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On Health and Long Life
By Soka Gakkai
World Tribune PressCopyright © 2016 Soka Gakkai
All rights reserved.
Learning From Illness
SGI President Ikeda: Making the twenty-first century a century of life — this was a central theme of my dialogue with Dr. Linus Pauling (1901–94), an eminent American scientist and the recipient of Nobel Prizes in chemistry and peace. In our discussions, he described a century of life as "a century in which greater attention will be paid to human beings and their happiness and health." This has indeed become the focus of the present age.
Dr. Shosaku Narumi: The ethical implications of new medical technologies that challenge the very definition of life — organ transplants, in vitro fertilization, gene therapy, and cloning — have become an extremely important subject of discussion today. Moreover, there is a growing focus among people on health and how to live a long and fulfilling life.
Dr. Chiaki Nishiyama: According to a recent Yomiuri Shimbun survey (October 28, 2005), books on such subjects as health, medicine, welfare, and pensions are the most popular with Japanese readers today. This clearly reflects the concerns of a graying population.
Dr. Yoichi Uehigashi: Government statistics indicate that this year (2005), the total number of Japanese ages sixty-five and over now encompasses 20 percent of the population. In ten years, one in four Japanese will be in this category.
Ikeda: In addition to improvements in diet and sanitation, advances in medicine have contributed greatly to this trend.
Narumi: But with an aging population also come the issues of medically assisted death and the right to die with dignity. As average life expectancy increases, the more crucial it becomes to find ways to spend the final chapter of our lives in a healthy and fulfilling way. For these reasons, humankind is being forced to face fundamental questions about death and what it means to lead a genuinely meaningful life.
Ikeda: Birth, aging, sickness, and death — these are the inescapable realities of life. They are the most pressing issues in life and eternal questions facing humanity. I have already discussed Buddhism and life, health, and medicine from many different perspectives, but the fact is that these issues are the central themes of our time and examining them is becoming increasingly important. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to discuss them more deeply with members of the doctors division, who play such a pivotal role in this century of health and life.
Nishiyama, Narumi, and Uehigashi: We look forward to it.
Nishiyama: Confronting these issues with our patients on a daily basis, we also have many questions we'd like to ask you about the Buddhist perspective on birth, aging, sickness, and death.
Ikeda: Please ask anything you'd like. Let's conduct this discussion in an informal, relaxed manner — not like a lecture, but as if we were taking a stroll together down a tree-lined avenue.
Shakyamuni's Lesson for a Grieving Mother
Ikeda: One of the Buddhist scriptures tells the story of a woman who lost her beloved child to illness. Distraught with grief, she carried her child's little body through the city, begging everyone she met to give her some medicine that would bring her child back to life.
One of those to whom she spoke took pity on her and told her to go visit Shakyamuni. When she presented herself before the Buddha, he said that he had something that would cure her child. He then instructed her to go into town and collect a pinch of white mustard seed from any home there. The only condition was that the mustard seed must come from a house in which there had never been a death.
The mother hurried back to the town and went from door to door asking for the mustard seed. She was determined to find it no matter what. But of course, there was no house in the entire city in which no one had died.
Eventually, she understood: death comes to everyone. She was not alone in her sorrow. And so she became a follower of Shakyamuni.
Uehigashi: Shakyamuni wished to impart the message to her that she was not the only mother to lose a child. Most people had in fact experienced the death of a loved one, but had overcome their grief to go on living.
Ikeda: How should we lead our lives, impermanent and constantly changing as they are, in such a way as to transform them into existences of eternity, happiness, true self, and purity? This question was the starting point of Shakyamuni's quest, and it is the challenge of Buddhism to answer it.
The core issues of birth, aging, sickness, and death are therefore the main focus of Buddhism, which teaches a way to fundamentally resolve the problems presented therein.
All Existence Undergoes the Eternal Cycle of Birth and Death
Narumi: The inexorable law of birth, aging, sickness, and death is not restricted to human beings.
Ikeda: Plants, animals, and all things existing in the universe undergo these four stages, following a cycle of formation, continuance, decline, and disintegration. Birth, aging, sickness, and death are not simply a problem for the individual; they are issues that affect all existence at the most fundamental level. In that sense, when we speak of creating a century of life and health, we are also speaking of creating a century of the earth and the universe.
Furthermore, as Nichiren writes, "No phenomena — either heaven or earth, yin or yang, the sun or the moon, the five planets, or any of the worlds from hell to Buddhahood — are free from the two phases of life and death" (WND-1, 216). Buddhism views birth, aging, sickness, and death from many perspectives — not only on the level of the individual, but also on the cosmic level, and across the three existences of past, present, and future.
Uehigashi: The renowned British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle (1915–2001), with whom you engaged in a dialogue (in 1991), also noted that there are two perspectives on the birth, growth, and death of the universe. Some believe that this process takes place just once, while others hold that it is a repeating cycle.
