Interview by Dr. Kausthub Desikachar
Dr. Dossey, in 1993 you released your first book about healing words which was a path breaking book, however, I would like to go even further back in time. This was a field that was not so popular then. What drew you to this first?
Well, I have always had an interest in the intersection of spirituality and health. I’m not sure why but I never recall not being interested in the way spirituality impacts health. Just thinking back about some of the factors that pushed me in this direction, that goes back a long way, even to my childhood. In about the 8th grade or so, I began to experience terrific migraine headaches. It is called classical migraine syndrome. The worst thing was not the headache but the episodes of blindness with it. This almost wrecked my career in medicine before it even got started. Actually this got so bad in medical school with the stress of all of that, that I tried to drop out of medical school and my advisor wouldn’t let me do that. But the problem just got worse and it became an ethical issue for me that I would sooner or later have one of these episodes of blindness when I was taking care of a patient in a critical situation and even hurt or kill a patient and in any right, I finished my medical training and I thought I would be putting up with this for the rest of my life but then in the early seventies, biofeedback surfaced in this country as a way of learning to relax your body by using solid state sophisticated gadgets to feed back information to you and help you achieve a profound state of relaxation and it was done with imagery and visualization as well. And it was discovered purely by accident that biofeedback had a good effect on migraine. When I heard this, I chased all over the country learning how to be a subject in a biofeedback lab and it was practically miraculous. Within about six weeks, the whole thing had gone away for the first time in my life. It was a profound insight for me that one’s state of mind could profoundly affect the body. I know that sounds trivial now because everyone is used to mind body medicine and image and visualization, but back in forty years ago, this was forward stuff. Some skeptics viewed biofeedback as almost satanic, California woowoo stuff. But now nobody raises an eyebrow about visualization but then it was really on the edge and I became fascinated with the role of the mind in health. I took up meditation before there were meditation teachers around and began to re-grow my own spiritual roots. I had grown up in fundamentalist Christianity in Texas and when I went away to college I fell in love with science and discarded the old fundamentalist Christian tradition but I began to read Oriental literature, particularly in the field of Buddhism, and sort of re-grew my spiritual roots. My interest in mind-body medicine took me to the domain of prayer and then in 1988 there was a famous study that came out of San Francisco General Hospital looking at the role of prayer in patients in the coronary care unit. This was one of those randomized, double blind studies and the people who were assigned prayer did better than the people who were not assigned prayer. I was astonished by this. At the time I didn’t pray for my patients and I was fairly conventional in that way and I realized that if this study were true then I might have an ethical issue because I had patients in the coronary care unit all the time and the question whether I should be praying for my patients or not became very troubling. So I undertook to look at all the studies that had been done on the role of prayer in healing and I found a hundred and thirty of them. I did not know that that body of research even existed. And it took me several years and I began to pray for my patients regularly because I was convinced that this was one of the best kept secrets around, that prayer could actually be shown to work. And out of my research in this area, I wrote that book ‘Healing Words’ which actually created quite a sensation. It went up on the New York Times best-seller list and it made the rounds of the medical schools and even began to be used as textbooks in some schools and that is still the case and it created a window for the entry of the discussion of spirituality in medical education. Back in ‘93 when that book came out there were only 3 medical schools in the entire country out of a total of a 125 schools that had any kind of coursework looking at the role of spirituality in health. Currently around a hundred medical schools
have formal courses looking at the role of prayer and spirituality in health. So we’ve come a long way
since the early nineties when that whole subject was taboo. Continuing on this, we have seen that prayer works.
Why, in your opinion, is prayer so helpful in healing?
I think there are several ways in which people can understand this. I think the question that always comes up is, ‘Is God involved?’ This is a question, I think, science cannot answer. I cannot imagine how science could even approach that question. We don’t have any God meter, you know, to measure the influence of the transcendent. So that’s up for everybody to decide on their own- whether or not there is a transcendental divine operation that helps people get better when they are prayed for. I think the fact that healing intentions are real is one of the reasons that prayer works. I happen to believe, and I think that research backs this up, that when people have a compassionate, loving thought for another person, that causes physical change in the world. That’s a radical idea in conventional science still but the evidence won’t go away. Let me give you an example. You can take bacteria growing in test tubes or fungi in Petri dishes in the laboratory and you can have someone try to influence the growth rates in the positive direction and you can show that these bacteria and fungi actually grow faster than when they are not being prayed for. You can do this over and over. This has been done scores of times. So, there is some effect that you can demonstrate in the lab from what I just call healing intentions. Whether that is understood as prayer or love or compassion or some other term, there is an effect of people’s intention to make somebody else healthier. Also the fact that people know they are being prayed for generates what are called placebo responses which are just the helpful effects that the expectations and suggestion and so on. That’s also an effect that is very real, but we also know that – this is where the skeptics always denounce us, they say that healing effects are only due to placebo effects, but the fact that you can show these effects in nonhumans in growing plants, bacteria, fungi, the rate of healing of wounds in animals, surgical wounds, shows that this is not just placebo effect, because bacteria don’t think positively, presumably, you know. So there is an effect over and beyond the placebo effect, in spite of all the complaints of the skeptics in these issues. So there are many reasons why prayer heals- the question that we cannot answer is the transcendent portion of it, the question of divine intervention.
