Faith and Medicine

Holy water from the church, Prasad from temples, blessings from the prophets of Allah… all are known to cure illness. None of them have been proved or justified to do so, but faith persists. A faith that has intermingled with the practice of medicine.

Though technology has advanced and the human brain understands and perceives more than it did in the early ages, we still believe that a spiritual power is our saviour. We still believe that it is only through him that we can and cannot accomplish things on earth.

In the ages when genesis of man took place, he used herbs and other medicinal plants to cure illnesses or provide respite to the ailing. In those days, man’s immune system (ability to resist a pathogenic activity in the body) was stronger and could withstand much more. He was built to survive in the wild. Later, came the years when man realised that only the fittest can survive. His strength was no match against those of the wild beasts and so he chose a different direction, the direction of development of cognitive skills and memory.

Since that epic realisation, there has never been a time when man has looked back. He quickly realised that being fit didn’t mean only physical fitness. It meant the overall ability to outsmart your foes and survive. Today’s world is the clear example of man being at the top of the food chain and the fittest.

With the build up of innate intelligence came an overflow of ideas. Where they came from is a question which is difficult to answer. Did they arrive through a spiritual power? Were they taught to early men or were they developed through observations? Nevertheless, such thought have been prevalent for many years and the premier of them is faith.

Faith and trust are what relationships are built on. They can be put into a person, an object or even a budding venture. Religion is the faith in morality and the being of a supreme guiding power. A faith that is known to cure people of their ills.

Ayurveda was evidently the first medical science to evolve and is till date the safest and most appropriate way to treatments. It prescribes the use of medicinal plants, herbs, certain roots and barks to cure diseases. It can cure physical as well as mental illnesses. Many of its attributes have been listed in Hindu literature. The all curing ‘Sanjivani’  plant from the Himalayas which was mentioned in the Ramayana is an apt example.

After Ayurveda came Homeopathic and Antibiotic treatments. Antibiotic treatments are the most widely and commonly preferred mode of treatment these days. Both are hit and try methods and are simply used to see which treatment affects and cures what malady.

Where do faith and medicine intermingle? There is no specific junction. They are two practices that are almost inseparable. Is the mention of Ayurveda in religious texts a reason for faith? Probably. Ram is considered a human form of Lord Vishnu. If his kin required a dosage of a herb to cure him, the readers are influenced to use the same for themselves with the faith that they could also be treated successfully.

Doctors are considered Gods by many people. They are the ones who handle people’s lives. They play the hand of God. They make or break the deal. They can save or kill a patient. But is that really true? Surely they have the power to save a life, but if they are not, are they to be blamed? At times, it is impossible to save a life. A doctor does whatever he or she can to save the person but they fail. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t want to save the patient. It only means that they are mere humans like you and me. They are not God.
Once a woman entered a doctor’s office crying and said that she urgently had to speak with him.  He asked her the reason and she said that though her husband was undergoing cancer treatment at the hospital, he wanted to go see a priest in his hometown who claims to have supreme powers. When questioned about the supreme powers, she explained that he could talk to God and save the person’s life. She wanted the doctor to talk her husband out of going to his hometown as that would interfere with his treatment schedule and could cause adverse effects. The doctor assured the lady that he would try his best to explain to the husband that a chemotherapy procedure is a make or breaks deal and must not be treated lightly. There must be no large delays in completion of therapy appointments for proper cure.

What happened to that patient is not of concern to the present discussion. What is important is that if that person goes to the priest and lives a long healthy life, it will be attributed only to the priest’s work and not to the month long treatment that doctors had painstakingly designed for him. If he dies though, all the blame goes to the doctor for his treatments did not work.  What the patient or his family would not understand or realise is that it was probably the one treatment appointment that he missed that caused so much trouble.

It is not wrong to have faith in God and in priests who can work magic. They probably can. There are many things we do not know and no one has a right to negate any happening. If you haven’t seen it, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. The only aim of this article is to ask the reader to make informed and educated choices and decisions. If they want, they must try both treatments but neither must interfere with the other. They must give due credit where required and not unnecessarily put blame on an innocent person simply trying to save a life by applying all the knowledge that he or she has.

Faith and medicine have forever been entwined, like a knot that will never open. It is perhaps time to loosen that knot a bit and to segregate these two from each other. Some faith though, is always a necessity in every field.