Buddhism originated in North West India some 2,500 years ago, with the enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama, who became known as the Buddha (the Awakened One). His teaching, or Dharma, then spread from its Indian home throughout Asia, and Buddhist traditions and teaching have found a space in many lives and homes throughout the world. As a professional health coach and some of the current headlines and concerns here in The U.S about recent healthcare bills and laws, I would like to talk this week about buddhist perspectives on taking care of our bodies in a mindfully and positively influenced manner. Today lets look at the basics.
The first Precept enjoins Buddhists to avoid killing and harming living beings. Consequently many Buddhists are vegetarian, but this is by no means universally the case. I would like to speak from a scientific view first, which is relatively simple and short. Physically we are genetically omnivores – meaning we eat a wide variety of foods both plant and animal based. Our teeth are the strongest indicator of this since we have both grinding and tearing foods from a variety of sources. This is not to say we cannot choose to be vegetarians, we just need to be conscious of providing our bodies with a wide variety of vegetable based foods which provide all amino acids and nutrients required to sustain healthy cell functions. Buddhism can encompass each point of view.
There are no special points to be noted by practitioners, medical or nursing staff. The normal caring procedures are sufficient and in line with buddhist practices themselves.
In Buddhism old age, illness and death are acknowledged to be inherent in life itself, so Buddhists will generally appreciate frankness about diagnosis, the effects of treatment and prognosis.Seek honest opinions and input from your doctors, ask tough questions and expect straight answers. Health care in not inexpensive and we should invest not only in caring for our bodies but also the investment of knowledge and informed decision-making.
Because awareness is thought to be important in Buddhist practice, and especially so around the dying process, many Buddhists will be concerned to ensure that pain relief does not leave them completely disconnected from what is happening to them. It is therefore prudent to discuss thoroughly the range of possible pain relief options being offered, especially if the drugs are likely to cause excessive drowsiness or confusion.
BLOOD DONATION AND TRANSFUSION
There are no Buddhist objections to blood donation or transfusion provided that these are freely given.
ORGAN DONATION AND TRANSPLANT
There are no injunctions in Buddhism for or against organ donation. The death process of an individual is viewed as a very important time that should be treated with the greatest care and respect. In some traditions, the moment of death is defined according to criteria which differ from those of modern Western medicine, and there are differing views as to the acceptability of organ transplantation. The needs and wishes of the dying person must not be compromised by the wish to save a life. Each decision will depend on individual circumstances.
Central to Buddhism is a wish to relieve suffering and there may be circumstances where organ donation may be seen as an act of generosity. Where it is truly the wish of the dying person, it would be seen in that light. If there is doubt as to the teachings within the particular tradition to which a person belongs, expert guidance should be sought from a senior teacher within the tradition concerned.
When he discovered a monk sick and uncared for, the Buddha said to the other monks,
“Whoever would care for me, let him care for those who are sick”. There are many different Buddhist traditions and organ donation is an individual choice:
Contraception may be discussed freely as necessary. Objections are unlikely, though some Western Buddhists may consider certain kinds of contraceptive pill to be unacceptable. Contraception is, for example, practiced widely in the Buddhist kingdom of Thailand today.
Although this is a potentially difficult area for Buddhists, among others, it would be prudent to make no assumptions and to provide the normal range of options and information. This difficult topic requires us to look inward, to define what we consider conscious life and how we approach this difficult topic. The age old argument of a woman being raped and impregnated against her will and ultimately her abilities and skills to bring sentient life into this world are delicate examples or how we must consider this topic.
ATTITUDES TO MEDICAL STAFF
Buddhists are most likely to accept medical advice when it is clearly explained and the options fully explored. Doctors and nurses are generally held in high esteem in Buddhist cultures because helping others and relieving suffering are important in Buddhist training.
IDEAS OF MODESTY
Except in the case of monks and nuns, there are no particular points to be noted in this area.
Death and dying may be treated in the normal way, and ideally should take place in an atmosphere of peace, calm and sensitivity. There are no special procedures to be undertaken by hospital staff. In some traditions it is thought to be highly beneficial for the dying person to be supported by a teacher or member of the Buddhist community during and immediately after the dying process. generally personal traditions and views can be honored here as well as buddhist traditions.
Buddhists in hospital or other care settings may wish to have an image (rupa) of the Buddha, either in the form of a small statue or photograph, at their bedside. A Buddha rupa represents the wisdom, compassion and ability to help others that Buddhists train to realize in themselves, and such an image should be treated with respect, with care being taken when moving or cleaning around them.
Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship. – Buddha
Peace and Love, Jim