Podcast on Curing Scorpion Sting with Mantras

Dr. Lakshminaryanan tells the story of being envenomed by a scorpion sting as a child, and the miraculous mantra cure by a village “faith-healer.”  This is a modern-day Gāruḍika cure, and it is interesting to speculate with Dr. Laksminarayan on the possibility of mantra-mediated placebo effects.

Source: http://snapjudgment.org/scorpion-sting
Thanks to Rebecca Grapevine of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor for sharing this with me.

7 thoughts on “Podcast on Curing Scorpion Sting with Mantras

  1. Hi Michael,
    The word faith healer is probably used in the west for people who claim healing powers. But coming to Indic matters, do you think that word is appropriate? How accurate is the word faith healer? Dr.Laxminarayanan did not seem to have any special faith in all this stuff from his account? He was more like a curious child at that time? And are we sure that, faith is what healed him? If faith healed him, then there is no need for a mantra or procedure? Just a statement with “faith” O Lord heal the child is enough? Of course you can ask, if only the mantra+procedure is what healed him, then anybody without faith can learn this and apply it like an allopathic medicine in regular hospitals? I will for now not say anything on this question…but any thoughts? Again, if faith healed him, whose faith healed him? That of the patient or of the mantrin? – Regards – A vaiShNava.

    • Hello! Thank you for your thoughtful question. You are right to call the term “faith healer” into question, but to my credit I did put it in quotation marks in the blog post to indicate that I was not totally comfortable with the term. In English, and often referring to Christianity, a faith healer is one who heals by religious belief and prayer, and I believe it is not thought to be necessary that the patient have faith, only that the healer’s faith is strong. We cannot know the mind and background of the religious healer who treated Dr. Laxminarayanan on the basis of this brief recording. The description, however, sounds remarkably similar to descriptions of treating poison in the Garuda Tantra texts I work with: the use of mantras, sweeping, and the venom moving downward in the body. The texts do not emphasize faith, but they do mention it here and there. It is not that the faith itself heals, in the context of the Garuda Tantras, but rather it is a prerequisite for any practice. Once a mantra has been mastered, it is thought to work simply by calling it to mind, although the texts vary on this. What has to be done to master it? For the Vipati mantra, there are elaborate visualizations that involve installing and worshiping various deities in one’s own body. The end result of mastering this ritual system is that one can become Garuda, or Bhairava if the situation demands it, and effect healing as the God himself. Narayana’s Tantrasarasamgraha, for example, has a passage that says “The wise one possessed by Garuda…should sweep [the venom] with his left wing” (3.54). Faith is presupposed, but is much more intricate than merely praying with faith. A mantra is something like a prayer in that it is chanted to invoke the presence of the deity. Often the mantra involves instructions for the deity to “remove the poison.”
      To bring this back to Dr. Laxminarayan’s experience, he seemed to place great significance on the fact that the healer was “a very religious man,” and that leads me to believe that he thinks the healer’s faith was important. As you know, Hinduism is quite diverse, and I have certainly heard people say that mantras will work whether one believes in them or not. Those would probably advocate using mantras in hospitals as you suggest, but this is not an outcome intended by the Garuda Tantras themselves. They require the practitioner to be highly trained.
      Something else you might be interested in is the work of a colleague of mine named Patton Burchett on bhakti poetry with the theme of Krishna as the ultimate Garudi. In these cases the venom is not literal, but the venom of viraha, or separation from the Lord.
      Now that I am thinking about it, I realize that there is much more to be said on this matter of the role of faith in religious healing traditions in India, but this reply is getting too long!

  2. Thank you for the comments and info. The texts seem to frequently warn that chanting a mantra improperly or without adequate qualifications bring only harm to the practitioner. So faith is probably not a player when it comes to mantra shAstra in general? However, faith seems to be required on the part of the practitioner, when starting this. Here faith is not in God or deity but it seems to me, faith in the teacher, that his words are truthful and that he is not decieving the student. Furthermore, eventhough equivalents for the word God can be found in Indian texts, in the earliest of the texts, this God has no place or significance. They seem to hold that the mantra itself is the deity?

    • I think to continue this conversation we need to get more specific about what texts and traditions we are talking about. In the early canonical Shaiva Tantras that I normally work with, we commonly see verses like this from the Kriyakalagunottara, a ninth or tenth century tantra that draws on the Garuda and Bhuta Tantras:
      मन्त्रतन्त्रविधिज्ञस्तु शौचाचारसमन्वितः ।
      शिवभक्तो दृढः शूरः सत्यवादी प्रियंवदः ।।
      mantratantravidhijñastu śaucācārasamanvitaḥ /
      śivabhakto dṛḍhaḥ śūraḥ satyavādī priyaṃvadaḥ //
      I translate: [He should be:] “one who knows the prescriptions of the mantras and tantras, endowed with pure conduct, devoted to Śiva, firm, heroic, speaking truth, and speaking pleasantly.”
      Devotion to Śiva mentioned here implies faith, in my opinion. In this tantra and many early tantras like it, this faith is a necessary quality. I understand that other traditions may not place this type of importance on faith, but the ones I study do.
      I use the word “God” quite loosely as a rule. Any deva or mantra is a deity and therefore a god or God in my translations.

  3. Thank you for the reference. Likewise, a vaiShNava Agama in the context of a garuDa mantra might say something similar about teaching these only to those or as the mantra working for only those initiates who have viShNu bhakti. We also see in the context of vajrAyana, we have garuDa mantra-s where the practice involves saluting or propitiating the buddha-s to make the garuDa mantra-s work. Because of this, I am inclined to conclude that the requirement of shiva bhakti, viShNu bhakti, or revernce to the buddha-s is more of a sectarian statement than an “necessary quality” for the mantra-s to work. Of course you see that there is an inherent assumption in the above argument that mantra-s do work.

    • I agree that faith and bhakti is not emphasized as the main requirement for the mantra to work as it is in Christian faith healing, and I can see that sectarian interests could explain some such statements. The assumption that mantras work was virtually unquestioned in pre-modern South Asia. In my dissertation, I discuss this with examples from Nyāya texts and Buddhist and Śaiva philosophy where belief in the efficacy of mantras is absolutely assumed for the audience of these texts. The other side of the faith question is that mantras, and Gāruḍa mantras in particular, are regularly mentioned as ways to cause the public to believe in/have faith in the sect (pratyayārtham).

  4. christnity is farse, and most of the followers are stupid enough to believe roman banking propoganda machinery. jesus / jewis christ was helpless man who was killed by romans. i realized meaning of life after adopting hinduism. Follow the truth of life, chant mantras. find the meaning of life Om Shanti

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