Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Medicine Buddha Or The Buddha's Medicine?

As far as medicine is concerned the Buddha's teaching as preserved in the Pali Tipitaka is distinctly different that which proceeded it and to a large extent even different from what came later. The medicines and healing procedures in pre-Buddhist Indian literature is what can be called religio-magical, i.e. prayers, mantra, spells and rituals. Likewise, many sicknesses were believed to be caused by evil spirits. The Pali Tipitaka is the earliest evidence of a departure from such notions, none of which are found in it. Instead, we find the beginning of empirico-rational medicine. In the Bhesajjakkhandaka of the Vinaya is a list of herbs, resins, salts and oils which can be used as medicines. I will give some of these below. Now whether or not such substances really did have healing properties, their mention without any magical additions suggests a new type of thinking. Caraka Samhita and Susruta Samhita, (dates uncertain but defiantly post-Buddha, probably between 200 BCE and 300 CE) also contain a strong empirical and experimental outlook but one can also see the either the inability to shake off or perhaps the reintroduction of, magic. My favorite prescription in Caraka starts, ‘Take the left ear of a donkey, boil it and…’ By the time the great Mahayana sutras were composed religio-magical healing was well on the way to completely replaced rational medicine. A good example of this would be the Bhaisajyarajan Sutra (Medicine Buddha Scripture) which says, ‘May every being be cured of deformity by hearing my name. May every ailing being too poor to afford medicine be cured of their sickness by hearing my name. May all female beings get rid of their femininity by hearing my name, etc.’ Worshiping the Medicine Buddha, reciting his name and doing Medicine Buddha pujas had almost completely superseded rational healing. Later Tantric text contains huge amounts of healing dharanis, mantras and spells.
Picture above shows monks making a Medicine Buddha mandala

I give here some of the medicinal plants mentioned by the Buddha and include their application according to S. K. Jain and Robert A. DeFillipps’ authoritative Medical Plants of India, Algonac, 1991.
Amalaka, Emblica officinalis. Bark: Applied to sores, pimples, with the bark of Dillenia pentagyna for tubercular fistula; for cholera, dysentery, diarrhea. Leaf: For gravel, diarrhea and sores. Fruit: Refrigerant, diuretic, laxative, for indigestion, with Swertia and fnugreek for gonorrhea. Raw fruit: Aperient, dried and used in haemorrhagia, diarrhea, as a liver tonic, for scurvy, the juice as an eye drop. Seeds: For asthma and stomach disorders.

Ativisa, Hiptage mabadlota. Astringent, tonic, for fevers, cough, diarrhea and dysentery.

Bhanga, Cannabis sativa. Leaves boiled and steam inhaled and/or rubbed on the skin. Whole plant: Stomachic, antispasmodic, analgesic and sedative, for epilepsy, with root of Bryonopsis laciniosa, Melothria heterophylla and opium for convulsions; on sores, for cough and cold. Leaf: for dyspepsia, gonorrhea, bowel complaints, narcotic nerve stimulant and for skin diseases.

Bhaddamuttaka, Cyperus rotundus. Whole plant: For heat stroke. Root: For stomach disorders.

Candana, Santalum album. Bark; With root bark of Solanum torvum and Achyranthes aspera for malaria. Oil: For enlarged spleen, with Lepidium, Nerium oleander, Nymphaea, root of Michelia and almonds for dysentery; in a paste and applied for headaches, skin complaints, burns and fever inflammation. Oil from heart wood: As diuretic, diaphoretic, refrigerant, expectorant and for dysuria. Oil from seeds: For skin diseases.

Halidda, Curcuma domestitca. Root; For hazy vision, inflammation of eyes, with tobacco for night blindness; subnormal temperature, body pains, rheumatism, with green gram for scabies, sores, with Dolichos biflous for infantile fistula ani; with mustard and Solanum surattense for coughs; with leaves of sweet potato, Negella indica and Buettneria herbacea root to stimulate lactation. Flowers: For sores in the throat, with Shorea robusta and bark of Ventilago calyulata for syphilis.

Haritaka, Terminalia chebula. Bark: As diuretic, cardiotonic, for eczema, mouth sores. Fruit: For dysentery, enlarged spleen, externally for measles, applied to inflammation of the eyes, constipation, coughs, bronchitis, as

Hingu, Balanites aejyptiaca. Bark: For colds and cough. Fruit: For pneumonia and skin diseases.

Kalanusari, Nardostachys jatamansi. Root. As an aromatic, bitter tonic, stimulant, antiseptic, for convulsions, inhaled (with other plants) for ulcers of nose and palate, dysentery, constipation, bronchitis (with other plants), as a laxative and to improve urination.

