanas (bad diet/lack of exercise). It can also be the result of congenital conditions, such as birth defects or a predisposition for certain illness. Or it could be caused by karma from things out of our control, such as car accidents etc. Pain is rajas, which causes (and is caused by) tamas, in a vicious circle. These two trouble-making gunas create a deep vasana in the subtle body which keeps perpetuating the problem on the gross level unless the psychological/spiritual issues (binding vasanas/samskaras and/or identification with the body/lifestyle) is addressed. Addressing the cause of the pain requires both the corrective lifestyle changes to be made – and kept – and Self-knowledge in the form of guna yoga and karma yoga.
If intelligent lifestyle changes are not made, nothing will change. We state this over and over again because it bears repeating. Self-knowledge will not help you if it does not translate into all areas of your life. You say you eat well according to what you know, but perhaps what you think you know about healthy eating does not serve you. I know it is not easy to change a lifetime of bad habits, but it can be done if you set yourself realistic goals. What price peace of mind?
Nobody can tell you what is right or true for you. The standard approach of the medical world leaves a lot to be desired. It is up to you to make sure you have the right knowledge and to make the changes that are right for you. Given what you told me, and I observed of you, it seems to me that your body is approaching metabolic syndrome. If you truly are tired of living in pain and want to make changes, I recommend you read Dr. Joseph Mercola’s book Fat for Fuel. I think it is one of the best books about intelligent nutrition according to the new scientific research on the topic. He explains perfectly what is going on in your body. There are many other such voice, such as Deep Nutrition by Dr. Catherine Shanahan or Unconventional Medicine by Chris Kresser and Eat Dirt by Dr. Josh Axe. And if you know what’s good for you, stop reading anything about nutrition in the media. Most of it is biased and funded by pharmaceutical companies or just plain wrong and confusing.
It is true that some of us have health conditions that are the result of prarabdha karma we can do nothing about. If this the case, we must live with chronic pain with the karma yoga attitude. I have an old neck injury from a car accident in my youth which used to cause me almost constant pain. I have managed to heal most of the pain with a ketogenic diet, supplements and exercise. But when the pain is there, I use sattva to manage the rajas to great effect. It works most of the time. I do this by consciously choosing sattva when the pain is strong and ignoring the rajas/tamas by not identifying with it. Sometimes it is not possible to access sattva if the rajas is too strong; nonetheless, rajas is an object known to me, consciousness. I can have the pain without the pain of resistance or identification with it.
I know what causes inflammation, so I simply do not eat those foods, full stop. It does not require self-discipline to live this way, because I value peace of mind more than the satisfaction of my taste buds. And besides, the foods that are bad for all of us just don’t taste good to me anymore. I have all the knowledge I need to choose great foods that are good for me and taste great, including baked goods made with nut flours, stevia for sweetening, nuts, seeds, coconut and olive oil. There are tons of recipes available online. All it takes is knowledge and a little effort, at first. Then it becomes second nature to live this way.
It is undeniably true that the subtle and gross bodies you are born with are the result of “good or bad” karma for the jiva. We do not choose them, Isvara gives us the subtle and gross bodies we get. Some people are born strong and healthy, both mentally and physically, and some not. It is auspicious to be born with a human body, and a body that is strong and healthy. However, we can do much to maximize the health of the body in the way we take care of it through knowledge-based nutrition and exercise, as stated and as you know. The question is: How much do you put this into practice? It is one thing knowing something is good for you and another living it.
The body is not real, yet, although the body depends on the mind and not the other way around, a healthy body which is well taken care of nonetheless makes it much easier for the mind to be peaceful, sattvic. A body sick or in pain affects the subtle body, making peace of mind (sattva) very difficult. Therefore taking care of the body is not about the body. It is about peace of mind in the subtle body. It is not about longevity for the body either. Without a healthy brain, we will not have a healthy body, and vice versa, so how long we live does not equal quality of life.
Problems arise when the doer thinks it can make the body “whole” solely through its own actions, which one can, to a significant degree with knowledge and intelligent living. While modern medicine has made great strides in many areas of health, it has also caused many problems. Thankfully, there is a movement towards taking responsibility for our own health through intelligent diet and exercise, something the medical field as a whole has not paid attention to.
However, there are illnesses that are not the result of one’s state of mind and are not under the control of the individual, no matter how healthy your diet. Take Ramana, for instance: he was a great saint who lived a pure, sattvic life and had a great state of mind, yet he died of cancer, although more than likely his cancer was also related to his lifestyle or eating habits. India has one of the worst health records of any country because of their high carb-and-sugar-based diets. There is no avoiding the fact that our bodies are part of our environment and not separate from it. There is a constant flow of shakti from one to the other, positive or negative. We ignore the laws that run the dharma field at our own cost. Ramana did not care about his body or its state of health; he was a great saint. For most of us, we do care because a body in constant pain is very hard to ignore and a great burden to bear.
