More than any other religion, the state of a person’s mind is held to be the key to health in Buddhism, the world’s fourth largest religion, and meditation plays a pivotal role. The faith itself, which sprung from as an offshoot of Hinduism, has evolved over nearly three thousand years into a number of distinctly different branches. Nonetheless, common threads weave through the Buddhist approach to health. Broadly these can be labeled as: the universe, harmony and interdependence; having the “right” view of life; karma, and the need for balance and moderation in behaviour and in desire.
The Universe, Harmony and Interdependence.
Buddhists believe all things in the universe are unified as causes and effects without beginning and end. That the world is an organically structured world where all of its parts are interdependent. Similarly in human society every component is interrelates, the same is also found in the psycho-physical sphere, in which the mind and the body are not separate units but an interdependent part of the overall human system. The Western tendency, therefore, to understand health only in relation to particular parts of the human body is alien to Buddhism. In Buddhism’s holistic perspective, disease is the expression of the disturbed harmony in our life as a whole. By its physical symptoms, disease draws our attention to this disturbed harmony. hence healing in Buddhism is not mere treatment of these measurable symptoms. Its real aim is to tap the inexhaustible font of somatic energy and innate healing power that exists within all people to enable the patient to bring back harmony within themselves and in their relationships with others and the natural environment.
The ‘right’ view.
To be healthy, according to Buddhism, first it is necessary to develop a correct view of the world and ourselves. This has three parts. First, realistic acceptance of the three traits of existence: impermanence, insubstantiality, and unsatisfactoriness. The adoption of the wrong view makes us see the transitory as permanent, the painful as happy, the impure as pure, and what is not-self as self. Consequently, we crave, struggle and always suffer disappointment. By accepting reality, the mind no longer strives for the satisfaction of self-seeking impulses, nor clings to possessions. As a result, the mind is at rest and thereby psychological suffering is eliminated leading to improved mental health. Second, in addition to developing an attitude of detachment towards the world and ourselves, our mental health is dependent on our power to rein in our appetites and to restrain and / or eradicate negative motions much as greed, hatred, anger, and our possessive and aggressive tendencies. Such control can be achieved through the practice of morality and meditation. Every set of Buddhist precepts and every type of meditation are aimed at controlling senses, impulses and instincts, at easing tension and eliminating the unwholesomeness of thoughts that tend to make us sick. Third, life force is further strengthened by such qualities as hope, courage and a strong sense of purpose in life. The last is especially critical.
Karma. Buddhism attributes karma as an important contributing factor to health and disease. Emphasizing the relationship between morality and health, good health is the linked effect of good karma in the past and vice versa. This depends on our life-styles, the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we live. Thus Buddhism advises those who want to be healthy to practice morality, mental discipline, and wisdom. However, in the Buddhist view karma has both individual and social dimensions. Social karma can aggravate or mitigate individual karma and covers environmental pollution, socio-economic factors, unhealthy and dangerous working conditions, etc. Employers and businesses who do not maintain a healthy environment for their workers or provide safety measures themselves suffer bad individual karma. The same applies to people in governments.
Pragmatism. Despite complex metaphysical arguments, Buddhism has a very pragmatic approach to healthcare. It includes insistence on proper hygiene and the recognition of the value of physical exercise. A Buddhist saying goes “if i do not work for a day, i will not eat for a day”. Monks fetch water, cook meals, do laundry, and sew. Physical work is an important part of their daily lives, but its purpose is to practice thrift and maintain self sufficiency, not to improve their health per se.
Diet. Buddha forbade his disciples to...