That was my other question, how is it possible to measure something which is not very tangible?
Well, you can’t. But that is not to say that it doesn’t operate. It is just something that science cannot get
its hands on. I think it’s beyond the reach. One of my mentors was Dr. D S Kothari, the most famous
physicist that India ever produced, he was an old Gandhian and after Independence, he formulated the
university system after the British left. And Dr. Kothari’s word for these kinds of influences, divine
intervention and so on - that all of that is ‘trans-science’- it is beyond science, and I have always loved
that term, trans-science, because it suggests that there are such things that science can’t get its hands on.
Today, most of the medical community always wants to look for evidence- based research. Is that the only way to establish a reality?
No, it isn’t. If you go back and look at how medicine evolved over the past 3 or 4 hundred years, there
was no evidence-based medicine. We dealt with people’s stories. If you think about all those diseases
that bear people’s names like Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease or Grave’s disease - those
men have their names attached to their diseases because they just saw a case and they wrote it up and because they were the first person to describe it, it bears their name to this day. That’s the single case observations are one way to do medicine without doing randomized double blind clinical trials. Actually randomized double blind trials first originated in the middle of the twentieth century in agriculture. They weren’t even designed to apply to human beings. Now the entire system has become so corrupted its impossible now to know whether to believe a double blind trial or not. Many times because the negative trials are not even reported, that the drug doesn’t work, you don’t hear about that and often, this has just become apparent in recent weeks- the drug companies will hire ghostwriters to write a study and then they would go find scholars, academics who are willing to put their names on it implying that they did the research when they did nothing. This has become a scandal. I don’t know if you have heard of this or not. It’s a huge issue now, even as we speak. I was just reading a paper about that. This is scandalous. I mean, the whole system has just become so corrupted that it is impossible, as I say, any longer to know whether to believe what are called randomized trials. I say that with great sadness because the integrity of medical science is at risk here and its just another example of how greed and corruption seems to penetrate every area of modern life in this culture. Nothing is beyond the corruptive influence of money.
This is very important that you speak about this because in traditional cultures like Yoga or Ayurveda, even in occidental medicine in the olden days often the healer was not so different from a spiritual person. I was recently in conversation with a pharmacy, which is the oldest pharmacy in Europe since the 1400s and the lady there, was saying that in the olden days doctors were spiritual people who were doing rituals and prayers to the medicines before they would give it to the patients. My question to you is, should healers, be it medical doctors or be it alternative medicine practitioners, should they be spiritual? Should there be a role of the spiritual in the healing process at all or they two separate things?
Well, we have tried to make them two separate things in our culture but as you correctly pointed out, we
don’t have to go very far back into history to find out they are a blend. We have 50000 years of shamanic
healing where shamans interceded between the transcendent and the mundane and they were good at
it. Healing intentions is obviously the term used to be one of the only healing modalities that healers
actually had. It probably is the oldest form of therapy known to the human race. I happen to believe that becoming a physician is one of the potentially most fruitful spiritual paths that survives. We’ve tried to sanitize the becoming and making of the physician and tried to get rid of all of that, but if you follow what happens to physicians as they get older and they age, you see a reversal, a going back in the direction of spirituality and most of these are many of these older physicians, when that is considered laughable you know among young physicians who are just fresh out of school and all that. They want to do it all according to the blind laws of nature you know, no meaning whatsoever, no role for compassion or love and so on. I think doctors become wiser generally as they get older if they don’t shut down their minds to this sort of issues. I think spirituality remains a legitimate part of healing and the best doctors I know are deeply spiritual. I separate that from religion.
Is this something that is being taught at medical universities?