Of course it takes extreme dispassion to deal with chronic illness or any pain we can do nothing about. This is where dispassion and karma yoga are so important from the jiva or jivanmukta level. One can work with Isvara regarding illness and body pain by one’s attitude to the thoughts that give rise to illness/pain and to the thoughts which come as a result of illness/pain. Coping with chronic pain, which is rajas, makes the mind dull, tamasic. Even though it is very difficult to maintain a sattvic mind when the body is in a lot of pain, it can be done with the right attitude and knowledge, as I mentioned before.
There is appropriate action to be taken but that still does not guarantee any particular result. Nothing does in mithya. The results of any action depend on the nature of the action and NOT necessarily on the state of mind of the person taking the action; it is possible to get a negative result from a positive action and vice versa. Very importantly, the results of actions ALSO depend on the nature of the Field, i.e. Isvara. It is possible that we can do everything right as far as lifestyle and diet are concerned and still suffer chronic pain. Only you will know if this is true for you. Is your lack of health the result of the prarabdha karma from binding vasanas/lifestyle choices or prarabdha karma from factors you can do nothing about?
One of the most popular formulations of the causal mechanism in recent years is Eckhart Tolle’s “pain body.” He presents it as an organic entity that feeds on painful experiences, which is to say that pain itself becomes a vasana, then a samskara, and then a pratibandika, a deeply entrenched obstacle. There is some truth to this as explained above, but it misses the main point: physical pain is always in the subtle body and not the gross body. There is no “entity” living in us creating pain other than ignorance-inspired desire and fear. The process of causality is purely unconscious, although it seems conscious because of the proximity of the causal body to the Self. The causal body is a technical term that refers to the conditioning that causes us to act and to interpret our actions. It does not assimilate experience, it produces experience. The intellect assimilates experience.
The Self is not the causal body, although there is a belief in the spiritual world that it is. As the Self, we are always free of the structures in the Field of Existence set up by Maya that originate in the causal body. However, the causal body is the Self in its subtlest manifestation as the cause of everything. Separating it and its effects from the Self is the subject of James’ book on the gunas, the doctrine on Isvara-jiva. The sense that pain is conscious and seeks to renew itself is certainly understandable because the causal body, like the gross and subtle bodies, is pervaded by consciousness.
For many who have made pain an identity, pain becomes a cop-out, a way of justifying how hard done by the doer is, legitimizing complaint, blame and victimhood. Or just a way to hang onto binding vasanas, to camouflage them with talk about Self-knowledge. Eating habits form binding vasanas that can be the most stubborn of all vasanas. It never fails to amaze us how much people are prepared to suffer rather than make permanent lifestyle changes, especially to the way they eat.
Thus it is sad but true that ill health and pain are so often the result of lifestyle issues that never get cleaned up properly, i.e. the vasana for freedom from suffering is not strong enough to overcome the vasana for the way we eat and live. We fool ourselves into believing we are living intelligently and eating properly, but we are not. If this is the case for you, rajas and tamas are doing a very good job of working together: rajas projects, and tamas denies. Only you will know. From what I observed of the way you eat, there is a lot you could do to make changes if you really want to manage the pain.
That said, there is always something “wrong” with the body, even when we are experiencing good health. It is not static but fluid, like a river, always changing and in a state of flux, and in a constant symbiotic relationship with the environment (Isvara, the gunas). It is a product of the gunas. The body you had a year ago, a month ago or yesterday is not the same body you have today, because the gunas are always changing, constantly revolving. Thus nothing in mithya ever stays the same. We have no control over it other than to look after it to the best of our ability.
But no matter how well we look after the body, Isvara is the final (and only) determiner of how long the body will sustain life. The body is on loan to you; you are not meant to and (definitely) will not be allowed to keep it! Take appropriate and timely action to look after it but surrender it to Isvara, who will take care of it. The right attitude, which is an attitude of gratitude for the gift of life “in a body,” is the best and sanest approach to the body and to life, along with a knowledge-based lifestyle. It is a privilege to be born with a human body because only in a human body can moksa obtain. And when the time is right, the body will be withdrawn and returned to the five elements from whence it came, and you as consciousness will not be affected by that one bit.
Even though taking care of the body is intelligent if you want to feel good and live life well, ultimately our problems as a jiva do not come from the body, its good or bad health. All our problems come from ignorance, from desire and fear-thoughts, i.e. from binding vasanas.
Riana: Thank you so so much for your answer to my question.