Insights on Pain Management from a Hindu Perspective Anita Vasudevan, B.S., University of Michigan Medical School
I recently attended a book discussion group at my medical school in which participants had read one of two texts that pertained to a firsthand experience of chronic pain and opioid addiction. Over the course of the discussion, I became acutely aware of how the nature by which pain was understood, perceived, and defined were fundamental to the approach taken to alleviate it Through my lifetime of experiences as a second-generation Hindu-American, I have developed a keen appreciation of how cultural values can color our ways of knowing. In the instance of this book discussion, I initiated a line of thought on considering how the cultural understanding of pain drives the medical community’s approach to pain management. Specifically, I was curious how non-Western understanding of pain might inform practices. Prior to this moment, I had a general idea of Hinduism’s considerations of the implications of pain and suffering. I use this poster proposal as an opportunity to explore in greater detail the ways in which the Hindu religion’s perspectives on pain have influenced traditional practices, and what there may be to learn from that now.
Hinduism is founded on the principle of Brahman, which correlates to God or the Ultimate, which exists in, around, and through the universe. In this sense, pain and suffering are also a part of Brahman, and are not seen as a separate entity. Karma is a central tenet of Hinduism, and is broadly defined as, “The principle that governs the unfolding of events and is based for a person on the integrity with which he has lived previous lives”. Pain and suffering, therefore, are ultimately viewed as the product of particular actions in a previous life. Whereas the principle of Karma may appear fatalistic, the principle of Dharma, which loosely translates to duty, or “Guidelines for living one’s life,” offers an opportunity to be an agent in future actions. With regards to pain and suffering, this is distilled to acceptance, which can be achieved through practicing yoga, meditation, and/or detachment (“Turning away from overinvolvement in the world and towards...the Ultimate”). (1)
Ayurveda is a traditional system of healing originating from India, and it is rooted in Hindu values. The Ayurvedic approach to understanding the human body, wellness, and illness centers on the idea of attaining constitutional balance. In this context, pain is a mind-body experience that can be modulated with interventions that address it in its full capacity (mental and physical).
This poster presentation will lay its groundwork with the aforementioned concepts in order to explore its contrast to the Western biomedical system’s understanding of pain and its subsequent approach to pain management.
From here, I will offer insights on what implications a Hindu perspective on pain can have for modern medical practice, with special attention to the role of non-pharmacologic approaches in pain management.
1. Whitman SM. Pain and Suffering as Viewed by the Hindu Religion. The Journal of Pain. 2007;8(8):607-613. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2007.02.430