The Rajavavadaka Sutra speaks of “those four great terrors, which it is not easy to escape by speed or strength, or to turn aside by drugs or charms or spells.” This is a reference to the Four Sufferings: birth, old age, illness and death. These sufferings are unavoidable in the course of our lives.
Modern medical science can help us to cure the third suffering of illness, and drugs are often a part of the treatment. However, there is no medical treatment as important as our own natural power to recover from illness. Our immune system, for instance is made up of different types of cells and proteins that protect us from invasion by any bacteria or virus.
Buddhism teaches that both physical and mental illness arise from the poison of ignorance, of our own ignorance. The cure for ignorance is wisdom, which begins with being responsible for our own health.
We can say that there are two causes for illness, an external cause, such as exposure to bacteria or a virus, and an internal cause. We have to be responsible for the internal. To be responsible is tremendously empowering. It requires a certain amount of self-honesty, though. It means admitting to ourselves that ultimately we are the cause of most of our sufferings, but it also means we are the solution.
Many of us excel at avoiding responsibility. I’m pretty good at it myself. The question we continually need to ask is how do we know when we are avoiding responsibility? Ego and arrogance co-conspire to protect us from the harsh truth about our tendencies. However, since they arise, like ignorance, from within our mind, they can be defeated.
We may not always win out over a illness or a particular suffering, but we can always win out over ourselves. Dharma can be our medicine. It can protect us from invasion by the poison of ignorance, the bacteria of arrogance, the virus of ego. Just as medical science helps us increase our natural healing power, Buddha-dharma helps us to tap into our inherent power and develop our natural wisdom.
Enlightenment means taking full responsibility for your life.
- William Blake