Power and Medicine During Transitional Eras
by Sohail Inayatullah
Michel Foucault wrote on how particular eras suddenly ended and new regimes of knowledge emerged thereafter. He wished to understand the transition points – what changed to create a new episteme, a new way of seeing reality. These changes can be minor – the role of an artist – or larger events, a pandemic, or a new technology. In the new era, there is a shift in how reality is perceived, the emergence of a new paradigm or episteme. In the work of Shrii P.R. Sarkar generally these shifts occur when a way of seeing the world no longer has legitimacy. For him there are four core era/epistemes: the worker, the warrior, the intellectual and the capitalist. Each has its own regime of knowledge: of what counts as reality and truth and what does not. Subjectivity is transformed based on the new episteme. For example, in the warrior, it is power and strength: victory whether in war or sports. Hierarchy, discipline, and the uniform reign supreme. However, in the Intellectual era reality changes. The volume of books and scholarship produced are telling. Diversity, the search for truth, and ideas that give life purpose became far more important. Why was there a shift? For Shrii Sarkar, this was an evolutionary shift. To expand empires, to gain land, warriors needed to move from numbers – bodies that could fight – to strategies, ideas that could lead to conceptual conquest. The transition to the capitalist emerged as the intellectual era was unable to create and expand wealth – efficiency and production were needed to create the changing needs of workers, warriors, and intellectuals. New technologies and more efficient ways to accumulate wealth heralded the next era. In this new era, our current, wealth has become power, accumulation the be all of life. Power is maintained with lower costs.
Similar transitions, discontinuities have emerged in health paradigms. Why did, for example, the ancient Ayurvedic system that focused on wholeness, on connection with nature, on body, mind, and spirit eventually give way to the Western, the allopathic. What happened? While in recent times one can argue it has been the rise of large health corporations (pharmaceuticals and vitamin companies) that is, profit and size, earlier Shrii Sarkar argues it was for one very simple reason: the fear of needles. Writes Shrii Sarkar (2011: 5)
Nowadays, in those cases where there is difficulty getting the desired effect by swallowing the medicine or ingesting it in some other way, or where the effect is delayed, the system of introducing the medicine into the body through injection is widely prevalent. If anything is injected into the body through a needle it is called súcikábharańa. Súcikábharańa existed in Ayurveda in ancient times to a small extent, but this science could not advance much in those days, chiefly due to the influence of certain superstitions among the people at that time. They did not want to allow anything into their bodies through injection, so this science remained unappreciated. Nowadays it is possible to save the patient’s life with injections in the case of diseases that are difficult to cure or treat, or in the case of life-threatening disease. Thankfully, modern practitioners of Ayurveda and Homeopathy, willingly or unwillingly, have accepted the use of needles and themselves use them.
Thus, the shift from Ayurveda to the Allopathic is partly explained by the fear of needles. There were however other factors as well. Shrii Sarkar argues that not just traditional medicine declined but the modernist aspects of Indian medicine too declined. They did so because of the hierarchy of caste. The study of dead bodies…“learning about the physical structure of the skeleton of the dead body” was seen as undesirable, as “lowly.” Argues Shrii Sarkar: “This affected medical science. Surgery, especially, was much affected and because of this, all medical science was affected.” (Sarkar, 2011: 8)
While Shrii Sarkar is thankful that today’s complementary medicine practitioners include needles and western medicine, imagine a world, a future where they did not. We are already seeing weak signals of this amongst some communities (in the Western world amongst the spiritual and the white evangelical communities, argues Evans (2021) where the benefits of modern medicine are rejected to some extent because of the fear of progress. Already we note with COVID-19, the unvaccinated are 29.2 times more likely to be hospitalized than the vaccinated (Griffen et al, 2021). Indeed, in the USA, it is now considered a pandemic of the unvaccinated (White House, 2021). Given the conservative and extreme individualism of many wellness groups it is not a surprise that they are now linked to the neo-Nazi movement (con-spirituality) (Voas, 2021). However, this may be a positive development for those engaged in progressive politics (Monbiot, 2021) as the wellness movement is de-legitimized for its reactionary politics. However, yoga, meditation, fasting and other positive aspects of the spiritual movement may well become collateral damage. For Shrii Sarkar, while true progress is spiritual – beyond the physical and the mental – in the material world, it is science that is defining, “science is indispensable for human progress.” (Sarkar, 2018: 71). He writes: “Those who criticize science in reality want to turn the onward current of the Ganges backwards towards its source. This totally contradicts the principles of dynamics. Such an endeavour betrays a negative mentality (Sarkar, 2018: 69). In particular, “Medical science has helped people immensely in the past, continues to help them in the present and will continue to help them in the future. Medical and surgical developments have helped people to increase their longevity in the past and likewise continue to do so today.” (Sarkar, 2018: 72). Indeed, Shrii Sarkar asserts that the inventor of penicillin (and other technologies such as the airplane) should be seen as rsis (saints, sages) (Sarkar, 2021) – the glittering personalities of history. Of course, for Shrii Sarkar, this is the context of civilization i.e., purpose, inclusion, ethics – the greater good – leading the scientific process and not short-term profits and gains. The latter must lead the former or there is cultural decline.
