Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mahayana And Medicine

This interesting passage is from the 19th chapter of the Upasakasila Sutra.
‘Good son, if a wise person is wealthy, he should give generously. If he is not, he should teach wealthy people to give generously themselves. If they already know the Dharma, he should help them in their practice of generosity. If he is poor and has nothing to give, he should recite healing mantras, give inexpensive medicine to the needy, nurse the sick and exhort the rich to provide various medicines whether in pill, powders or tincture form. If he happens to know medicines and can diagnose illnesses, he should use his knowledge to help those who are sick. When he nurses the patient he should do so skillfully. Although he may have to clean the patient’s impurities he should to so without feeling revision. He should know when the patient’s condition worsens or improves and which medicine and food are best for them. If the patient asks for medicine or food that are not good for him he should tactfully convince him otherwise. For if he refused outright the patient might become irritated. If the patient is dying he should not say so but teach him about the Three Jewels and encourage him to Take Refuge in them…While taking good care of the patient he should not expect payment. After the patient’s recovery he should check up on him to make sure the illness does not return. If the patient dies, he should bury him and consol the relatives so to relive their grief and speak to them about Dharma. If the patient has been cured and out of gratitude gives him gifts he should pass them on to the poor. If one takes care of and treats the sick like this, you should know him as a great giver and a true seeker of enlightenment’ (Condensed).

If you are interested in knowing something more about the Buddhist medical tradition read Kenneth Zysk Asceticism and Healing in Ancient India – Medicine in the Buddhist Monastery, 1991, reprinted in 1998 by Motilal Banarsidas. Zysk is a competent and thorough scholar with an almost unequaled knowledge of the history of ancient Indian medicine. His book does not contain the passage given above (I don’t know how he could have missed it!) but it does include most of the passages in the scriptures of all schools of Buddhism that pertain to medicine, health, nursing and theories of disease; although the emphasis is no early Buddhism.

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