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Instead of dwelling on the true nature of the body right in front of their eyes, Doctors have become PROBLEM SOLVERS. Doctors see birth, aging, sickness and death on a daily basis but have somehow become deaf,dumb and blind to all that they see and hear inside a ward. It is all just an addition subtraction formula where drugs/treatment are prescribed for easing a patient's suffering, while maybe giving a patient reassurance if needed.

How can a medical student or a doctor get across this barrier, and not be deconditioned to being blind to the truth, and how can he/she be strong and balanced enough mentally to cope up with the evergrowing needs/obligations that a doctor is cursed with?

  • Hi Dilshan. I have updated my answer and tried to answer your questions more specific. Hope that helps. If you have further questions please let me know. – Lanka Jul 14 '15 at 15:00
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    I thought you might find this interesting: narrative.ly/no-theme-required-1/… – Robin111 Jul 23 '15 at 15:51
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+300

Do doctors waster their chance as you put it? They are human beings and so we could surmise most do and some don't. Do they have a privileged position to exercise their humanity?

Doctors see birth, aging, sickness and death on a daily basis but have somehow become deaf,dumb and blind to all that they see and hear inside a ward.

I totally agree with you! I recently watched Alive Inside, a brilliant documentary about the plight of the elderly in America who are struggling with dementia and other related diseases. The documentary clearly illustrates that the root cause of the problem is not that the care givers and doctors are inhuman but that the system in which they find themselves, conditions them to think of the elderly under their care as 'patients' not human beings. Until they are 'cured' we must hide them away in institutions.

Science is great at solving problems but, in the medical profession, it has been taken too far and patients are seen as puzzles to solve, dials to turn and control rather than as HUMAN BEINGS. So what's missing is COMPASSION.

The modern Hypocratic Oath states:

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug. Wikipedia

How much of this warmth, sympathy and understanding is taught in medical school? Very little. It's all science - diagnosis and treatment of symptoms. Symptoms that present themselves in a biological machine not in a human being. Without the balance of a basic compassionate view, failure to cure every patient, will eventually take its emotional toll on the doctor. From a basic view of compassion there is no failure only a desire to help, to support and care for.

In ayurvedic medicine, doctors ask the following four questions upon seeing their patients: 1) Is there a disease? If so, what is it? 2) What is the cause of the disease? 3) Is there a cure for the disease? 4) If there is a cure, what is the treatment?

Sounds like the Four Noble Truths right? Buddha must have been exposed to Ayurveda in India and re-framed these questions to diagnose the human condition. Buddha could have kept quiet about his great liberation under the Bodhi tree and just live out the rest of his life in bliss and happiness ... but he chose to teach and share with others out of COMPASSION.

So I think my answer is clear ;)

How can a medical student or a doctor get across this barrier, and not be deconditioned to being blind to the truth, and how can he/she be strong and balanced enough mentally to cope up with the evergrowing needs/obligations that a doctor is cursed with?

COMPASSION :)

  • Best answer my friend! Keep it coming! – Dilshan De Silva Jul 23 '15 at 9:03
  • Great question Dilshan. Best of luck with your medical studies! – Devindra Jul 23 '15 at 9:36
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General answer containing the perspective of Medical Science and Buddhism.

I think the difference lies in the approach that medical science and Buddhism uses.

Buddhism deals with the true nature of reality, i.e. Ultimate Reality based on the gaining of experiental knowledge through insight meditation.

Medical science deals only with Conventional Reality, i.e. concepts, conventions and entities such as "a body, a man, a woman" etc.

When one is not dealing with the true nature of reality one cannot treat anything else than symptoms.

Medical science treats the symptoms of Dukkha.

Buddhism treats the root cause of Dukkha by going to the root of the problem, i.e. Avijja. The Buddha's teaching is the only one that will ensure a permanent cure for suffering, i.e. Nibbana.


How can a medical student or a doctor get across this barrier, and not be deconditioned to being blind to the truth?