Here’s what is being taught. We know in the past that, over the past thirty years, since the thirties to
this day what has been looked at is that people who follow some sort of religious path in their lives
and stick with it, live on average 7-14 years longer than people who do not. Now, that’s a lot. That’s a
huge gain. And so now most of the medical schools are aware that they cannot avoid dealing with spirituality because of the gain in longevity that comes with a spiritual tradition. So, what we’re seeing in
the past fifteen years, are some remarkable developments that honor spirituality. For example there is something called a joint commission on accreditation, which accredits the 20,000 clinics and hospitals in this country and since 1997-98. In order to be accredited, the clinic or hospital has to have some way of assessing what they call the spiritual health of every person who comes into the hospital as a patient. Often this is done on diagnosis; often it is done so subtly that many people don’t know that, you know, what is going on. But nurses for example will ask patients, ‘what does spirituality mean to you?” or ‘ are you a religious or spiritual person?’ or ‘in times in the past were you faced great challenges in your life, how did you get through them?’, trying to unearth something about spiritual inclinations of the patient and ‘do you think you need to see a hospital chaplain, would that make you feel better?’ or something like that - very subtle stuff. Nobody’s pushing religion or spirituality on a patient, they are just enquiring. So, the joining accreditation commission requires this, okay. Another major development is that you cannot now graduate with an MD degree in this country unless you know how to take a spiritual history from patients and why spirituality is important in giving care. Almost nobody knows this but this is a part of the requirement. In the American Association of Medical colleges, it is a requirement. And I mentioned we have gone from only three medical schools in the country teaching this stuff to ninety to a hundred. These are indicators that spirituality is coming back into formal medical education and healthcare delivery. So, I think, after sitting on the sidelines for most of the 20th century, spirituality is back.
I would like to go back to your research on prayer. This question may sound a little strange. When either the healer is praying for the patient, or the family is praying for the patient, or even the patient is praying for himself, be it aloud or silently, be it alone or in a group, do you think someone is listening?
Do I think somebody is listening? Yes, I do.
Can you say a little more about that?
I believe in a universal intelligence that is benevolent, who responds to prayers. I’m as confused as people have always been about why some prayers are answered and some are not. I have no answer for that. I think that it is possible to put these questions to the test, as we have done in experiments, up to a point but then we are all on our own about- we can show what happens, but how and why, that’s a whole different problem. But yes, I think someone is listening. Now there are some people who believe in the healing power of prayers, just some sort of mental influence, person to person- they tend to take an agnostic point of view, the question of divine intervention is just unanswerable, I don’t want to go there, you know, but you can believe what you want but to a minimum we can show that healing intentions are associated with improved health outcomes. The mechanism is, you know, something else again, but that’s right, I take my stand. I think that there are a lot of reasons why prayer works, I would include a universal intelligence mediating the whole deal, I would also include direct healing intention influences from person to person and also the healing effects of positive thinking and suggestion and all of that. So you know, I think it’s a tremendous mix.
Yoga has its own theories about this. Extending on that, does it really matter if someone is
religious or not, if they are going to use prayer as a healing mechanism?
This has been looked at pretty carefully. We’ve had subjects in these studies who are atheists,
agnostics, extraordinarily religious people, people who just don’t care about any of the spirituality or the
religious components, they are strictly materialists, everything in between. So it does not seem to matter at all whether or not anyone, how they lineup religiously or spiritually, it really doesn’t seem to matter. And also, and this causes indigestion for some really fundamentalist religious people out there, it doesn’t seem to matter greatly in the healer, whether the healer is religious or agnostic or not. There have been studies now looking at so called pagan prayer, this is what the fundamentalists call it, Wiccans, witches who have
healing rituals, and they achieve the same healing outcomes as Born-again Christians who were
doing the praying and this infuriates fundamentalist Christians who think that God would never answer
anyone’s prayer except their own. I still get letters from fundamentalist Christians reading me the riot act
that I have committed heresy and blasphemy, you know. They were sent out in their names - you believe
that god would actually answer Buddhist prayers ?! They seem to really hate the Buddhists! Hindu
prayers? You know, I say, yeah, you know there are the studies. Their prayer seems to be as good as
yours, and they’re just infuriated and what they do, they are willing to discard all of the evidence saying
prayer works as having some sort of fatal flaw in it. They don’t know what it is, but it can’t be right
because we’ve let the Buddhists in, and the Hindus and the pagans, and the Wiccans - it just pushes too
many hot buttons for the layman, so this prayer stuff has created a lot of strange bedfellows. Here you
have the skeptical, materialistic scientists who hate this sort of stuff, anything that shows that the
consciousness operates out there in the world, they just think that that’s just crazy. So they are in
bed now with the fundamentalist Christians who want to discard all the science too. Who would have
ever thought that they would have allied, you know, they’re usually at each other’s throats but on this
issue they are on the same side.
