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Dharma World Buddhist magazine

Health, Disease, and Healing: The Buddhist Contribution

by Pinit Ratanakul

 
 

Understanding health only in relation to particular parts of the human organism is
unacceptable to Buddhism. In the Buddhist holistic perspective, disease is
the expression of the disturbed harmony in our life as a whole.


Health and disease are among the common experiences of human life, and as such they are the special concern of religion. Religion, in every society, in every stage of history, upholds the value of well-being and health as necessary for a meaningful life and provides its adherents with ways and means to enhance their health and to enable them to deal creatively with human vulnerability to disease, pain, and suffering.

There is a consensus that health and well-being do not mean only or simply the absence of pain and suffering or the lack of disease, disability, defects, and death but also have a positive meaning. There is much debate today over what this positive meaning is and what its implications are in matters of life and death in the role and function of health care professionals who serve as promoters of health and healers of disease. Those involved in the discussions are from the disciplines of medicine, psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and religion. Each has an insight that sheds light on the questions of human health and the healing process. Religion provides frameworks of belief and pictures of reality that contextualize health, interpret it, and suggest how it should be understood and what kind of behavior promotes it.

The Buddha has been known as the Peerless Healer because of his deep concern with mental health, his discovery of the root causes of illness, and the dhamma he prescribed for its cure, comparable to medicine in its protective, preventive, and restorative powers. This paper is a discussion of the Buddhist contribution to the concept of health, disease, and healing and the difference it makes to our approaches to the questions of what constitutes health and what actions are needed to promote genuine healing. The discussion is confined to the teaching and practices of Theravada Buddhism prevalent in many countries of Southeast Asia, such as Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar.

Buddhist Worldview, Dependent Origination, and Kamma

The Buddhist worldview is holistic and is primarily based on a belief in the interdependence of all phenomena and a correlation between mutually conditioning causes and effects. This belief is formulated by the principle of dependent origination (paticcasamuppada), also referred to as the law of conditionality, the causal nexus that operates in all phenomena--physical, psychological, and moral. Accordingly, whether in the universe, the natural world, or human society, or within oneself, nothing exists as a separate unit but only as an interdependent part of the whole. The Buddhist worldview also comprises a belief in the law of kamma, stressing the correlation between a deed and its subsequent consequences (vipaka). The correlation is understood in terms of the relation of the earlier to the latter phase of a single process. This implies that the Buddhist law of kamma does not entail complete determinism or fatalism, as it is often wrongly understood to do. If such a concept of determinism were accepted, there would be no possibility of the eradication of suffering. A person would always be bad, for it is his or her kamma to be bad. The law of kamma only stresses the conditionality of the relation between cause and effect and does not rule with an iron hand. The effect of kamma can be mitigated not only in one life but even beyond, since, according to Buddhism, life is not limited to a single, individual existence.

The present life is only a part of the round of existence (samsara) that stretches out across space and time. A single existence is conditioned by others preceding it and in turn conditions one or a series of successive existences. Existence is thus at the same time an effect in one respect and a cause in another. This imprisonment in the round of existence is the result of one's own deeds (kamma), good or bad. One reaps what one sowed in the past. Conditioned by deeds, the present form of existence can be changed or dissolved by deeds. This is possible because the present is not the total effect of the past. It is simultaneously cause and effect. As an effect, we are conditioned by the causal matrix made up of the social and biological continuities of past lives themselves and thus are the effect of our past deeds. What we are now is the result of what we have been before. But as a cause, we are the absolute master of our destiny. The present, though elusive, is the building block of the future. What we shall be depends on what we are and shall do with our own choice.

Dependent Origination, Health, and Kamma

Within this worldview, health and disease involve the overall state of a human being and are interwoven with many nonmedical factors, such as economics, education, social and cultural milieu, and ethics or morality. All of these conditional factors need to be seriously taken into account in the understanding of health and disease. Health is therefore to be understood in its wholeness. It is the expression of harmony--within oneself, in one's social relationships, and in relation to the natural environment. To be concerned about a person's health means to be concerned with the whole person: his or her physical, mental, and moral dimensions; social, familial, and work relationships; as well as the environment in which the person lives and which acts on him or her.

Therefore, the tendency to understand health only in relation to particular parts of the human organism, such as the defects, is unacceptable to Buddhism. In the Buddhist holistic perspective, disease is the expression of the disturbed harmony in our life as a whole. By its physical symptoms, disease draws our attention to this disturbed harmony. Hence, healing in Buddhism is not the mere treatment of these measurable symptoms. It is more an expression of the combined efforts of the mind and the body to overcome disease than a fight between medicine and disease. Its real aim is to enable one who is ill to bring back harmony within oneself and in one's relationships with others and the natural environment. In this context, healing is not an end in itself; rather, it is a means by which medicine helps to serve the value of human health and well-being.

