The spiritual seeker often is confronted with a situation that seems to pit faith against medical science. The debate between religion and science goes back millennia and this is one small part of that larger debate. Those who are dedicated practitioners are asked to face all difficulties with faith in the Divine intervention protecting and supporting them. Therefore, they are asked to call upon the Divine when they face physical illness or challenges. For many this means they should not use medicine, consult doctors or take precautions such as immunizations against virulent diseases.
They are shocked when they wind up sick, or dying, and either respond with the fatalistic idea that they were intended to suffer this, or even be ‘called’ to depart their earthly life; or else, they feel like they have been abandoned, possibly because of some failure in their expression of faith.
Sri Aurobindo takes a deeper look at the issue and points out that the individual is not consistently and harmoniously perfect in bringing their faith and aspiration into all parts of their being, and thus, there is a process that takes place, through time, that needs to understand the complexity of the transformation that is called for, the various different aspects of the being, and the need to systematically open up the receptivity and acceptance of the transformative change in each part of the being. This does not happen overnight, and thus, there will be divergences between the faith and the response of the physical body along the way. Yoga depends on strength of body, life and mind, and thus, taking support from means developed by mental processes, such as medical science, is not a deviation from faith, but a support of the evolutionary growth that needs to occur.
There are many potential causes of illness, including some that arise through the pressure of the sadhana acting upon parts of the being that are not sufficiently receptive, as well as overbearing pressure of some mental idea, overly ambitious vital activity as well as purely physical issues that impact the body. Fear also can set up a reaction that weakens the protective vital sheath and opens the way to what one fears. One way or the other, illness eventually needs to be rejected or overcome, and this can take place through the action of any particular force or combination of forces in the being, including, for the spiritual seeker, the action of the higher Force as it descends and opens up the being to its action.
Sri Aurobindo writes: “Illness marks some imperfection or weakness or else opening to adverse touches in the physical nature and is often connected also with some obscurity or disharmony in the lower vital or the physical mind or elsewhere.”
“It is very good if one can get rid of illness entirely by faith and yoga-power or the influx of the Divine Force. But very often this is not altogether possible, because the whole nature is not open or able to respond to the Force. The mind may have faith and respond, but the lower vital and the body may not follow. Or, if the mind and vital are ready, the body may not respond, or may respond only partially, because it has the habit of replying to the forces which produce a particular illness, and habit is a very obstinate force in the material part of the nature. In such cases the use of the physical means can be resorted to, — not as the main means, but as a help or material support to the action of the Force. Not strong and violent remedies, but those that are beneficial without disturbing the body.”
“As for medical treatment it is sometimes a necessity. If one can cure by the Force as you have often done it is the best — but if for some reason the body is not able to respond to the Force (e.g. owing to doubt, lassitude or discouragement or for inability to react against the disease), then the aid of medical treatment becomes necessary. It is not that the Force ceases to act and leaves all to the medicines, — it will continue to act through the consciousness but take the support of the treatment so as to act directly on the resistance in the body, which responds more readily to physical means in its ordinary consciousness.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Illness, pp 318-322