Ghosts are easy scapegoats. Grandma’s prized teacup falls off the shelf and shatters into a million pieces? Ghost did it. The alarm didn’t go off and you slept through an entire day of work, again? Ghost did that too. Plagued by visions of despair, trapped in ennui and unable to leave the house? Ghosts. Always the ghosts. Of course, while they’re a convenient scapegoat, ghosts are rarely, if ever, the actual cause of these problems. Yet in some cultures, to this day, spiritual contamination or other ghostly influence take the blame for what other cultures would call mental illness.
But just because they got the root cause wrong, that doesn’t necessarily mean certain trial-and-error tested techniques and remedies from folk medicines aren’t incredibly effective. This is where the recent (and snarkily “hot-taked” to death) story from Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in Varanasi, India comes in. The hospital at BHU announced recently that, starting in January, they will begin offering their doctors courses on “Bhoot Vidya” which roughly translates to “Ghost Studies.”
Although the crowd of very, very smart people with opinions on the internet was quick to mock BHU’s Ghost Studies program, wondering how a university of all places could entertain such a silly, ignorant, and downright quaint notion such as ghosts, they must not have read the actual story. According to Yamini Bhushan Tripathi, dean of the Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine) department at BHU:
“Bhoot Vidya mainly deals with psychosomatic disorders, diseases caused by unknown reasons and diseases of mind or psychic conditions.”
Tripathi continued to say that the Bhoot Vidya program at BHU would train doctors in the traditional Ayurvedic treatments of “ghost-related ailments.” Ayurvedic treatments include such things as dietary changes, massage, breathing techniques, herbal medicines, and physical exercise. All of which are increasingly used to treat mental illness and disorders around the world, including here in the west.
As the BBC points out, India is a nation of 1.3 billion people yet they have fewer than 4,000 mental health professionals in the entire country. Furthermore, social stigma and taboos against mental illness prevent people from seeking help, especially in rural areas, who instead take their heads and their wallets to shamans and witch doctors for their ghost-related ailments.
While there is obviously a place for pharmaceutical drugs in mental health treatment, it’s doubtful that BHU plans on completely replacing modern treatments with Ayurvedic therapies. But isn’t it sort of objectively a good thing to learn from traditional medicine? If it works, it works, no matter if the condition is caused by ghosts or chemical imbalance. On top of that, wouldn’t knowing that doctors are versed in traditional medicine make it easier for people from rural communities who only know traditional medicine to seek help there?
Plus, what if it turns out it actually is ghosts making us crazy, what then? I mean, I wouldn’t be very surprised. But I’d be glad to have a doctor who knew what to do.