BUDDHIST IDEAS ABOUT HEALTH AND SCIENCE

BUDDHISM AND MEDICINE


Tibetan medicine man visiting Sikkim in 1932

The Theravada Buddhist scholar Ven. Pandit Medagama Vajiragnana of Sangha Nayake of Great Britain wrote: “Buddhism and Ayurvedic medicine originated in India and both aim at eliminating suffering. Buddhism primarily concerns with the well-being of the mind and Ayurveda deals with the well-being of the body. While treating one aspect of a person, one cannot neglect the other because both are inseparably linked together. Both systems regard the body and the mind as interdependent and inter — linked. This relationship has been illustrated with a picture of a boat and a boatman. Body is the boat, mind is the boatman. The boat cannot go anywhere without direction from the boatman, but the boatman relies on the boat in order to make his journey. Similarly, with body and mind, both are interdependent and rely on each other. Let us look at the relationship between the medical profession and teaching of Buddhism. Both have healed the ailing mind and body throughout their history and will continue to do so in the future. [Source: Ven. Pandit Medagama Vajiragnana Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com <=>]

“The Buddha said that his main concern was the problem of human suffering and how it could be eliminated. The term the Buddha used to convey the concept of suffering in Pali is "Dukkha". His whole effort was directed towards finding a way out of dukkha. It is very difficult to find a single English word which conveys the meaning of dukkha, but it has variously been translated as suffering, pain, sickness, unsatisfactoriness, imperfection and so on. It includes all ills of the mind and the body. <=>

“The Buddha said, "Monks, there are two kinds of disease. What are they? Bodily disease and mental disease. People are seen who say they have been physically healthy for a year, for two years, for three years....or more, but beings who say they are mentally healthy for even a moment are rare in the world." <=>

“The Buddha was teaching his disciples to discipline their minds as an aid to overcome the effects of physical illness. He was very much aware of the intimate relationship between mind and body. Once an old decrepit man named Nakulapita, came to see the Buddha and asked for some solace in his old age. The Buddha, agreeing with him, said that his physical state was poor and that he was getting very old and decrepit. He advised him to train his mind in the following way: "May my mind not be ill, though my body is ill." <=>

“The mind has a powerful influence on the well being of the individual. Because it is so closely linked with the body, its mental states affect physical health . The Buddha said, "Mind is the forerunner of all mental states. Mind is chief, mind made are they...Mind not only makes sick, it also cures...One who wishes to succeed in life must treasure good health" (Dh. 1 & 2) Modern psychological studies reveal that: 1) Fear: lowers resistance, leads to a feeling of weakness and exhaustion; 2) Anger: results in muscular unco-ordination, “ <=>

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Religious Tolerance Page religioustolerance.org/buddhism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion ; Buddhist Centre thebuddhistcentre.com; A sketch of the Buddha's Life accesstoinsight.org ; What Was The Buddha Like? by Ven S. Dhammika buddhanet.net ; Jataka Tales (Stories About Buddha) sacred-texts.com ; Illustrated Jataka Tales and Buddhist stories ignca.nic.in/jatak ; Buddhist Tales buddhanet.net ; Arahants, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas by Bhikkhu Bodhi accesstoinsight.org ; Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index

Buddhist Medical Treatment

Pandit Medagama Vajiragnana wrote: “The first task of the doctor is to discover the cause of the patient’s sickness. Buddhism too is very much concerned with causation. The Buddhist approach to medicine is entirely in line with the doctrine of Dependent Origination (Paticcasamuppada) i.e. that all happenings are due to a cause or many causes. The attempts of the physician to heal the body is considered in Buddhism as a noble act based on universal love and compassion because it results in the alleviation of suffering. Buddhism, too, is primarily concerned with the alleviation of suffering. [Source: Ven. Pandit Medagama Vajiragnana, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com <=>]


medicine Buddha

“The Ayurvedic approach to life advocates following the very same Noble Eightfold Path as taught by the Buddha. The eight factors of this path are, Right understanding, Right thought, Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood, Right effort, Right mindfulness and Right concentration. <=>

