Lessons for the Health-care Practitioner from Buddhism

Indian J Endocrinol Metab. Nov-Dec 2018;22(6):812-817. doi: 10.4103/ijem.IJEM_286_17.

Abstract

From its earliest days, Buddhism has been closely intertwined with the practice of medicine, both being concerned in their own way in the alleviation and prevention of human suffering. However, while the connection between Buddhism and healthcare has long been noted, there is scarce literature on how Buddhist philosophy can guide health-care practitioners in their professional as well as personal lives. In the sutras, we find analogies that describe the Buddha as a doctor, knowledge of Dharma as the treatment, and all lay people as patients. The occurrence of disease is closely related to one's mental, physical and spiritual health, society, culture, and environment. It is not enough to approach medicine in a manner that simply eradicates symptoms; the psychosocial aspects of disease and its mind based causes and remedies must be a primary consideration. Holistic care involves harmonization of all these elements, and the Buddhist philosophy offers great insight for the physician. The Buddhist medical literature lays out moral guidelines and ethics for a health-care practitioner and this has corollaries in the principles of medical ethics: nonmaleficence, benevolence, justice, and autonomy. There is emphasis on loving-kindness, compassion, empathy, and equanimity as key attributes of an ideal physician. The practice of medicine is a stressful profession with physician burnout an often neglected problem. Mindfulness meditation, as developed in Buddhism, can help health-care professionals cope up with the stress and develop the essential attributes to improve patient care and self-care. This article outlines the spiritual and ethical values which underlie Buddhist concern for the sick and gives an overview of lessons which health-care practitioners can imbibe from Buddhism.

Keywords: Buddhism; equanimity; health-care practitioner; holistic care; loving kindness; medical ethics; mindfulness meditation; mindfulness-based stress reduction; physician burnout; physician's vows; self-compassion.

Publication types

  • Review