That is interesting, that is very interesting. In one of the books you said that ‘I used to believe that we
must choose between science and reason on one hand and spirituality on the other in how we lead our
lives. Now I consider this as a false choice. We can recover the sense of sacredness not jut in science but
perhaps in every area of life.’ Can you elaborate on this?
One of the things that come out of the research is a new view of the nature of consciousness. Its not new, its new to us. It is really an ancient idea but the idea is roughly this- in the experiments, separation between people at a distance doesn’t seem to matter. Whether or not you are praying from the bedside or the other side of the earth, this has been looked at. Space doesn’t matter. Moreover, there are other lines of evidence that show that consciousness can operate outside of the present. I won’t go into all that, but there are studies in remote viewing, human interaction with random event generators which have been down for forty years showing compellingly that time and space are not like we think they are and the common idea that time flows out of the past into the present and then the future, and consciousness as confined to the brain and the body, those are commonsense notions all of which do not hold in view of decades of evidence, some of which have to do with healing experiments. So the new view of consciousness is that consciousness is what I’d call nonlocal in space and time. It is not localized to specific points in space such as your brain or your crania and its not even localized to the
present moment in time. It is infinite in space and time. The picture that comes out of the evidence and I believe this is the picture that is ultimately going to prevail even in hard core science, is that consciousness is infinite in space and time. If you get to that point, if you are willing to go there, you know we used to have a word for this quality: the soul, something that isn’t born, has no beginning, has no end, is infinite in space and time- this is a decidedly spiritual point of view. So its odd, its paradoxical that science is circling back with obvious evidence that the soul which has been denigrated and rejected and denied for you know most of the 20th century, this is the emerging idea of consciousness that we have come a full circle to. We can call it non-local mind or non-local consciousness now and maybe get around some of the old baggage that’s associated with the soul but it’s the same thing. It’s the infinite aspect of who we are. You know, ‘tat tvam asi’, ‘the kingdom of heaven is within you.’ Every major religion has had a place for this. So I think that we, kicking and screaming ‘help’, re-spiritualize science and healing with these new views of consciousness. So that is one reason why I think that we don’t need to make these distinctions between spirituality on one hand and science on the other. I think that’s a false choice. So I think one of the lessons that come out of the healing studies and other consciousness research, is that immortality. Because, that is what we mean when we say something is infinite in time, right? It is not bound by time, it is eternal. That’s who we are at some dimension of our psyche. There are other areas of research where people bump into this you know- near death studies didn’t exist forty years ago. Raymond Moody wrote that blockbuster book ‘Life after Life’ in the seventies and since then there are tens of thousands of case reports of people who’ve nearly died, who’ve come back with reports of the kind of infinite consciousness and infinite states of being and so there is an explosion of those kind of books out there, I’ve reviewed several of them in the past three months- near death studies, they are becoming hugely popular. So, there are any number of avenues through which modern life is becoming, I think, re-spiritualized. Having said that, I don’t think time is on our side. I think there is a lot of craziness in the world too, that I think we better dance as fast as we can.
Yeah we have to! In one of the books you say that medicine is a healing art. I have three questions
connected with this- if this is indeed an art then we can presume that the healer or medicine man is
the artist. If this was the case, then can everyone be an artist? Can everyone be a healer?
Yes, I think that healing instincts and healing abilities are innate in probably everybody. However there are, in every area of human endeavor, prodigies and people who are really gifted. I don’t care whether its healing or mathematics or athletics, there are people who are truly gifted and they simply stand out. I think that’s true with healing also. I think there are Olympic class healers; I’ve met a few of them in my time. This is the second question, because in art, it involves a big contribution of the person’s personality, the person’s emotions, person’s feelings, the person’s consciousness in creating the art. Now if this was applied in the healing process, it means the healer has to put himself in the process at so many layers. This is what traditional sciences like Yoga, Ayurveda and some of the Chinese medicine systems have emphasized.
That’s what seems to be missing in modern medicine where it is a system that has to be followed and not personality. What do you have to say about this?
