We all want to be healthy but none of us can avoid having illnesses. This is the fundamental suffering of mankind. In Buddhism, fundamental human suffering
is represented by four things: birth, aging, sickness and death. If we are born, we will ultimately die. Despite the fact that everyone who is born must die, people
wish to live forever. Inevitably, they suffer as they yearn for the impossible.
Death is considered suffering only because we view it as such. But if we see it from a different 11
perspective, it is simply a phenomenon. Death is one of the phenomena of nature just as the formation of the waves is a feature of the ocean, and leaves sprouting in Spring and leaves falling in Autumn are characteristics
of the seasons. Would you regard the dancing of the waves to be suffering? Would you consider the falling of the leaves a form of torment? No, they are natural phenomena, and we cannot say that they are “good,” “bad,” “joyful,” or “painful.”
We humans are imprisoned by our own thoughts, so we do not acknowledge birth, aging, sickness and death as natural occurrences, and we suffer
as a result. Even at this very instant, countless natural phenomena are occurring in the world. We celebrate them as principles of life: we celebrate the budding of
leaves in the Spring, the blooming of flowers in the Summer, and the coloring of leaves in the Autumn. 12
Nevertheless, we are unwilling to acknowledge the natural course of action when it comes to our own bodies. If we view the world in a detached manner,
birth, aging, sickness and death are simply natural phenomena. However, we suffer because we are so attached to our bodies and don’t accept these stages as the logical course of our lives. Therefore, if we know the teachings of the Dharma, that is, if we can see things as they truly are, we should not wish to avoid illness since becoming ill is just a natural phenomenon. The human body is much like a machine. Any machine can sometimes have problems, and no
machine can be trouble free forever. We may hope that it won’t break down, but that doesn’t mean it will not happen. When a machine malfunctions, there is inevitably a cause. Thus, instead of becoming irritable, we just need to fix the broken machine. After 13
a certain period of time, however, the machine won’t be reparable. When the cost of repair outweighs the value of the machine, it is better to dispose of it. Since
you have gotten the full use out of it, it is not a loss to discard it.
When our car has frequent breakdowns, we are able to find out about its condition and exercise more caution when operating it. If a car often has problems, we are less likely to speed. On the contrary, if the car
is trouble-free, we may drive it more recklessly. If we speed, the probability of dying in an accident increases. It is the same with our bodies. In extreme cases, people who have never experienced an illness in their lives may die once they get sick and are hospitalized the first time. It is rare for a person who has never been sick to enjoy longevity. There is a Korean saying, “People with minor illnesses end up living longer,” because they are more 15
inclined to take care of their bodies in a timely fashion. On the other hand, individuals who rarely get sick tend to become overly confident about their bodies, so they are more likely to, one day, find themselves diagnosed with a serious disease. Generally speaking, when you have perfect health, it is easy to become greedy. What is greed? Is it wanting to eat when hungry and wanting to sleep when tired? No, these are basic desires rather than covetousness. But when desires are too strong, they turn into greed. There are five types of desires people have: the desire for food, sex, money, sleep and prestige. If we are healthy, these cravings become stronger, and we become greedy, and we are more likely to enjoy a lifestyle that is conducive to developing illnesses. That
is why people without an illness may easily become greedy. 16
If we become ill, we need to search for the cause. If we look carefully, we can definitely find one. Because we often don’t know the cause, we tend to
think a great misfortune has befallen us. When we become ill, it is important to take the opportunity to examine and reflect on the way we have been living
our lives. Praying provides us with a time of reflection. It is not about prostrating a few times at the temple. True prayer is about making an effort to realize the
“emptiness” of everything and rid ourselves of greed. Only when this happens can our illness serve us as medicine, giving us an impetus to critically reflect on
our lives for repentance.This can only be possible if we don’t fear illness.
A body is born, ages, becomes ill and dies. During this natural course, it is inevitable that we will become 17
sick at some point. In Vimalakirti Sutra1, Yuma2 used his illness as a means of teaching the Dharma. He did not pray to be cured. He simply helped people realize the Truth that their bodies will eventually succumb to disease. He tells us to become aware that illness is caused by greed and that we can be cured by letting go of it. Thus, based on the fundamental teachings of the Buddha, we should be unhindered by illness, regardless of whether or not we become ill.
Moreover, when we get sick, we shouldn’t react in an overly sensitive manner, but rather, take it lightly, thinking, “The body should be well-maintained, but
it can sometimes have problems.” If we become sick, 1. Vimalakirti Sutra : A popular and influential Mahayana Buddhist scripture that teaches the concept of non-duality. It features a teaching addressed to high-ranking Buddhist disciples through the mouth of layman bodhisattva Vimalakirti.
2. Yuma : Korean name for layman bodhisattva Vimalakirti who teaches the concept of non-duality in Vimalakirti Sutra. 18
we should treat the sickness without drama and move on with our lives. Also, there is always a cause for an illness, so we need to find out what it is and treat it. However, if you go to the hospital and receive a bad diagnosis, you should not dwell on the cause of the illness too much. In today’s society, 80 percent of our illnesses are caused by stress, overeating, and other indulgences. Thus, we should be less self-indulgent and greedy and be more carefree and generous. The harder we seek the things we want and cling to our possessions, the more
our bodies and minds will suffer and become sick. This is especially true with our relationships concerning immediate family members. The more we demand that
our spouses, children, or parents follow our wishes, the more stressful our lives become, making us more likely to become ill. Therefore, when we can deeply respect 19
the wishes of our family members and everyone else by trying to see things from their points of view and acknowledge their opinions, we can become happy and