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Tuesday, 7 December 2010






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Buddhist Spectrum

At the time of the Buddha, among the lay physicians, the most renowned was Jivaka Kumarabhacca, who was known to be the personal physician of the Buddha. Buddhist scriptures mention J?vaka in several places as the donor of a mango grove called Jivakarama, which he donated to the Buddha as a retreat for the rainy season. He is also mentioned as a great admirer of the Buddha and his disciples.

The Mango Grove donated by Jivaka to the Buddha (and later became a large monastery) as seen today.

His life story begins with Salavati, a courtesan of Rajagaha, giving birth to an illegitimate son. The child was then given to a slave woman, who placed him in a winnowing basket and left on a rubbish heap.

Prince Abhaya, the son of King Bimbisara, was riding through the city next day when he saw a flock of crows circling around a small bundle. Stopping his carriage, he investigated the object and found the newborn baby. Prince Abhaya was transfused with compassion for the child and decided to adopt him as his own. The baby was named Jivaka Komara Bhacca – Jivaka, meaning ‘life’, because of his will to live, and Komara Bhacca, which meant ‘adopted by a prince’.


Jivaka led a privileged life in the palace. His friends, however, often teased him as he was a fosterling. Embarrassed by the teasing, Jivaka questioned his father about his origin. When he found out the truth, he made himself a firm resolution that he would one day grow up to be a preserver of life. He felt that he had no real heritage or family as he was only an adopted son of the prince. Physicians, however, were treated with great respect at that time. Determined to earn such respect, when he was 16 years old, Jivaka began studying medicine under a famous sage called Atreya in Taxila.

Jivaka quickly learned all the prevalent aspects of illnesses and cures from his teacher. At the last stages of his studies, he did his own research and expanded his knowledge beyond that of his teacher’s. He completed in seven years the physicians training which usually took eleven years.

Jivaka then decided to go back to Rajagaha to his adoptive father. On the way he stopped to rest in a city named Saletha. He soon heard that the young daughter of the city’s wealthiest nobleman was sick. Despite the ministering of many well-known physicians, she had suffered from severe headaches for seven years. Jivaka approached the nobleman, and after examining the patient offered his services to cure her. Before long the maiden’s headaches disappeared. The grateful nobleman showered Jivaka with gifts and gold and provided him with a golden chariot.


Jivaka returned to Prince Abhaya’s palace and after handing over his newly earned wealth to his adoptive father, thanked him for his love and compassion. Prince Abhaya, however, returned all the wealth back to Jivaka and informed him that he owed him nothing because he was his true son and heir. Prince Abhaya told him that during his absence he had found out the true story of his origin. His mother, Salavati, was the sought-after courtesan of the Palace and later it was revealed that he was the father of Jivaka. Wanting to retain her freedom, she had discarded the baby whom she felt would be a burden to her. Prince Abhaya had unknowingly “adopted” his own child.

A statue of Jivaka as seen in Thailand

Prince Abhaya built a palace to serve as Jivaka’s residence and provided him with many comforts. Jivaka’s second patient was his own grandfather, King Bimbisara.

The king had a giant gastrointestinal tumour of the stomach that bled from time to time. The king had been treated by all the great physicians of the country to no avail. Prince Abhaya informed Jivaka of his grandfather’s plight and requested him to treat him. Jivaka managed to remove the tumour and heal the wound.

The grateful king showered him with wealth, gifted him with the royal mango grove and made him the royal physician.

Within months Jivaka’s reputation as a great physician grew quickly. The Buddhist text mentions that he operated and successfully removed two tumours from the brain of a rich merchant who was a good friend of King Bimbisara. He also operated successfully to remove a blockage in the intestines of a nobleman. In one instance when the Buddha was afflicted with stomach ailment, Jivaka prepared the medicine, and applying it on a blue lotus flower, offered it to the Buddha. Jivaka then asked the Buddha to inhale the essence emanating from the flower. The medicine which Jivaka had prepared with devotion cured the Buddha’s stomach ailment.

Jivaka soon became a disciple of the Buddha and would treat him and any monks or nuns when they became sick. He donated his inherited mango grove to the Buddha which at later years developed into a large monastery. The remains of this monastery were discovered in 1954 and excavated by archaeologists.

Jivaka Sutta

The Buddha delivered two discourses to Jivaka. In the first he gave the conditions under which monks and nuns can eat meat. In the second he defined a lay disciple as one who has taken the Three Refuges and who observes the five Precepts. This is known as jivaka Sutta.

Herein the Buddha says: “”Jivaka, when one has gone to the Buddha for refuge, has gone to the Dhamma for refuge, and has gone to the Sangha for refuge, then to that extent is one a lay follower.”

“Jivaka, when one abstains from taking life, from stealing, from sexual misconduct, from lying, and from fermented & distilled drinks that lead to heedlessness, then to that extent is one a virtuous lay follower.”