“In one of the discourses known as Girimananda Sutta, the Buddha talks about the causes of sickness and disease as originating from an imbalance of bile, phlegm, wind, from conflict of the humours, from changes of weather, from adverse condition (which here means faulty deportment), from devices (practiced by others such as black magic, poisoning and so on), from the result of kamma (kamma-vipaka); cold, heat, hunger, thirst, excrement, and urine. I believe that Ayurvedic medicine is prepared on the grounds of ill-balance of these constituents in a person . <=>

“Both Buddhism and Ayurveda maintain a "holistic" approach to life. For Buddhists this means the doctrine of the "middle way", an avoidance of all extremes and moderation in all things. Ayurvedic principles fully support this Buddhist doctrine, and both systems teach the same method of ethical life. Buddhists call it the five precepts, which are; Abstaining from taking life, Abstaining from taking what is not given, Abstaining from sensual impropriety, Abstaining from unskillful speech, Abstaining from taking intoxicants.” <=>

According to scriptures: 1) "Of gains, gain in health is the highest and best" (Dhp. 204). 2) "If one wishes to have along life, one cannot obtain it by prayers or vows. Instead one should follow a path of life conducive to longevity" (An. wheel 208 BPS 1975). Three types of patients: a) There are some patients who do not recover even though they get the best medical attention and nursing. b) There are some who recover whether or not they get medicine and nursing care. c) There are some who recover only if they get proper medicine and nursing care. (An. 1. 120) <=>

“In the recent past the conviction has steadily grown in the medical profession that very many causes of disease, organic as well as functional, are directly caused by mental states. An optimistic patient has a better chance of getting well than a patient who is worried and unhappy. At the popular level in Buddhist countries one part of the Buddha’s teaching has been cultivated with great devotion and used for remedial purpose by the followers. This is the chanting of Paritta. Paritta means discourses for protection and are certainly part of teaching of the Buddha himself. Most chanted discourses are not only of philosophical value, but also have a direct psychological effect. This Piritta charting purifies the mental state of the listeners especially of those who are suffering from physical ailments.” <=>

Buddhist Ideas About Health

Pandit Medagama Vajiragnana wrote: “It is certain that paritta recitation produces mental well-being in those who listen to them with confidence in the Dhamma which is truth. Such mental well being can help patients to recover from their illness. The Buddha himself had paritta recited for him and he also requested others to recite it for his disciples when they were ill. Unless the illness is caused as a result of one’s own unskillful acts, it is possible to change these mental states to bring about mental and physical healing. But both Buddhism and Ayurveda teach that we live a succession of lives and we bring with us into our present life a karmic inheritance based on our actions in previous lives including some disabilities and diseases. [Source: Ven. Pandit Medagama Vajiragnana Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com <=>]


chakras are part of Hindu, Buddhist and Chinese medicine

Some selected sermons of the Buddha are chanted for various reasons such as to recover from illness, to avert danger, to ward off the influence of malignant beings, to obtain protection and deliverance from fear and evil and to promote welfare and well-being. One day Ven. Angulimala came upon a woman in labour and was so moved by compassion for her that he asked the Buddha’s advice. The Buddha told him to recite some Piritta verses for the woman to hear. When he did so, the woman immediately and painlessly delivered her child. Since then this verse has always been chanted near the time of labour. The Buddha exhorted his disciples to cultivate loving kindness (metta) towards listeners while reciting these sermons.

Buddhist meditation acts directly on the mind. It has a significant role to play in improving the mental states. Meditation is of two kinds, calming (samatha) and insight (vipassana). The samatha meditation calms the emotions, worries, tensions, anxieties and all that upsets the balance of mind. The Insight Meditation gives one the ability to see things objectively as they really are. Meditation is a universal method of healing, transcending all boundaries of race, creed, colour and nationality.

Following the teaching of the Buddha, rulers actively promoted healing activities by building hospitals and establishing free dispensaries. The well-known Indian Buddhist Emperor, Asoka, of the 3rd century B. C. carved the following edict on a rock (Girnar text 11) "Everywhere in the dominions of King Priyadarsi (Asoka), Beloved of Gods, and likewise in the bordering territories has arranged for two kinds of medical treatment viz. medical treatments for people and medical treatments for animals. And wherever there were no medical herbs beneficial to people and beneficial to animals, they have been caused to be imported and planted. On the roads, wells have been caused to be dug and trees have been caused to be planted for the enjoyment of animals and humans". This is the first record of the establishment of government hospitals not only for human beings but also for animals.