In contrast is the current ant-vaxxer conspiracy movement (Roose, 2021). For them, focused on purity of the body, most live in a world fearful of vaccines, mistrust of large pharmaceutical companies and health departments. Not surprisingly, they lack in scientific and social science literacy, and tragically are committed to Trumpism (and other anti-truth leaders). However, while they have some agency, they are also victims of late capitalism in that they often lack meaningful work (and have few prospects of the future) and are not trained in critical thinking. The challenge for those engaged in progressive politics and spiritual ethics is how we can begin to imagine a different future, where at least a small percent of the wellness-con-spirituality group are brought in from the fringe and play a part in progressive neo-humanist politics.
IMAGINE A DIFFERENT FUTURE
Imagine a different future. Ayurveda and other traditions do not succumb to superstition and instead innovate and integrate. They use needles to deliver medicine i.e., vaccinations are part of the arsenal of medicines that can be used. As one naturopath leader said (Perry, 2021): “Naturopathic medicine blends centuries old holistic healing with evidence-based medicine. We walk the line between conventional and holistic medicine and use the best of both worlds. I trust science, and vaccines have saved humanity from some horrific diseases.” She is suggesting as Shrii Sarkar has argued to take a synthetic approach, that is, both/and instead of typical either/or dogmatic approach. The key for Shrii Sarkar is to ensure that the patient is first. He writes: “The object of the healing art is to cure a patient, both physically and mentally. So the main question is not to uphold any particular school of medical science; rather, the key task is the welfare of the patient.” (Sarkar, 2011: 5).
But how do we know? This becomes the greater debate. Dada Dr. Shambushivananda, the Chancellor of Shrii Sarkar’s Gurukul’s Educational system has asserted that while Gurukul uses different health systems – allopathic, naturopathic, homeopathic, ayurvedic – it is the allopathic that is the controlling faculty (Personal email, 31 August 2021). What this means is that evidence as defined within scientific parameters – repeatable, double-blind, studies demonstrate causation – is required.
ASPECTS OF THE NEW FUTURE
What would that world look like?
First, it would be inclusive of all healing modalities.
Second, the scientific method would be used to determine efficacy, with a full understanding that science itself will undergo paradigm changes as deeper layers of the mind become better understood.
Third, vaccines would be used and continue to save hundreds of millions of lives. There would be as with a global right to food, shelter, education, and clothing, a global right to vaccination, to health. Vaccines must be treated as global public goods.
Fourth, the social, political, and gendered causes of illness would be addressed. These include, for example in the case of zoonotic diseases, wildlife buffer zones between humans and nature, as epidemiologist Peter Black argues (2015: 137-142). Given that more diseases are likely to become prevalent from climate change, it would mean moving toward plant-based diets as much as possible so that climate change is mitigated.
This would also mean given the rise of non-communicable diseases, a move toward redesigning cities so individuals could walk more, that design enhances health. It would mean moving away from fossil fuels so pollutants would decrease. It would mean rethinking the working week so that individuals could exercise more and spend time with community: family and friends. Hospitals too would need to be transformed, some focused on acute care, but most becoming healing centres. Society would move from GDP as defining to Wellbeing as defining. Ultimately this would be a shift from a single bottom line to a quadruple bottom line: prosperity (increased standard of living for all), purpose (spirit and service), planet (nature, first), and people (inclusion) (Inayatullah, 2018). Thus, the goal in this future is to design health systems that benefit all.
Fifth, and this is critical. The nature of pharmaceutical companies would change. Following Shrii Sarkar’s PROUT model, they would be run like large public sector organizations i.e., global platform cooperatives run and managed by medical scientists. We have a first version of that through the COVID-19 moon shot program. Write the leaders of this cooperative venture (Delft, 2021): “This experiment pulled together a spontaneous, open, global, Twitter-fuelled collaboration called the COVID Moonshot. Urgency and a commitment to working openly recruited more than 150 active participants, spanning a huge range of expertise and technology across academia, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and more, all working without claiming intellectual property. Open drug-discovery efforts are invariably super slow — ours has been an express train on tracks we have laid down as we go. It is a way of working that none of us realized was possible.”
