Health is the Greatest Gain

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We are born into this world as human beings. We grow up and now we can see things and we can do things, both physical and mental. We all like to enjoy life using our five senses. We like to see beautiful things, hear pleasing voices, smell fine fragrances, taste appetizing foods, feel pleasing bodily sensations, and mentally, we like to maintain happy thoughts. Often, when we get sick, we can’t enjoy some of these perceptions. Whether we become mentally or physically sick, either can prevent us from enjoying these sensory pleasures.  However, mental sickness has a more powerful effect than physical sickness. If we become mentally sick, it can become a cause for physical sickness also.

In general, people think the body is more powerful than the mind. This is because around the world mundane people who don’t develop their minds think that the body is powerful. However, our human mind is more powerful than our body. To prove this idea, we can get some examples from Buddha’s life stories. According to the Buddhist literature, the Buddha had maintained mindfulness throughout his whole life, even before becoming the Buddha. During his self-mortification period, he suffered unbelievable body pain, but he never lost his mindfulness, he continuously stayed with his practice.  Just seeing only this story, we can understand that a person who develops his mind can tolerate whichever bodily pain.  It does not affect his mental health. And if Siddhartha had been mentally ill, he would never have fulfilled his wish to become Buddha.

According to the Buddha’s explanation, there are 1,500 defilements that arise in our mind belonging to mental disease. These defilements are arising in our mind in different ways–like some who have money think they can obtain everything that they need, those who have physical power think the same, also those who have political power think the same, and so on. In addition, when somebody becomes mentally ill, they destroy their present life and the next life also because of their illness. A simple example might be of deceitful people telling lies out of pride or arrogance. This can lead to them destroying their present life and also accumulating unwholesome kamma by their lies. Not only this, they also destroy the whole world for their comfort.

People can become intoxicated because of their youth, wealth, power, beauty, and their education.The intoxication can lead them to do unwholesome and unacceptable things, inhuman things.  Because of those activities, they will no longer be able to enjoy peace, nor will their society. These things happen because of mental illness, and they are dangerous. That is how mental sickness can be more serious than physical sickness.

We live governed by our mind. Our mind is the most powerful part of our being. All our volitional activities are initiated in our mind; therefore, we have to guard and maintain good mental health and take intentional measures to live without mental illness.  If we clear our mind and recover from mental ill-health, we can live well and happily in society, and will keep our distance from bad and unwholesome behavior. We will be able to keep to good, wholesome behavior.  A clear mind is calm, and that calm helps us to concentrate.  We cannot reach wisdom and understanding without the ability to concentrate. If we don’t have peace in our minds, we are not able to see clearly and think deeply and widely. The Buddha said, “There is no wisdom without concentration; no concentration without wisdom, who has both concentration and wisdom he or she is close to peace and emancipation” (Dhammapada).

Here is a story to illustrate the value of a healthy mind. There were two doctors in a certain village in Southern Sri Lanka, both in private practice. One doctor became angry because the other doctor was more popular among the people of the village. Many more people went to the other doctor for their treatment and for this reason the first doctor became jealous. He saw that doctor as a rival and therefore devised a plan to destroy him. He met with a group of gangsters and arranged a deal with them to kill the doctor, which they carried out. In their investigation, the police discovered these facts and took the doctor into custody. He eventually confessed and was imprisoned. From this story we can see that it was jealousy and greed that caused the doctor to become mentally ill. Because of his jealousy and greed, he destroyed the other doctor and also destroyed himself. That is why becoming mentally ill can be very dangerous.

Here is another story. There was a garment factory manager who married a teacher and had two children.  He began an affair with another woman and was determined to marry her. He planned to kill his wife and two children and carried out their murders.  Police investigations revealed all this information about him. At his trial he pleaded guilty and he was given a life-sentence in prison.  Because of his lustful desire, he ruined his whole life, lost his wife and children, and also lost the object of his desire. He reduced his life from one of joy and promise to one of suffering in prison and hard labor. This situation he created by himself because of his unwholesome thoughts entertained in mind.

Good health was a central concern of the Buddha. The Buddha said, ‘Health is the highest gain, contentment is the greatest wealth, the trusted are the best relatives and friends, and enlightenment is the highest bliss.’ (Dhammapada). We have lost all these benefits in our life due to Corona viruses. This is not someone else’s mistake: All these happened because of the undeveloped crazy human mind.

There was an occasion when one of the Buddha’s disciples, Venerable Girimananda, was severely ill with disease and in great pain. The Buddha sent another disciple to visit Girimananda with a message of advice.  In the discourse he relayed to Girimananda, the Buddha explained the nature of mental and physical sicknesses, the causes for these sicknesses, and how to recover from these sicknesses. This could be the oldest document on record to speak about these medical conditions that were common during the Buddha’s time where he lived and traveled. He explained,

“This body has many pains, many drawbacks. In this body many kinds of disease arise, such as: seeing-diseases, hearing-diseases, nose-diseases, tongue-diseases, body-diseases, head-diseases, ear-diseases, mouth-diseases, teeth-diseases, cough, asthma, catarrh, fever, aging, stomach-ache, fainting, dysentery, grippe, cholera, leprosy, boils, ringworm, tuberculosis, epilepsy, skin-disease, itch, scab, psoriasis, scabies, jaundice, diabetes, hemorrhoids, fistulas, ulcers; diseases arising from bile, from phlegm, from the wind-property, from combinations of bodily humors, from changes in the weather, from uneven care of the body, from attacks, from the result of kamma; cold, heat, hunger, thirst, defecation, urination.” In another place the Buddha said this body is a house for all sicknesses. As a person who can think, has responsibility to take care of this body without giving opportunity for any sickness.

To recover from his illness, the Buddha advised Girimananda to be mindful and to contemplate ten specific perceptions, upon which he would be completely cured of his disease. Those were the perceptions of inconsistency, of absence of a permanent self, of unattractiveness, of disadvantage, of abandonment, of dispassion, of cessation, of distaste for the whole world, of impermanence of all component things, and of mindfulness of in-and-out breathing.

People are ignorant of the reality of this body and the world. Consequently, they are prepared to do many coldhearted things. We sometimes find parents who don’t understand their children and children who don’t understand their parents, teachers who don’t understand their students and students who don’t understand their teachers. Sometimes people lack confidence in others.  Humans commit many crimes–burglaries, robberies, rape, human and animal rights violations, environmental violations, and so on. All these things we do because of mental and physical illness.  We can’t properly enjoy the benefits of our human life in this world if we are suffering from illness. We destroyed the nature; we worked against the natural law. Every volitional action has a reaction. Even though we are not too late yet, let’s work together to get liberated from suffering. Be mindful, practice loving-friendliness, and be kind. To fight present challenges, we should sharpen up our mind, cleaning it from defilements. An uncontaminated mind always bonds with wholesome thoughts, wholesome thoughts generate wholesome action. Practicing generosity, observing morality, cultivating the mind, we can develop our wholesomeness. This would be the path for happiness and wellness. Our lives are short and fleeting, so we have to work to fulfill duties and responsibilities as human beings. This is the best time to focus on the inside instead of the outside. May we all be well, happy and peaceful. Heedfulness is the path to the deathless. Heedlessness is the path to death. The heedful die not. The heedless act as if they are dead already.

Bhante Ethkandawaka Saddhajeewa (PhD)

Vice President, Bhavana Society, West Virginia

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