How do medicines work? What exactly do they do in the body? How do we explain the effect of placebos, which are involved in a reasonably large percentage of cures? What about cases of spontaneous remission of disease? Is it possible to recover from “antibiotic resistant” bacterial diseases? Can the vital sheath be strengthened to prevent illness from entering the body? There are a large number of questions that are wrapped up in the question of using medicines versus reliance on either the body’s immune system or some external supportive force, through the action of faith or receptivity to the Divine Force.

Some medicines act to attack virulent elements that have entered the body. The class of ‘antibiotics’ work in that way. In vitro various antibiotic compounds are shown to develop a “zone of inhibition” in which the bacteria will not propagate. But at some point, the ‘immune response’ of the bacteria also kicks in and eventually they mutate into forms that are considered ‘antibiotic resistant’. Even when antibiotics work, they take some of the load off of the internal immune system which goes to work to fight off the disease, and eventually it is the immune system that ‘wins’ the fight.

The actual power at work, here, with whatever adjunctive aid is provided by medicines, is the immune response of the body and the vital being. If the vital sheath is strong and vibrant, disease actually has a hard time even getting at the body. If the vital sheath is strengthened through the effort of the mind, the will or through intervention of the Divine Force from outside, it provides substantial advance immunity.

One way to understand the issue of immune response versus medicine is to look at what is called the ‘placebo effect’. In this case, a substance that does not have any active role in fighting off the disease is given to the patient. Research has shown between 15% and 72% positive impact of a placebo, depending to some degree on the length of time it was given and the nature of the information provided. In this case, it is clearly not the medicine effecting the cure, but the body itself curing itself.

This opens up the idea that with sufficient receptivity, faith and a strong body and vital sheath, an individual can build up health, ongoing wellness and defeat disease without medicines. To the extent the individual has not yet achieved this, of course, medicine (or a placebo) may be taken to strengthen the resistance and the faith of the physical being. Too much faith in medicines, however, can be detrimental, as the individual may find, when some pill is not available, that he quickly succumbs to the illness, due to the expectation that he will be sick without the needed medicines!

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Medicine is necessary for our bodies in disease only because our bodies have learned the art of not getting well without medicines. Even so, one sees often that the moment Nature chooses for recovery is that in which the life is abandoned as hopeless by the doctors.”

“Distrust of the curative power within us was our physical fall from Paradise. Medical Science and a bad heredity are the two angels of God who stand at the gates to forbid our return and re-entry.”

“Medical Science to the human body is like a great Power which enfeebles a smaller State by its protection or like a benevolent robber who knocks his victim flat and riddles him with wounds in order that he may devote his life to healing and serving the shattered body.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Body and Physical Consciousness, Faith and Suggestion, pp. 98-101

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.