Buddhist Era 2549 Poson Second Quarter - Tuesday June 28, 2005
Health is wealth
By Somapala Arandara
“Arogya parama labha” is a beautiful saying uttered by the Buddha. This epigram is of universal acclaim and contains everlasting wisdom and usefulness. This may be a bit strange or awkward to the young ones as they may not have the necessity or talent to understand the Prime Truth behind it, or as they have just begun their inquisitive life full of senses and yet to inquire into the dark side of real suffering in life and may not be interested or able to improve their minds with abstract things.
The above quotation means health is wealth. In order to realize the importance of those words one must try to investigate it in relation to other aspects of life. An ambitious person may, for example feel that the purpose of life is none other than making money or accumulating wealth, or social status gained through wealth or otherwise. One who is deeply driven by vendetta may think that the motive of his life depends on taking revenge from his enemies. But when such a person falls ill, what he longs for over all other things is his immediate recovery.
According to the Buddha’s teaching, Bhikkhus, the propagators of His doctrine, are to refrain from having solid meals in the evening. The bare truth behind this commandment is the upkeep of good health. This can easily be understood when we think of its relevance to medical advice given to victims, for example, of hypertension (high blood pressure) or diabetes that they should have a light diet at night. The Buddha has preached it long ago. One who takes a light diet at night enjoys sound sleep which in turn tends to promote good health.
Vital factor Moreover, taking wholesome food is a vital factor in one’s good health. It is found in catechetical form in Buddhist scriptures in reply to the question: What is the one principle of life? The answer to it is “Food is the sustenance of all beings”. “Sabbe sattha aharatthithika” (All living beings subsist on food). So it is emphasized in Buddhism that edible food is the vital nutriment sustaining life. If we follow this teaching, we can lead useful and healthy lives to the betterment of society we live in.
The basis of good health is three-pronged: (i) Physical upkeep by means of edible food as explained above which should also be taken proportionately. For example, on one occasion, King Pasenadi Kosala was subject to much discomfort by over-eating. The Buddha advised him to be moderate in eating:
“Middhi yada hoti mahagghaso ca -
Mahavaraho’va nivapaputtho -
Punappunain gabbham upeti mando -”
The stupid one, when he is torpid gluttonous, sleepy, rolls about lying like a great hog nourished on pig-wash goes to rebirth again and again - Dhammapada V. 325 Ven, Narada Thera). Today, while there is excessive eating in affluent societies, lack of food reigns supreme in the Third World countries like Ethiopia. Profit-seeking manufacturers of food items display numerous advertisements on the television, to our dismay. And foolish followers indulging in those foods perish as a result of various ailments resulting from over-eating.
Secondly, one should strive hard to be in good health by way of mental harmony. For that matter, one should give up harbouring illwill, hatred, jealousy etc. in order to have balance of mind: Manasa ce padutthena tato nain dukkhamanveti cakkam’va vahato padain”. (If one speaks or acts with wicked mind, because of that, suffering follows one, even as the wheel follows the hoof of the draught-ox.) Thirdly, one ought to cultivate moral habits like refraining from adultery and so on in order to live a peaceful and contented life because immoral conduct gives rise to ill-health and the resultant loss of wealth, ill-will, emaciation of body with a lack-lustre look, illrepute and the like.
The Buddha, one day showed His Bhikkhus at Savatthi the value of keeping good health by example. This instance is oft - quoted to instil a sense of attending on patients too. There was a senior monk called Tissa at the monastery at Sawatthi. He was critically ill with sores all over his body full of pus oozing from them (hence, the name Putigattatissa Thera), so much so that even the student Bhikkhus gave up attending on him. On surveying the world, one morning, out of His loving - kindness, the Buddha saw the plight of Tissa Thera full of merit to become an Arhant but incapable of attaining that state due to his suffering. He could not concentrate his mind since he was in a coma-like condition. So the Buddha boiled a pot of water in the kitchen and tried to carry the bed with Tissa Thera on it. Soon other Bhikkhus volunteered to carry it out. Thereafter, the Buddha Himself washed the body of Tissa Thera and the ailing monk got some relief temporarily, meditated and soon became an Arhant. But, he passed away immediately after, consequent to the expiry of his Karma. This story makes it clear that even a potential person cannot attain Arhantship because of ill-health.
One can keep his body and dress clean; one can have a moral conduct, and one can meditate. But all these things are possible only if one lives in good health in a clean surrounding. Nowadays, we see millions of rupees spent on advertisements in electronic and print media in order to advice the public on various preventive measures to be taken to check the spread of epidemics like Dengue and Malaria. Many victims die of these diseases.
What is the root cause of all these diseases? Negligence of duty of the authorities concerned coupled with uncleanly habits or unhygienic style of seemingly high living standards! We find stacks of litter and clogged drains everywhere which are breeding-grounds for numerous kinds of flies and mosquitoes which spread germs freely. If authorities, particularly those in the fields of Local Government, Health Education and Industry are consistent in maintaining the dayto-day clearance programs of garbage and other waste matter properly and punctually, much of the money wasted on advertisement and treatment of victims can be saved. A clean environment is a sinequa-non of good health.