November 6 2008


After all the talk about die-ating, you can be forgiven for thinking today’s header is about my recent attempts to improve my health through diet. That’s a quote from Srila Prabhupada though.

Prabhupada ate carefully,

sp prasadam 

 and whenever he suffered some ill health he responded by adjusting his diet. He had been a medical man in his grhastha days, and he knew the beneficial effects of eating well. But if it came to enforced dieting, his mood was a lot different.

Here’s a couple of snitchs from TD Volume 6 (unpublished) that show his mood towards doctors and their prescribed diets:

December 26 1976 – Bombay

In mid-morning, Srila Prabhupada met with an ayurvedic kaviraja, Mr. Chakrobarty. After a short discussion Srila Prabhupada agreed to go with him to his clinic. Accompanied by myself, he set off by car to the man’s home and then his clinic. It was a long drive to the other side of Bombay.

The man’s residence turned out to be a tiny ground-floor flat in a three-story block. Despite there being only a few stark items of furniture, there was hardly any space to even move. While we waited for him, Srila Prabhupada surveyed the apartment’s dilapidated, cramped rooms. He shook his head in distaste and commented to me that they had paid many thousands of rupees for this horrible, small place.

From there we proceeded on another twenty minute drive to Dr. Chakrobarty’s clinic, which turned out to be his aged father’s house. It was again a small place but at least it was a free-standing house. As we walked in I was surprised to notice a dog sleeping under a bed. Evidently being a doctor doesn’t necessarily include knowledge of cleanliness.

Prabhupada was offered a seat and after some discussion the father and son consulted together and then prescribed various medicines and diet for Prabhupada. The ‘diet’ consisted of simple boiled rice and certain fruits, dalia (cracked wheat), as well as  a quarter liter of milk to be taken three times a day, plus four types of pills to be taken twice a day. From the elder Chakrobarty’s house we visited his ayurvedic pharmacy, obtained the prescribed medicines and then returned to the temple.

The excursion took up the entire morning and I was surprised at the amount of time and effort Srila Prabhupada had given to his consultation. He doesn’t usually extend himself so much for medical reasons and so it gave me some hope that he would make a serious effort to actually follow the diet and the course of medicine. Yet when he relaxed back in his room and I asked him if I should inform the cooks, he shook his head and with a laugh declared, “I eat what I like. Even as a boy I would only eat what I like. Nothing else. You can offer me thousands of preparations but I will only eat what I like.” As for the medicine, he took the pills once and then abandoned them.

December 30th 1976:

The devotees arranged for another ayurvedic kaviraja, Dr. Siva Sharma, to see Srila Prabhupada this evening. He is said to be one of the top kavirajas in India, and actually is an impressive man. Although late in years, about 73 or 74, he has a sharp, attentive mind and knows his business. He travels internationally every year to lecture about ayurvedic medicines and despite his busy schedule he agreed to offer his services to Srila Prabhupada free of charge.

He was shown the results of the blood tests conducted by Dr. Patel’s friend, which arrived just this morning. After doing his own examination he told Prabhupada that one kidney is badly diseased. Other than that he felt that  practically everything else is alright.

Like Dr. Chakrobarty, he advised a treatment of diet and medicine. He told Srila Prabhupada that he should not take any fat, ghee or salt. He gave certain medicines and told Prabhupada he should rest completely for at least two weeks, not speak with anyone and not fly anymore. He explained that the pressurized aircraft cabins would put too much strain on his organs. That part of his advice at least Srila Prabhupada welcomed. He has no great liking for air travel and prefers the train.

Prabhupada was greatly appreciative of his service and has agreed at least tentatively to follow his recommendations.

December 31st 1976

Prabhupada is attempting to follow the diet but he wasn’t happy. After a lunch of boiled food he complained that he cannot eat without salt or ghee. Surveying his plate with a sour expression he said eating boiled food is the same as starving.

I tried to persuade him, “Srila Prabhupada, if you can just cut out the ghee then you may get a little better. Otherwise if you continue with it your kidney will become very bad.”

“Then I shall die!” he responded feistily. He declared emphatically, “What is that? Better to die by eating. If I starve then I shall die also. To set before me a plate of boiled food is starving. I cannot eat it.”

So that was that; ghee and salt are back on the menu. He also complained the doctor’s medicine is taking away his appetite, so it looks like he will continue in the way he always has.

Prabhupada doesn’t appear to be too much bothered by any sickness he gets. Not that he is neglectful, but his mood seems to be one of resignation to the fact that his body is old and is not going to last for very much longer not matter what adjustments are made. While he is willing to attempt some treatments to mitigate the problems caused by his disease, he also has his limitations on how much discomfort he is willing to put up with just to prolong his bodily existence.

So there you go folks, we may be forgiven if sometimes we deviate from our prescribed diets. At least we have a precedent. Of course we shouldn’t use Srila Prabhupada’s example to justify abandoning our attempts to improve our health through eating, but there are sometimes some limitations.

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