At the beginning of the Common Era, there was a great tradition of healer-monks in Indian Buddhism. Raoul Birnbaum, in Healing and Restoring, notes,
[Such] physician-monks were effective transmitters of Buddhist teachings . . . prominent in the process of bringing Buddhism to China . . . It appears that the superior healing ability of some of these monks was a significant factor in the spread of Buddhist teachings there. These healers brought to China theories, skills, and medicines different from those of the sophisticated traditions already developed in that land. Their effective healings gained many followers, while texts that they brought from their native lands on healing and extension of the life-span were of great fascination to the Chinese, whose native religions placed unusual interest in such topics.”
One of the texts the healer-monks brought with them was the Bhaisajyaguru-vaidurya-prabha-raja Sutra concerning the Medicine or Healing Buddha. In addition to this sutra and other texts, the healer-monks also brought to China the Indian medical system known as Ayurveda. The techniques of Ayurveda were different from Chinese healing methods, but the underlying philosophy was very similar, and as a result, the Chinese embraced the Indian system, integrated it into their own. Within Buddhism, this helped inspire the establishment of monastic hospitals, clinics, and lay “compassionate societies.”
The term for good health in Ayurveda is svastha, “being in one’s natural state” and “relying on one’s self.” Just as in Buddha-dharma, Ayurveda teaches that we are born into the world ignorant of our originally awakened mind. We then go on to live a life that is out of sync with our true nature, and as often as not, at odds with nature itself, and other living beings. We lack harmony, and this is a cause for suffering.
When we suffer we experience pain. Whether it is mental, emotional, and/or physical, that pain is a message that we are lacking harmony. Healing is the restoration of harmony. In Chinese medicine, harmony is represented by the yin/yang symbol. Chapter 42 of the Tao Te Ching says,
The ten thousand things are sustained by yin and embraced by yang.
They achieve harmony by integrating these two energies.
“The ten thousand things” mean all things, all that exists. Yin and yang are all opposite forces or energies. We perceive all that exists and experience diverse energies through the five skandhas or aggregates (form, sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness). All phenomena we take in either harmonize with us or upset our harmony. When we experience harmonious things, we feel healthy and happy. Disharmonious things produce feelings of dis-ease and pain.
Instead of allowing opposite energies to create friction in our lives, we can allow them to meet and flow together, in harmony. But, in the end, what we think as either harmonious or disharmonious is largely a matter of viewpoint or awareness. After all, the Heart Sutra tells us that the five skandhas are empty (sunyata), which is why Nagarjuna said,
Everything stands in harmony for the person who is in harmony with sunyata; but nothing stands in harmony with the person who is not in harmony with sunyata.”