Bhagavad Gita A Panacea For COVID 19-Anand Kulkarni

As the world continues to deal with the outbreak of coronavirus, there is increasing anxiety, dilemmas, nervousness, faintheartedness amongst the doctors, nurses and health care workers. Dealing with coronavirus is the biggest challenge to face the health sector as it’s going to ask a lot of them all. I am a doctor myself and none of us have experience of a pandemic like this.

The outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic on the 11 March 2020, this means COVID-19 has spread worldwide.

For those on the health sector frontline, the call is to step in, while the rest of society steps back. The situation demands it. This is an unprecedented global war and the mankind is facing the same enemy. The battlefield is the hospital and our soldiers are the medical workers. Doctors and nurses are leading the fight in a ‘war’ with an ‘enemy’ we don’t yet fully understand. As they race to respond, they will face being ill themselves, may succumb to virus and die, may spread the virus to loved ones and public. The pressure will be immense and hence the emotional outpouring and mental weakness of doctors and nurses. Should they treat these patients or refuse for above reasons and stay at home? What if they die in the process? If they can’t cure the disease the disease might kill doctors and nurses! This reminds me of Arjuna’s Vishada yoga and the preaching of Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita.

(The Lord said: Whence could such faintheartedness have come upon you at this time of trial? This is not proper for a civilised man, it does not lead to heaven and it will bring dishonour upon you. Do not give up your manhood in this way, Partha! Such a mood ill becomes you. Giving up this pathetic weakness of heart, arise, O destroyer of the foe)

Like Arjuna, doctors working in this pandemic, have some viable arguments and anxieties. Lord Krishna seems to regard the whole thing as a form mental weakness. Hence Lord Krishna’s first reply is also on the emotional level. He does not seek to answer any of Arjuna’s arguments but turns immediately to the emotional trauma that is at the heart of them. In other words, Lord Krishna is saying that Arjuna’s speech is not worthy of a reasoned response because it is the product of emotional turmoil rather than logical analysis. I think the same applies to doctors as of today. Doctors are in need of psychotherapy and I sincerely think Bhagavad Gita offers them exactly the same! Despite this, it is a shame that some of the doctors and nurses are hiding in their comfortable homes avoiding their ‘duty” whilst most (90%) of the other doctors continue to face challenges. I do not blame them as they are in a state of ‘Vishaada’ (grief) and need some inspiration.

Arjuna as a ‘soldier’ was worried that waging war would amount to killing of many of his own family members. In this global COVID war, the family members are worried about distancing or losing their loved ones. They are overwhelmed with deep sense of compassion for a variety of reasons. The fundamental response to the situation has been highly emotional one and never ever seen before. The kids can’t come running to hug their parents as soon as they come back home! One doctor in my department has isolated from his full term pregnant wife so that he can look after patients and don’t pass on virus to his wife! Some doctors and nurses have been put up in hotel so that the vulnerable members of their family can be protected and yet they continue to work! Every morning when I leave for the hospital, my wife and kids come to door to see me off and there is a minute of dead silence and I have a ‘lump’ in my throat! Unspoken anxieties? worries? This is a never ending emotional trauma.

Yet, the health care workers have to put these emotions behind them when they reach the hospital and carry on caring for patients as if nothing has happened. On the advice of Lord Krishna, Arjuna had to put his emotions behind and fight the war for establishing Dharma. The doctors and nurses have a job of ‘saving lives’. In this pandemic situation and when the hospital wards are crowded with hundreds of patients, we have to make tough decisions of whose life is to be saved and whose not? The death rate is 50% in intensive care admissions. How do we emotionally cope when we have to say the treatment has been futile and it is time to withdraw care? How emotional it is when the patients are dying and the family members cannot visit them or have to say ‘bye’ over the video! Fortunately we have local escalation plans from regulators, if/when patient numbers increase beyond current capacity and this helps to ensure that our system is resilient enough to not only manage the crisis but sustain it.

It is also important at this stage we consider medical staff wellbeing and resilience and this is where Bhagavad Gita plays a big role. The religious leaders should provide this as a medicine to health care workers at this crucial time.