The Buddhist holistic approach to health and disease also involves kamma as an important contributing factor. In the Buddhist perspective, good health is the correlated effect of good kamma in the past and vice versa. This is to emphasize that there is a relationship between morality and health. Health depends on our lifestyle, that is, the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we live. Illness is the consequence of an unhealthy lifestyle, such as one characterized by sensual indulgence, for example. This moral component of the Buddhist perspective on health gives important roles to spiritual activities and religious practices in the promotion of health and healing.

Perhaps we will understand the role of kamma in health and illness as we look at the following cases. For example, there are cases in which, although the treatment given was successful, the patient died, and others in which, in spite of ineffective treatment, the patient lived. There are also cases of remarkable and unexpected recoveries when modern medicine had given up all hope of remission. Such cases strengthen the belief that in addition to the physical cause of disease, illness can also be the result of bad kamma in past lives. A disease with a kammic cause cannot be cured until that kammic effect is exhausted. But the kamma of everyone is a mystery both to oneself and to others. Hence, no ordinary person can definitely know which disease is caused by kamma. Therefore, one has to be careful in imputing kamma, especially for disease, because it may lead to a fatalistic attitude of not seeking any cure at all or giving up treatment out of despair. Buddhism advises us that for practical purposes we have to look upon all diseases as though they are produced by mere physical causes. This is because even if the disease has a kammic cause, it should be treated.

As no condition is permanent and as the causal relationship between the deed and its correlated consequence is more conditional than deterministic, there is a possibility for the disease to be cured as long as life continues. On the other hand, we cannot tell at what point the effect of bad kamma will be exhausted. Therefore, we need to take advantage of whatever means of curing and treatment are available. Such treatment, even if it cannot produce a cure, is still useful because appropriate physical and psychological conditions are needed for the kammic effect to take place. The presence of a predisposition to certain diseases through past kamma and the physical condition (nissaya-paccaya) to produce the disease will provide the opportunity for the disease to arise. But having a certain treatment will prevent a bad kammic result from manifesting fully. This kind of treatment does not interfere with the working of the individual kamma but reduces its severity. The advice of Buddhism to a person with an incurable disease is to be patient with the treatment and to perform good deeds to mitigate the effects of the past bad kamma. At least the individual effort to maintain or recover is itself good kamma, which will yield good results.

The emphasis on kamma in relation to health and disease does not lead to fatalism or to pessimism. The law of kamma does not rule with an iron hand or bring a curse. This law only stresses the causal relationship between cause and effect. It does not entail complete determinism. To believe in kamma is to take personal responsibility for health. Health is not given. It has to be gained by one's own efforts, and one should not blame others for the suffering one is going through because of the disease. Besides, it may be a comfort to think that our illness is no fault of our present lives but the legacy of a far distant past and that by our own attitudes and efforts toward illness, good kammic effects can arise. The belief in kamma also enables us to cope with the painful aspects of life, for example, suffering from terminal illnesses such as leukemia or a more malignant form of cancer with tranquillity and without fruitless struggle, without a negative and depressed mental state. Such acceptance will also enable us to overcome despair, endure the condition to our final days, and thus die a peaceful death.

It may be concluded then that the emphasis on the kammic cause of health and disease implies individual responsibility for health and illness, as kamma (action and its effects) is created by choices we made in past lives. 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 and previous lives bring 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 kamma 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.

However, the Buddhist emphasis on individual kamma or personal responsibility for health does not mean that Buddhism assigns personal responsibility for all illness. In the Buddhist view, kamma has both individual and social dimensions. This latter component is what may be termed social kamma, which, in health care, refers to the environmental factors that could aggravate or mitigate an individual kamma. These factors, such as socioeconomic factors--for example, unhealthy/dangerous and healthy/safe working conditions--can act as a hazardous/supporting environment for the illness/health of an individual. And society could hold employers and businesses responsible if they did not maintain a healthy environment for their workers or provide safety measures. This concept of social kamma also implies responsibility on the part of the government to provide adequate health care services for all its citizens in proportion to their health needs and medical conditions.

The Body and Physical Health

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, or 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 cannot last long. 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. This implies that complete health is not a totally attainable state. 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.

