A new virus is threatening us the Swine Flu virus. It is discussed on hundreds of blogs and discussion forums. Some experts say it is brand new, some feel it isn’t, others fear it may grow to pandemic proportions, still others hope it can be controlled. The blame game has begun right from the livestock industry to some third world countries, and things in between, are the usual suspects. Meanwhile the common man remains a mute observer, if the flu has not hit him yet, and a poor victim, if otherwise.

Medical science has made rapid strides, and almost every day we hear a new discovery which will certainly herald the end of a particular disease. The book Mirage of Health: Utopia, Progress and Biological Change is a pioneering study of medical history written in the late 1950’s by a physician named Rene Dubos. Here is what he says matter-of-factly:

“Progress toward some utopia of health is an illusion. Disease will never be “conquered.” Disease is so inescapable a part of our human condition that today’s remedies inevitably become the agents of tomorrow’s ills.” Dr.Dubos compiled enough historical evidence to show how the diseases we suffer from arise out of the complex social, political, and economic dynamics of our particular society. As society changes, our diseases change with it. Some diseases fade away, and others, out of the inexhaustible bounty of material nature, rise to take their place.

In modern industrial societies, as Dr.Dubos points out, we no longer suffer and die from smallpox, typhus, typhoid, diphtheria, and the other microbial plagues of the past. We have made “progress”: We suffer and die instead from cancer, AIDS, coronary heart disease, emphysema, and mental disorders (with their attendant drug abuse and suicide).

Surprisingly, Dr.Dubos comes to the conclusion that our brilliant scientists had little to do with the disappearance of infectious diseases. These afflictions were retired mainly by the social and economic reforms that followed industrialization. At the same time, that same process was ushering in a whole new set of scourges. And even those old diseases are by no means “conquered,” Dubos warns. They are merely held at bay (at a high price), and they can re-enter human history any time the conditions are right.

Lord Krishna states that to perceive the evil of birth, death, old age, and disease means real knowledge. Srila Prabhupada used to paraphrase this simple truth in this way: Material life means these four things. Birth of the material body, after some time the body grows old, it gets diseased, and then there is death. These problems of material existence birth, old age, disease, and death cannot be counteracted by accumulation of wealth and economic development. In many parts of the world there are states which are replete with all facilities of life, which are full of wealth and economically developed, yet the problems of material existence are still present. Actually, pure happiness cannot be had within this material world. If we wish to enjoy something, we must suffer for something else. On the whole, suffering is the nature of this material world, and whatever enjoyment we are trying to achieve is simply illusion. After all, we have to suffer the miseries of birth, old age, disease, and death. We may discover many fine medicines, but it is not possible to stop the sufferings of disease or death. Actually, medicine is not the counteracting agent for either disease or death. On the whole there is no happiness in this material world, but an illusioned person works very hard for so-called happiness. Indeed, this process of working hard is actually taken for happiness. This is called illusion.

The Srimad-Bhagavatam aptly describes invalidity of old age as the daughter of the time factor. Although no one likes her, she is very much anxious to accept anyone as her husband. This means that although no one likes to become old and invalid it is inevitable for everyone.

We are originally part and parcel of the pleasure potency of Sri Krishna, the reservoir of pleasure Himself. However due to contact with material nature we have forgotten our actual position. This forgetfulness has trapped us in the evolutionary process of transmigration from one body to another. Once trapped we find ourselves in constant struggle with the agents of material nature. These agents could be powerful tsunamis or tornadoes or even down to the most minuscule virus. It is not their power that we are confronting, rather it is their boss (material nature personified as the terrible goddess, Durga Devi) with whom we must contend.

The Goliath of scientific progress is felled by a tiny stone of a flu virus.

(Syamananda Dasa)