(Photo above by Lisa / Pexels)
Facing illness is an essential part of our human experience. Nothing seems to steal away our hope and dreams like a serious illness, be it physical or mental. But since the beginning, Buddhism has taught that our happiness is not defined by a diagnosis. We can live with courage and joy in the face of any illness by tapping into our Buddhability.
Russian author Leo Tolstoy writes,
A person can fulfill their purpose in life equally as well in illness as in health.
A Calendar of Wisdom, translated by Peter Sekirin (New York: Scribner, 1997), p. 29.
Here are three Buddhist ideas on facing illness.
Overcoming the fear and negativity that come with illness
Illness touches each of our lives. However, there is a difference between illness and what Buddhists have traditionally called “the devil of illness.” This is the notion of a “devil” in a poetic sense (not a supernatural one). The idea of a devil in Buddhism can be translated as “robber of life.” The “devil of illness” then is the hope and enthusiasm that illness can rob from our life. In a single moment, being diagnosed with a serious illness can make us reconsider our future, shattering what we think is possible in life.
The 13th-century Buddhist teacher Nichiren writes:
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?
When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with courage, we extinguish this “devil of illness.” Though it’s difficult, we bring out hope and a spirit to battle our illness.
Kumiko Miyake shows us what this looks like in her incredible story of overcoming a serious kidney disease: “As I prayed, I realized that the problem wasn’t my illness, but that I was letting it rob me of my hope—that I was sick at heart. To defeat this true enemy, I decided that no matter what happened, I would never give up hope. As long I’m smiling, I decided, I’m winning.”
Interestingly, when our attitude toward our illness changes, since our mind and body are intimately connected, we can also make incredible advancements in overcoming our illness. This does not mean neglecting medical treatment but bringing out our life force and wisdom to battle illness with an undefeated spirit
Illness inspires us to bring out our best selves
Battling an illness can inspire us to bring out our Buddhability. A long-term health challenge, for example, can make us more resilient and patient. No one is stronger than a person who, in pain, still has tremendous appreciation to be alive.
A long-term health challenge, for example, can make us more resilient and patient.
Our experiences battling an illness can also help us become people who are empathetic and support others.
Daisaku Ikeda writes:
Everything that happens has profound meaning. …Those who have experienced great suffering can develop into outstanding people. Those who have undergone painful trials can help many others. Such individuals have an important mission. This is the teaching of Nichiren Buddhism and the bodhisattva way of life.
Embrace a long-term view
There is no need to rush or beat ourselves up if our recovery from an illness doesn’t go as quickly as we’d like. Again, this not a sign of failure or defeat, especially if we are grappling with a mental illness.
There is no need to rush or beat ourselves up if our recovery from an illness doesn’t go as quickly as we’d like.
Illness can neither rob us of true happiness nor stop us from living a victorious life. Daisaku Ikeda writes:
Though one may be ill, this has no bearing on the inherent nobility, dignity and beauty of one’s life. Everyone, without exception, is an infinitely precious and noble treasure.
Instead it’s best to embrace a long-term view and continue to believe in ourselves each time a setback occurs. We can have faith that through this process we will become the strongest and most compassionate person. We cannot fail to become happy.