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A BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE ON HEALTH CARE

Charles Day*

www.desmoinesmeditation.org & click above right on “More From This Publisher”

Talk Presented to an Interfaith Gathering on Health Care Reform in


Des Moines, IA, July 9, 2009

I want to thank the sponsors for organizing this Interfaith Gathering


and for inviting me to provide a Buddhist perspective on health care.

Buddha lived 2600 years ago in northern India and for 45 years he
taught others how to live in order to overcome suffering. His
teachings, which continue to spread throughout the world today, can
be summarized in three ways:

Do No Harm,
Do Good, and
Meditate.

Meditation is emphasized because it is such a powerful practice for


developing insight into the critical realization that we are not the
separate, independent, autonomous individuals that we think we are.
We are, in fact, part of an interconnected and interdependent web of
reality or unified whole. And when we realize this, we will naturally do
good and avoid harming.

From the perspective of this realization, I’d like to comment on three


classical Biblical teachings that are especially relevant to supporting
health care for all: “You are your brother’s keeper” - not because you
are separate beings but because you are your brother and he is you.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” - because you
are not different, you are the other and the other is you. And, to
paraphrase Jesus, “Whatsoever you do unto others, even unto the
least of your brethren, you do unto yourself.”

We are all one, appearing as separate individuated manifestations of


a continuously unfolding, unified interdependent whole. God looks
through six billion pairs of eyes.
This realization of interconnectedness leads to the spontaneous
expression of what Buddhism considers our innate virtues of
compassion, generosity, lovingkindness, appreciative and altruistic
joy, and the peace that surpasses understanding. How could one feel
and act otherwise toward another being after deeply appreciating that
oneself and the other are not two, but one? This was Buddha’s
message.

In terms of our shared humanity, that we are all one, we are all in this
together, and we all possess the same virtues, health care reform is
really a no-brainer. Everyone should be entitled to the same care,
regardless of differences in economic status, employment, age,
health, or any other factor, and regardless of whether they are a
citizen or a resident, temporary or permanent, documented or
undocumented. Ideally in some distant future we will adopt this view
toward all beings everywhere. Let us begin by striving to achieve in
the U.S. what other industrialized nations have already achieved.

We should not be side tracked by considerations of personal wealth


entitling some to better care than others, by who is being taxed to pay
the bills, by political rhetoric regarding encroaching socialism or
nationalism, or by the arguments of corporations and the insurance
industry regarding market competition, profit margins, shareholder
returns, and trillion dollar price tags.

Granted that the realities of cost, resources, and other complex


factors are legitimate considerations that need to be dealt with, the
bottom line remains that any health care plan should benefit everyone
equally, and/or everyone should be willing to suffer equally. Like
education and justice, receiving health care should be everyone’s
right, and providing it should be everyone’s responsibility. And, of
course, we need to educate and encourage everyone to assume
responsibility for maintaining their own health and the health of their
dependents.

Ours is a government formed by the common consent of the


governed to meet our common needs and solve our common
problems for our common benefit. Sounds Buddhist to me. So let our
lovingkindness, compassion, and generosity prevail, and let us
joyfully care for the health of all our brothers and sisters, as well as
for the health of the earth than we inhabit. Thank you.
________________________________________________

*Charlie Day is a retired psychologist who teaches meditation and


Buddhist philosophy in Des Moines, IA. He can be contacted at 515-
255-8398, charlesday1@mchsi.com, and
www.desmoinesmeditation.org.