The Mind and Mental Health

Physical health is important because Buddhism regards it as the means to intellectual enlightenment. Buddhism does not want people to spend a large part of their lives in poor health, for then they would not be able to devote themselves to the highest purposes. Although Buddhism views the mind and the body as existing in interdependence, its teaching gives special attention to the mind and its power. It is stated in the very first verse of the Dhammapada that what we are is the result of our thoughts. The source of our lives and hence of our happiness or unhappiness lies within us--within our power. No one can harm us but ourselves. It is the kinds of thoughts we entertain that improve or weaken our physical well-being and that also ennoble or degrade us. This is the reason that Buddhism designates thought as the cause of both physical and verbal actions with their kammic results, considers mental health as being of the utmost importance, and stresses the training of the mind to attain the highest stage of health as its sole concern. This preoccupation with mental health is also regarded as the true vocation of Buddhist monks. The training is based on the belief that both the body and the mind are prone to sickness. But since the mind is able to detach itself from the body, it is possible to have a healthy mind within a sick body. The advice given by the Buddha to his disciple who was suffering from old age was to keep the mind sound in the sick body.

According to Buddhism, for the mind to be healthy, first of all it is necessary for us to develop a correct view (sammaditthi) of the world and ourselves, that is, a realistic acceptance of tilakkhana, the three traits of existence: impermanence (anicca); unsubstantiality, or not-self (anatta); and suffering, or unsatisfactoriness (dukkha). The adoption of the distorted view makes us see the transitory as permanent, the painful as happy, the impure as pure, and what is not-self as self.

Consequently we crave and struggle for something that does not seem to change, that is, the illusory permanent and identical self and the permanent object of desire--and we always suffer disappointment. By accepting things as they really are, the self is seen as nothing more than a name for the complex of psychophysical elements (nama-rupa), which are anicca, dukkha, and anatta, as in other beings, and the mind no longer craves the satisfaction of ego desires (tanha) nor clings to any object, be it wealth or power. Freed from these ego desires and attachments to the material world, the mind is at rest, and thereby psychological suffering is eliminated, which leads to improved mental health.

Apart from changing our distorted thought (miccha-ditthi) by the adoption of this correct view and by developing an attitude of detachment toward the world and ourselves, our mental health is dependent on our power to rein in our appetites and to restrain and/or eradicate negative mental states (akusala-citta) such as greed (lobha), hatred (dosa), and delusion (moha), as well as possessive and aggressive tendencies. All of these unwholesome states (akusala-citta) can act as the cause of mental and physical illness. Such control can be achieved through the practice of morality (sila) and meditation (bhavana). All Buddhist precepts and all kinds of meditation are aimed at controlling the senses, impulses, and instincts and at easing the tension and eliminating the unwholesomeness of thoughts that tend to make the mind sick.

Meditation and Health

For the realization of the Buddhist vision of health, Buddhism designates meditation and prayer as an important means for the devotees to practice. In addition to Buddhism, the tradition of meditation and prayer exists in many religions, such as Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Adherents of these religions have been practicing it both for religious purposes and for health benefits.

In relation to health, the purpose of Buddhist meditation (bhavana) is to obtain spiritual health and mental health, which could affect physical health. There are three kinds of meditation commonly practiced in Theravada countries such as Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, and they are named after the effects they produce. These are calm meditation (samatha), insight meditation (vipassana), and loving-kindness meditation (metta bhavana).

Samatha is intended to develop mindfulness (sati) and concentration (samadhi), to make the mind one-pointed and calm like a still, clear pond, lucid and unruffled. Mindfulness involves both being conscious of and knowing (sampajanna) whatever arises, from moment to moment, without being stuck to it. It is simply observing an object without judging or thinking about it. This bare attention enables us to see an object as it is. Concentrating on a single object to the exclusion of others (samadhi) leads the mind to one-pointedness (ekaggata), which is the base of vipassana. Vipassana is a specifically Buddhist type of meditation that cannot be found in other religions. The wisdom gained from vipassana (panna-bhavana) is an insight into the nature of reality, that is, impermanence (anicca); suffering, or unsatisfactoriness (dukkha); and unsubstantiality, or not-self (anatta) within oneself and the world around one. This insight has the liberating power to free the mind from distorted thoughts, enabling it to accept things as they are and to act accordingly, without clinging (upadana) and craving (tanha).

While samatha calms the mind by the power of mindfulness (sati) and concentration (samadhi), metta bhavana neutralizes and replaces unwholesome mental states such as anger, hostility, animosity, and jealousy through the cultivation of loving-kindness (metta) and other subtle states known as brahma-vihara, that is, compassion (karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha). Loving- kindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy are antidotes for anger, hatred, and jealousy, while equanimity is a remedy for suffering caused by attachment. It enables the mind to be detached from the body and other phenomena, physical or mental, and undisturbed by any event either within or outside. With wisdom (panna) and equanimity (upekkha), the mind can let go of things when necessary, including incurable illness and even life in its terminal stage.

