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    The Buddha attained enlightenment at the age of 29 in the town of Bodhgaya.

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Dhamma as medicine

In the Middle Length sayings of Gotama Buddha, it has been recorded: "The Buddha is like a physician in that He is able to heal sickness of the defilements. The dhamma is like a rightly applied medicine, and the Sangha with the defilements cured, are like people restored to health by the medicine."

Again, in another passage it is said : Of all the medicine in the world, Manifold and various There is none like the medicine of Dhamma Therefore, O monks, drink of this. The Buddha was a humanist who strove to soothe the ills of life with his dhamma therapy, as a Physician He possessed clairvoyance and He was able to see suffering man, and identify the causes of facets of suffering. The medicines He dispensed to provide mental relief in states of unsatisfactoriness were, His Noble dharma, which was a form of psychotheraphy.

Dealing at length on this subject the Ven Dr Pathegama Gnanarama Maha Thera PhD of Singapore, has in a valued publication : ASPECTS OF EARLY BUDDHIST SOCIOLOGICAL THOUGHT (1998) referred to DHAMMA - the MEDICINE". We now publish excerpts from his book which dwells deep into the subject.

The Buddha, the physician par excellence, administers medicine in the form of dhamma to the mentally and spiritually sick, for their recovery from ills by which they suffer thoughout their lives. The dhamma is medicine and considered a colourful sugar-coated medicinal pill. The fact has been brought to light in a discourse in the Majjhima Nikaya. As given there, undertaking of the dhamma is conducive to happiness both in the present as well as in the future. The Buddha illustrating the fact says, "The dhamma is as if honey, oil and sugar had been mixed together and given to a man suffering from dysentry. While he drinks he might be pleased with its colour, scent and taste. After having drunk it, he would get his illness cured. Therefore the undertaking of the dhamma is pleasant now and it ripens in the future as pleasant and with its shining and beaming radiance it surpassed other doctrines whatsoever that are preached by ordinary recluses and brahmins."

In another instance, addressing Sunakkhatta, a Licchavi, He explains the present predicament of man and how he should achieve his welfare in this world and in the next In the course of the explanation a simile of a man wounded by a dart and a surgeon attending on him has been drawn. At the end, identifying the different constituents of the simile. He says that he spoke in terms of a simile in order to convey the following meanings: "Wound is a term for the six internal bases. 'Poisonous' humour (septicaemia) is a term for ignorance. 'Dart' is a term for craving. 'Probe' is a term for mindfulness. 'Knife' is a term for Noble wisdom. 'Surgeon' is a term for the Tathagata, the Accomplished One, the Fully Enlightended One."

Comparatively, mental health is far more important than physical health. Mental health contributes to physical health and vice versa. Wrong perception makes a person sick in mind. When once Nakulapita, the householder, said to the Buddha that he was aged, advanced in years, old and had lived out his span of life, sick and was always ailing, the Buddha told him that if a person who took material form, feeling, peception, conformations and consciousness as substantial he would be sick in mind. Although physical health had begun to deteriorate in old age one could maintain mental health though correct and right perception."

The fact that mental hygiene is a desirability is highlighted in another discourse. Addressing the monks the Buddha says: "There are to be seen beings who can admit freedom from suffering from bodily disease for one year, for two years, for three years, four, five, for ten, twenty, thirty, forty and fifty years. But monks; those beings are hard to find in the world, who can admit freedom from mental disease even for one moment save only those in whom the defilements have been destroyed."

In the very first sermon at Isipathana (modern Sarnath) The Turning of the Wheel of Law', the Buddha's expounding of the Four Noble Truths can be understood on the analogy of a pathological analysis of affliction and cure. Therein the present predicament of man is analysed in the First Noble Truth with its physical, psychological and psycho-physical aspects, showing how those afflictions are woven into the fabric of our existence. In the Second Truth, the root cause of the present affliction, which exists in the form of desire, is broken down into its constituents for the better understanding of that cause. In the Third, the state of being redeemed from afflictions by regaining health is described, which is nothing but Nibbana, the Supreme Bliss. In the Fourth Truth, the remedy to ameliorate the affliction is prescribed by way of the Noble Eightfold Path. It is quite clear that the theory of causality also applies to the analysis of suffering, the cause of suffering and its appeasement and path.

Therapeutic Approach

Buddhism, when taken as a whole is therapeutic in character. It analyses the causes and conditions of the present predicament of human existence and suggests remedial measures to befollowed for the alleviation of it. Because of the scientific methodology that has been followed by the Buddha in the first sermon, the Cambridge psychologist, Thouless, says that it is "very much like a modern lecture on bacteriology, where disease, the cause of the disease by the multification of the blood stream of bacteria and viruses and then the cure and the destruction of the invading bacteria and viruses by injecting antibiotics and other medicinal substances to the blood stream of the patient is explained".

