In my colleagues, students, and patients I often encounter the assumption that as we develop spiritually our health will improve and we will feel better. This is a type of spiritual materialism akin to the notion that if we are “spiritually aligned” we will experience financial abundance. Actually, I have found no support for either notion in my clinical experience or in life generally. Basically, this is an expression of the idea that, ‘If I do good, I’ll get good” which is the lowest understanding of karma as discussed by Sri Aurobindu.(1952). As it turns out, the cultivation of virtue is for the sake of virtue alone. There is, literally, nothing in it for us.
There is no necessary relationship between physical health and spiritual health. Ramana Maharshi, undoubtedly a person who had attained profound enlightenment in the classical sense died of cancer. And it's clear that mean bastards can live a long, long time, sometimes fuelled by hate. From a spiritual standpoint, the awakening to consciousness itself means that personal identification shifts to an objective and absolute perspective that never changes, regardless of the weather, thoughts, or feelings. This stand is the source of our purest motivation and deepest conviction. Ramana in his enlightened state, having awakened to the unborn ground of being, had zero identification with his body as himself. He had discovered the absolute self that is not born and does not die. And, as far as this is, it is as far as the pre-modern enlightenment ever goes.
Enlightenment (we are talking about the spiritual practice of medicine right?) in an evolutionary context means that one awakens to the creative impulse itself, as self. In this context the body is recognized as a vehicle for the eternal evolution of consciousness (spirit in a CM sense). Traditional enlightenment, the discovery of the unborn ground as self, is not an end state but the entry way and starting ground of an endless new awakening and consciously directed development. There is care for the vessel because in a holistic/integral sense, being and non-being, consciousness and the body, are One. The body is cared for because it is recognized as the most advanced vehicle through which spirit can manifest.
However there are many factors, some beyond our control, that impact the health of the body including genetics, the environment, and fate (an “X” factor). Despite our best efforts the body will die so, ultimately, our allegiance as spirit coming through flesh must be to spirit itself. I have heard often the assertion that, “the body has wisdom.” What should a 23 year old mother of two learn from her body when she receives a diagnosis of inoperable ovarian cancer? Is her body really trying to tell her something? Consciousness recognizes only itself as that which was never born and never dies.
Wisdom is not a property of the body. Wisdom is a virtue cultivated as we move forward in the face of fear to embrace consciousness, eternally developing, as ourselves. Wisdom is generated by a human being who can objectively see his or her circumstances or "what is", understand them in a developmental context, take 100% responsibility for them, and discover a moral obligation and care to act in a way that furthers the only goal of consciousness-to move ever onward through us toward increasing stages of wholeness and integration-as it awakens to itself in, and as, the manifest universe.
This universe project seems to be an affair of consciousness pushing its way into matter, and it's a messy business. What, for example, is the meaning of a tsunami? We don't know. But perhaps humans now are causing global shifts in weather patterns. "Maybe" in this era, a tsunami is a result of human choices that have been made and thus can be seen as a result of consciousness. Matter, including the body, responds to consciousness, and to unconsciousness. As matter becomes increasingly complex it is imbued with higher (better, more integrated and whole) levels of consciousness. Still, in this dualistic world we must make distinctions. Wisdom is a property of consciousness and not the body. Is there any doubt that a dead body has no wisdom and a living body is only truly alive to the degree it is conscious?
Aurobindo, S (1952). The problem of rebirth, Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Pondicherry.