Investigations of a sadhu who has not eaten for sixty years give
food for thought to scientists and spiritualists.
Ambaji, Gujarat: I am sitting in front of Prahlad Bhai Jani, a sadhu who claims that he has not eaten or drunk anything for past 60 years. “IMPOSSIBLE.” If this is your reaction then check out the report by a team of reputed doctors and scientists from DIPAS (Defence Institute of Physiology And Allied Sciences). After observing the sadhu in strict controlled environment for 15 days, they declared: “For 15 days, Prahlad Jani did not eat, drink, and pass urine or stool.” The medical community calls him a miracle.
I look at him. For his 83 years of age, he is agile and alert, lean and quick on his feet. There are no wrinkles on the face, but a thin bluish ring encircles the cornea of the eye representing cholesterol deposition due to aging. He has grey hair and a medium size beard. About five feet tall, wearing red robes of a renunciant, he sits with a straight back.
We introduce ourselves. He folds his hands and bows his head. “Can we take your pictures,” I ask. He nods. We begin snapping. He sits unfazed, looking away from us. When we are done, we again come nearer and with the help of a translator conduct the interview. Because of prolonged vows of silence often lasting for years, we were told that his speech is slurred and he seldom speaks for long. But as he lay on the swing in his ashrama, he spoke candidly and at length with us.
Some excerpts from the interview:
BTG: By seeing your devotion and power, many people are getting faith in spirituality.
He smiles and raises his hands towards the heaven.
BTG: What is your message for the public?
Prahlad Jani (PJ): Nothing. I just give them blessings. Whatever their karma, they will get benefit accordingly.
BTG: What was the purpose behind doing this investigation?
PJ: We want to tell the world that man can live without food and water. Man can live without water even in drought. There is nothing new in this. However you train your body it will adjust. Previously, sages and rsis could eradicate sickness and live. Everything is there in the body, but we search outside. There is nothing outside; whatever is there is in the body, with us. Scientists want to search such a method that the soldiers can live during wars without food and water. But science deals with outside.
BTG: Vedic scriptures mention that one should eat food, so how can you live without food and water?
PJ: In whichever way we train the body, it adjusts. For nearly 80 years, I have been living in the forest.
BTG: What is your age?
PJ: 83 years.
BTG: Are you happy after doing this austerity?
PJ: I have now achieved siddhi. I have to show this to the world that even stone can speak, even stone melts. Man can do anything. Man has power in body but he searches outside. Whether I live for 11 years or 5000 years, I have no desire in life. I don’t want to possess anything. I had a desire to build an ashrama it is now fulfilled. In Allahabad Kumbha and Nasik Kumbha mela different saints come. So many saints attempt to get this siddhi but they die without getting it. Only I achieved this siddhi.
BTG: What inspired you?
PJ: Divine power. Devi Sakti se. I got the mercy of Goddess Amba in my childhood.
BTG: How can common masses get to do this?
PJ: Only if they search on their own.
BTG: Is it possible for a common person?
PJ: They will take many years. It is very rare. Till we become expert, it’s very rare to achieve it. Otherwise, we will be neither here nor there. Na ghar ke na ghat ke. People with less knowledge may advance little, but due to lack of complete knowledge, they eventually back out.
BTG: People are running away from spiritual life. What do you say?
PJ: I don’t involve with people of this world. Apni masti mein mast rahta hoon. I am happy within. Till I achieve my aim I will have no interaction with this world. My life is different from the world.
BTG: How does your body function?
PJ: Amirasa (Amrta or nectar). It runs on amirasa. When Pan davas, went to Himalayas, they survived on amirasa . . . . Sun rises and sets at its pace. If it did not do this, there will be chaos in this world. Time reigns. So many saints come for Kumbha mela, but where they go back after the mela? How many know about it?
After the interview, he requests us to take some milk and fruit. He gets up, walks swiftly, climbs over a stool, takes out some sugar candy prasada from a tin and offers it to us. For a person in international media limelight, he is humble and down to earth.
We come out of the ashrama. On our right is a small white temple on a big hill. It is Gabbar, a holy place associated with Mother Durga. In a cave of this hill, Prahlad Jani spent years in meditation and austerity. The temperature is around 480C. I wonder, “Does this sadhu really live without food and water?”
For the answer, we travel 200 km to Ahmedabad to meet the doctor who tested this sadhu.