The Buddha's approach to suffering and its remedy was so rational and convincing that a later Indian philosopher, Patanjali too followed the same methodology of analysis in order to explain the cyclic existence of beings. He directly referred to the science of medicine to drow the analogy of disease the cause of disease, recovery and cure, emphasising that Yoga philosophy is also divided into four sections. The cycle of existence is suffering, the cause of suffering is the union of prakrti and purusa. The termination of the union is release. Right vision is the means of release. Patanjali is obviously later than the Buddha. The therapeutic approach is so fundamental to early Buddhism that, Thouless does not hesitate to name it as a system of psychotherapy. Commenting on the Sabbasava-sutta which deals with the elimination of asava he develops his thesis and asserts that asava can be best understood if it is translated as mental stress.

According to the Sabbasava sutta seven different ways have to be adopted to get rid of different kinds of asava. 1. By vision (dassana)
2. By control (samvara)
3. By association (patisevana)
4. By endurance (adbhivasana)
5. By avoidance (parivajjana)
6. By elimination (vinodana)
7. By mind culture (bhavana)

Asavas have been defined as 'destructive and consuming' (vighata parilaba) in the text which is actually their overall effect. The therapeutic approach of the doctrine is summed up again and again in several places of the canon. In one place it is stated that the Noble Eightfold Path should be developed to destroy asava, while in another, mindfulness of breathing in and breathing out. Yet in another instance, the eight constituents of the Path have been mentioned together with Right Knowledge and Right Release to be developed to destroy them. This shows that the destruction of different kinds of asava is fundamental to Buddhist training and that it is therapeutic in character in prescribing remedial measures.

So much so that the monk who is proficient in the practice leading to a sure course to Nibbana has three means for the destruction of asava. i. He keeps watch over the doors of his sense faculties, ii. He is moderate in eating, iii. He is given to watchfulness. The imagery of healer and medicine with reference to the Buddha and the doctrine has been illustrated by Pingiyani to Karnapalin in an alluring phraseology. He says: "Just sir, as a clever physician might in a moment take away the sickness of one sick and ailing, grievously ill, even so sir, whenever one hears the master Gotama's dhamma, grief, lamentation, suffering, sorrow and despair vanish."

Let alone the dhamma, sometimes the vinaya also has been compared to medicine. Nagasena in the Milindapanha draws the comparison between the levying of the disciplinary rules by the Buddha and administration of medicine by a physician in order to bring out the fact that the Buddha is a physician par excellence.

The aspect of prescribing medicines for physical ailments and the concern depicted in regard to hygiene and sanitation of the community of monks are also sometimes mentioned to describe the Buddha as a healer. In the vinaya one whole chapter has been devoted to medicine and different kinds of afflictions. Medical practitioners have been consulted and medications in vogue at the time have been prescribed for sick monks with utmost concern within the limits of the obligations of the monkhood.

In an article : SIGNIFICANCE OF PARITTA, the Ven HAMMALAVA SADDHATISSA SANGHA NAYAKE OF THE UK has stated : In countries where Theravada Buddhism is practised, the recital of PARITTA especially when people are sick is well known, because it's efficacy to give mental solace. Embodied in Paritta is the asservation of truth, which can ward off certain types of sickness. The recital of Paritta can also bring about prosperity, and wade off evil from those reborn as "shades" (Peta) in the ghostly realms. The word Paritta first occurs in the Cullavagga and the Anguttara Nikaye in connection with the Khandha-paritta as a protection for oneself. The Girimananda Sutta, contains a list of ailments, and constitutes a meditation on the impurity of the body taught by the the by the Buddha to Ven Ananda for the benefit of Girimananda, who was grievously sick. The sounds of Paritta chanting does have a vibrating, mind penetrating effect on the listerner. It is the power of truth, and of love which is limitless that wards off evil influence, heals diseases and promotes good health. The Buddha said, "The truth protects him who lives by it".


The Bactrian king, King Menader (2nd century B.C.) argued with the monk, Nagasena, that if the Buddha said,"Not in the sky, not in the ocean's midst Not in the most secluded mountain cleft Not in the whole wide world is found a spot where remaining one could escape the snare of death, then the pariTTas like Ratana, Khandha, Mora, Dhajagga, Atanatiya, and AnguliMala prescribed by the Buddha for the protection of those in danger must be useless. If the paritta ceremony is not useless, then the Buddha's statement that there is no escape from death must be false.

To this Nagasena replied, "Paritta verses, O King, are meant for those who have some portion of their life to run. There is no ceremony or artifical means for prolonging the life of one whose allotted span of life has come to an end. And there are three reasons for the failure of paritta: the obstruction caused by past kamma, the obstruction caused by present defilements, and the obstruction caused by lack of faith (Confidence in the dhamma). That which is a protection to beings, its power through faults of those beings own making."


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