What we Can Learn from a Buddhist Approach to Health & Wellbeing

Kara Bauer Health Guide
  • Here in Thailand, Buddhism is the primary spiritual philosophy that 90-95% of the people follow as a way of life. The tradition of Buddhism is Theraveada, which is based on the original teachings of the original Buddha, Gotama Siddartha, without refinements from other monks. The guiding belief of Buddhism based on the Four Noble Truths is that suffering is caused by cravings, desires and attachments as well as past life greed, hatred and ignorance. Once one is able to end their suffering or karma (past life suffering), they have the opportunity to reach a state of enlightenment called “nirvana” and thus end the cycles of rebirth. Contrary to what many Westerners may believe, the Buddha is not worshiped like a God, but instead respected as a model of a fully enlightened human being.[1]

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    The Eightfold path is the Buddha’s guide to end suffering and consists of the following aspects:

    1. Right View: Seeing things as they really are and understanding the true nature and impermanence of things.
    2. Right Intention: Includes intentions to resist desire and anger, while also developing compassion towards others.
    3. Right Speech: Abstaining from lying, slander, hurtful words and idle chitchat.
    4. Right Action: Abstaining from harming others or one’s self, stealing and sexual misconduct.
    5. Right Livelihood: Earning a living in a honest and peaceful way.
    6. Right Effort: Having an act of will and mental energy to abandon unwholesome states of being in exchange for wholesome ones.
    7. Right Mindfulness: Seeing things as they really are rather then letting our own interpretations and perceptions, based on previous thoughts and experiences, obstruct our clarity.
    8. Right Concentration: Concentrate on wholesome thoughts and actions through the practice of meditation.[2] 

    More and more Westerners are becoming interested in Buddhism and other Eastern approaches to spirituality as they are discovering that values such as power and success offer very little in terms of the ultimate fulfillment that all human beings seek. Although Thailand, like many Eastern cultures, has incorporated modern medicine and conventional treatments in their health care systems, the traditional viewpoint that originates from Buddhism, has not been lost within the culture.


    The Buddhists believe that a healthy body equates to a healthy mind. Although aging, illness and death are unavoidable events in one’s life, the healing of the mind is of primary importance when an illness occurs. Many view illness as an opportunity to eliminate defilements in the mind and take more responsibility for their health and their body’s ability to cure and treat itself. This doesn’t mean that a symptomatic approach is frowned upon in modern day medicine, however it is secondary to healing the underlying cause that almost always is rooted in the mind. Even if the person who is ill requires a medical treatment that meditation and visualization techniques cannot cure alone, the Buddhism belief is that there will be less suffering from the illness for those utilizing these practices than for those who do not take responsibility for the source of their illness. In the Buddha’s own words, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.”[3]


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    In addition to meditation, historical Thai remedies include the use of herbs. The government of Thailand is currently working to integrate traditional and modern medicine in hospitals, schools and clinics throughout Thailand. Medical students are also required to take classes in herbal medicine while training in their specialties. The belief is that natural remedies are not only better for the environment, but also less invasive, less costly and equally as effective as modern treatments in the long-run.[4]


    Whether one resonates with the Buddhist belief system or not, their approach to health and wellness offers a complementary component to healing that I believe is lacking in many parts of the Western world. There are many research studies being done on the health benefits of meditation as well as how stress and negative thinking lead to illness. In my opinion, it’s only a matter of time before alternative practices and therapies become incorporated into our own health care system and everyday approaches to healthy living.


    [1] Asiatours.net (No date). Buddhist religion in thailand. Retrieved from http://www.asiatours.net/thailand/info/buddhism.html


    [2] Thebigview.com (No date). The noble eightfold path. Retrieved from http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/eightfoldpath.html


    [3] Blia.org (No date). Buddhism, medicine, and health. Retrieved from http://www.blia.org/english/publications/booklet/pages/37.htm


    [4] Cieethailand.blogspot.com (2012, October 9). Traditional and modern medicine. Retrieved from http://cieethailand.blogspot.com/2012/10/traditional-and-modern-medicine.html

Published On: December 03, 2012