Well I think, the art in the healer comes out in the form of compassion and love. And you’re right, these things are not taught as a part of the formal educational process of becoming a doctor and I think that many doctors as they mature in their own personal and spiritual life, become really adept at applying compassion and love as an integral part of everything else they do. In undergraduate school now, when kids apply for medical school, to this day, medical schools still go after those who make the top grades in physics and math and chemistry and biology. We ought to have some selection process to find out whether or not this is a loving, compassionate individual. Now, there is one country in the world who has done that- they will not accept kids just on the account of top grades. They go after compassion and love, and that’s Israel. Countrywide, they began to develop this selection process, I think two years ago. So, at least that’s one country that has begun to emphasize.
That, I think, is the most necessary qualification. The third question is, if healing is indeed an art, can
it be systematized like it is being done today, like a standardized procedure?
The techniques, the hard core techniques which deal with selection of drugs in certain procedures and all of that can and should be systematized, I think, but the other side, the artistic side, also affects how well those things work. I think we can influence the art. For example, we should be teaching young doctors when they are in medical school how to meditate. We ought to be emphasizing issues such as compassion and love, there needs to be lecture time devoted toward the concept of empathy and nothing like that is
being done in any school now that I know. There are some efforts being made to teach more effective
doctor patient communication, along psychological, personality, sociological lines and all of that,
its pretty mild stuff. But the deep hard issues need to be emphasized a great deal more. And although
we cannot systematize that totally, I’m sure we can expose kids and point to the need for it. I think
biography, looking at the lives of great healers, is something that should be emphasized. We don’t
do that in medicine now. You have to go do that kind of stuff on your own. But one of my heroes in
history of medicine is Sir William Osler who is called the Father of scientific modern medicine, he was
one of the most empathic, most compassionate human beings I’ve ever read about. It’s no accident
that he was a great scientist and a great healer. He had a depth of spiritual understanding.
What’s the obstacle in introducing all these in the universities?
Well, you become enchanted and remain enchanted with analysis and intellectualism and reason,
that side of human understanding. I understand why we are enchanted with it; it hasn’t been that long ago
that medicine was a mess in this country. You go back and read about the death of George Washington,
first President - the doctors essentially murdered him. He was bleeding, purging, they essentially
bled him to death. That’s where we were 250 years ago. So there is still an enchantment with the flipside
of all of that. Empirical evidence, evidence based therapies, analysis and reason, basically biology and
This one thing which fascinated me about when I saw this little thing here, it is also the title of one
of your books. You talk about the extraordinary healing power of ordinary things. This is fantastic
because this is very fundamental in Yoga and Ayurveda. We say we just need simple things, we don’t
need anything extraordinary. But they talk about that these things are working this way because of
an extreme interconnectedness between things in this world. What do you feel about this? Do
you think the reason why ordinary things have such extraordinary powers of healing is because there
is something connecting each of these or is there something else?
I am one of these people who think everything is connected. That can be taken to be a mystical point
of view or not. One of the great physicists of the 20th century, Max Planck has said that there is only
one single event and its called the universe and for him everything is connected to everything else
and so here you have one of the greatest modern physicists who ever lived, he is not a saffron robed
oriental mystic, he comes at this connectedness stuff through hardcore physics. So there are many
ways to get there. We’d better wake up to the fact that everything is connected or we are not going to
have a planet left. This idea that we can separate ourselves out and secede from the rest of the
nature is destroying the earth and us along with it. So when we chat about these things we need to
make it concrete and practical and down to earth because unless we get that message that everything is
connected, its curtains folks!
This is what we’re trying to do as well with the yoga field, because we can’t just separate
things, because what happens to me influences what happens to another, because if it changes me
its going to change my relationship with another, it changes the other as well.
It’s a simple idea and it seems to be so obvious to many of us but yet so complex and threatening to others. And I think that’s the major dividing line now in our culture. Can you abuse the earth and get away with it? Can you secede? Separate? A good number in our culture think you can and its okay. That’s a huge
issue you bring out.
Going back to this thing about prayer and sound, one of the very strong fundamental principles
in the Yoga philosophy is that each one of us, every one of us has an inner sound/ an inner resonance
that is representative of his or her current state of well being and when we understand it, we know
what is the state of health and we can change it by changing the inner resonance. Is this something
that resonates with you, through the research you have done with prayers? Have you seen that there
is some kind of sound, the voice of people, something that has changed when they feel better or
when they are sick?
