Another Perspective

The Hunger Artist

And the Goddess Amba's miracle elixir.

By 5.14.10

Several people have directed my attention to a story about Prahlad Jani, an 82-year-old Indian yogi who claims that he has had nothing to eat or drink -- not a cup of tea, not even a Ding Dong -- for the past 70 years.

Now that's quite a feat. Most people cannot survive more than a few months without food or a week without water. Who am I kidding? Most people can't survive a half hour without shoving something down their gullet.

Nor should they. I'm reminded of something Joe E. Lewis said: "I went on a diet once, swore off drinking and heavy eating, and in fourteen days I'd lost exactly two weeks."

For those seeking enlightenment, a yogi is someone who thinks the entire cosmos is situated within his own body. (If true, this would certainly ease the pain at the gas pump.) Be that as it may, most doctors regard the yogi's claims as fantastic. They say something else must be at work. They say without nourishment, the yogi's organs would have crashed like a stock car into a crowd of NASCAR fans. (I think that's the scientific term.) Twice, the mystic has been dragged out of his jungle lair and forced to endure weeks of poking and prodding and observation, and both times doctors had to admit they were stumped. Despite not eating or drinking a thing, the yogi's vitals were not only normal, they were better than normal.

Scientists, meanwhile, remain split. Some say this is no more than a case of humbuggery, that the yogi is a flim-flam man, a mountebank, a snake oil salesman. Others say that just because something is unexplainable to contemporary science, doesn't mean it will be fifty years from now. For example, a hundred years ago nobody knew black holes existed. Except for maybe the one in Calcutta. They say we have just begun to skim the surface of human potential. Humans are capable of doing all kinds of miraculous things, it's just that we don't know it. Take those 90-pound moms we're always hearing about who supposedly deadlift half-ton trucks off their trapped infants?

Urban legends, you say? Probably. According to this story, it took six people to lift a car off a trapped 3-year-old.

THEN THERE ARE the smug Krista Tippett spiritual types who say, Nah, nah, science can't explain everything. And wouldn't life be boring if it could?

Actually life is pretty boring. At least for those of us who don't have our own shows on National Public Radio.

The Tippetts point to centuries of tales of deeply spiritual folk who reportedly did wonderful and inexplicable things, like the so-called flying saints or saints who could appear in two places at the same time, such as the Amazing Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, who supposedly mastered both techniques. (Unfortunately for many would-be saints, it was often hard to tell whether these were deeply religious folk with miraculous powers or evil folk doing the devil's work.) Another is the Catholic mystic Marthe Robin, who died in 1981, and supposedly went 53 years without eating or sleeping.

My personal favorite is Christina the Astonishing who, in 1171 AD, during her funeral mass, sprung from her coffin and flew up to the rafters, where she claimed she had just returned from a round-trip visit to heaven, hell, and purgatory. Christina said she had promised God to dedicate her life to doing penance for the souls in purgatory. It was said that Christina would hop around on one leg exclaiming, "Look upon me O Lord, for I am like unto a flamingo." Even better, she often threw herself into furnaces and icy lakes for hours or days at a time, writhing in pain, but afterward she would be right as rain. Sometimes during one of her ice baths, she would allow the current to drag her downstream to the mill where the mill wheel "whirled her round in a manner frightful to behold." Afterward she would appear without a bruise on her.

Kind of makes the yogi look like old pie.

While his doctors may be stumped, the yogi has an explanation as to his ability to defy nature that I, for one, find hard to swallow. He says the Hindu goddess Amba feeds him an invisible elixir.

I have to say, the yogi's explanation is rather anti-climactic. I was hoping for something more philosophical or at least more sci-fi-ish, as if he had developed the ability to transcend this dimension and exist in some fifth dimension that is beyond our current understanding. Instead we get Goddess Amba's Miracle Elixir.

How about a bottle, mister?
Only costs a dollar, guaranteed.

Call me a cynic, but if that's what the yogi's peddling, I'll spend my dollar on a Ding Dong.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.