Study on the Effect of Buddhism on Development of Eastern Medicine and its Application to Modern Medical Development-Final work as the whole

Study on the Effect of Buddhism on Development of Eastern Medicine and its Application to Modern Medical Development

30432 SooHong Jacob Kim

Mr. Johnson



Table of Contents

I. Introduction

1. Purpose of Research

2. Method of Research

II. Buddhism and Eastern Medicine

1. Basic Philosophy and Beliefs of Buddhism

2. Basic Knowledge of Eastern Medicine

3. Interpretation of Eastern Medicine in Buddhist Context

III. Application of Buddhism in Modern Medical Development

1. Problems and Dangers in Modern Development: Radical Revolution

2. Guide of Buddhism in Treatment and Development of Disease

3. How Prevention Outweighs Treatments

IV. Conclusion

V. Bibliography


I .Introduction

  1. Purpose of Research

             The motivation to start my paper on ‘Study on the Effect of Buddhism on Development of Eastern Medicine and its Application to Modern Medical Development’ happened naturally as fate. Since young I had definite interest in the field of medicine. Mr. Johnson, our guidance of anthropology through perfection, recommended us to combine various cultures to our research. My heritage and personal interest had forced me to favor Eastern medicine more than Western medicine. I questioned myself, “What is the key basic philosophy that lies behind development of Eastern medicine?” I had already known that Western philosophy was based on ideas of specification and classification. I soon learned that Buddhist theories took the most part of Eastern medicine. In Chosun Dynasty of Korea, there existed three dominant teachings: Confucianism, Sung Confucianism, and Buddhism. Although Sung Confucianism was attached as the national teachings, Buddhist became the infrastructure for Eastern Medicine.

             As Korean, and as a student who dreams of majoring in the field of Medicine, I believe that it is necessary to know basic ideas behind Eastern Medicine. My research does not end here. In today’s field of medicine, Western medicine focuses on specifying the body itself to create new medical treatment. With discovery of stem cells, even human cloning became available. I want my research to bring conclusion that can be applied to modern medical science. Prevention of disease outweighs the benefits from curing the disease.



  1. Method of Research

The research was largely influenced by the research book “Dong Ue Bo Gam, In search for the body, the universe, and the vision of life” by author Mi Sook Ko. Many of the basic information of Eastern medicine is credited to her work. She suggested that Buddhism encounters heavily with Eastern medicine, so her belief and logic is dissolved in my research. It won’t be an overstatement if I were to say that most of the information was derived from her teachings. It is either mentioned in the book or inspired me into thinking of it.

Huston Smith’s “The World’s Religions” proved enough information on Buddhism for me to connect with Eastern medicine. Basic teachings, philosophies, and history of Buddhism were specifically stated in the book. For the third part of my research, I will depend mostly on the internet. Articles, news, research papers, and statistics on effect of Eastern medicine and its potential will be used to support my thesis and bring clear conclusion. Last but not least, surveys about people’s opinions on Eastern medicine will be conducted.

II. Buddhism and Eastern Medicine

  1. Basic Philosophy and Beliefs of Buddhism

Siddhartha Gautama, or the awakened one, was born from a king of a small nation. When he was born, there was a prophecy that told the king: If Siddhartha became the ruler; he would rule the whole nation. If he became the wanderer; he would become enlightened and teach others. The king wanted the former results, so he excluded the world’s pain, grief, and death from his son. However, it was inevitable to avoid every aspect of pain, and Siddhartha eventually learned that the world was full of pain. When he realized this simple fact, he decided to give up his rich and powerful life as a prince to search for the ultimate truth. After studying Hinduism, practicing frugality before death, and practicing under the Bo Tree, Siddhartha became the Buddha, or “The Enlightened One”.

