200808140137Doctor & their faith: Buddhism

Doctors and their faiths

BMJ 2003;326:S135 ( 19 April )

Buddhism : Ka-Po Chan

I(C K-P) believe that the reason I am a doctor is because I am a Buddhist. I walk through Buddha's pathway in all aspects of my life. Buddha Sakyamuni's wisdom gives me insight about my career.

Buddha Sakayamuni
Buddha Sakayamuni is the Buddha of the current era. He was neither god nor prophet. He was born around 500
 BC as the son of a small princely family on the southern borders of what is now called Nepal . He was born as a human being but achieved enlightenment aged 35 and then became Buddha. After that time, for the next 45 years, Buddha's life consisted of preaching around the area of the mid-Ganges. He had many followers. Since that time Buddhism has become established in the world. Buddha means the enlightened one, but also has another meaning: the great lord of healing. This means that Buddha's teaching centres on how to deal with human suffering and how to take care of human sorrow so, in effect, he worked in the same way as a doctor. This is the reason why I wanted to be a doctor. I can take care of my patients, not just their physical illness but also their mind and spirit.

For a Buddhist the ultimate goal is to become Buddha and attain the same stage of enlightenment as Buddha Sakayamuni. Buddha Sakayamuni demonstrated through his life that with practice, human beings can become Buddha. He was a living example for us to learn how to practise his teaching in our daily lives. By becoming a Buddhist I believe I have acquired wisdom that is independent from the external environment. Through practice I may become Buddha in the future.

There are many ways to practise Buddhism. We can choose the methods that are most suitable for ourselves so you don't have to live like a monk or a nun or lock yourself away in temples. Buddha Sakayamuni never isolated himself from the public or society, and his teaching touched human lives.

Everything is interlinked
Buddha told us that the reason for a lot of our suffering is that we do not understand ourselves. We don't realise the real connection and relations between ourselves and society. We don't understand the cause and causal principle or realise that everything arises from conditions and is not separate or independent. So instead we live in our own world of delusion especially the view of permanence and self. This gives rise to bad judgments and inappropriate actions. This can lead to the suffering of others, including wars and damaging and polluting our environment. Doctors, patients, health systems, and societies are all interlinked. According to Buddha's wisdom, we can know each other better, solve conflicts, and have insights about the future. We can have better relationships between doctors and patients, and less litigation will occur. We can develop a system that can benefit both sides.


Buddha's teaching centres on how to deal with human suffering and how to take care of human sorrow

Treating others as yourselves
According to Mahayana Buddhism, we have to cultivate our bodhicitta in order to attain enlightenment. Bodhicitta means the wisdom-mind or wisdom-heart. It is the aspiration of a Bodhisattva for supreme enlightenment for the benefit of all mankind. One of the methods to practise bodhicitta is "treat others as yourselves." If we can "think" ourselves into other people's situations we can understand each other better. As doctors, we often treat the illness but not the patient. If we can put ourselves in our patients' situation and imagine what it would be like for us if we got ill, we will be able understand our patients more and so treat them better.

When we do good to others we feel happy and satisfied. From Buddha's viewpoint, in order to achieve enlightenment we have to be kind and show charity to all beings. Buddha told us that when we benefit others we also benefit ourselves.

Ethical considerations
As an obstetrician and gynaecologist, I see how lives begin and end. Buddhism respects life, not just human beings but all beings. We save life by all means and we never kill for any reason. In the Buddhist view life begins when the egg is fertilised so there is no reason and no excuse for abortion in Buddhism's view. Thanks to my colleagues who respect my faith I never have to perform an abortion. Contraception is not forbidden in Buddhism, but the method is of concern to us. For example, an intrauterine contraceptive device works by killing the fertilised egg and prevents implantation. We try to help infertile couples in all sorts of ways but object to genetic selection if this entails killing lives. We are against experiments on human zygotes because we regard these as lives.

Although Buddha Sakayamuni died like all human beings, Buddhists believe that he entered the state of Nirvana. Nirvana means liberation from a cyclical existence. From the Mahayana view, it also means the fruition of life and the unfolding of infinite possibilities in the innate nature of Buddha. When Buddha left his human life he was free from physical suffering and his mind and spirit were set free.

As doctors, we know that all people will die. We have developed hospice care in order to help the dying to die in peace. There are lots of ways and practices (including meditation) in Buddhism that can help with this critical stage. People do not necessarily have to become Buddhists but can use many of these methods to help themselves, to boost their spirituality and die in peace.

Science and Buddhism
Although Buddha's wisdom is 2500
 years old, the ideas and practice of Buddhism may have a basis in science that has recently found attention. Discoveries and advances in neuroscience have made scientists interested in the relation between the mind and the immune system. This coincides with Buddha's teaching that the mind causes mental as well as physical suffering. There are many areas that we can explore in Buddhism and medical practice in future.



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