The mystics of all religions and spiritual traditions
tell us again and again that death is only for
the physical body, not for the Soul.
Truly, it is only this
(the body) that dies when the Soul departs from
it. The Soul never dies.
The saints speak of death as a wonderful transition
from this limited and finite existence to an eternal
and infinite immortality.
So beautiful appeared
my death knowing whom I would kiss, I died a thousand
times before I died.
Death is something perfectly normal, something
that we all see every day and something that will
inevitably happen to every living being at some
time or another. The scriptures tell us it is
something very simple and natural.
Just as a man discards
worn out clothes and takes other new clothes so
does the embodied Soul discard worn out bodies
and takes other new bodies.
(Srimad Bhagavad Gita)
Death pertains only to the body, which like a
machine, is subject to wear and tear, dysfunction
and eventually complete breakdown. The Soul, however,
is unborn and undying, eternal and immortal. For
those people who learn to identify themselves
with the Soul instead of the body or for those
who have taken refuge in a Higher Power death
does not hold so much fear.
Where, O Death, is your victory? Where is
What Role Can Meditation Play
in Dealing with Cancer?
The practice of meditation can provide valuable
assistance to cancer patients at various stages.
For persons in the terminal stages, meditation
can help them gain greater peace and acceptance
of their situation. For persons involved in the
process of healing cancer, meditation will help
facilitate this process. For individuals who are
proactively taking steps to prevent cancer, meditation
can serve as a valuable ally. Let's have a brief
look at each of these roles.
Meditation and Terminal Cancer
For an individual who is terminally ill, with
cancer or any other disease, meditation opens
their awareness to that part of their being which
is eternal. In most cases this will not be a sudden
realization, or even a crystal clear awareness,
although it can be. More typically however, a
person will simply begin to "sense"
or "know" - beyond a mere intellectual
idea - that they are more than just the physical
body... that there is a part of them which lives
on after the impermanent physical garment has
been shed. With this awareness comes a profoundly
peaceful feeling that it is all right... that
there is truly nothing to fear.
However, even when a person has this deep sense
that they are eternal, the body's ingrained survival
instinct - known in some esoteric teachings as
the "body elemental" - can at times,
still exert a strong influence as death approaches.
For such times, when instinctual fear and anxiety
begin to overwhelm one, meditation can serve as
a valuable tool for helping a person relax, let
go, and shift their attention back to the calm
harbour of their innermost self.
Meditation and Healing Cancer
There are various ways in which meditation can
further the healing process. Although it would
be unrealistic and irresponsible to suggest that
simply meditating daily will rid one of cancer,
meditation can serve as an effective adjunct to
any healing regimen. Here are three simple dynamics
of how daily meditation can facilitate one's healing
1. The most evident way in which meditation contributes
to the healing process is through stress reduction.
It has been well proven that stress is among the
major contributors to diseases of all sorts, including
cancer. It has also been demonstrated in numerous
studies that meditation reduces stress and the
production of stress hormones, cortisol, GH and
2. Another facet of meditation in the healing
process involves the clearing away of physical/emotional
toxins that have been accumulating over years.
It has been found that any painful or traumatic
experience which has not been resolved becomes
stored in our body as a form of negative - or
"toxic" - energy. Over the years, the
accumulation of this negative energy creates a
toxic environment in our bodies, which begins
to undermine our natural sense of well-being.
If this toxic build-up continues unchecked, disease
is the inevitable outcome.
A tangible manifestation of these toxic energies
is what medical science has termed "free
radicals." These miniscule molecular structures
have been shown to play a significant role in
The powerful positive energies tapped in meditation,
literally act as a solvent, dissolving the various
forms of these harmful toxins and clearing away
3. Meditation facilitates the flow of life force
energy through our system. This powerful energy,
also known as the vital force, prana, or chi,
not only gives us life, but is responsible for
maintaining health and optimal functioning of
all parts of the body. As a result of stress,
and the knots of tension which it produces in
the body, the life force gradually becomes obstructed
from flowing freely throughout our physiological
system. When any organ, muscle, bone, or tissue
is not being sufficiently nourished with the healing
vital force, it becomes prone to dysfunction or
vulnerable to injury, which ultimately leads to
some form of malady. Through reducing one's stress
level and providing one with regular periods of
relaxation, meditation allows and encourages the
knots of tension to unwind, clearing the way for
the healing, nourishing life force to flow freely
again, thus restoring health and well-being.
