Overcoming Karma

[Listen to Asha read this story]

When Swamiji had hip replacement surgery, he did it with a spinal block rather than taking general anesthesia. “I don’t like to be unconscious,” Swamiji said. “It was a little disconcerting to hear all the sawing and hammering during the operation. I kept expecting to hear the cry, ‘Timber!’”

In one of those operations, however, the anesthesia wore off too soon. By the time they were sewing him up, he could feel them stitching.

“I didn’t say anything,” Swamiji said, “because at that point they couldn’t have given me another spinal block; they'd have had to put me under—something I didn’t want. Yes, it was a bit painful, but not very. I just thought about other things.”

In the recovery room after surgery, the anesthesiologist came in to check on him. “Can you wiggle your toes?” he asked. Swamiji easily moved his whole foot. The doctor paled. A spinal block wears off from the hips down. If Swamiji could already move his foot that meant the anesthesia had worn off while he was still in the operating room.

Moments later, Swamiji happened to see the anesthesiologist leaning over a nearby bed, his face and posture expressive of mental shock.

“What anesthesia does is disconnect the senses from the brain so there is no experience of pain,” Swamiji said. “Even without disconnecting the senses, one can rise above pain by simply not defining it as such. Of course, that takes willpower. I’d rather use willpower for such a process, however, than take a drug.”

* * *

Someone once asked Swamiji, “How can one tell when he has overcome a karma?”

“When one is no longer afraid of it,” Swamiji replied.

Most people fear physical pain. Life usually brings only occasional opportunities to face this fear. Thus, the karma lingers. Swamiji tells us about times like these, when he has deliberately undergone painful procedures without anesthesia, to inspire us with the same courage to face our own fears. Few of us have accepted this particular challenge!

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