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The Good Physician's Lesson

Physician taking pulse

 

Compassion or goodwill toward other people may sometimes not be rewarded, but I do not think one should feel disappointment. I firmly believe that if one continues those acts of compassion or goodwill, they will certainly return as good fortune eventually . . .

There is a story of a skilled physician in one of the Buddhist sutras, the gist of which is as follows:



In ancient India, around the time Shakyamuni Buddha preached in the Jetavana Monastery in Shravasti in the state of Kosala, its king contracted a disease. None of the doctors of Kosala could find a cure. A skilled physician from a remote state then came to see him and cured his disease. The king was overjoyed. In order to express his gratitude to this doctor, he sent one of his subjects to the doctor's homeland with priceless treasures. He also had the man build a sumptuous mansion for the doctor. Only when the royal subject returned home, having prepared the fields and obtained elephants, horses, cattle, sheep and servants, as well as medical instruments for the doctor, did the king finally allow the doctor to return home. But he kept what he had done a secret from the doctor.

The doctor began his journey home with mixed emotions because he had been dismissed without any remuneration, even though he had exerted his utmost effort to cure the king's illness with the best medicine and skillful treatment. When he approached his home, however, he saw a large number of cattle and sheep as well as elephants and horses. Curious, the doctor asked passers-by, "To whom do these domestic animals belong?" All of them answered, "Why, they belong to you!"

The doctor, utterly mystified, arrived at his home, but much to his surprise, instead of his old house he found a huge sumptuous mansion in which there were thick carpets and silver and gold dishes, as well as beautiful clothes for his wife. Completely surprised, he asked his wife, "What on earth is all this?" His wife answered, "Don't you know anything about this? Because you cured the king, he has rewarded you with all these wonderful possessions, including this mansion." The physician felt deep regret at having been so shallow-minded as to harbor ill feelings against a man of such high virtue.

I believe we can derive a profound lesson from this story. It is that the notion of reward has no room in human relationships of affection or warmth. If human relationships are based on the idea of reward, with the feeling that "I have done this much for this person, so I expect him to do the same for me," then this kind of relationship can only be fragile. If the other person fails to reciprocate, then the relationship will, of course, easily deteriorate. It goes without saying that proprieties are, naturally, necessary among friends and acquaintances. Nonetheless, I would say that the beautiful stories of friendship seen through the ages suggest strongly the nobility of pure altruism.

Needless to say, relationships between wife and husband, or parents and children, cannot work if they are based on selfishness. Such relationships require absolute mutual trust and love, just like the relationship between a mother and her baby who unconsciously takes to her breast; mutual trust and love are evident in the way they look at each other. The mother who single-mindedly prays for the healthy growth of her baby does not think in terms of having her love rewarded.

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