We have “Teachings of Lord Caitanya” and we have “Teachings of the Queen Kuntī” and they are great but in my conditioned state nothing seems to be enough. We also know that we can, potentially, learn good lessons from unlikeliest of places. Today I turned to my teeth for some spiritual guidance.
I practically forgot what toothache feels like. Last time I went to the dentist because of it was almost twenty years ago. I know because I remember I got a root canal treatment but I don’t remember the pain itself. There must have been some pain because it wasn’t a scheduled visit but I just don’t remember how it felt. Since then I only got some cosmetic treatment and not even a filling. This state of my teeth was a source of my pride, they aren’t white (and bleaching is hogwash, tried it) but they don’t cause problems. Eventually all pride leads to a fall, though, and now it’s my turn.
I just spent an entire weekend without the internet access so a visit to the dentist needs to wait, I need to find a way to deal with toothache all by myself. It’s a third or fourth day since I noticed that one of my teeth became first sensitive to hot and cold, then to pressure, and now I can’t use it for chewing at all, it’s just too painful.
Śrīla Prabhupāda never went to a dentist, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta never went to any doctor ever. Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī definitely never went to any doctors, too. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura probably knew the word “dentist” but I doubt they were any around in 19th century Bengal and Orissa, he never mentioned it in his autobiography. He did mention dealing with headaches and he used a remedy offered by Jīva Gosvāmī – put a ghee soaked cloth over your head to relieve migraines. Or maybe it wasn’t migraines, I don’t remember, need to check with the book. Basically, dentists are māyā.
It doesn’t mean we should avoid them, it’s just stupid, we need to keep our body in working order for the service to our guru, this obligation must come first and false bravado of relying only on Kṛṣṇa to cure all our diseases should be rejected. I’m still curious how our ācāryas pulled it off, however.
There’s famous Prabhupāda toothpaste that was used by some devotees but it’s not a substitute for dental treatment. Nowadays it’s been sold commercially by devotees but it’s still not a treatment. The devotee who reinvented this business turned to it when it was too late and his teeth couldn’t be saved anymore. It somehow helped to preserve them but his teeth were already ruined and got preserved in such a condition that if they used them for advertisement people would think it’s a bad joke.
Plus, it’s not a Vedic recipe, it’s something Śrīla Prabhupāda picked up in his days as a pharmacist. Following this prescription should have great spiritual value but might not be perfect for one’s teeth. Besides, it still doesn’t answer the question about our ācāryas. How did they do it? Can I do the same thing?
Śrīla Prabhupāda tolerated his toothaches stoically. He lost several teeth “on our watch” but he never showed any pain. Only closest servants noticed that something was wrong and he had swollen gums or cheeks but even they didn’t know the extent of the damage until teeth came out. Hari Śauri once got one such tooth as a souvenir. It had a huge cavity in it, taking about half of the space, and it was filled with food remnants, spices and the like. Normally we’d say it’s disgusting but with sufficient training devotees learn to see their gurus as fully transcendental, a tooth is not the worst thing that comes out of the body and when it’s laid out on the table, all dry, it’s not that gross anymore. Buddhists worship this kind of relics, believing that they have actual Buddha’s teeth. Wikipedia lists seven of such places but I’m sure there are many more, tucked away in rural Myanmar or Laos where wiki editors haven’t reached yet.
So, Śrīla Prabhupāda simply tolerated the pain. Sometimes he chewed on a clove and clove oil is a well known pain reliever for toothaches used by modern dentists but relieving pain is still not a treatment, just a remedy when pain gets too bad. Sometimes he probably didn’t bother with it at all, depending on circumstances. I’m actually curious what happens to untreated teeth. Do they get better by themselves? Do they have a natural mechanism to fight off infection causing bacteria? Can they rebuild damaged tissue?
Internet is of no big help here because all the google results on the first few pages are by dentists and they are obviously biased people in this case. There are some reports of fatal outcomes of untreated toothache but I think those are extreme and were caused by complications. So far the worst that can happen is that the tooth completely dies and falls out. All dental services are meant to prevent that outcome first and foremost, relieving pain is just the first step on the way. So, if not for pain there’s nothing to be very afraid of. I grew up when lots of old people had almost no teeth left, it didn’t make them happy but it wasn’t something they complained about either. No big deal, in the big scheme of things.
I’m not ready to lose my teeth yet but eventually it will happen, just as the rest of my body would eventually weaken and rot. Dental help then becomes simply postponing the inevitable. Old age, death and disease can’t be cured by doctors, only somewhat alleviated, our solution is radically different – wait until you die and go back to Kṛṣṇa. When you are facing several decades of pain, however, it doesn’t look very attractive.
If I knew that I had to tolerate this pain just for a few more ours and then Kṛṣṇa would come to fetch me I’d feel so much better but what I know instead is that it’s very very unlikely to happen and my tooth would force me to cave in and seek a dentist first. So much for spiritual answers to material problems. I obviously need another solution, but what?
I feel like I’m on my own here. Not that I will solve my dental problems myself, not that I’d pay the dentist and get material science to sort me out, which would naturally make me and everyone else involved think slightly less of Kṛṣṇa, but that the next move in the spiritual game of chess is mine, not the Lord’s. I need to find spiritual strength here, I need to display determination, I need to control my mind, I need to apply my consciousness in a way that pleases the Lord. How? I don’t know yet, but I have some ideas. I’ll share what works and what doesn’t when I try them, for now let me just suffer in peace.