The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine
Spirituality, Religious Wisdom, and the Care of the Patient
Gratitude As Viewed in Hinduism
Uma Mysorekar, M.D.
Uma Mysorekar is President of the Hindu Temple Society of North America and a practicing ob-gyn. The Hindu Temple in Queens is one of the largest Hindu centers in the United States. Dr. Mysorekar was awarded the Gold Medal for academic excellence on graduation from Grant Medical College, University of Bombay. She has been invited by both former President Clinton and by President Bush to represent Hinduism at interfaith conferences sponsored by the White House. She has been a leading fundraiser and donor for care of impoverished women and for the disabled and orphaned in India.
Hindu Dharma, popularly called Hinduism, is the religion of over a billion Hindus, also known as Vaidika Dharma, meaning "religion of the Vedas," the ancient Hindu scriptures. The original name of Hindu Dharma is Sanatana Dharma, or "universal religion."
Hinduism is basically the modern name for the vedic way of life especially the spiritual path followed by the Arians. Arian means those who have, or are developing a clear path or a clear consciousness towards God.
Hindus believe that God is omnipresent and omnipotent and in the existence of God everywhere, as an all pervasive, self-effergent energy and consciousness. Hindu Dharma teaches that all forms of life are manifestations of the supreme self (Brahman). This basic belief creates the attitude of sublime tolerance and acceptance towards others.
In Hinduism, "Karma" refers to God's Cosmic Law of Cause and Effect; every action has its opposite and equal reaction. The Law of Karma is the answer provided by Hindu Dharma to the question of why suffering and inequalities exist in the world. The word Karma denotes an action that brings back results in this life or future lives. The doctrine of Karma is based upon the theory of cause and effect. Every human action inevitably leads to results good or bad, depending on the moral quality of the deed. There is no such thing as action without results; "As we sow, so shall we reap" is the law that governs all deeds. In summary, we are the effects of our own infinite past.
The sacred texts in Hinduism including Bhagavad Gita, Upanishad, etc. lay stress upon a moral code of ethics for every individual. Among them three important codes of ethics are applicable in today's discussions. 1) Perform all your duties in the spirit of service to the Lord. Perform all thy work without expectation of reward. An individual who performs action without attachment to their fruits is freed from bondage of birth and death, thereby attaining that state which is beyond all suffering. 2) Fearlessness; either in this world or in the world of religion, it is true that fear is the sure cause of degradation and sin. It is fear that brings misery, fear that brings death, fear that breeds evil. And what causes fear? Ignorance of our own nature. 3) Faith in oneself and Faith in God is the secret of greatness. It is the intense faith in the Supreme which gives the moral strength and courage to face all the difficulties in life and to confidently comfort those who are suffering and having problems.
Every religion places stresses upon prayers and the cosmic effect it has on the individuals and the community at large. Prayers have infinite power-they are believed to move mountains, produce rain in drought conditions, turn hate to love, and fear to hope. Prayers can be offered in several ways and in Hinduism one of the methods is chanting of the "Mantras" as have been narrated by the sages and the seers. The "Mantras" are believed to work directly upon our Karma. The vibrations of these ancient formulas work through the Chakras to increase the flow of beneficial energy throughout the subtle body where the latencies and tendencies are stored. "Mantra" acts by increasing the total amount of energy available for all of our activities. Certain "Mantras" used singly or in combination can greatly accelerate the quality and the quantity of energy used in the healing process.
It's a well known fact that people have been known to recover from near fatal diseases including cancer by asserting their willingness to live on. In each of these cases the will to live on, the self-talk to program their brains into fighting their malady played an important part in their healing process. These along with the prayers help better acceptance of the illness, positively influence the quality of life and face the ultimate with dignity.
Gratitude holds a very high place in the Hindu tradition. There are two facets to it. 1) We must be grateful for everything that we get, but 2) we must not expect any gratitude from others. If it comes, that's fine. But if we do something expecting the other person to be grateful then we become miserable, if we don't get what we expect. So the Hindu teaching is to give without expectation.
The good deed that is done not in return, but in the first instance is more precious than anything is in this world or beyond. Nothing can repay that act. What is done in return for something previously done can never be as great as the deed born out of sheer generosity, be it ever so small by itself. There is therefore nothing that can be considered an adequate repayment. It is above every kind of goodness. By itself the help rendered may be a trifle one, but the hour of need when it was given makes it bigger than the whole world.
In Hinduism Dharma, Artha, Kaama, and Moksha as the four Purushartha, they are all good human aspirations. Only when the financial profit, pleasures and desires are against the rules of Dharma, they become Nishiddha Karma and so against the Dharma. When one is hungry if someone offers food, ready-made for a cost plus his usual profit, one can still call it an act of Dharma as it was given at the time of need and no undue advantage was taken of the situation by hiking the food price. If such undue advantage is taken it becomes Nishiddha Karma. When one does Dharma or service to anyone in need, it may not always be free, but, just making it available at the opportune time itself is good Karma. But denying it to one who cannot afford it in the true sense is also wrong. When one does such good Karma as one's Dharma one must not wait for the benefit because it will come automatically. It is just like the coconut tree taking the dirty water offered at its root and returning it with sweet water from its top. Gratitude is an important human quality regardless of the religious faith. One must ever be grateful to whoever renders a helping hand in the hour of need.
When it comes to care of the patient, for the most part, patients are grateful to their physicians and other healthcare workers. However, some feel that the physicians and other healthcare workers are only doing their duty and therefore there is no need to acknowledge with gratitude, or thanks. On the other hand physicians and other healthcare workers must not expect any gratitude, thanks, or appreciation from the patients. They must extend their care, concern, and warmth towards all patients in just the same manner. It is very helpful if physicians and other healthcare workers are followers of at least one faith and are oriented spiritually so that they can better deal with the sick, especially terminally ill patients.
Faith and spirituality are true assets for all human beings and especially for those suffering and those caring for the sick. No one can snatch away these God-given assets. They help in changing one's outlook in life, become more humble, understanding, patient, and appreciate all good things in life.
"Service should not be exhibitionistic. You must seek no reward, not even gratitude or thanks from the recipients."
Published: February 25, 2002