Buddhists’ religious beliefs with regard to health and healthcare
Buddhism is considered as both a philosophy and a religion involving a number of practices, beliefs and traditions based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, commonly referred to as Buddha – “the awakened one”. Buddha, who lived in the northeastern part of India in the 6th and the 4th centuries BCE, taught about dukkha (helping the sentient beings escape suffering), achievement of nirvana as well as about escaping what Buddhists believe, is the cycle of suffering and rebirth. The religion has got two branches – the Theravada and the Mahayana (Coward & Rattanakun, 1999).
While these two branches enjoy a widespread following across Asian countries, Buddhism has grown tremendously over the centuries and can now be found in every part of the world. Considered one of the world largest religions, the current estimates by different sources put the followers of Buddha at about 1. 5 to 1. 6 billion people.
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The understanding of ill health by westerners and Buddhists is similar but the latter group lays more emphasis on having a balance interaction between the body and the mind and also between life and the environment as the source of good health.
According to Buddhists, when this balance is upset, illness would arise. In correcting such imbalances, the Buddhists’ practices stress the need for a spiritual strength couple with an overriding sense of purpose in life which is based on a compassionate service for others (Coward & Rattanakun, 1999). According to Buddhists, this does not only make it possible for a person to create value even when faced with the severest of adversities like sickness or disease but enables one to learn from the experience for his or her personal growth.
Since Buddhists believe in rebirth, human birth is considered as the start of a highly precious opportunity. To them, it is a unique occurrence since it presents an opportunity for the full development of human mind as well as realization of the compassion. With regard to conception, Buddhists believe that a child is conceived when consciousness merges with an already fertilized egg. It is then therefore that life begins. It is for this that Buddhists permit birth control methods that prevent conception but prohibit abortion. Death in Buddhism is an important occurrence and is viewed as a transition to the next life.
A lot of spiritual energy is devoted to death and there are practices that must be observed to provide peace for the dying people. According to the Buddhists, death occurs in stages which involve disintegration of life’s physical elements into various subtle elements which culminates into the disappearance of the consciousness from the body (Coward & Rattanakun, 1999). Because when a person dies peacefully he or she would have high chances of a better rebirth, Buddhists strive to composed and calm the mind of the dying person through prayers and some special texts.
Buddhism is a religion full of rituals that are geared towards promoting health. The Theravada Buddhists are known to burn the bodies of the dead. Because the body of the Buddha was cremated, this group of Buddhists practices this ritual in every part of the world. When a person is dying, monks are invited to comfort him or her. Prayers and verses are said to them to prepare them for their peaceful death. The bodies are then burn upon death (Coward & Rattanakun, 1999). A major conflict between Buddhism religious beliefs and the popular medical culture is on the bioethical decision making.
While Buddhists uphold life and consider it sacred and therefore everyone should continue to live as much as possible, they do not believed that this should be promoted at all cost (Coward & Rattanakun, 1999). For example, Buddhists have little regard for the life support machines which they consider useless when the mind is no longer conscious. Being conscious and feeling less pain are the two basic factors that determine when a person should die according to Buddhists. Once the conditions are extreme, Buddhists believed that it would be appropriate to die and therefore a natural and peaceful death would be much in order.
In conclusion, it is clear that the views on health by Buddhists and the modern medicine are quite incompatible. However, they can be used to complement each other. An understating of the Buddhists’ perspective on health and healthcare may serve to widen the scope of the modern medicine through adoption of the rich philosophies of Buddhists on health and life. References Coward, H. G. & Rattanakun, P. eds (1999). A cross-cultural dialogue on health care ethics, Wilfrid Laurier University Press: Toronto.