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A Healthy Life

By Daisaku Ikeda

 

Health is a universal desire of human beings. No matter how wealthy or powerful one is, health, after all, is the most precious thing.

Buddhism recognizes illness as one of the most basic sufferings that human beings experience --as we can see from its inclusion in the four sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death. In seeking to free people from this suffering, both Buddhism and medicine share a common goal.

The links between the mind and disease, the mind and health, are points where Buddhism and medicine converge.

Buddhism is not simply a kind of spiritualism or an abstract theory. Buddhists throughout the ages have focused squarely on the reality of physical and mental illnesses and sought to relieve the suffering of illness from the dual perspective of Buddhism and medicine.

Still, it is only natural that Buddhism concern itself primarily with the role of the mind. And as stress-related illnesses increase in the future, the relationship between the mind and health in general will be spotlighted all the more.

Health is not simply a matter of absence of illness. Health means constant challenge. Constant creativity. A prolific life always moving forward, opening up fresh new vistas--that is a life of true health. An unbeatable spirit is what supplies the power to keep pressing ahead.

Buddhism is based on reason. It is only natural to use every medical means, in the most valuable way, to protect our health. It is a mistake to think that we will never fall ill simply because we have faith; to do so is actually a kind of arrogance.

When we have some sort of troubling symptom, it is only right and natural to visit a doctor. In fact, precisely because we are practicing faith, we should pay special attention to our health. As Nichiren writes, "If you live even one day longer, you can accumulate that much more good fortune. How precious life is!"

Second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda once said that there are two fundamental problems with people today. One is the confusion of knowledge with wisdom, and the other is the confusion of sickness with death.

Knowledge and wisdom are not the same thing. There is much that can be said about the relationship between the two. With regard to Buddhism and medical science, we can say, very generally, that medicine fights illness with scientific knowledge. Buddhism, on the other hand, develops human wisdom, so that we may find our own rhythm and strengthen our life force. This assists the efficacy of medical treatment and also helps us conquer illness through our own natural healing powers.

But it is foolish to ignore or deny the contribution of medicine. Otherwise faith descends into fanaticism. We must use medical resources wisely in fighting illness. Buddhism gives us the wisdom to use medicine properly.

Wisdom is the basic ingredient to health, to long life, and to happiness.

Sickness does not necessarily lead to death. Nichiren writes, "From illness arises the mind that seeks the Way." Sickness can force us to examine ourselves, our existence and our lives. It can be a very important and precious motivator. Someone has said that a person who has never been ill only understands half of life.

The struggle with illness leads us to understand human life fully and forges in us an indomitable spirit. I myself suffered from a weak constitution from the time I was a child. I had tuberculosis and, for that and other reasons, I was not expected to live past thirty.

But that experience helped me understand others who are ill. And that is why every single moment is so valuable to me, why I have determined to accomplish what I can while I am alive without wasting a minute, and why I have lived full-out all these years.

There are many whose bodies are healthy but whose inner being is ill. And there are also those who suffer some physical disease but whose inner life force is very healthy. All of us will experience some sickness during our lives. That is why it is important to acquire the wisdom to deal with illness properly.

Though it may seem contradictory, from the Buddhist perspective health and illness are not separate. Nor are life and death. They are part of a single whole. For that reason, the Buddhist perspective on health is not limited to this single life. Its basic focus is a healthy life throughout the three existences of past, present, and future.

Excerpted from Humanism and the Art of Medicine: A New Century of Health (Soka Gakkai Malaysia, 1999)

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