I have played with this idea in some of the things I’ve written about many many years ago. One of the
interesting findings relating sound and health has to do with bone growth. There are some fractures
that just won’t heal. They are called non-union fractures, nobody quite understands why they don’t heal,
but they don’t. But years ago, some researchers started applying sound to these areas of bone that would
not heal and they would heal. So there is something about certain frequencies that stimulate healing,
bone growth and interestingly, the purring sound of a cat was almost identical to the frequency of the
sound that caused the bones to heal. Some people said that it’s the fact that people really like to
have a cat on their lap and purring is because that you know we discovered over centuries and eons
that as a kind of healing. In fact the sound of a cat purring, and there are other people who got into that
discussion saying maybe that’s why we say cats have nine lives you know, their own purring helps the
cat be healthy. So I don’t know. I’m not an authority on sound and its effects on health, I’d be the first
to admit it.
In the research that you did about healing, prayer and healing, what was the role of the patient in this
process? Was it active or was it passive?
It differs. In many of these studies, they are double blind; they don’t even know that there are studies
going on sometimes. Even if they know a study is going on, they don’t know if they are in the group
that is being assigned prayer or not. So, the role of the patient varies. They may or may not know
that they are being prayed for, and even if they aren’t in a group receiving prayer, there is nothing
to prevent a patient from praying for himself or herself of course. In the United States where most
people pray, 75% of people at least pray regularly even when they are healthy, you know that when they
are sick they are certainly going to be praying for themselves. So this really causes some confusion
in the control groups. In human studies you can probably never have a pure control group where prayer
is totally absent. It just doesn’t happen. So what you try to do is to assign excessive prayer that swamps the level of prayer in the control group and that’s why also these non-human studies are so important. Presumably, rats and mice and bacteria don’t pray for themselves, so you can really have a pure control group that does not receive prayer. There actually have been successful prayer studies where none of the subjects either in the control group or the treatment group even knew that a prayer study was in process and many of those studies, the prayed for group does much better.
What is the role of faith or trust in the process of healing?
I think it increases the likelihood of healing. Belief, faith, trust- all of those things make it more likely that someone is going to get well. Now again the skeptics would say that that is all prayer is you know,
positive thinking, trust, thinking you are going to get well and you are more likely to, and again they
have a point. Those things really do, I don’t know any therapy that those things don’t, increase the
potency of the therapy. Drugs in surgical procedure –people who have trust in those things, they tend
to work better - its called placebo response. But again I keep saying that is not all prayer. Whether you
want to understand prayer as divine intervention or directly human, the effect of human intentionality for someone else, there is something to that. Otherwise none of these studies would work.
In your country where medical care is not so easy for people to get help from, what’s the hope for them in the future to get better?
You mean people who can’t afford care, that sort of thing?
Yes. Can they go to prayer?
I think they do that already, most people in this country. The first thing they’ll do, most people will
pray for themselves. And they will recruit prayer from their loved ones. There are good statistics on
this. There are surveys now that show that about 90% of women and about 75% of men pray something
like 5-6 times a week, even when they’re healthy. People in America are obsessed with prayer, so you
can count on the fact that when people get sick in this country, they’re going to already have been
praying for themselves.
Do you see a role for alternative healthcare practices like Yoga etc coming together with mainstream
medicine in the future to have an integrative approach to healing?
Oh sure! Just some time ago there was a beautiful paper published in one of the major medical schools
on the east coast in their major teaching hospital in which they invited Reiki practitioners to work
alongside cardiologists in people with heart attacks and the people who had combined therapy, top
notch conventional care for their heart problems with the Reiki practitioners, they did better than
the group that was just treated with standard care. So we’re going to see much more of this
integrated, combined approach. Now, there will still be holdouts. The medical school I attended I’ve
often thought would be the last in the world to integrate spiritual approaches to conventional care
but we are seeing this. And I would just say this- keep your eye on nurses. Nurses are much more
open to an integrated approach which brings spirituality into conventional medicine. Oh, this
month nurses were once again voted the most trustworthy profession in the United States.
This was a Gallop survey, they do it every other year and for years and years and years nurses have come
out on top every year, every time it is done. My wife is a nurse and I have been around nurses for most of my life and I just admire their openness and willingness to bring spirituality to the bedside.
Florence Nightingale for example.
Oh, she was a great example. You know her favorite book second to the Bible? The Bhagavad Gita,
in Victorian England, that is scandalized- that’s not a way you win friends and influence people.
It’s interesting because yesterday you were talking about google books, remember? I downloaded
from google books, one of her books about her experience during the war and she is giving prescriptions about food to eat and how to take care of patients and what kind of attitude a healer must have towards the patients, its fantastic.
Let me show you something. I have to show you my wife’s book. You know there was a connection between Gandhi and Nightingale. Gandhi wrote a beautiful comment when she died in 1920.