Science studies the Sadhu
We meet Dr. Sudhir Shah, an eminent neurophysician based in Ahmedabad, who studied Prahlad Jani twice in seven years. Since the matter is under defence authorities, Dr. Shah is unable to disclose information about the investigations and tests. But he has great interest in spirituality and agrees to discuss the interface between science and religion with us.
Some excerpts from the talk:
BTG: How did you test the claims of Prahlad Jani?’
Dr.Sudhir Shah (SS): In 2003, I studied Prahlad Bhai for ten days. This was to verify if the claims were true. They were. In 2010, we did the tests to see how this can be true. For this study, the DIPAS decided the protocol. Prahlad Bhai was kept in a closed room with a glass door. The toilet was sealed. There was 24 hr monitoring with CCTV and a person lived in his quarters for observation. He was given only 100 ml water for washing his mouth and it was measured afterwards. He did not bathe for the first seven days. After seven days, he was given water for bathing and it was measured before and after the bath. He did not pass urine. He would form around 100 ml of urine, but later absorb it within the bladder.
The investigation protocols were decided by DIPAS. They are an independent body who came in to picture after I requested the former President Dr. Abdul Kalam to consider the vast potential of this case.
BTG: What can be the reason behind this phenomenon?
SS: I have formed a hypothesis, which includes a) chronic adaptation, b) deriving energy from cosmic sources c) recycling energy within the body, and d) genetical or structural changes. For more details, check my website www.sudhirneuro.org
BTG: Okay. We see that the Vedic literature and tradition is filled with stories of sadhus possessing mystic powers. For example, in astanga yoga there is a kriya called khecari mudra, in which the practitioner elongates his tongue, rolls it back, and then touches it to the back of the uvula hanging from the palate above. Once the yogi does it, he can access nectar, which descends from the head.
SS: Yes. Also by raising the kun dalini (a subtle energy located in the spine) to the top of the head, one can access the nectar. This nectar has the power to provide all nutrition. There are some contemporary yogis who have this power and also there are two cases of non eating sadhus mentioned in The Autobiography of a Yogi.
BTG: Yes, they are postulated to access the solar energy through the medulla oblongata, a part of the lower brain, just above the spinal cord. Also yogis like Baba Ramdev mention that there are subtle nutrients in the atmosphere, which can give nourishment to the body.
SS (laughs): May be this is the reason why some people are unable to put off weight, even when they hardly eat anything.
BTG: Yes, it makes sense. But does science believes in all these spiritual theories?
SS: Science fails here. I am bewildered. This case debunks all our theories about the human body as we know of it. If the kidneys do not form urine for four days, a person needs dialysis. This man did not urinate for 15 days in our controlled environment! Despite fasting, he is in perfect condition. His pulse is 45. Only highly trained athletes have such low heartbeats.
Although Dr. Sudhir envisions finding a physical process behind this strange phenomenon and using it for helping armed forces, astronauts, victims of natural disasters, etc.; his real motivation is spiritual. “These yogis are the wealth of our nation,” he says. “They are the pride of our culture. By scientifically verifying and presenting their amazing powers we are glorifying our vast heritage.”
We are pleased to see his spiritual interest and gift him a copy of Science of Self Realization by Srila Prabhupada. “Please keep in touch,” he says and requests us to share further spiritual insights on this phenomenon.
The Spiritual science
Modern science sees the human body as a fine machine, where life is a product of a special combination of matter. Like any machine, the body needs fuel in the form of food, and after absorbing the useful components from food, the waste is discarded as stool and urine. Although man can survive without food for a few days, survival without water is possible only for 4-5 days. Therefore, this case makes modern medical science completely clueless. But when we examine it from the Vedic paradigm, many possibilities open up.
The Vedic literature describes that there are yogis who possess the powers to manipulate laws operating in material world. These mystic powers are called siddhis, and are broadly of eight types:
Anima: becoming small like a particle
Laghima: becoming lighter than a soft feather
Prapti: getting anything from everywhere
Mahima: becoming heavier than the heaviest
Isitva: creating something wonderful or annihilating anything at will
Vasitva: controlling all material elements
Prakamya: possessing such power as will never be frustrated in any desire
Kamavasayita: assuming any shape or form one may even whimsically desire
The Vedic literature is filled with supernatural events and feats which, according to modern scientific paradigm, were considered miraculous and therefore impossible and imaginary. Due to innocent faith in the feats of modern science and stubborn pride, which assumes that science is the only means of providing information about the cosmos and its phenomenon, unfortunately educated persons were generally unwilling to accept the Vedic system of knowledge. But this one sadhu clearly shows that there are higher laws and phenomenon, but our science is pitifully ignorant of them. Therefore, we should not just dismiss the Vedic body of knowledge as superstitious or mythological, but try to approach with a fresh and open mind. Then feats like Krsna lifting Govardhana Hill or Lord Rama building a bridge to Lanka by floating stones on water will not appear as flights of fantasy, but a reality that is possible by simply adjusting the laws governing the material world in these cases the law of gravity.