There’s a reason our health service is held in such high regard. It’s the staff. It’s the skill, selflessness and resilience that doctors and nurses demonstrate to every patient, every day. The values and behaviours required of our clinicians are well established. The tenets of being a good doctor have not changed. The nature of being a doctor is to go above and beyond to deliver the care our patients require.

Speaking of performing one’s duty Lord Krishna says it is ‘personal dharma’. For a Kshatriya, there is nothing superior to fighting for the sake of dharma. For a doctor, there is nothing superior than delivering the care our patients require. This of course applies to doctors in the present situation. Doctors are trained to perform a set of actions i.e. care for the patients. Therefore, doctors abandoning this battle and renouncing their duty is perverse and wholly impractical.

I can quote 31-38 verses of chapter 2 of Bhagavad Gita but its suffice if I quote these two:
1. And if you do not engage in this dharmic battle then both your personal dharma and your honour will be destroyed and you will accumulate sin.

2. People will then speak of your everlasting dishonour and for a person who has achieved renown, dishonour is worse than death.

Doctors should continue to perform their own dharma, but do so without desire or attachment, thereby transforming karma into karma-yoga. The practice of karma-yoga consists of the performance of proper action in a mood of complete detachment, without any desire for personal gain and being unmoved by the success or failure of the action undertaken. Acharya Madhwa interprets this with a new term called ‘Nishkaama Karma’. This is so much applicable to the doctors working today in COVID outbreak.

It is a shame that some doctors are demanding exorbitant amounts of remuneration for performing their duties in the current situation and trying to make a quick buck. The same is true with some drug companies claiming their medications to be effective, while they are not.

This is to be condemned. This reminds me of the famous verse from Bhagavad Gita: 1. You have a right to perform prescribed action but you are not entitled to the fruits of that action. Do not make the rewards of action your motive and do not develop any attachment for avoiding action.

2. Situated in yoga, perform your actions giving up all attachments, Dhanamjaya. Remain equal in success and failure for such equanimity is what is meant by yoga.

The GMC (General Medical Council) UK has made it very clear about this fact in their handbook on ‘good medical practice’.

Responding to this pandemic will require doctors to do things differently. It will require them to be flexible and work right to the edge of their comfort zone, and in some cases beyond. Doctors may be asked to work in unfamiliar circumstances or surroundings, or in clinical areas outside of their area of usual practice. This is very much acceptable as stated in Bhagavad Gita:

Even though it may have faults, one’s own dharma is still superior to accepting the dharma of another, even if it is perfectly observed. Death in the pursuit of one’s own dharma is better, for another’s dharma is a source of danger. Even though it may have faults, being a doctor and caring for patients in other specialities is still superior to accepting the duty of other professions, even if it is perfectly observed. So, it is perfectly all right to care for patients in other areas of medical specialities and still be a caring doctor!

If the war fought by Arjuna was at Kurukshetra, this war is COVID world war. If the enemy there was Kaurava, the enemy here is COVID 19. We know how dangerous and strong our enemy is, but, we don’t know how to destroy this enemy. What astraas? What weapons?

How many people died in Kurukshetra war? 1.6 billion? COVID 19 has so far killed 58,620 (as on 5th April) and includes doctors and nurses. Kurukshetra war killed ‘very fit warriors’, whereas COVID is killing mostly very vulnerable ones although some fit ones are involved. So, how did this enemy COVID emerge? What is it that the general public can do to fight this and help doctors and nurses? How can Bhagavad Gita be a Medicine?

The corona virus is believed to have originated in bats, and these infections have been transmitted directly to humans from wet markets of Wuhan, China, although this is not 100% confirmed. There is trading of wild life in these markets. This is of ‘tamasic nature’ and has been condemned in ‘Bhagavad Gita’

The public should consider the health not just of humans, but of animals and the environment, to avert future crises. Science tells us that the destruction of ecosystems makes disease outbreaks including pandemics more likely. This indicates that the destruction of nature is the underlying crisis behind the coronavirus crisis.

