More than 50 ISKCON medical practitioners—doctors, nurses, medical technicians, Ayurveda experts and other healthcare professionals—gathered at the Gita Nagari Yoga Farm in rural Pennsylvania on September 25-27 for a three-day event, the “North American ISKCON Medical Professionals Retreat.”
The event was organized by four doctors, Lila Manjari dasi, a Psychiatrist from Columbus, Ohio; Premvilas das, a physician of Internal Medicine and his wife Lalita dasi, a physician in Family Practice and Palliative Care, both from Columbus; and Acyuta Gauranga das, a Vascular Surgeon from Detroit, Michigan.
“We wanted to help Krishna devotees who work in various medical fields to discuss the challenges and opportunities we face in our professional and spiritual lives, and to consider ways to coordinate our services to ISKCON and the larger society,” said Prema Vilasa.
Topics of discussion included: “Effectively Blending our Personal, Devotional, and Professional Lives;” “Sharing the Gift of Krishna Consciousness;” “Total Health;” “Acupressure;” “Raising Children in Krishna Consciousness;” and “Financial Planning/ Retirement.”
Murari Gupta, a Trauma Surgeon from Miami, shares his insights on balancing spiritual life with the pressures of the medical profession
The Keynote address was giving by Murari Gupta who, as a participant in ISKCON since the 1970’s and an initiated devotee since 1999, founded a medical clinic in Miami that specialized in providing free health care for full time ISKCON resident devotees. Gupta offered this advice: “Start every day and every procedure by offering your efforts to God, Lord Krishna.” In this way, he advised, devotee doctors will not only do their best, but also remain fresh and focused despite the pressure of caring for the lives of others.
The event was held at ISKCON’s several hundred-acre Gita Nagari Yoga Farm, which hosts more than two-dozen retreats annually. Gita Nagari is the “first certified slaughter and cruelty-free dairy” in the United States. No cows or calves are harmed in the production of Gita Nagari milk. Their animals are cared for throughout their lives and never sent to slaughter. As promoters of a healthy lifestyle through diet, yoga and rural living, the Gita Nagari community was the natural choice to hold the retreat.
Acyuta Gauranga, the Detroit surgeon, brought in a philosophical perspective in his presentation. “The modern medical world talks about the cell as the basic element of life, and spends an endless amount of research on the topic,” he noted. “But, there is no study of the soul that gives life to the body. The priorities are out of line.”
The presiding Deities of the Gita Nagari Yoga Farm, Sri Sri Radha Damodara.
How to bring medical priorities and values in line with the needs of the mind, body and soul was a common topic of the weekend. The participants also talked a lot about stress. Several speakers acknowledged stress to be a major source of disease in modern society; some analyzed how a spiritual practice can alleviate stress and help patients live a more healthy life.
As professionals in the medical field, many participants shared their own struggles with the pressures of balancing family, job, and spiritual commitment. Solutions ranged from increasing daily prayer and devotional focus, to setting clear boundaries, prioritizing one’s duties in life, and learning how to say “No” to requests beyond one’s capacity.
One speaker with a unique perspective was Allan Shuster from Detroit. As a patient of an ISKCON doctor, Allan told his personal story of how reading the book “Total Health”—which he found sitting in his doctor’s waiting area—opened a door to Krishna consciousness. Today, Allan regularly reads Srila Prabhupada’s books and participates at the Detroit temple and local bhakti vriksha group meetings.
Devamrita Swami, Romapada Swami, and Anuttama dasa, three members of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission, and Vraja Vihari das, co-director of ISKCONResolve, ISKCON’s conflict resolution ministry, were also present and led morning Bhagavatam classes, a panel on “Life Balance,” and Q & A sessions.
Retreat organizer, Premvilas das, offers concluding remarks in the presence of Romapada Swami and Devamrita Swami
In his Sunday morning Srimad Bhagavatam class, Devamrita Swami noted that “The intense pressure on modern men and women to constantly try to get ahead, along with the side effects of their harmful habits of intoxication, meat-eating, and illicit sex are making people physically and spiritually sick.” The swami advised that medical professionals have a profound duty to help people achieve balanced health in all aspects of their lives.
The Saturday evening session was held around a blazing campfire near Gita Nagari’s Yoga Studio. With a full moon rising and cool autumn breezes blowing, the group discussed what their next priorities should be. One decision was to explore ways to coordinate care for ISKCON temple residents (those who choose lives of simplicity and service to Lord Krishna’s temples) in the face of changing needs and government health care policies.
The professionals present also decided to form an association to be a public voice on diet, health care, animal exploitation, environmental degradation, and other issues where medical expertise can help educate the public on spiritually focused and medically sound solutions.
One participant summed up the retreat thus, “This was a very inspirational weekend that helped us understand how to be instruments in the Lord’s service by taking better care of the body, mind and the soul.”
Professionals, as well as students in medical fields, who are interested in the proposed Vaishnava Medical Practitioners Association, or in learning about future conferences, are encouraged to contact Premvilas das, at email@example.com[ ayurveda ] [ gita-nagari ] [ healthcare ] [ medical-practitioner ] [ pennsylvania ]