The Women's Perspective on Health is Indispensable
Ikeda: If I may change the subject, I have heard, Dr. Nishiyama, that your father and grandfather were both physicians. Your grandfather, I understand, ran a private practice in Hiroshima, where he treated many of the victims of the atomic bomb.
Nishiyama: Yes. I was five at the time. My grandfather didn't want me to see the terrible condition of the patients, so he forbade me to go to his office. But one day I snuck a peek at the patients waiting for treatment in the courtyard separating the main building and the examination room. They all sat there with dazed expressions. I felt I had seen something I shouldn't have, and I suddenly grew very afraid.
I have never forgotten that scene, which is probably the reason I decided to enter the field of medicine.
Ikeda: You became the first doctors division women's leader this year , Dr. Nishiyama. Women are playing an increasingly important role in every arena in society. The perspective of women is particularly indispensable with regard to the century of health. I hope you will do your best.
Dr. Narumi, have you had any personal death-related experience?
Narumi: When I was a junior high school student, I was suspected of having a bone infection, and I had an operation on my arm. That was the first time I ever thought seriously about death.
After that, I entered Soka High School, where I learned from you, the school's founder, the importance of devoting oneself to something for ten years and gaining mastery in it. Making this my personal guideline, I gave my all to my studies, resolved to contribute to society as a physician who cherishes and cares for each patient.
Since becoming a doctor, I have felt it is my responsibility to help not only my patients but also their family members deal with the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death.
Ikeda: Now as of November 2005, there are 310 Soka school alumni active in the field of medicine, including those still in medical school. Soka alumni are demonstrating great proof of victory in every area of society. As the schools' founder, nothing makes me happier or prouder.
The Importance of Doctor-Patient Communication
Ikeda: Dr. Uehigashi, you are in charge of the doctors division Health Counseling Center, aren't you?
Uehigashi: When the Soka Youth Physicians Conference was established in the doctors division twelve years ago (in 1993), we discussed what practical action we could take as physicians and came up with the idea of a Health Counseling Center. In the health field, good communication between physicians and patients is extremely important, but there are still many unresolved issues in this regard. Our aim was to help alleviate patients' worries and concerns and make a contribution to our communities and society at large.
Ikeda: In Buddhism, compassion means to free one from suffering and bring joy (see OTT, 173). It is important to listen to people's fears and problems about birth, aging, sickness, and death and respond sensitively, as well as to encourage them confidently. This is what it means to be a compassionate doctor, and I believe this is the mission of the doctors division.
Uehigashi: I will do my utmost to impart hope and comfort to my patients.
Nishiyama: Come to think of it, the Buddha is said to have "few ills and few worries" (LSOC, 254). I wonder if that means he never caught colds!
Ikeda: Apparently he did catch colds. There's a record of him having taken medicine for it. Once when Shakyamuni caught a cold, his physician, the great healer Jivaka, combined thirty-two different medicinal ingredients with refined milk and instructed Shakyamuni to take a dosage of about sixteen ounces per day.
Nishiyama: Jivaka is also known for having stood up to Devadatta.
Ikeda: That's true. He also remonstrated with King Ajatashatru, an oppressive ruler who was influenced by the cunning Devadatta.
Devadatta learned that Shakyamuni had received medicine from Jivaka, and, out of his sense of rivalry with Shakyamuni, he decided to do the same even though he wasn't sick. So he ordered Jivaka to prepare medicine for him as well. Devadatta was very arrogant and deeply envied Shakyamuni. Jivaka prepared the same medicine for Devadatta, but warned him to take only two ounces of it. Devadatta, however, was determined to take as much of the medicine as Shakyamuni had. Jivaka warned him that his body was different from Shakyamuni's, and he would suffer severe side effects if he took the larger dose.
But Devadatta would not be dissuaded and, declaring that his body was exactly like Shakyamuni's, took the same amount. He immediately felt sharp pains in his joints and fell ill. He was suffering so terribly that he screamed and writhed in agony.
Narumi: The point of this episode, in my opinion, is not so much the importance of taking the prescribed dosage but to strictly reproach the evil of Devadatta's envy and arrogance.
Ikeda: I agree. The story continues that Shakyamuni then took pity on Devadatta's suffering and stroked his head. In an instant, the pain stopped and Devadatta felt better.
This anecdote reveals the extreme degree of Devadatta's envy of Shakyamuni. Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda often used to warn that Devadatta was ruled by jealousy and intense rivalry. In sad proof of this, Devadatta's response to Shakyamuni's aid was not to be grateful but to declare that he would study medicine himself and get his revenge.
Nishiyama: Unfortunately, ingratitude and jealousy are not uncommon to our world today.
Never Underestimate the Symptoms of a Cold
Ikeda: Getting back to the subject of colds, they say that a cold may lead to all kinds of illnesses.
Uehigashi: In an ancient Chinese medical text, it is written: "Wind is the cause of many illnesses. Once it penetrates the body, its nature is dynamic and changeable, and it has many pathological manifestations." That is probably the source of the belief that colds are the starting point of many other diseases.