Meditation and Cancer Prevention
If meditation can assist people in the process
of healing cancer, can it also contribute to the
prevention of cancer? Yes... the value of meditation
in the prevention of cancer - as well as most
types of illness - cannot be overlooked or understated.
Here - from a 1987 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine
- are some very convincing statistics, regarding
the preventative capabilities of daily meditation.
A study of health insurance statistics on over
2,000 meditators over a 5-year period found
that meditators consistently had less than half
the hospitalization than did other groups with
comparable age, gender, profession, and insurance
terms. The difference between the meditator
and non-meditator groups increased in older-age
brackets. In addition, meditators had fewer
incidents of illness in 17 medical treatment
categories, including 87% less hospitalization
for heart disease and 55% less for cancer.
How does meditation prevent illness? Many of
the dynamics put forth in regard to the healing
process also apply to the prevention of disease.
Certainly the capacity of meditation to reduce
stress is tremendous, given what we now know about
the major role stress plays in causing illness.
Regarding the flow of vital force, the same simple
principle applies to prevention as to healing
-- when this nourishing energy is flowing freely
throughout the body, health and well-being prevail.
When its flow is obstructed and it cannot reach
all parts of the body, well-being is gradually
diminished and ultimately illness ensues. It logically
follows then, that if meditation clears away that
which obstructs the free flow of vital force,
a major link in the causal chain of illness is
Another important aspect of meditation and prevention
is that people who meditate tend to gravitate
toward healthy lifestyles. Rather than this being
a forced discipline, meditators generally discover
that unhealthy habits tend to fall away on their
own, and that they are simply drawn to healthier
ways of living. That includes eating more natural
foods, exercising, practicing yoga, enjoying healthier
forms of recreation, choosing to live in healthy
So we find that meditation can indeed play a
role -- in fact, several positive and significant
roles in the lives of cancer patients, and in
the lives of those choosing to avoid this painful
Dr Ramesh Bijlani
Dr Ramesh Bijlani
retired as a Professor from the All India
Institute of Medical Sciences where he established
a patient care facility for conducting yoga-based
lifestyle modification courses for prevention
and management of chronic disease. He uses
yoga as a tool in mind-body medicine.
|Dr Bijlani at
the GPH World Hospice Conference 2008
"The most surprising
thing in the world is that everybody knows that
death is inevitable and yet behaves as if he were
immortal", says Yudhishter in the Mahabharata.
To this one might add that
we also behave, and misbehave, with our near and
dear ones as if they were immortal. The result
is that if they leave us suddenly without warning,
leaving no possibility of even saying "sorry",
we are left with life-long regret. The situation
is not much better if they give us a few months
or years of notice by developing an incurable
disease such as cancer. The caregivers of such
patients face several difficult questions:
Whether to tell the patient the
How much of the truth to tell and how to tell
To do all that is possible for prolonging the
life of the patient or to withhold those heroic
measures which are likely to only prolong misery?
How much of a choice to give the patient in choosing
What the approach should be to alternative systems
Whether to add modalities such as distance healing,
faith healing and distance healing?...
The list is endless and the
There is not much debate
anymore on whether to tell the patient the truth.
Even if efforts are made to hide the truth from
the patient, the patient knows it anyway. In any
case, the truth must be told; the only question
is how. A few important principles are that the
news should be broken only when there is ample
time available to talk to the patient. All hope
should not be taken away from the patient, and
the patient should feel fully supported. It is
cruel to break bad news to the patient in a hurry
and leave the patient all alone to digest its
implications. Regarding not taking away hope,
it might be asked how hope can be given when there
is no hope while still sticking to the truth.
The fact is that there is no situation in which
there is no hope. Remissions may be rare in some
cancers, but are known in virtually all cancers.
Furthermore, the remissions are not arbitrary:
they are more likely among those who expect them
and psychoneuroimmunology offers a plausible explanation
for the phenomenon. That is why Bernie Siegel,
the famous cancer surgeon, says that one should
beware of giving false 'no hope'.
