Buddhism, Spirituality

Dhamma and Sickness: Mid-season Blog

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What has the Dhamma been teaching me lately? That we all get sick!

“What is the advantage of often reviewing this: ‘I am liable to get sick, I am not exempt from sickness’? There are sentient beings who, drunk on the vanity of health, do bad things by way of body, speech, and mind. Reviewing this subject often, they entirely give up the vanity of health, or at least reduce it. This is the advantage of often reviewing this: ‘I am liable to get sick, I am not exempt from sickness’.” – AN 5.57, Subjects for Regular Review

In this passage, the Buddha reminds us not to take our good health for granted and be snoot about it. Why not use our health to carry out the Dhamma, improve our spiritual lives, and release ourselves? If we cannot avoid old age, disease, death, and separation… then we can learn how to deal with them skillfully.

That’s for sure. A terrible Portuguese bug bit me right where it hurts… and took me out for nearly two weeks. Immunity in a new community was something I never even considered. Ever since childhood, I can’t remember a time in adult life where I was so sick. Was it the flu? I may never know, but I was definitely the sickest person in the village where I live, and I wondered how the elderly were coping if it even hit a young, vibrant, me so hard.

Vegan diet for 15 years? Check.
Running everyday? Check.
Vehemently no alcohol or drugs? Check.
Never have been sick more than three days in adulthood? Check.

Yet, this new microbial community had its way with me and sent a virus along with a fever and wiped my productivity completely off the map as if it never existed. In my most human way, all I could think about were the things that I couldn’t do and how terrible my body and mind felt. I was as vulnerable as a new-born, emotionally, too!

However, I’m back in action. The spring is back in my step as I took a 9km run this morning, because, miraculously, my lungs are able to breathe again! For this, I have to thank God.

This made me reflect on the fact that we all get sick, regardless of our physical health or age, and we have to come to terms that our bodies and minds are constantly changing phases. We should enjoy a healthy composition while we have one and practice the Dhamma so that, when we become ill, we can deal with it without so much suffering.

Sickness also reminded me to take care of others when they are sick: to cheer them up, ask if they need anything, bring food and drinks, and make them feel loved with a simple presence. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, for example, the dying are cared for deeply at the time of death so that they may make a smooth transition and have better mental states rather than being left alone: scared or confused at what will happen next.

Being sick also teaches us patience… our expectations of ourselves have to become lowered as we recover; we can also find time to meditate, pray, or reflect on the impermanence of our state and take solace in the fact that we, like every other being on the planet, must endure pain and sickness from time to time. Also, if our spouse or friend or child gets sick, we must be patient with them – I noticed how short-tempered I was and how my husband snapped my rope more than a few times… which, in turn, made him snap his rope right back at me! Ouch.

And, sickness is like a precursor to death — an unavoidable fate we will all endure. We can come to terms with this through our own reflections on our sicknesses, whether serious or acute, like mild hallucinations of preparation for the afterlife.

Check out the Buddha’s advice on all things sickness here.

Now that your hostess is healthy, we can continue our podcast… new episodes are already in the works! We’ll speak soon and Om, friends.

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