Doctors and their faiths

Buddhism : KaPo 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 aspectsof my life. Buddha Sakyamuni’s wisdom gives me insight about mycareer.

Buddha Sakayamuni
Buddha Sakayamuni is the Buddha of the currentera. He was neither god nor prophet. He was born around 500 BCas the son of a small princely family on the southern bordersof what is now called Nepal . He was born as a human being butachieved enlightenment aged 35 and then became Buddha. After thattime, for the next 45 years, Buddha’s life consisted of preachingaround the area of the mid-Ganges. He had many followers. Sincethat time Buddhism has become established in the world. Buddhameans the enlightened one, but also has another meaning: the greatlord of healing. This means that Buddha’s teaching centres onhow to deal with human suffering and how to take care of humansorrow so, in effect, he worked in the same way as a doctor. Thisis the reason why I wanted to be a doctor. I can take care ofmy patients, not just their physical illness but also their mindandspirit.

For a Buddhist the ultimate goal is to becomeBuddha 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 usto learn how to practise his teaching in our daily lives. By becominga Buddhist I believe I have acquired wisdom that is independentfrom the external environment. Through practice I may become Buddhain thefuture.

There are many ways to practise Buddhism. We can choose the methods that are most suitable for ourselves so you don’t haveto 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 humanlives.

Everything is interlinked
Buddha told us that the reason for a lot ofour suffering is that we do not understand ourselves. We don’trealise the real connection and relations between ourselves andsociety. We don’t understand the cause and causal principle orrealise that everything arises from conditions and is not separateor independent. So instead we live in our own world of delusionespecially the view of permanence and self. This gives rise tobad judgments and inappropriate actions. This can lead to thesuffering of others, including wars and damaging and pollutingour environment. Doctors, patients, health systems, and societiesare all interlinked. According to Buddha’s wisdom, we can knoweach other better, solve conflicts, and have insights about thefuture. We can have better relationships between doctors and patients,and less litigation will occur. We can develop a system that canbenefit 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 tocultivate our bodhicitta in order to attain enlightenment. Bodhicittameans the wisdom-mind or wisdom-heart. It is the aspiration ofa Bodhisattva for supreme enlightenment for the benefit of allmankind. One of the methods to practise bodhicitta is “treat othersas yourselves.” If we can “think” ourselves into other people’ssituations we can understand each other better. As doctors, weoften treat the illness but not the patient. If we can put ourselvesin our patients’ situation and imagine what it would be like forus if we got ill, we will be able understand our patients moreand so treat thembetter.

When we do good to others we feel happy and satisfied. From Buddha’s viewpoint, in order to achieve enlightenment we haveto be kind and show charity to all beings. Buddha told us thatwhen we benefit others we also benefitourselves.

Ethical considerations
As an obstetrician and gynaecologist, I seehow lives begin and end. Buddhism respects life, not just humanbeings but all beings. We save life by all means and we neverkill for any reason. In the Buddhist view life begins when theegg is fertilised so there is no reason and no excuse for abortionin Buddhism’s view. Thanks to my colleagues who respect my faithI never have to perform an abortion. Contraception is not forbiddenin Buddhism, but the method is of concern to us. For example,an intrauterine contraceptive device works by killing the fertilisedegg and prevents implantation. We try to help infertile couplesin all sorts of ways but object to genetic selection if this entailskilling lives. We are against experiments on human zygotes becausewe regard these aslives.

Although Buddha Sakayamuni died like all humanbeings, Buddhists believe that he entered the state of Nirvana.Nirvana means liberation from a cyclical existence. From the Mahayanaview, it also means the fruition of life and the unfolding ofinfinite possibilities in the innate nature of Buddha. When Buddhaleft his human life he was free from physical suffering and hismind and spirit were setfree.

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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