After he was enlightened, he spread his teachings to his disciples, which in turn formed Buddhism. It was different from contemporary Hinduism, because Hinduism had lost its original truth and colors and turned into hierarchal system. The basic Buddhist teachings rely on Buddha’s four noble truths. The dukka, or the suffering, shows that the life that he diagnosed as suffering is unregerate life. Second truth is Tanha, or desire. Because of Tanha, we have sufferings and when we are truly selfless, we can get rid of Tanha. Third truth is the cure of Tanha, which is simply getting rid of selfish desires. Through the eightfold path, we can overcome Tanha and get ourselves out of our captivity, which is the fourth noble truth. (Smith, The World’s Religions)

             2. Basic Knowledge of Eastern Medicine

Figure 2- Heo Jun, The creator of Dong Ue Bo Gam

Korean medicine refers to traditional medical field developed and practiced in Korea. Although some aspects of its treatments, such as techniques and diagnosis influence, came from similar treatments of traditional Chinese medicine, it has distinctive treatment systems that only exist in Korean medicine. Evidence that Korean traditional medicine existed is shown by stone and bone needles found to be originating at 3000 B.C. Also, cultures of medicine is shown on founding myth of Korea. When the bear and the tiger were to bear in the cave eating only garlic and wormwood, the bear was able to endure through the process and become human. In ancient Korea, garlic and wormwood were described as ‘eatable medicine’, which proved that Koreans used medical herbs as curatives.

Figure 3-Acupuncure

             Before Joseon dynasty, Korean medicine was heavily impacted and influenced by Chinese medicine. During Joseon dynasty, Korean medicine itself flourished and developed. Medical books such as “Classified Collection of Medical Prescription” (의방유취) by Kim-Ye-Mong, or “Concise Prescription of Royal Doctors” were published as medicine evoled. After this, many books of Korean medicine were published. Among them, the most significant book is the Dong Ue Bo Gam(동의보감) by Heo Jun, the first of the major physicians.

             Methods of general treatments include herbal medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion, aromatherapy, and meditation. Herbalism is the study and practice of using plants for the purpose of food, medicine or health. Flowers, plants, shrubs, trees, fungus, or roots of plants are used as main ingredients of herbal medicine. Contrasting with Western medicine where they collect useful compounds inside herbal materials, Eastern medicine tends to take the whole thing itself to cure. Acupuncture is using needles to cure ailments by withdrawing blood and stimulating certain points on human and animals by inserting them on specific pressure points of the body. Moxibustion is the technique which heat is applied with the stick or cone of burning mugwort. Aromatherapy is a method of treating body ailments using essential oils. Meditation is a self-directed practice for the purpose of relaxing and calming the mind of the body. It has been proven to lower the blood pressure and anxiety. (Ko, Dong Ue Bo Gam, In search for the body, the universe, and vision of live)

  1. Interpretation of Eastern Medicine in Buddhist Context

As Buddhist refer birth itself as ‘고’or ‘death’, disease itself cannot be separated from our lives. Buddhist teachings say that as human we must learn to live with them, and that the prevention should come before treatment.

Figure 5- Buddha’s Quote on Health

To Buddhists, the supreme purpose of life is to become a Buddha; their ideal is to “deliver all beings.” They advocate dispelling all private desires and distracting thoughts, doing good deeds, and being altruistic. There is no specific theory on health building in the Buddhist classics. Working, sitting in meditation, eating vegetarian food, and rejecting sexual desire are Buddhism’s philosophy on health building.

Ideologically, Buddhism holds that if people sit still with a peaceful mind, concentrate, and persevere, they can achieve a delightful, bright, clear, refreshed state of body and mind. Achieving this state is the purpose of sitting in meditation. From a medical point of view, constant anxiety and worry negatively affect the physiological functioning of the human body and cause pathological changes. The goal of meditation is to free the mind to achieve a natural state of peace. (ICCI, 2012)

Buddhists combine chanting with sitting in meditation. Many Buddhists, including lay Buddhists who practice Buddhism at home, live a long life. One reason is because they concentrate on chanting Buddhist scriptures and so have few distracting thoughts running through their minds. They are totally indifferent to personal honor, disgrace, gain, or loss in the physical world. (ICCI, 2012)