Sixth, in the very long run vaccines would be energized with microvita. While the science is not yet formulated, we can imagine a future where medicine is vibrated with sacred sound, with subtle emotions working at the viral level, that is instead of mind-in-technology as with artificial intelligence, consciousness-in-technology as with the microvita hypothesis. Writes Shrii Sarkar (1987:51), “There will be revolutionary changes in the fields of pharmo-chemistry and biotechnology. A particular object has its particular medicinal value… Intensive pharmaco-chemistry research will reveal the amount of microvita required to produce particular kinds of medical effects, and accordingly a scientist will be able to evolve accurate and effective formulae for various medicines.”
What Shrii Sarkar is hinting at – in the longer-term future – is personalized and precision medicine designed for the individual. Thus, vaccines and other medicine will be targeted, thereby reducing the side effects suffered by many.
Certainly, microvita medicine is outside of today’s dominant scientific paradigm. One way to make it intelligible, how I understand it, is to see it as activating the placebo response. This entails seeing placebo not as false but as an active ingredient in health (and nocebo in illness). With placebo, the receiver activates his/her brain/mind to help create the best possible reactions from the intervention. The person expects healing. This can occur through a contact with a medical professional where they feel listened to, heard, connected with and as well when the belief emotional system is active. Ted Kaptchuk, head of Harvard’s Medical School Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter, argues that the “placebo effect is a result of the complex conscious and nonconscious processes embedded in the practitioner-patient relationship. (Greenberg, 2018).
Microvita, however, can be positive and negative. In the medical world, the approximation of this is nocebo. “Essentially, the nocebo effect means if a patient is worried about a treatment regime, poor results are likely. If you emphasise negative side-effects, you’re more likely to get them.” (The University of Sydney News, 2019). This works because of the power of the brain/mind to imagine reality. The goal is to use placebo to enhance wellbeing and ensure anxiety and fear are not enhanced through the nocebo effect.
In Shrii Sarkar’s language, one goes deeper into the layers of the mind – the kosas (Sarkar, 1959). Vaccines work at the body level of the mind – the first layer. Placebo and other modalities work at deeper levels to produce results. Each level is important, as we as humans exist at all levels. At deeper levels, imagination can be used to heal – to connect with nature, selves, and spirit – instead of being isolated or controlled for at the more superficial level of the body, as in traditional science.
CONCLUSION – THE GREAT DISCONTINUITY
Like many others, I am surprised at how quickly the New Age movement – focused on wellness, inner growth, self-actualization, indeed, even enlightenment – has aligned itself with Trump, Neo-Nazi and nationalistic and conspiracy movements and others that seek to blame the weak and the vulnerable for our challenges today (Crockford, 2021). At a macrolevel, we know it is not just about the lack of critical thinking (even though it is certainly a critical variable) (Elder, 2021). This is largely, returning to our opening quote on discontinuities, about a shift in eras.
In the ancient era, reality was tribal and magical (the worker and warrior eras). Purity was foundational – other races, tribes, were dangerous. Herbs from nature were seen as the most important aspects of healing. The modern era removed nature as well as captured nature – used it for medicine – and technological driven medical systems became dominant (the intellectual and the capitalist). This has led to dramatic increases in health as access to health, anti-biotics, and vaccinations as well as sanitation have become critical. And as we well know, culture can become left behind in this transition – the hospital can become cold, the surgeon can lose his humanity as technological fixes dominate. The views of the patient are not listened to. Instead of a system shift, we search for the silver medical bullet. This especially becomes an issue in transitional periods when new paradigms emerge and there is a loss of trust in old systems. Fear of this changing world – fear of the loss of jobs, fear of other cultures, fear of novelty – create the conditions for conspiracy theories.
Shrii Sarkar offers us ways out. These are seeing reality at many layers: as a body, mind, layers of mind, and pure consciousness. It is a both/and approach, using modern medicine and going deeper toward other modalities, going inwards. And it is about ensuring inclusion, that all have the right to health, education, shelter, and education. In this transition to the Age of Microvita, both the purity of the tribalists and siloed world of the modernists are challenged, as the new world emerges. Yet as Shrii Sarkar has warned over and over, this transition will lead to greater polarization (1986: 44) best expressed by the words of Gramsci (1971): “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear. ” Even if we can see the global system emerging, the morbid symptoms are overwhelming: COVID-19, con-spirituality, the anti-vaxxer movement, to mention three. All three confront us with the world we do not want, so we can create the world we do.
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It is not enough to equate the so-called religious scriptures with transient philosophy. Rather, these scriptures are even inferior to material science. Although the material sciences are still imperfect from the ideological and practical point of view, they do not stifle the scientific progress of humanity.Shrii P. R. Sarkar