Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #21 – A Cure for Terminal Cancer

May 27th, 2019

Disclaimer: I am not speaking about a cure as we know it. According to bhakti texts, one should try to save life as far as possible. But still, the title perfectly serves the point I want to make.


Years ago, I was speaking with an Ayurvedic doctor about a mutual acquaintance who was being kept alive by modern allopathic medicine. As my faith is in the Vedas and thus Ayurveda as the ultimate authority of medical knowledge, this naturally led to a discussion about the effectiveness of Ayurveda in curing the prominent terminal diseases of today. When I asked about the Ayurvedic cure for cancer, his answer took me off guard: “Death!”


He then illustrated his point. “Look at this photo,” he said. It showed a contemporary yogi leaving the world peacefully, surrounded by his students. As soon as the yogi found out that he had terminal cancer, the doctor told me, he fasted until death. The scene looked so dignified. The doctor continued, “By fasting to death, he was able to die before the body was completely ravaged by unbearable pain and while his consciousness and mind were peaceful and lucid.”


His explanation made sense, and it was consistent with one of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s last wishes. When Śrīla Prabhupāda became ill in his last days, he instructed his disciples not to take him to the hospital. He mentioned specifically that he didn’t want to leave this world with tubes in his body. I was there when he passed — peacefully and in clear consciousness, with what seemed to be minimal pain.


Support for this “death cure” thesis also comes from the most unlikely of places. Some time back, I read the book Morality by Christopher Hitchens, one of the most prominent “New Atheists.” The book chronicled the last weeks of Hitchens’s treatment at one of the best hospitals in the United States, just before his death due to terminal cancer. Writing was so effortless for him that he was able to describe his waning life almost to the very end. One sentence about his experience stuck out. To paraphrase, “The advancement of modern medicine is prolonging one’s torture in this world while at the same time ravaging what is left of one’s family fortune.”


Although Mr. Hitchens had some insight into the futility of prolonging life artificially in a body devastated by disease, he missed the real point. The solution is not just death as the end of our present suffering, but seeing death for what it actually is: the illusion of non-existence. And that’s the real import of the Ayurvedic doctor’s seemingly counter-intuitive answer about the cure for cancer. Without a culture of the soul informing our present life, including how it ends, we have no recourse but to make terrible choices, including wasting money and time artificially living in a tortured and fearful condition all because of the false notion of the eternal self as the temporary body.


Having lived much of my life in the holy land of Vṛndāvana, I have witnessed many saintly people leave this world. One departure in particular stands out — the passing of Mother Gauri. It also shines light on our subject — death as a “cure” for cancer.


On what would be the last day of Mother Gauri’s life, I was in the room when Dr. Narottama, her Ayurvedic doctor, came to check her. He mindfully took her pulse for diagnosis, looked at Gauri compassionately, and announced, “Disease is finished. You have one hour left to live.”


It took me a few minutes to understand what he was saying. Gauri devi was an exemplary Vaiṣṇava completely surrendered to the mission of her spiritual master. Her dying was simply the final impetus to relinquish the last vestiges of her false ego, attachment to the body. Dr. Narottama, a vrajavāsī and elevated devotee, could understand her attainment, that she was now living within the eternal soul and thus no longer identifying with the body. As cancer exists only in the body and she had transcended the non-self, he could boldly and simultaneously declare that her disease was finished and that she would also soon die. And sure enough, Gauri devi left one hour later, peacefully and extraordinarily alert and conscious. Had she not cured cancer?


I leave you with a verse from a song by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, which sums up the cure for all diseases:


“This temporary body is full of suffering. Take shelter of the holy name of Krishna as your only business.”[1]


[1] Aruṇodaya-kīrtana, Song 1, verse 6.


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