This should help us trust the words and wisdom of holy scriptures. We should be prudent enough to put our faith in things and facts that are beyond our direct observation, but are mentioned by the holy scriptures.
THE TOPMOST MYSTIC
While the average person will find the case of Prahlad Jani as giving faith in God and ample food for philosophical thought, a yogi or transcendentalist should use it to go deeper in the pursuit of the absolute truth. Srila Prabhupada writes in purport of Adi lila (1.91) of Sri Caitanya caritamrta:
“Mystic powers can make a yogi materially powerful and thus give temporary relief from the miseries of birth, death, old age and disease, as other material sciences can also do, but such mystic powers can never be a permanent source of relief from these miseries… In the Bhagavad gita (6.47) it is clearly defined that the most elevated and powerful mystic yogi is one who can constantly think of the Supreme Lord within his heart and engage in the loving service of the Lord.”
The permanent relief from miseries mentioned above is only possible if one possesses the ability to get out of the entanglement of this material world. It, however, does not depend on ones own endeavor; it needs mercy from a higher source. Devotional service is the process to attract that mercy. Lord Kapila, an incarnation of Lord Krsna, explains in Srimad Bhagavatam (3.27.30)
yada na yogopacitasu ceto
mayasu siddhasya viNajjate ‘nga
ananya hetusv atha me gatih syad
atyantiki yatra na mrtyu hasah
Translation: When a perfect yogis attention is no longer attracted to the by products of mystic powers, which are manifestations of the external energy, his progress towards Me becomes unlimited, and thus the power of death cannot overcome him.
Sri Sukadeva Gosvami describes in Srimad Bhagavatam (2.1.6): “The highest perfection of human life, achieved either by complete knowledge of matter and spirit, by practice of mystic powers, or by perfect discharge of occupational duty, is to remember the Personality of Godhead at the end of life.”
Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is described as Yogeshvara, the master of all mystic powers. He declares, “And whoever, at the end of his life, quits his body, remembering Me, attains immediately to My nature; and there is no doubt of this.” [Bg. 8.5]
It is impossible for most of us to undergo the great austerities that Prahlad Jani has performed, and for most of us, even the end point of forgoing food and water will be highly undesirable. Bhakti yoga, however, offers a much easier and faster method of spiritual elevation. Simply by chanting the holy names of the Lord, honoring Krsna prasada and performing the rules and regulation of devotional service all perfection is guaranteed. Bhagavad gita (18.78) says, “Wherever there is Krsna, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality.”
If only we become open minded and try to learn from the vast treasure of knowledge available in Vedic literature, we will find many gems enriched both in knowledge of the external world and of the internal world within us, leading to peace, prosperity, happiness, and enlightenment. Srila Prabhupada’s books can help us direct our lives to the ultimately extraordinary goal: an eternal, spiritual life in a world of spirit, where all of us can become free from hunger and all other bodily pangs. Prahlad Jani’s particular form of extraordinary achievement may not be attainable by us, but the principle of freedom that it represents is accessible to all of us.
(Readers interested in understanding more about scientific exploration of paranormal phenomena can refer to chapter “Paranormal modification of biological form” in Human Devolution by Michael A. Cremo).
The author thanks the following people for help in compiling this article: Ramesh Bhai Patel, Madhvacarya Dasa, Suhasini Radha Devi Dasi, Kalanidhi Dasa, Vaàsi Gopala Dasa, Kisori Radhika Devi Dasi, Dilip Patel, Deven Patel, Hitesh, Caitanya Carana Dasa, Jessu Bhai and other followers of Sri Prahlad Bhai Jani.
l Autobiography of a Yogi, Ch. 46.
l Classical Hatha Yoga by Swami Rajrashi Muni, Ch. 11.
l www. sudhirneuro.org