In practicing samatha or vipassana meditation, one may focus the mind on any object and concentrate on it. However, to realize the religious goal of enlightenment (bodhinana) and to obtain health benefits, one needs to choose the object of meditation carefully. In the Buddhist scriptures forty objects are offered to be chosen according to one's character (carita). In the Satipatthana Sutta the Buddha recommended four basic objects of meditation for all types of character to train the mind anywhere and anytime. Meditation on these objects is collectively called satipatthana four, which is named according to its objects or bases. Satipatthana comprises the contemplations of (1) the body (kayanupassana), observing in-out breathing, the four postures, the thirty-two bodily parts, the four physical elements, the dead body in different loathsome states; (2) feelings (vedananupassana), being aware of feelings, pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, and how they arise from the sense bases (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body) and how they pass away; (3) the mind (cittanupassana), watching thinking process, negative and positive, and being conscious of thoughts, good and evil, their sources, and the ways to nurture or dissolve them; and (4) the mind-objects (dhammanupassana), being mindful of dhamma such as the five hindrances to spiritual progress (nivarana), the nature of the five psychophysical elements (nama-rupa) that constitute the self, the ten fetters (samyojana) binding beings to the wheel of existence, and the seven factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga). By practicing these contemplations in samatha and vipassana, one can achieve mindfulness (sati), concentration (samadhi), and wisdom (panna) all together and at the same time. This satipatthana four is a simple and effective method to train the mind to be strong and powerful. The disciplined mind brings calmness and bliss.

In conclusion, spiritual health and mental health are obtained through meditation by the power of mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom, and also by the cultivation of the four sublime states (brahma-vihara). The practice of morality (sila) is another contributing factor. In the Noble Eightfold Path, morality is placed prior to samadhi and panna because it provides the ground for the development of samadhi and panna. Morality (sila) is therefore a supporting factor for meditation just as the earth is for the growth of the trees and plants. This is the reason Buddhists usually practice meditation while observing sila (precepts) such as the five or eight precepts (panca-sila or uposatha-sila) for lay devotees, and the ten precepts (dasa-sila) for novices (samanera) and monks (bhikkhu).

Prayer and Healing

Prayer, or in Buddhist terminology, chanting, is usually in Pali and is intended to pay homage to the Triple Gems--the Buddha (the Enlightened One), the Dhamma (the Teaching), the Sangha (the Order)--and to remind one of the Buddha's noble qualities and his teaching, as well as to secure blessings and protection. Buddhist chants are verses composed by learned senior monks based on their reflections on the Buddha's perfections, some episodes in his life, and his teachings in different discourses (sutta).

Among the protective and benedictory chants, the one that is widely known for its healing effect is bojjhanga paritta. Paritta means "protection" and bojjhanga refers to the seven factors of enlightenment (bodhinana). It is recited particularly to ward off illness and to promote healing. The belief in the restorative power of bojjhanga goes back to the time of the Buddha when the Buddha and his two great noble disciples, Maha Kassapa and Maha Moggallana, recovered from serious illness after listening to the chanting of bojjhanga. It has become a tradition in Theravada countries for monks and lay devotees to recite this chant for the sick. It is believed that the truth of the Dhamma and the Buddha's boundless compassion embodied in the verses chanted have great power to promote healing. The efficacy of the chanting is enhanced especially when bojjhanga is recited accurately and in proper accents with sincerity and conviction. Attentively listening to the recitation with appreciation of the truth of the Dhamma and of the Buddha's limitless compassion, and with confidence in the Triple Gems, the mind of the listener becomes calm (passaddhi) and joyful (piti). Some Buddhists, while listening to the chanting, visualize the blessing Buddha standing before them with the healing Dhamma flowing from his mouth into their entire body to reduce their suffering and to ward off illness.

Visualization is one of the Buddhist meditative practices that can be used for both healing and spiritual development. Even without understanding Pali words, by listening and/or visualizing in this manner, the vibration of the sound and the vivid image of the Buddha will soothe the mind and calm it. This has excellent effects on the immune system and helps the entire body function better. Listening to the Dhamma and mentally seeing the Buddha are also regarded as virtuous acts (kusala kamma) that will yield good kammic results in the future. The healing power of bojjhanga may be ineffective because of (1) the listener's weighty kamma (garuka-kamma), which suppresses the effects of good kamma being performed; (2) the presence of defilements in the listener's mind, such as anger, greed, and delusion; and (3) the listener's lack of faith (saddha) in the Triple Gems.

