Disease and Healing

Ajaan Lee

Disease and Healing

There are two ways in which diseases can arise in our bodies:

  1. Physical causes (dhātu-samuṭṭhāna).

  2. Kammic causes (kamma-samuṭṭhāna).

  3. Physical causes:
    Physically caused diseases are those that come about through disorders in the five physical properties (dhātu)—

a. Earth: the solid parts of the body, such as bones, muscles, skin, etc.
b. Water: the liquid parts, such as saliva, mucus, blood, etc.
c. Fire: the warmth in the body.
d. Wind: forces that move back and forth through the body, such as the breath.
e. Space: the empty spaces that lie throughout the body, through which the various elements of the body mingle and interact. These include such things as the ear canal, the nasal passages, the mouth, the pores of the skin, etc.

When these properties become upset or unbalanced, they provide one sort of opening for disease to arise, called dhātu-samuṭṭhāna.

  1. Kammic causes:
    Kammic diseases are those that arise from kamma-citta, or acts of the mind, in which the mind becomes preoccupied with various upsetting or unwanted topics. As we think more and more of these things, our mental energy weakens, our mind gets upset or unbalanced, and ultimately disease can arise.

There are two ways of curing disease—but before treating our diseases, we should first examine ourselves to see how they came about so that we’ll be in a better position to cure them.

The two ways of curing disease are through—

  1. Pharmaceutical medicines:
    medicines that are composed of various chemical ingredients that will bring the properties of our body back into balance so that our pain and diseases will lessen or go away.

  2. Dhamma medicine:
    depending on ourselves to improve ourselves, turning our minds to topics that are good, skillful, and wise.

For example, we may make a vow to do good in any number of ways, such as donating food to monks in such and such a manner, becoming ordained and observing precepts of such and such a sort, sponsoring the making of a Buddha image of such and such a variety, or saying our chants and meditating in such and such a way.

In some cases, when a good intention arises in the heart and we feel happy and expansive, it gives energy to the heart and inner strength to the body, through which we can alleviate any diseases that have arisen.

Some additional food for thought for sick people and the doctors who treat them:

Our duty when we are sick is to examine ourselves to find out the causes of our disease. If we aren’t capable of knowing on our own, we should search out those who are and who will give us advice.

For example, they may tell us that the kind of disease we have should be treated with pharmaceutical medicine. We should then contact a doctor so that he or she will have a chance to relieve our pain.

Once we’ve received advice from the doctor, we have two duties:

  1. Follow the doctor’s instructions.
  2. Give the doctor complete freedom to treat us as he or she sees fit.

We shouldn’t concern ourselves with whether we’ll recover or die. That’s the doctor’s responsibility.

Our one responsibility is to look after our mind—to free our mind from the disease and to turn our thoughts to good and skillful topics so as to strengthen our morale as a way of helping the doctor who’s looking after our disease.

When doctor and patient help each other in this way, neither will be a burden to the other. The doctor has freedom in treating our body; we have freedom in the area of the mind, and so we’ll have a chance to lessen our suffering.

Even if we die, both we and the doctor will have been working to the full extent of our abilities, the doctor caring for our body while we care for the mind.

Even if we die, we don’t lose; we’ll have our own inner goodness to take along with us.

This reflection by Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo is from the Thai Forest Ajaans book, A Handbook for the Relief of Suffering : Three Essays by Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo, “”Part I: For the Relief of Suffering.”