Narumi: "Wind" here refers to "pathogenic wind," the Chinese characters of which mean "cold" in Japanese. In traditional Chinese medicine, there are six external factors or conditions, such as certain types of climate, that are considered to lead to disease. One of these is pathogenic wind. Because this factor spreads quickly, like the wind, it is thought to combine readily with other pathogenic influences to contribute to the manifestation of many diseases.
Ikeda: I see. Thank you for explaining that.
Uehigashi: Colds can trigger other illnesses, such as pneumonia, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), and nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys). It's especially important to take care when we are weakened by a prolonged cold.
Nishiyama: Another danger is to mistake fever, cough, or other symptoms as indicating a cold when they might point to something more serious.
Narumi: The first stages of pulmonary tuberculosis, lung cancer, pleurisy, collagen disease, acute kidney infection, influenza, and many other illnesses are also characterized by fever and cough.
Ikeda: In other words, we should never take cold symptoms too lightly.
Uehigashi: Doctors also need to be careful not to overlook other possibilities when examining patients with cold symptoms.
Sickness Shows Us What We Are
Ikeda: Nichiren writes, "If you try to treat someone's illness without knowing its cause, you will only make the person sicker than before" (WND-1, 774). Doctors bear a heavy responsibility. At the same time, we patients must also look after ourselves. When we catch a cold, it's important that we examine our lifestyle to identify why we caught it and find the ultimate cause.
Uehigashi: Lack of sleep and physical or mental exhaustion are believed to make us more susceptible to colds. Talking with people suffering from lifestyle-related diseases, I find that there is always some specific cause for their ailment.
Narumi: In some cases, lack of self-control and discipline can manifest itself as poor diet, lack of exercise, and stress.
Ikeda: Lack of self-control and discipline always affect other aspects of one's life as well. That is why we mustn't treat our illnesses lightly. An old proverb says that sickness shows us what we are. Illness can be an important opportunity to examine our life and how we live it and to elevate our life condition.
Nishiyama: I think that illness can help you be more understanding and sympathetic about the limitations experienced by the physically weak and the elderly.
Ikeda: That's very true. Sickness can purify your heart and make you kinder. The French author Romain Rolland (1866–1944) wrote: "Illness is often a blessing. By ravaging the body it frees the soul and purifies it." Furthermore, those struggling against illness can deeply savor the joy of being alive.
Uehigashi: You struggled with illness as a youth, didn't you, President Ikeda?
Ikeda: I did. I was sickly from the time I was a child, and as a youth I suffered from tuberculosis. I was even told by a doctor that I probably wouldn't live past thirty. I was forced to face the reality of death at a very early age. But because I encountered Mr. Toda and gave my all to the lofty goal of kosen-rufu, I have been able to live a life of unparalleled fulfillment and complete engagement.
Suffering Makes Us Richer and Stronger
Nishiyama: You can build an indestructible spirit through the struggle against illness. I have learned this from observing many patients who are Soka Gakkai members. Though suffering from severe illnesses, they are always offering wholehearted encouragement to the other patients in their hospital room as well as the people who visit them.
Ikeda: That's so admirable. People who have devoted themselves to working for the welfare of others and society are always strong in a crisis. They have the courage and conviction to face sickness and death with calm composure. And those who fight against illness with the power of faith can elevate their life state even further. They can encourage others with tremendous resolve. That itself represents a triumph over illness.
The Austrian psychologist Viktor E. Frankl (1905–97) said, "We mature in suffering, grow because of it — it makes us richer and stronger."
Narumi: The fact that Dr. Frankl was a Nazi concentration camp survivor gives his words extra weight.
Ikeda: Buddhism teaches that sufferings are the fuel or springboard to enlightenment. Life is filled with problems. Our problems and sufferings lead us to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon. If we chant, make efforts, and grow, our hearts will become richer and stronger. Suffering is the fuel of wisdom, and it opens the way to happiness.
This applies to the suffering of illness as well. Through sickness, human beings can gain insight into the meaning of life, understand life's value and dignity, and enjoy a more fulfilling existence.
Nichiren writes, "Illness gives rise to the resolve to attain the way" (WND1, 937). The suffering of illness leads to enlightenment, and the hindrance of illness is a "good friend." Through the power of the Mystic Law, we can transform suffering into joy, anxiety into hope, worries into peace of mind, and every difficulty into a positive outcome. Furthermore, the strong life force and wisdom we acquire through chanting makes it possible for us to win over illness.
Excerpted from On Health and Long Life by Soka Gakkai. Copyright © 2016 Soka Gakkai. Excerpted by permission of World Tribune Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Learning From Illness,
Chapter 2: Buddhism and Medicine,
Chapter 3: The Influenza Mystery,
Chapter 4: Are Our Lives Determined by Our Genes?,
Chapter 5: Children and Stress,
Chapter 6: A Constructive Approach to Aging,
Chapter 7: "We Will Find Perpetual Youth",
Chapter 8: Dealing With Dementia,
Chapter 9: The Key to Good Health Care,
Chapter 10: The Human Touch,