Kutaja, Holarrhaena antidysenterica. Root: Spleen complaints, diarrhea, discharge in urine and excreta, haematuria, blood dysentery, the bites of dogs or poisonous animals. Bark: For bronchitis, cold, menorrhagia,, dysentery and other stomach disorders. Flowers: For worms, leucoderma and as an appetite stimulant. Seeds: For epilepsy, postnatal complaints, leprosy and other skin diseases, constipation and indigestion, colic and dysentery.

Lasuna, Allium sativum. Bulb: For fever, pulmonary phthisis, gangrene of lung, whooping cough, rheumatism, duodenal ulcer, hyperlipidemia, certain typhoides, flatulence, atonic dyspepsia, juice on skin diseases and as an ear drop.

Padma, Nelumbo necifera. Tuber: To relieve strangulation of the intestine. Rhizome: Yields nutritious arrowroot useful for diarrhea and dysentery in children. Carpel: Demulcent. Flower: As astringent and cooling agent for cholera.

Talisa, Flacourtia cataphracta. Bark: Given together (with the roots of other plants) to women as prenatal and post natal treatment to purify the blood; for biliousness. Fruit: For biliousness and liver complaints.

Usira, Andropogon muricatum. Root: Chewed for coughs and colds, promotes bronchial secretion, asthma, diarrhea and dysentery, the oil is used as a nerve stimulant, sedative, analgesic, epilepsy, constipation. Stem: Cough and colds. Root: Vermifuge, in intermittent fever. Whole plant: Sedative, analgesic, depressant for blood pressure, rubbed on aching body parts.

Tagara, Tabernaemontana coronaria. Root: Bitter-tasting and applied locally as an anodyne, chewed to relieve toothaches. Stem: The bark as a refrigerant. Leaf: Latex used for eye diseases.


Justin Choo said...

You're incredible!

JD said...

This botanical stuff is interesting. I almost majored in botany so I find it to be a fun read. Be well now.

Unknown said...

Ahhh.. if only all illnesses can be made well by a kiss, a spell or a prayer!

Looks like we are not a simulation in a virtual world. :-p

( http://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation.html )

Anonymous said...

As a dad and a doctor, I find children’s cough and cold medications a very scary topic. I used believe the drug companies, and think that as long as my patient’s or I dosed the children’s cold & cough medications right, then everything would be OK. But when I researched this further, it turns out that children have died from “over dose” of ALL THE MAJOR CHILDRENS COLD AND COUGH MEDICINES even when given the correct dose. (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/108/3/e52?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=cough+medications&andorexactfulltext=and&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&sortspec=relevance&resourcetype=HWCIT).

Here are a few interesting facts:

1. Last October 2007, the drug companies promised the FDA that they would change all their labeling to say “do not use” for children under the age of 2, but I was just in the store last week, and most of packages still had the old labeling! They do not warn of the dangers in children under 2. So why should we believe that the drug companes will maintain their “voluntary” new labeling for children under 4? They make these voluntary changes to avoid federal regulation, and then promptly change their labeling once the hype has died down.

2. The FDA reviewed safety and effectiveness data this last fall and its expert panel said that “right now the current cold & cough medications should not be given to children under 6.” Here is a link to the FDA’s minutes, “http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/ac/07/minutes/2007-4323m1-Final.pdf”, see page 6. The FDA made a public advisory in January 2008 about never using it for children under 2, because the Drug companies are fighting them on the panels ruling to never use cold and cough medications on children 2 to 6. Since these drugs were previously allowed by the FDA, the FDA is forced to go though “due process” before they are willing to make an official public statement about never giving these medications to children 2 to 6.

3. The number of infant deaths attributed to cold and cough medicines is dramatically underreported. New research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics demonstrated that there were at least “10 unexpected infant deaths that were associated with cold-medication” in 2006 alone in the state of Arizona. Extrapolated over the US and Canadian population, that would be over 500 deaths a year associated with cold-medication! (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/122/2/e318)

4. The thing that the drug companies don’t want anyone to know is that these medications never underwent the rigorous safety and effectiveness studies modern medications have to go though, they we grandfathered in the early 1970’s because at that time experts felt like they seemed to work, and they seemed safe enough.

5. The FDA recently said that they do not want to pull the medications for children under 6 because they are afraid that parents will give children adult doses because “parents would have no other alternatives.” The truth is that the American Academy of Pediatrics has said that buckwheat honey is a safe alternative. Some researchers from Penn State have shown that Buckwheat honey is better then the OTC drugs for children’s cough. There is a web site that talks about this, and gives lots of research to help parents be better informed about how to help their kids. Check out http://www.honeydontcough.com/


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I consider this kind of practice another type of Medicine Without Prescription .

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