The way to not being blind about the truth, i.e. the true nature of reality is to practice insight meditation and thereby gain insights into the 3 signs of existence; anicca, dukkha, anatta. By doing that the meditator is transforming conventional knowledge (book-knowledge) into experiental knowledge (wisdom). This wisdom will shed away Avijja revealing the truth.

To add to that it's very important to know what kind of reality one is dealing with. As mentioned earlier in the answer, in buddhism we have 2 kinds of reality. The Conventional one and the Ultimate one. Dealing with conventional reality will not let one see the true nature of phenomena. To experience that one must deal with Ultimate reality, i.e. Rupa, Citta, Cetasika, Nibbana.

How can he/she be strong and balanced enough mentally to cope up with the evergrowing needs/obligations that a doctor is cursed with?

By following the Noble Eightfold Path the meditator will build up mental strength so that there will be less and less wavering in the mind. If one is practicing diligently and consistently the mind will become steady, strong and non-scattered. Having a strong mind enables one to stay mindful and centered even in the middle of a storm.

How can the mind become still and steady?

The morality section of the Noble Eightfold path is the foundation. With the practice of good conduct there will be less guilt and remorse in the mind, making it easier to practice the Concentration group of the path, i.e. Right effort, Right concentration and Right mindfulness.

To build a house we need a strong foundation. Moral restraint and good conduct is the foundation upon we develop concentration which we then use to penetrate reality and gain Wisdom about the true nature of phenomena. That will in the end lead to Nibbana.

Do doctors waste their chance?

This question is not for me to answer. That is up to the individual being to answer that one.

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Simple - we need to develop "Right view". A Doctor's profession is not a curse; it is viewing it as such that makes it so.


Pranic energy or Qi energy is affected by the emotions we manifest. If we are angry, despondent or fearful we deplete this energy faster than if we were kind and compassionate. This is why happy and cheerful moods give lots of energy and depressed moods take away energy.

When our prana energy is low we can become tired, disaffected, depressed and despondent. Pure compassion and kindness can be life sustaining, even increasing prana energy. A doctor who practices compassion properly can actually continually increase his energy level through the practice of the profession.

There is a psychological concept of compassion fatigue, but this isn't pure compassion, it is compassion tinged with fear. The fear depletes energy reserves and soon compassion becomes impossible. This is why there are records of field surgeons in WW2 committing suicide after saving hundreds of lives. How could they not despair at what they considered the meaninglessness of war? Yet, this is a wrong view.

To overcome this wrong view requires an awakening to the truth of life.

When we think of death as bad, and life as good, we exist in a duality. We will then see only suffering in death and illness and be affected by our patients and friends who are ill and dying.

When we get rid of thinking in dualities where death is undesirable and life is desirable, then we won't be affected.

Where there is life, there is death already there. How can one exist without the other? We must learn to see life and death as one movement.

Sometimes life is apparent and visible, and sometimes death is apparent and visible, but it is the fault of our vision to not see both exist at the same time. Both are already there.

In a living body if we examine closely, we can see a dying body that is kept alive by new cells being born all the time. This much modern science already says. We lose millions of cells every day, and replace them with as many new cells. Thus life and death are ever occurring.

In a dead body that is buried in the ground we can see new fertilizer that will grow life soon. In a new born baby we see a being that will eventually die one day.

The Buddha saw all life and death in all the realms of existence, but he was unaffected, he wasn't depressed because he saw them with pure compassion, without a tinge of fear or insecurity. He had the right view of life and death.

When he saw pleasure he saw the suffering innate in pleasure; when he saw death and destruction, he saw the suffering innate in that too. Thus seeing that all existence is suffering, yet that all existence is empty of innate substance, he was liberated.

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Being a doctor is just another service that you can do for others in order to perform Right Livelihood.

In Buddhism, you can do whatever you want as your Right Livelihood, so long as it is moral and doesn't violate the other precepts.

Being a doctor is very good for spiritual devleopment since you are seeing The Three Characteristics ever single day. There are also many diagnostic powers that come from success in meditation that one can use in being a doctor.

In many, many ways being a doctor is very complementary to spiritual practice. What else would the great sages of the past that became Enlightened and understood the laws of the unvierse do but transform and heal others?