You talk a lot about holistic healing. What do you mean by this?
The coming together of body, mind and spirit into a single person. Holistic healing was a term used very widely in the 70s and 80s. It’s not used as much now. Integrative medicine is the term that is used quite a lot. But healing for me doesn’t deal with just eradication of physical illness. I think that the highest form of healing possible is when people discover their non-local nature, when they get in touch with their higher selves, their infinitude in space and time which I call their non-local mind which I think is part of the transcendent, the divine, the Absolute. So for me, if a person can identify that level of their being with the Absolute, I can’t imagine a greater form of healing than that. That sort of puts everything else in the shade.
It is fantastic you say this because; in Yoga we say that the word for healing is cikitsa which means removal of what is called vyadhi which is disease. But the word vyadhi basically means a disconnect from the self, the higher consciousness. So we are generally disconnected from the consciousness and that’s why we are sick. At the highest level when we reconnect with that consciousness, that’s what is healing. It’s fantastic that we share the same wavelength.
I tell people who get excited about prayer, and you know they pray and people pray for them and they
don’t get better, I just tell them, if they die, they’re just going to have to settle for immortality. It kind of
takes the pressure off right? People are just terrified of total annihilation with death that if they really believe in the reality of immortality and infinitude of consciousness, it would relieve tremendous amount of human suffering. I think that fear of death has caused more pain and suffering for humans throughout history than all the other physical diseases combined.
In current times, we see not only in India, but also all over the world that there is a huge surge of interest in people seeking alternate health care paradigms, shying away from the general medical practice. Why do you think this is the case?
Well, we have had a pretty good look at why people in this country are doing that. There is a study back about twelve years ago why people choose alternative medicine – it was a nationwide survey. People opted to go to complementary or integrative or alternative healers not because they disliked conventional medicine, they did it largely because they had what they called a transformative experience in their life that changed the way they see the world. People became more spiritually attuned and more spiritually mature and they saw in alternative medicine a representation of how things worked that fit their world- view more than did drugs and surgery. So they were drawn toward this alternative way of looking at health and illness because it was more in accordance with who they were, who they thought they were as a person. They felt a tremendous distance and a lack of affirmation about their own inner beliefs in conventional medicine. So a lot of the movement towards the integrative medical practices is spiritually based; there is no getting around it.
On the other hand, what must alternative medical practitioners put in place so that this is sustained and credible?
I think the attention to just the facts- since we know them now, we go a long way. I mentioned earlier
that people who follow a spiritual path live an average of 7-14 years longer- that’s a huge fact. That data
needs to be put in place, people need to be aware of that. People need to be aware of the empirical
evidence favoring distant intentional healing, also known as prayer. People need not be aware of that.
Still it gets shot down and made fun of and usually by people who have never paid attention to the evidence.
We need to do a better job of promoting and marketing the ideas in the media. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to do that. I think we just need to tell our story better. But we also have to be careful not to allow spiritual approaches to degenerate into just another technique, just another tool in the black bag you know, to make you live a few months longer or a few years longer. Spirituality is about more than that. And still there is this tendency now to take a spiritual technique that has been plundered from another culture, dress it up in a western mode and say now we got something that’s a real stress buster or you know, that’ll help you stop smoking, or if you apply this, turn it into this secret where you can get everything, have a house on three continents and a swimming pool and quarter million dollars a year. These things get turned around and materialized and debased.
Yeah, we know a lot about that in the yoga world. It’s a shame what some of those things have been turned into. Many many times when I’m traveling and people ask me what I do I just say I’m a health professional, I’m even ashamed to say I’m a yoga teacher because of what yoga people have done.
I feel the same away about prayer. I’m happy that it can be used to make illness go away but that’s not what prayer is. Prayer helps people connect with the Absolute. If your cancer goes away in the process, yippee, but if it doesn’t, you’re still immortal. I mean, there is something more but this culture has a way of twisting things into the lowest common denominator and approach and that s not going to change anytime soon. That’s a shame that that’s something we have to deal with.
Does the form of prayer have any influence or is power of prayer mainly through the intention?