Giving and Healing

Another way of healing practiced by Buddhists in Southeast Asia is the performance of dana (giving). This involves the giving of material gifts (amisadana) to individual monks, to the order as a whole, or to the poor and the marginalized; the giving of spiritual gifts (dhammadana) to those in need; and the sharing of time, energy, knowledge, and experience for the benefit of others. Besides the practice of meditation, the observance of the precepts, and the performance of rituals, the Buddhist spiritual procedures involve the making of dana. Thai Buddhists like to use all or one of these procedures for healing along with modern medicine.

There is the case of a woman with lung cancer who, as much as she could, devoted herself to voluntary work in a vegetarian restaurant and in encouraging other cancer sufferers to have hope and to find strength in Buddhist teaching and practices. She helped raise their spirits and remind them how beautiful life can be, despite their fatal illness. She resolved to give this compassionate service after being diagnosed with cancer of the advanced stage and being told by her doctor that she would soon die. At this time, she has already outlived that prediction by seven years! The most recent X-ray shows that the spread of the cancer is well contained. There is also the case of a man with paralysis in the arms and legs who dedicated his life to helping the disabled, encouraging them not to be resigned to their disability but to find ways and means to make their lives meaningful. He sets himself as an example by painting beautiful pictures with a brush held in his mouth. His exemplary work helps to make other disabled people develop self-confidence and self-esteem. He has now been elected president of the Thai Association of the Disabled. Another case worth mentioning is that of the AIDS sufferers at a Buddhist temple that turns into a hospice for AIDS patients to spend the last days of their lives. They form themselves into a support group for other AIDS patients. Even though they cannot escape death, all of them die in peace and with a sense of fulfillment.

All of these cases show that the practice of dana has healing effects, making the agitated minds of the sick people calm and joyful. Even if dana alone cannot cure the deadly disease, it can heal the mind by ridding it of negative thoughts. This is a way to follow the Buddha's advice to make the mind healthy in spite of physical illness. Since the mind can influence the body, physical health is improved when the mind is sound. This will happen when such dana is given in true compassion and without any self-interest. Dana in this sense can liberate the mind from egoism and enables it to make full use of its nonpersonal power to benefit others. Through such altruistic work, one can eventually reach nibbana, the ultimate goal of Buddhism.

Concluding Remarks

Every religion upholds health as the highest value and provides its adherents with insights and practical means to promote health and healing and to deal with human vulnerability to disease and suffering. In this matter, the religious understanding of health and healing goes beyond the secular views to the realm of spirituality. This concern with man's spiritual dimension is the unique religious contribution that broadens the secular perspectives. It encourages us to care for spiritual health along with physical and mental health, which are already emphasized in the secular view. This religious approach underlines the importance of the role of spiritual power in healing the mind, making it tranquil, joyful, and detached from emotional and physical sensations.

In this connection, the Buddhist contribution is its kammic concept of health, disease, and healing as the base of spiritual involvement, and its imaging and meditative methods to achieve mental and physical health. The application of these methods in their daily lives by many people of different religions to bring calmness, inner peace, and joy amid life's turmoil is an important Buddhist contribution to human well-being in this restless world. Similarly, in medicine the Buddhist meditative techniques are utilized along with medical treatment, for example, of high blood pressure, heart disease, and chronic illness. In psychotherapy these techniques are used, for example, to enable patients to be aware of the negatives, or unwholesome mental states such as anger, sadness, depression, and anxiety, and to know how to transcend these negatives as well as how to enhance the positives by their own efforts. This is evidence of the modern use of ancient wisdom to help medicine have its full effect and to supplement it where medicine alone cannot achieve its goal. Holistic health as envisioned by Buddhism and acknowledged by health care professionals cannot be provided by these professionals alone because it involves physical, psychological, spiritual, sociocultural, environmental, and, as emphasized by Buddhism, kammic factors. This holistic health is more of an ideal. But it should be taken into account and is worthy of striving for. Perhaps through the concerted efforts of medicine and religion, as well as of the individual and the concerned social agencies, this health ideal may one day be achieved.


Pinit Ratanakul, who received his PhD from Yale University, is professor of philosophy and director of the College of Religious Studies at Thailand's Mahidol University. He is the author of Bioethics: An Introduction to the Ethics of Medicine and Life Science and coeditor of A Cross-Cultural Dialogue on Health Care Ethics. He has published widely on bioethics from Theravada Buddhist perspectives.


This article was originally published in the October-December 2008 issue of Dharma World.

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