Diving Into “The Spirit of Homoeopathy”

Classical homeopathy has continually grown in complexity ever since its inception over 200 years ago. Most notably, the number of homeopathic remedies in use has grown from around 100 in homeopathy’s early days to several-thousand in use today.

Over the years there have been various attempts at formulating some of homeopathy’s hard-to-grasp principles in simple and logical form, in order to equip homeopaths with finer tools for handling the growing volume of information they were faced with.

In his 1991 book The Spirit of Homoeopathy — note the alternate spelling sometimes used, with the extra “o” before the “e” — Dr. Rajan Sankaran, a homeopathic medical doctor from Mumbai (Bombay), India, began developing an in-depth understanding of homeopathic theory with the goal of making homeopathic diagnosis and treatment more effective. Since the publication of this book Sankaran has established himself as an innovative theoretician and synthesizer of his and other prominent homeopaths’ ideas.

Overview of the main ideas in The Spirit of Homoeopathy

Sankaran begins by recounting the problems he faced during his homeopathic studies. He describes his studies as having consisted of memorizing lifeless information about the symptoms of hundreds of remedies, learning mechanical methods for determining which remedy to prescribe, and relying on obsolete theoretical foundations.

Although hardly everyone in the homeopathic community shares Sankaran’s critical view, it is this dissatisfaction with the status quo that inspired him to compile in book form the theoretical advances he and fellow homeopaths had made through the 1980s.

Emphasis on mental and general symptoms

Sankaran and his colleagues noted that prescriptions that they made based on mental or general symptoms, as opposed to local physical or pathological symptoms, were more likely to lead to cure. In fact, many prescriptions in which the pathology — even when it represented the patient’s main complaint — was disregarded homeopathically (i.e., not used to determine which homeopathic remedy to prescribe) were treated successfully when the mental and general state of the patient exactly matched the features of the homeopathic remedy.

For example, a person who is fastidious (orderly and finicky to a fault), anxious about his health or physical security, and very sensitive to cold weather is very likely to require the remedy Arsenicum album, regardless of whether he suffers from a skin problem, heart disease, or asthma.

The observation that general and mental symptoms were especially important was not a new discovery, but Sankaran put much emphasis on this fact and made it the basis of an entire theory of health and disease, as follows.

The central disturbance and its components

Given that disease is not characterized by local pathology (following the perspective of western medicine) but by the general state of the organism on the physical and psychological levels, one may speak of disease as a central disturbance of the organism. This central disturbance can in turn be described in terms of components, which are the most characteristics general and mental symptoms of the patient.

Disease state arises from a life-situation

Even when relying on the patient’s most characteristic general and mental symptoms, it remains unclear how and why the individual components are related to each other. After all, every person has one central disturbance at any one time, and accordingly requires one remedy to address the illness (following the previously described principles of classical homeopathy), so the components must be related to each other.

The key insight in The Spirit of Homoeopathy is that symptoms can be related by postulating a life-situation which the patient wrongly perceives himself to be in. For example, a person who is anxious with a highly elevated heart rate and a sense of impending death may be perceiving the world as though he were about to be killed in a car accident. Such a person will frequently require Aconitum napellus (Aconite for short), a remedy whose central feature is an acute fear of death.

The Aconite state could occur following an actual recent event, as in a patient who has just witnessed or survived a car accident. In this case the disease stems from the fact that the actual event is past yet the person still perceives the event as ongoing. In other words, while the symptoms were an appropriate response during the event, their undue persistence after the event (a state that might conventionally be diagnosed as “acute post-traumatic shock”) is inappropriate and therefore treatable homeopathically. The same logic applies to a more chronic state, in which the person is permanently stuck in a false perception of reality.

Disease as delusion

When a person has the experience of living in a life situation in a state which does not correspond to reality, his disease state may be described as a delusion about reality. The term ‘delusion’ as used in homeopathy does not refer to the psychiatric state encountered under LSD intoxication or in schizophrenia, but simply to the fact that a person’s perceived life-situation does not correspond with reality. Many fully functional people (i.e., most of us) may be said to be suffering from some delusion in the homeopathic sense.

Disease in the homeopathic sense is thus a much broader concept than in other systems of medicine: it is a fixed perception of reality that is inappropriate under the present situation. It is like an imbalanced posture that the organism adopts in response to a subjective sense of reality that objectively does not exist.

Disease is therefore not confined to medical conditions, but includes complaints that may have no associated medical diagnosis. These may include non-pathological, ‘functional’ complaints such as low energy or various aches and pains, as well as subtle psychological or spiritual complaints. All of these are as treatable with homeopathy as are full-blown diseases in the conventional sense.

The root causes of disease

If a delusion refers to a reality not existing in the present, then where in the past did that reality arise? In acute cases such as the Aconite example above, the delusion refers to an obvious recent event, whereas in many chronic cases it is unclear where the disease has originated. But this is not a concern: as I’ve written in This is Why Homeopaths Emphasize Clinical Results over Theory, homeopathy only needs to deal with the what rather than the why or how of disease in order to provide effective treatment.

Insofar as homeopaths delve into the root causes of diseases, they have discovered that these may range from physical or psychological shocks encountered during one’s lifetime, to stresses experienced by the mother during pregnancy, to features inherited from previous generations.

Still, even if the homeopath fails to get any insight into the origin of the disease state in a particular patient, he or she can address the disease by fully understanding its present manifestation as the peculiar set of sensitivities or predisposition that characterizes every patient. This contrasts sharply with conventional medicine, where ignorance of the cause of a disease usually means that the disease can at best be kept under control rather than cured.

What is health?

The definition of health according to The Spirit of Homoeopathy can now be extracted from its novel definition of disease: Health is the freedom to experience every moment of life just as it is rather than through the lens of some perceived reality. The healthy person responds to reality with full and undivided awareness, does not need reality to be different from the way it is (except in the positive sense of thinking up an even better reality and acting to realize it) in order to feel comfortable, and is ultimately free to pursue the higher purpose of life, whatever it may be for each individual.

Sankaran’s ideas are controversial

Sankaran’s writings, which have included many professional articles and several books since the publication of The Spirit of Homoeopathy in 1991, have influenced many homeopaths while inciting much controversy within the profession. This is because what began as a reformulation of well-established theoretical principles has more recently become a full-featured clinical system that differs significantly from the traditional approach of homeopathy.

Many homeopaths have praised his ideas as revolutionary and have come to adopt them in their practice. But several prominent homeopaths claim that his ideas have distorted and debased classical homeopathy and that they are causing damage to the profession; others see his early ideas simply as reformulations of other homeopaths’ thought and therefore not as original as they are claimed to be; and others still find the ideas theoretically appealing, but argue against the novel clinical approach that he has developed over the years.

My own opinion of Sankaran’ system is generally positive, but with reservations. I use his ideas frequently, but at the same time find that his system is a stepping-stone rather than a destination: it is helpful in some cases but it doesn’t consistently contribute to an improved rate of success in the clinic. Perhaps this is because diagnostic skill is ultimately intuitive rather than systematic, and so a systematic diagnostic approach is limited by its very nature. Still, Sankaran is indisputably an excellent communicator who conveys complex ideas in an easy-to-understand, lucid manner, and as such he has made a positive contribution to the profession.

Further reading

The Spirit of Homoeopathy is available from Amazon or from Whole Health Now homeopathic bookstore. Although the book is written in simple and clear language, it presupposes some prior knowledge of homeopathy. A classic, in-depth introduction to homeopathy is available in The Science of Homeopathy by George Vithoulkas (AmazonWhole Health Now).

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