Recently, I had a thought about this subject. Unlike other religions, where there’s a set of beliefs, and you’re supposed to adhere to them (dogma), the Buddha’s teachings, the Dharma, are more like a doctor’s prescription. This analogy is nothing new. I’ve read this analogy in plenty of Buddhist books, but it’s a good analogy to explore.
Imagine you visit your doctor because you have bad heartburn lately (like me). Once your doctor understands your situation, he will give some medical advice. He or she will tell you that if you change your diet, avoid certain foods, and change how you sleep and such, your heartburn should improve. You don’t have to listen to the doctor’s advice though. If you want, you can continue suffering heartburn just so you can enjoy your favorite foods, but you have no right to complain about it then. Similarly, if your doctor tells you to lose weight, you can choose to follow it or ignore it. If you ignore it, you can’t complain years later when you develop medical problems or die from a heart attack. 😉
In the same way, the Buddha saw that the world has many problems and frustrations. Seeing this, he determined a cause for this: people wanted life to be a certain (self-centered) way, but life unfolds in a different way and we get frustrated or disappointed. Finally, he offered a prescription: instead of blaming the world for your problems, let go of your expectations and your selfish needs.
A person could keep feeding their selfish needs, but like the patient who refuses to change his diet, will get frustrated time and again. If you follow the prescription, it might not be fun at first, but you will feel better in the long-run and be glad you made the right choice. Also, you don’t have to follow the advice strictly, but you can try it out in small “doses” and see whether it helps or not. If it works, you can keep following the treatment.
I think this is why I am often fascinated with the Medicine Buddha:
The Medicine Buddha is a popular Buddha in the Mahayana tradition, but is only mentioned in one sutra. Regardless of whether you believe in the literal Medicine Buddha or not, the Medicine Buddha is the ultimate symbol of the Buddha-as-doctor, curing the ills of the world with helpful advice. On my first visit to Japan ever, my father in law took me to a nearby temple from his hometown in rural Kanagawa Prefecture. There, I met the Medicine Buddha for the first time. I was impressed by the total (not conditional) compassion of the Medicine Buddha and decided I would follow Buddhism after that. Eight years later, I’m still a Buddhist despite ups and downs, and it has helped. 🙂
On koro koro sendari matogi sowaka
P.S. No relation to Doctor Mario. ;-p