New Delhi, India:
In the Buddhist Sutras “Buddha” has been described as a “healer” and the knowledge of “Dharma” as a precaution and medicine for sickness. In his first sermon at Sarnath, Gautam Buddha elucidated the four Noble Truths – there is suffering; there is desire or ignorance; it is possible to overcome suffering, and this could be done by practising the Eight-fold Noble Path (Ashtangic Marga).
There is a variety of diseases which appear and reappear in modern societies despite tremendous medical progress in the last century. New diseases have not ceased to appear and take the form of pandemic and endemic.
The diseases originate from ‘workaholism’ and sedentary lifestyle and lack of discipline and pollution and over-exploitation of essential natural resources like water, soil and air. Stress has become an essential part of modern life and living which itself is the root cause of many serious diseases.
Many of the mental diseases could be attributed to the lack of kindness, empathy and compassion in modern societies which celebrate “individualism” and “greed” over “communitarian living” and “giving”.
Buddhism offers a effective and long-lasting solution to the sicknesses which present-day societies are facing. The Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru, Yakushi Nyora, or the Buddha of Healing has been described in Mahayana Buddhist texts. Here Buddha is represented seated with his right hand raised in Vadra Mudra (the hand and finger gesture symbolising ‘giving’ and ‘compassion’ and his left hand rested in his lap, holding a jar of medicine).
In the illustration, he is shown surrounded by various healing plants and innumerable sages. The Medicine Buddha is described as a healer who cures suffering and diseases both physical and mental by creating harmony with nature and discipline. This depicts the “Paradise of Medicine Buddha” represents an idealized universe where remedies exist for every ailment.
That offers a normative goal, which every modern society and scientific community must strive for. In fact, Buddhism originated from the beautiful idea of the prevention of human suffering. The philosophy of Buddhism believes that the cause of suffering (dukkha) is “attachment” and ignorance (dukkha Samudaya). According to Buddhism, it is possible to overcome suffering (dukkha nirodha) by the practice of the Eightfold Noble Path (dukkha nirodha marga).
The focus of Buddhism is on both prevention and alleviation of suffering. Buddhism believes that the occurrence of the disease is closely related to one’s mental, physical and spiritual health, society, culture and environment.
It could be inferred from Buddhist literature that it is not enough to approach medicine to eradicate only apparent symptoms; rather it is important to take a holistic process of healing and cure by addressing the root causes pertaining to both, the physiological and mental aspects of the disease.
Remedies, according to it, must be the primary consideration but the aim should be a holistic treatment by harmonization of all the factors for wellness. The Sutra of the Medicine Buddha is a common Sutra (statement) to recite in Eastern Buddhist temples and monasteries.
In these Sutras, Buddha is believed to have revealed the teachings which constitute the Four Medical Tantras of Buddhist medical literature. The Four Medical Tantras have elaborated on the cause, nature and signs of various ailments, the methods of healing and medicines and precise explanations of medical ethics.
The healing of physical and mental illness in Buddhism requires the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path, viz., right knowledge, right thought and resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right meditation.
Buddhism believes that practising the noble path heals suffering. The eight-fold path helps not only in abandoning the cause of sickness but also to improve our physical and mental state and help us to be in harmony with ourselves and nature. This path, if adopted, could cause a major stride in our life toward wellness.
Buddhist meditation techniques free the mind and body from stress and disease. In modern-day psycho-therapy, these techniques are being abundantly utilized for several mental and chronic illnesses. Mindful meditation helps to free a person from stress, reflect on the cause of suffering and sickness and to fill the mind with positivity, love and compassion and creates harmony.
Buddha also preached to follow the Middle Path (madhyampratipada), avoiding extremes of indulgence and self denial. According to Buddhism, it is necessary for healing and alleviating diseases to consider a person’s physical, mental and more dimensions simultaneously, besides social familial and work relationships and environment.
In Buddhism, an individual takes refuge in the Three Jewels – the Buddha (the spiritual guide), the Dharma (the practice) and the Sangha (the community). Buddhism emphasized the role of Sangha (community) to build a happy and healthy society where scientists, psychologists, family members, neighbours, friends, civil society, institutions and government should come together to resolve problems related to health and human development.
Thus, Buddhism is one of the main strands of India’s spiritual legacy that offers a very sound framework for the art and science of life. For over 2000 years, Buddhism has been taken as a recipe for a happy and healthy life through balance, discipline and practice of the path of knowledge and the eight-fold paths and removing ignorance with wisdom. It is important at this juncture of human history to revisit Buddhism and Practice it to remove suffering and heal both mental and physical diseases