This example was faithfully followed by the kings in Sri Lanka after the introduction of Buddhism. King Gamini provided free food and medicine to the sick as prescribed by his physicians. Venerable Welivita Saranankara Sangha Raja of Sri Lanka is reported to have composed a book on medicine which is known as Bhesajja Manjusa. Thus the well-known Buddhist statement "Health is the highest gain" (arogya parama labha) stands established both in theory and practice. In the Vinaya pitaka (disciplinary code) monks are allowed to treat medically certain people. The Buddha himself ministered to a suffering monk and declared the following memorable words, "He who tends the sick, respects me". Thus we see the close connection between Buddhism and Ayurvedic medicine. (Sunday Island)

"Whosoever would wait upon me,
Whosoever would honour me,
Whosoever would follow my advice,
He should attend on the sick" — Mahavagga Bodhi leaves B 76, 1977, BPS

Buddhism and Modern Science

Dr. Granville Dharmawardena of the University of Columbo wrote: “"Buddha is the greatest scientist in the history of mankind." I have often heard this at bana sermons. This is completely wrong. Scientists are people who are constrained to work solely within and accept only, the knowledge generated by the scientific method. They generally reject knowledge generated by the other method. The Buddha did not use the scientific method and therefore he is not a scientist. [Source: Dr. Granville Dharmawardena, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com <=>]

“Of the two methods of acquiring knowledge available to the human being the Buddha used the right brain centered intuition method, where as the western approach to acquiring knowledge used the left brain method. The Buddha trained his mind to an extreme high state of enlightenment (Buddhahood) from where he could understand the true reality of nature in its totality. It is based on such knowledge that he propounded a philosophy which is most conducive to balanced and happy living which leads to living in harmony with others, living in harmony with nature, meaningful living devoid of stress, anxiety, jealousy and empty pride, ultimately ending up in a meaningful state full of bliss. That was over 2500 years ago. Science began much later.<=>


Dalai Lama with participants in the Mind and Life Conference on Craving, Desire and Addiction in Dharamsala, India


“Science is often explained as systematic formulated knowledge. It is knowledge needed to understand the phenomena that we observe and those that influence our lives. For the early man science represented a cumulative process of increasing knowledge and ability to understand what is around him. It also meant a sequence of victories over ignorance and superstition. During the time of the Buddha, science was still speculative explanation of common sense observations by intellectuals who devoted much of their time for thinking and understanding natural phenomena. Science helped to develop technology essential for producing things needed to make life more comfortable. <=>

“The Buddha's way of acquiring knowledge by intuition was not subject to the limitations that stifled science and therefore unlike science the knowledge that the Buddha acquired is complete and represents the true reality of nature. This is confirmed by over 2500 years of experience. For this reason the Buddha did not have any grey areas that need to be hidden under a cloud of imaginary superhuman force. <=>

“Just as in science Buddhism does not require its followers to have dogmatic belief in anything that the Buddha taught. The Buddha advised people not to blindly accept what he taught, but research on them for themselves before accepting. For this reason his teachings have remained unaltered and valid for all times and under all circumstances. <=>

“While the knowledge the Buddha acquired represents the true reality of nature, what scientists aspire to understand as the ultimate destination of the scientific method, is also the same true reality of nature. While the goal of the teachings of the Buddha is elimination of human suffering and making human beings happy and contented by way of training their minds and creating self discipline in them, the goal of science is providing mankind with material comforts. <=>

“The teachings of the Buddha, founded on the basis of the true reality of nature, have been recognized to be valid at all times and under all conditions. Buddhism is the only Doctrine based on the true reality of nature in its totality available to mankind. It is now becoming increasingly clear that solutions to most human problems that arise as a result of over indulgence, excessive competition and exploding greed leading to acquiring and amassing unlimited wealth, increasing violence, terrorism, drug addiction and self destruction lie in the teachings of the Buddha. It is clear that Buddhism is getting accepted, the world over, as the way of life of intelligent people in the third millenium.” <=>

Albert Einstein, Buddhism and Transcending Three Dimensions


Einstein

Albert Einstein wrote: "Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single cosmic whole. The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear at an early stage of development, as an example in the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learned especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhaur, contains a much stronger element of this."