Cancer also presents difficult
dilemmas regarding the extent to which every new
advance in treatment should be used, and the types
of treatment that may be combined. Broadly speaking,
there are three modalities of treatment: surgery,
radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Surgery, whenever possible,
is a good option because it reduces the tumour
load and gives the bodys immune mechanisms
a chance to overpower the cancer cells that may
still be lurking here and there in the body.
Radiotherapy and chemotherapy,
however, are double-edged weapons. They destroy
tumour cells, but they also damage the rapidly
dividing normal cells; hence their side effects.
Among the rapidly dividing cells are also the
cells of the immune system. It is not always easy
to determine whether the benefit expected from
radiotherapy or chemotherapy exceeds the harm
they might do by weakening the immune system.
Further, a social and moral dimension is added
to the issue because chemotherapy is often very
expensive. If the family refuses chemotherapy,
they may feel guilty that they are not doing everything
possible to prolong the life of the patient. On
the other hand, if they somehow manage the chemotherapy,
they might face bankruptcy for the sake of giving
the patient doubtful prolongation of poor quality
life. If these decisions are taken without any
discussion with the patient, an important aspect
of the truth regarding his illness is being hidden
from him. On the other hand, if the patient is
consulted on these points, it may be difficult
to avoid in the patient the perception that the
family is not doing enough for him in order to
economize on the expenses.
In chronic disease, relatives,
friends and other well wishers have a tendency
to suggest unconventional remedies such as alternative
systems of medicine, diet therapies, touch therapy,
spiritual healing and so on. Sometimes they even
suggest specific practitioners or spiritual masters
and support their advice with anecdotal evidence.
This happens all the more in diseases such as
cancer. It is difficult for any family to act
on all such advice. Which path to follow would,
and should, depend on what they, particularly
the patient, have faith in. Even if the treatment
has no specific beneficial biological effect attributable
to its chemistry, it would at least act as a placebo
if the patient has faith in it. Placebos are currently
looked upon with a great deal of respect because
first, they can work wonders; and secondly, if
the placebo is an inert substance, it will have
no side effects. However, it is not prudent to
depend only on an alternative therapy unless practitioners
of scientific medicine have washed their hands
of the patient, or at least the patient and the
relatives have taken a conscious decision not
to avail of scientific medicine anymore.
While all the above questions
and several other mundane considerations inevitably
enter the picture in a disease such as cancer,
the most comforting and creative approach comes
from the spiritual worldview.
The spiritual worldview not
only helps us accept the disease as an expression
of the Divine Will, but also enables us to look
at the disease positively. The usual way to look
at the disease is as a problem to be solved, a
battle to be fought, and an enemy to be conquered.
From the spiritual point of view, however, the
disease is a powerful teacher. It is an opportunity
with an extremely high potential to stimulate
the spiritual growth of the patient and his caregivers.
Since spiritual growth is the true purpose of
life, the disease helps them fulfill the purpose
of life. All events and circumstances can serve
as opportunities for spiritual growth. While ordinary
everyday life gives opportunities for taking only
one small step at a time towards the fulfillment
of the purpose of life, traumatic events such
as cancer are opportunities for taking several
big and rapid strides. A person going through
the experience of cancer for a couple of years,
and his caregivers, can grow spiritually more
in those few years than in several decades of
ordinary life. The transforming effect of this
growth outweighs the physical and emotional hardship
faced by the family. The effect of the transformation
is to bring the family closer, and to make them
much more capable of loving, caring and sharing.
The transformation also equips them to face any
future vicissitudes of life with equanimity. They
discover peace and joy within themselves, and
learn how to access these inner resources. They
get liberated from their dependence on external
circumstances for their happiness. Hence their
happiness becomes event-proof and shock-proof.
Their overwhelming concern for recovery from the
disease is replaced by the need to redirect life
in order to make life more meaningful and fulfilling.
Thus, the disease that seems to be a curse becomes
a blessing in disguise. Interestingly, with this
attitude, not only does the remainder of life
become more meaningful, the remainder also seems
to get longer. There can be no better way of seeing
off our loved ones than to thank them for the
opportunity they bring us even while preparing
to leave, and to make good use of the opportunity.