“Jivaka, when a lay follower himself is perfect in conviction and encourages others in the perfection of conviction; when he himself is perfect in virtue and encourages others in the perfection of virtue; when he himself is perfect in generosity and encourages others in the perfection of generosity; when he himself desires to see the monks and encourages others to see the monks; when he himself wants to hear the true Dhamma and encourages others to hear the true Dhamma; when he himself habitually remembers the Dhamma he has heard and encourages others to remember the Dhamma they have heard; when he himself explores the meaning of the Dhamma he has heard and encourages others to explore the meaning of the Dhamma they have heard; when he himself, knowing both the Dhamma & its meaning, practices the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma and encourages others to practice the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma: then to that extent he is a lay follower who practices both for his own benefit and for the benefit of others”.

Respect for the Buddha

Because of the dedicated attentive care with which he ministered to his patients, the Buddha praised Jivaka as chief amongst his disciples who were ‘loved by the people’. When Bimbisara died, Jivaka continued to serve Ajatasattu, and was responsible for bringing him to the Buddha after his crime of parricide.

J?vaka’s fame as a physician brought him more work than he could cope with, but he never neglected his duties to the Sangha. Many people, afflicted with disease and wanting quick treatment by him, joined the order in order that they might receive that treatment. On discovering that the order was thus being made a convenience of, he asked the Buddha to lay down a rule that men afflicted with certain diseases should be refused entry into the order.

It was also at Jivaka’s request that the Buddha established that monks should sweep the compound of the monastery and attend to other duties that would exercise their bodies. Jivaka, seeing the benefit of exercise for a healthy life, requested this and other mild duties to be performed by the monks to ensure their health. With foresight, love and compassion the devoted Jivaka took care of the physical health of the Buddha and His Sangha.

Jivaka’s respect for the Buddha could be gauged from the fact that he gifted a prized possession, a celestial robe he received from king named Chanda Pradyotha to the Buddha. The Buddha accepted the gift and delivered a discourse on the immense merits accrued by the donor by such rare offering to the Buddha..

After listening to the discourse, Jivaka attained the first stage of enlightenment, Sotapanna.

Poverty - is it due to Kamma?

Contrary to the common belief that Buddhism is against richness, in Buddhist teaching, poverty is condemned, not richness and its causes are examined from different angles. The Buddha said in the Anguttara Nikaya that for householders poverty is suffering (dukkha).

Fundamentally poverty denotes absence or lack of material wealth. Although there are various criteria to measure poverty, income and wealth are the criteria accepted by the common man. However this is not an absolute measure, but a comparative measure. Some may accumulate wealth but still is poor because he does not enjoy wealth and lives like a poor man. According to Buddhism he has Atthi Sukha but does not have Bhoga Sukha (happiness of enjoying the wealth).

Buddhists tend to think that poverty is due to the bad Karma done in the previous births. They doubt if Buddhism has anything special to contribute to our understanding of poverty and how to alleviate it? Buddhism is sometimes criticized for its idealism: for encouraging a non-materialistic way of life that goes against our main desires and motivations. Its teachings have been usually perceived as preoccupied with a “higher world” or different dimension of life.

The teachings of the doctrine of Kamma has lead people to think that no only poverty, but everything happens is due to previous Kamma. This is a wrong concept called Pubbekatha hethuwada. According to Buddhism there are several contributory causes for poverty, or for that matter, for everything that happens to man. They can be listed as Utu Niyama, Beeja Niyama, Kamma Niyama, Dhamma Niyama and Chitta Niyama. Kamma is only one of them.

In today’s context political reasons can also be considered as major contributory factor for poverty. Even Buddha has approved this in various suttas such as the Chakkavattisinhanada sutta and Agganna sutta (Digha Nikaya) that when a king neglects to rule according to righteousness and when he does not consult the learned, prosperity of the country declines and poverty becomes rampant. Further Cakkavattisihanada sutta says that poverty is the cause of immorality and crimes such as theft, falsehood, violence, corruption, short life span, deteriorated environment, ill-health and declined family value.

According to Agganna sutta maldistribution of world’s resources due to the habit of hoarding or accumulating wealth by a few is another factor leading to poverty as majority is denied the right to wealth. This is what Marxists teach: unequal distribution of wealth; wealth for a few and misery for the majority. Very often when a country is developed and wealth is not distributed properly gap between the rich and the poor widens. It will lead to jealousy and crime, and the country looses peace. When country looses peace people cannot live happily. The Kutadanta sutta spells it out in the following words: “When there is peace in the country, in the absence of crime and violence, people live happily, rejoicing and playing with their children with open doors.”

Equal distribution is only a theoretical concept, but reducing the gap is possible. According to another sutta, the ruler has to be righteous himself and set the pattern of righteousness. Then the Ministers of State, all officials in the lower range of the machinery of Government as well as the people in the country will live and carry out their duties righteously. Then the prosperity is said to reign in the country. Crime gets reduced and society becomes stable and secure. The ruler has to provide employment to the able bodied people in his kingdom. If there is unemployment the king should provide subsidy schemes to alleviate extreme poverty. Generosity of the ruler will diminish the hatred between haves and have-nots and will reduce the class prejudice (Maga sutta).