Dr. Granville Dharmawardena wrote: “In 1905 Albert Einstein broke through the three dimensional barrier in science and took the scope of science beyond three spatial dimensions and Des Cartes restrictions. This enabled man to aspire for a more realistic view of nature and natural phenomena through the scientific method. Modern twentieth century science that developed after transcending the dimensional barrier by twentieth century scientists such as Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrodinger, Louis de Broglie, Paul Dirac, Werner Heisenberg, Richard Feynman, Murray Gellman, Sir Arthur Eddington and Stephen Hawkin is based on the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics and uncertainty principle. These have annihilated the artificial Cartesian bifurcation and extreme materialism in science. By the mid twentieth century the process of gathering scientific knowledge constituted of well organized laboratory and field experimentation, observation, development of theory, prediction, verification of the predictions and general acceptance. [Source: Dr. Granville Dharmawardena, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com <=>]

“Transcending the three dimensional barrier and taking science beyond the capabilities of human sensory organs eliminated the need to present perceptible mechanisms of observed phenomena as an acceptance criterion. The advent of computers has greatly enhanced the capability of the human brain to tackle complex phenomena that are too formidable to be tackled by the unaided and unenlightened human brain. Computer can never aspire to acquire the capabilities of the human brain because the human brain is driven by consciousness which operates at a speed much faster than the speed of light. <=>

“The main achievement of the success of the twentieth century scientists in transcending the three dimensional barrier is acquiring a more realistic understanding of nature and natural phenomena. Twentieth century transcended science enables us to scientifically confirm that such concepts as impermanence, rebirth, telepathy and selflessness taught by the Buddha are true phenomena of nature which are beyond three spatial dimentions and therefore beyond classical science.” <=>

Opinions of Great Thinkers on Buddhism


Robert Oppenheimer

Derek Parfit of Oxford University (probably the world's most important living philosopher) accepts the Buddhist view of life and selflessness. He believes that his acceptance of selflessness which was inspired by split brain research, has liberated him from the prison of self. He says: "When I believed that my existence was such a further fact, I seemed imprisoned in myself. My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness. When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air." [Source: Dr. Granville Dharmawardena, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com <=>]

Derek Parfit, Fritj of Capra (the well known Nuclear Physicist) and Gary Zukav accept the Buddhist view of matter and believes in the need to liberate ourselves from the prison of material particles. The process of human reproduction is explained in Buddha's teachings as parental union when mother is fertile and the arrival of consciousness. <=>

Niels Bohr who developed the presently accepted model of the atom together with Earnest Rutherford, said: "For a parallel to the lesson of atomic theory….. (we must turn) to those kind of epistemological problems with which already thinkers like the Buddha and Lao Tzu have been confronted, when trying to harmonize our position as spectators and actors in the drama of existence." <=>

Nuclear Physicist, Robert Oppenheimer, who helped produced the first atom bomb said: "The general notions about human understanding … which are illustrated by discoveries in atomic physics are not in the nature of things wholly unfamiliar, wholly unheard of, or new. Even in our own culture they have a history, and in Buddhist and Hindu thought a more considerable and central place. What we shall find is an exemplification, an encouragement and a refinement of old wisdom." <=>

On the first item of Noble Eight Fold Path teaching of Buddhism — Seeing, D. T. Suzuki, an influential Japanese writer, wrote:"The seeing plays the most important role in Buddhist epistemology, for seeing is at the basis of knowing. Knowing is impossible without seeing; all knowledge has its origin in seeing are thus found generally united in Buddha's teachings. Buddhist philosophy therefore ultimately points to seeing reality as it is. Seeing is experiencing enlightment". <=>

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: East Asia History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu , “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org, Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia, Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org , “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 5 East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1993); “ National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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