You can have a prayer where one is petitioning for a specific thing, you can have a prayer where one
is praising, you can have a prayer saying ‘Thy will be done.’ There has been some work done,
I regard it as really tentative, it’s interesting but I don’t think that the answers are really in. In one series
looking at prayer affecting the growth of yeast in the laboratory, they found out that the thing that perked them up the most was where they just prayed that ‘may thy will be done’, may the best thing happen, may the best act prevail that was much more effective than when they prayed for something specific. But I don’t know. People have been looking for formulas to pray through recorded history and none have actually knocked the socks off all the others. Nobody has found a formula about the way to pray. I think probably rather than the words that are used, the thing that matters most is genuineness and feeling, heart stuff rather than how you say it. I’ve talked to lots and lots of healers. Most healers I’ve talked to leave it up to a higher wisdom - Thy Will be done, may the best outcome prevail, that sort of thing. Some really think you’ve got to get in there and, you know, make
that cancer go away.
I presume that if you say that this is mostly the heart stuff that is more important, genuineness that is most important, language wouldn’t even matter.
I don’t think language matters, I think love matters, I think compassion matters.
Can u share one or two case studies of remarkable stories that you have seen in your experience
about how prayer has helped people?
Yeah, there are some so-called miracle cures that just leave me breathless when I think about them. One of my favorites is a woman named Rita Klaus. She was a nun and while she was in the convent she developed the worst case of multiple sclerosis. She was dismissed from the convent, she could not walk, was wheel chair bound, she was predicted to die a horrible, degenerated death. She went to Medjugorye you know, in former Yugoslavia where the healings have been reported, and got no benefit whatsoever. She lost her faith, she hated faith healers. So she had a dream one night and the Virgin Mary came to her and said, ‘Rita why don’t you just ask?’ So she asked and by this time she was a biology teacher in high school and the next day she was sitting in her wheel chair in the class room and she looked down and her toes were wiggling and she thought well its just a muscle spasm, it has happened before. But she got someone to take her home and park her in the wheelchair in her living room and this person left. Then she looked down. Earlier the surgeon had severed the tendons above and below the knee cap and they had floated over to the side of the knee and while she was looking at her wiggling toes she saw also that the kneecap had migrated back to its normal position and then she said something is happening here. If this is real, I’m going to get up from this wheelchair and run up these thirteen steps to the second floor. She did. This is just not possible. Then she ran back down the steps and ran up to her front door, jumped across a creek. Fell down got muddy, came back in and telephoned her priest and this poor man was scared of what was going on. He asked her to lie down, take an aspirin and call her doctor. And so a few days later her husband took her back to this team of doctors at the hospital that cared for her and couple of them were enraged and said this is not possible, she must have had a twin who was playing tricks on them.
But there was one neurologist who actually wrote in her chart that the results of his exam, he said her
entire exam is normal. So here he had in few days this incredible healing that nobody understands.
She went from wheelchair bound to normal! Even her reflexes were all normal, that shouldn’t be possible
because they cut the tendons. You can’t have normal reflexes with cut tendons. So that’s a prayer related
cure. There is a book about it, she wrote it, its called Rita’s Story. I have several of those kind of stories. There was one case that never got written up in the medical literature of a 4 year old girl with acute leukemia back in 1950 and in 1950 that was a 100% lethal disease; nobody survived. This was in a hospital in Baltimore, a famous hematologist was taking care of this girl and she was dying she was given last rites, she was covered with infected sores and she had septicemia and a temperature of a 104. Her grandmother had already sewn her burial gown but her mother with the help of two or three nuns took this little girl out of the hospital and out to a little cemetery and lad her on the tomb of a famous nun mother Elizabeth Seatton. She would later be the first nun canonized in the United States. And they prayed for healing. It was rainy and here was this little girl on the tomb and the nuns and the mother are praying. Then they took her back to the hospital and her tests got normal. The leukemia went away. She got well. It was reported as a possible miracle to the Church in Rome. They don’t rush anything, they waited 9 years and then even demanded a bone marrow biopsy just to make sure there wasn’t any lingering leukemia. So that girl is still alive. She had a 100% fatal disease. That’s pretty good prayer healing.
So these things are possible.
They are possible. Some of them are so incredible that they just leave one in amazement. I mean, what can you say. Oh, and the other story, the other fact about the little girl - I got sort of involved with it back in 1994-95. A Washington Post reporter got a hold of this story and wanted to do a follow up on this girl. I think she is a hairdresser now and this reporter Tamara Jones, she actually got hold of the doctor who took care of the girl and said, why didn’t you write this case up? And he said the only reason this case is not written up is because I was afraid to. She said afraid of what? And he was afraid of the damaging effect on his reputation. He was afraid of what his colleagues would think of him if he gets too close to this miracle Church stuff, the Church and prayer, what’s it going to make him look like.
I’ve run out of questions. Thank you for this.
I’ve run out of answers, too!