There are many concentration meditation practices that are helpful to the doctor's practice and profession, skeleton meditation being the most prized (many monks attained super powers through this practice). For further reading, I recommend meditationexpert.com articles on this.

Anyway, every single profession has its challenges in integrating with your spiritual practice. Having good organization ability (of energy, time, and activities) is crucial.

Daniel Ingram, is a doctor and holds Buddhist accomplishments. In his book, "Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha" he explains how he used original Buddhist teachings (Theravadin) to help him get through the hurdles of medical school... as well as controversial claims of Enlightenment and having achieved bhumihood/bodhisattvahood...

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Do doctors waste their chance?

When my friend was dying, and told me what I should say to people at a funeral speech, she said that the first thing was to "don't forget" that she had "loved her doctors" who had "saved her life".

I think she was grateful.

The way I understand it, a mundane explanation of what she said was that, it the fact that they gave her medical care that made her life livable.

Different doctors cared for (helped) her in different ways:

  • Her surgeon for example was confident, self-confident: and that gave her some confidence.
  • Another surgeon (who was inserting a stent under local anaesthetic) talked with her (e.g. about her and about what he was doing), became a friend, while he was working.
  • Her family doctor (general practitioner) gave her prescriptions but also good health-related advice, and said some psychological things like "your family love you" when that might have been helpful.

(None of the above is Buddhist advice.)

Instead of dwelling on the true nature of the body right in front of their eyes, Doctors have become PROBLEM SOLVERS.

Maybe you could do both: i.e. understand the body (and other aspects of a human being's nature) AND solve problems.

I think that's more or less what the Right Livelihood of being a doctor may consist of.

Doctors see birth, aging, sickness and death on a daily basis but have somehow become deaf, dumb and blind to all that they see and hear inside a ward.

"Deaf, dumb and blind" sounds quite dysfunctional. I don't understand it (what you're saying) so I can't try to answer this sentence.

It is all just an addition subtraction formula where drugs/treatment are prescribed for easing a patient's suffering, while maybe giving a patient reassurance if needed.

Even ignoring that there are people in the equation, I suspect that a medical doctor's job may be much more complicated than "an addition subtraction formula":

  • Diagnosis:
    • Beware that symptoms presented may have diverse etiologies
    • Examine for related symptoms to help make a differential diagnosis
  • Prescription
    • The right amount
    • Try something else if the first prescription doesn't work
    • Do it safely ("the dose makes the poison", avoid iatrogenic and nosocomial problems)
    • Do it bravely (medicine may be poison but disease may be worse than the treatment)
  • Prevention
    • Don't just fix a bullet wound, try to offer a treatment plan for the lifestyle which caused it

How can a medical student or a doctor get across this barrier, and not be deconditioned to being blind to the truth, and how can he/she be strong and balanced enough mentally to cope up with the evergrowing needs/obligations that a doctor is cursed with?

It might help (you and others) to remember that you're not alone.

Maybe you'll hand over to a specialist: a surgeon, an otolaryngologist, a psychiatrist, an oncologist, or any number of other specialties.

They in turn may hand their/your patient back to the GP / family doctor, for ongoing care.

In the hospital, maybe part of your job is to support the nurses: if they spend more time with the patient than you do, then maybe they know the patient better; nevertheless they (the nurses and the patient) need your technical support (e.g. for monitoring the effect of prescriptions) and that's what you can do for them.

As for spiritual advice and comfort, you might be able to offer that as a friend, a fellow human being, a fellow Buddhist. Another option is to hope to delegate that too to another specialist: one of the patient's friend, family, or their teacher, or perhaps a chaplain, monk, or nun who will visit people in the hospital.

It might also be helpful to review what Right Speech is: timely, kind, and so on. As a doctor you may know things (about cause and prognosis) which a patient doesn't. Sharing that knowledge may help the patient to live with/within reality instead of fear (of the unknown) and ignorance.


If you're looking for Buddhist advice about dying, there's a lot of that advice about; some I found include for example:

I think we shouldn't be in a hurry to reach the point of dying, though.

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