Also, throughout Bhagavad Gita you will see the word ‘Shoucham’ (cleanliness) mentioned a number of times. Just to quote one:

1. Austerity of the body is said to consist of worship of the gods, Brahmans, teachers and wise men; cleanliness, honesty, celibacy and not harming (ahimsa).
Bodily tapa consists of cleanliness – hand washing, etiquettes in coughing and sneezing, clean clothes, dispose of tissues, maintaining social distance etc.

Various countries have imposed a strict ‘lockdown’ of their cities. This measure, besides containing the spread of virus also contributes to a large extent, with, control of senses of individuals. Bhagavad Gita has been a great advocate of Indriya Nigraha (sense control) and this is so much valid in current COVID crisis. It is important that people do not stock pile food, do not visit cinemas, shopping malls, hotels etc and control their senses and show their wisdom.

When a person withdraws all his senses from their objects, like a tortoise withdrawing its limbs, then his wisdom is firmly established.

I understand it has been difficult for people with temples being closed for public. In a way, this is self-inflicted by public. People crowding in massive queues for darshan, falling and pushing on each other, coughing, spitting and sneezing without etiquette and sometimes losing patience and getting angry in front of the very presence of GOD, it makes you wonder about the sanctity of the place. It is best to ban such gatherings. Public should have some sense of decor with bhakti to get the serene darshan of GOD.

So, I come back to my question as to how much people should be worried about the current COVID crisis? Should they be worried? People who have firm faith in God and spiritual understanding should be least worried. The ‘one’ sitting inside your hearts will give you protection – innate immunity.

I become the vaishvanara energy, the digestive heat, and reside in this form within the bodies of the living beings. By combining with the prana and apana breaths, I digest the four types of food. When Krishna says that he is present within the body, as the vaishvanara energy that digests food we should understand that it is the energy of God that sustains the material world and enables it to nurture life, and it is in this sense that God pervades this world. It is in this sense Lord Krishna will protect everyone in this crisis.

This pandemic has led to economic crisis. However if there was spiritual globalization, there would have been sustained economic globalization and economic growth. This is a famous quote of the Puthige Matha Pontiff Sri Sri Sugunendra Teertha Swamiji. Spiritual globalization will also serve a big role in avoiding pandemic crisis.

From the perspective of the doctors, nurses and healthcare workers – what is the inspiration they should derive from Bhagavad Gita? The following quotes are very strong and very inspirational:

Either you will die and reach heaven or else you will conquer and rule the earth. Therefore arise, Kaunteya, with your resolve set on battle.

There is no choice for doctors, nurses and healthcare workers other than to do their duty. They should do it with selflessness and devotion. The ‘Dharma’ of doctors need to be fulfilled as Arjuna fulfilled his Dharma as Kshatriya. Therefore they should arise with their resolve set on defeating COVID. They should trust lord Krishna and He will take care of them in the same way, He looked after Arjuna. Wherever there is Lord Krishna there is always victory!. Let there be no doubt about this. The Bhagavad Gita quote goes as follows:

Wherever there is Krishna, the master of yoga, and wherever there is Partha who bears the bow, there will also be good fortune, victory, success and good judgement.

Worship of Lord Krishna with utmost faith and devotion is the need of the hour as this is only certain medicine which is going to protect all of us! The Bhagavad Gita quote says it all:

Lord Krishna says – persons who worship me with undeviating concentration, for those who engage in me constantly, I bring both prosperity and security to them!
Every medical doctor has taken an oath to care for patients to the best of their abilities. Now, as doctors turn that promise into action, they should push through the mental and physical exhaustion in order to help the growing number of patients who fill our hospitals. I can see this pledge in the eyes of masked doctors and nurses across the world, as they treat patients without hesitation, no matter how mentally or physically draining it may be. I pray Lord Krishna to help them all.

I finally end my article with the famous quote of Bhagavad Gita:

For the protection of the righteous (sadhus), for the destruction of the wrongdoers and for the purpose of establishing dharma, I appear age after age. Krishnarpanamastu !

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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