From Buddhist point of view, good and praiseworthy is one who accumulates holdings in rightful ways and utilizes it for the good and happiness of both oneself and others. Under modern Business Management, business organizations have a social responsibility to see that they contribute part of their profit to the well-being of the society. When the living conditions of the people improve their businesses also prosper. It is encouraging to see that nowadays many businesses in Sri Lanka fulfill their obligations towards the society and their promotional campaigns are coupled with this social obligation. Many of the Buddha’s lay disciples, besides looking after their family, liberally devoted much of their wealth to the support of the Sangha, the community of monks and to the alleviation of poverty and suffering in society.

“If you have little, give little; if you own a middling amount, give middling amount; if you have much, give much. It is not fitting not to give at all. Kosiya, I say to you, share your wealth, use it. One who eats alone eats unhappily.”

Sometimes people themselves contribute to poverty. In Sigalovada Sutta Buddha preached six causes that will lead to waste of wealth. (a) indulgence in intoxicants (b) sauntering in streets at unseemly hours; (c) frequenting theatrical shows; (d) indulgence in gambling (e) association with evil companions (f) the habit of idleness, or laziness. Each of these will result in loss in wealth with other consequences.

One may have born poor due to some bad Kamma done in a previous birth. But according to Vyagghapajja Sutta if he is:

a. Industrious and resourceful (Uttana sampada)

b. Looks after the wealth he earns (Arakkha sampada)

c. Associates with noble friends (Kalyanamittata)

d. Leads an even life (Samajeevikata) he can overcome poverty and enjoy the pleasures of life. Today consumerism has become the measure of richness. But this will lead to indebtedness sometimes without the knowledge of the person. This will naturally result in poverty. Buddha says Anana Sukha, free from indebtedness is one form of enjoying happiness in life. Limiting wants and restraining consumption lead to contentment. What contributes to man’s happiness in the long run is not ‘to have’, but the right use of what you have. Buddhism values non-attachment towards material goods and promotes the virtue of having less wants, yet this does not amount to encouraging poverty.

According to the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha taught that some people are like the completely blind because they do not have the vision to improve their material circumstances, nor the vision to lead a morally elevated life. Others are like the one-eyed because, although they have the vision to improve their material conditions, they do not have the vision to live morally elevated life. The third class have the vision to improve both.

Convention and liberation

The things of this world are merely conventions of our own making. Having established them we get lost in them, and refuse to let go, giving rise to clinging to our personal views and opinions. This clinging never ends, it is samsara, flowing endlessly on. It has no completion. Now, if we know conventional reality then we’ll know Liberation. If we clearly know Liberation, then we’ll know convention. This is to know the Dhamma. Here there is completion.

Take people, for instance. In reality people don’t have any names, we are simply born naked into the world. If we have names, they arise only through convention. I’ve contemplated this and seen that is you don’t know the truth of this convention it can be really harmful. It’s simply something we use for convenience. Without it we couldn’t communicate, there would be nothing to say, no language.

I’ve seen the Westerners when they sit in meditation together in the West. When they get up after sitting, men and women together, sometimes they go and touch each other on the head! When I saw this I thought, “Ehh, if we cling to convention it gives rise to defilements right there.” If we can let go of convention, give up our opinions, we are at peace.

Like the generals and colonels, men of rank and position, who come to see me. When they come they say, “Oh, please touch my head.” If they ask like this there’s nothing wrong with it, they’re glad to have their heads touched. But if you tapped their heads in the middle of the street it’d be a different story! This is because of clinging. So I feel that letting go is really the way of peace. Touching a head is against our customs, but in reality it is nothing. When they agree to having it touched there’s nothing wrong with it, just like touching a cabbage or a potato.

Accepting, giving up, letting go — this is the way of lightness. Wherever you’re clinging there’s becoming and birth right there. There’s danger right there. The Buddha taught about convention and he taught to undo convention in the right way, and so reach Liberation. This is freedom, not to cling to conventions. All things in this world have a conventional reality.

Having established them we should not be fooled by them, because getting lost in them really leads to suffering. This point concerning rules and conventions is of utmost importance. One who can get beyond them is beyond suffering.

However, they are a characteristic of our world. Take Boonmah, for instance; he used to be just one of the crowd but now he’s been appointed the District Commissioner. It’s just a convention but it’s a convention we should respect.

It’s part of the world of people. If you think, “Oh, before we were friends, we used to work at the tailor’s together,” and then you go and pat him on the head in public, he’ll get angry. It’s not right, he’ll resent it. So we should follow the conventions in order to avoid giving rise to resentment.

It’s useful to understand convention, living in the world is just about this. Know the right time and place, know the person.

Why is it wrong to go against conventions? It’s wrong because of people! You should be clever, knowing both convention and Liberations. Know the right time for each. If we know how to use rules and conventions comfortably then we are skilled. But if we try to behave according to the higher level of reality in the wrong situation, this is wrong.

Where is it wrong? It’s wrong with people’s defilements, nothing else! People all have defilements. In one situation we behave one way, in another situation we must behave in another way.

We should know the ins and outs because we live within conventions. Problems occur because people cling to them. If we suppose something to be, then it is.

It’s there because we suppose it to be there.

But if you look closely, in the absolute sense these things don’t really exist.


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