This Body. . .
In the Buddhist perspective, the unique body of each of us, both in appearance and structure, is the result of our past kamma. The human body is at the same time the means by which we contact the world and the physical manifestation of our mind. Being such an important instrument, the body must be duly attended to – that is, one must not abuse it through food, alcohol, drugs or by taxing it with over-indulgence and deprivation. Even enlightenment, the highest goal of Buddhism, cannot be attained through the mortification of the body, as witnessed in the personal experience of the Buddha. This is because of the interdependency of the mind and the body. Intellectual illumination can be attained only when the body is not deprived of anything necessary for the healthy and efficient functioning of all bodily organs.
According to Buddhism, any life lived solely for self-seeking or self-indulgence is a life not worth living. Buddhism therefore encourages us to make use of the body for higher purposes, particularly for attaining the highest goal, nibbana, liberation from the endless cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara).The constant practice of morality and meditation will enable us to have self-control over the appetites, sensations, and egoistic drives.
Physical health is viewed by Buddhism as constituted by the normal functioning of the body and its interrelated organs. When one of them fails to function, debility and disease set in. The normal function of the bodily organs is the result of the harmony and equilibrium of the four primary elements (dhatu) in the body: earth (pathavi), water (apo), wind (vayo), and fire (tejo). If the balance is disturbed, the normal function is disrupted and a state of disease appears.
Curing is the restoration of this balance, that is, the putting of the entire physical being, and not just the pathologically afflicted part, into good condition. Since each part of the human body is organically related to all other parts, for good health the entire body must be in good condition. In view of the fact that the body, like all phenomena, is always in a state of change, decline, and decay, physical health is not everlasting yet we can do our best and extend our inner and outer health.
It is impossible for the body to be perfectly healthy and free from all diseases at all times. Human life is vulnerable to disease at every stage. Disease is a reminder of human fragility. Human wholeness or well-being, therefore, does not mean the absence of all pain and suffering in life but entails learning how to deal with pain and suffering and discovering how to use it and transcend it for the sake of personal growth and the sympathetic understanding of others.
We are each personally responsible for our health and illness through the choices we make each day. Health is to be gained by continuing personal efforts in this life. Good deeds (e.g., regular exercise, proper nutrition, etc.) lead to good health, whereas bad deeds (e.g., poor living habits, abusing the body and the mind) in this life brings illness. This sense of personal responsibility is much needed in health care. At present, with the invention of “miracle drugs” and the development of new technologies, many people tend to have the illusion that all pain and suffering in life can be eliminated and that all suffering is bad, whether physical, mental, emotional, moral, or spiritual. And by blaming it on external forces, people seek external means (e.g., pills, injections, therapies, etc.) of alleviating suffering rather than examining themselves and their own lives and seeking to change what it is within themselves that has resulted in illness.
The Buddhist view of health and disease, on the contrary, recognizes the reality of self-inflicted disease that can be traced to an individual’s own lifestyle and habits and encourages one to seek also the cause of one’s disease, pain, and suffering within oneself, that is, in relation to one’s own lifestyle, decisions, attitudes, and relationships that must be changed. It also recognizes the positive role of disease and suffering in refining our spirit and in strengthening our moral character, courage, self-understanding, and sympathy toward others.
Peace and Love, Jim