A Buddhist saying goes: “If I do not work for a day, I will not eat for a day.” Monks living in Buddhist temples hidden deep in the mountains farm, fetch water, cook meals, do laundry, and sew. Physical work is an important part of their daily lives, but its purpose is to practice thrift and maintain self-sufficiency, not to improve their health. Their state of mind and physical activity create the foundation for their long lives. (ICCI, 2012)

Vegetarianism is not a rule for all Buddhists; it is a unique product of Chinese Buddhism. The rule under which Chinese Buddhists eat vegetarian food dates back to the reign of Emperor Wudi in the Liang Dynasty. Subsequently, Buddhists were prohibited from killing animals and began eating vegetarian food. Vegetables, beans, fruits, and cereals are very nutritious. They contain abundant vitamins, inorganic salts, protein, glucose, sugar, and a little fat.

Figure 6- Pancha Tantmantra, Buddhist health guide based on five elements of Chinese Philosophy

Rejecting sexual desire is another important part of Buddhist philosophy on health building because rejecting sexual desire can preserve sperm. Chinese emperors in ancient times indulged in sensual pleasures and lost their kidney semen, therefore, they were short-lived; however, Emperor Wudi of the Liang Dynasty, who believed in Buddhism, lived more than 80 years because he had less sex. This was very rare among Chinese emperors. Buddhists sat in meditation, worked, ate vegetarian food, and rejected sex, not to build their health, but to practice Buddhist doctrine. Therefore, only people outside the Buddhist school thought about whether Buddhist philosophy dealt with health building. (ICCI, 2012)

III. Application of Buddhism in Modern Medical Development

  1. Problems and Dangers in Modern Development: Radical Revolution

In his book “Radical Revolution” Joel Garreau explains about how far the human being will evolve into. It deals not only with the biological evolution, but also scientific evolution. By experimenting with monkeys to move robots far apart with its brain, human will able to use psychic power to control objects. In conclusion, human will be the first species to control its own evolution. Garreau says that today is the new renaissance of technology. Because the scientifical development increases with skyrocketing speed, there will be a curve in development and thus will create a world that cannot be imaginable today. However, I questioned if these developments will actually be right for human beings. Stem cell research and immoral creation of human is just one slip away from each other. Science does not have any problem, but human that use science does. This can be applied to today’s medicine.

Table 1- Statistics on Percent of Child Vaccination Around the World

Table 1 shows the positive effect of vaccination. As vaccination increased and seemed to be a great help for humanity, there are side effects that is detrimental.

There are many ways to misuse medication, and many reasons students choose to start. Unfortunately, nowadays, misusing medication is prevalent on university campuses. Some students blame this on the competitiveness of college — hoping that taking a stimulant will help them get an edge up on the competition — while others do it purely for recreational purposes. (Ulifeline, 2014)

The most frequently misused medications are: opioid painkillers (e.g., OxyContin and Vicodin); central nervous system (CNS) depressants used for anxiety and sleep disorders (e.g., Valium and Ativan); and stimulants that treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy.  Abusing the above medications comes with various dangers. Opioids can cause choking, changes in mood, decreased cognitive function, interruptions in the menstrual cycle, infertility and slowed breathing. There’s even a risk of coma or death if there’s a severe slowdown in breathing. CNS depressants — sedatives and tranquilizers — can cause memory problems and lead to seizures. Using some stimulants even in the short term can trigger paranoia; high doses can cause an increase in body temperature and abnormal heartbeat. There’s also a risk of cardiovascular problems and fatal seizures. Some of these medications already can be addictive. When misused, the risk of addiction jumps exponentially. Becoming addicted to a drug means that you’re physically dependent on it, and you develop an uncontrollable craving for it. Typically you need more of the drug and in higher doses to get the same effects, which can be dangerous. Discontinuing the drug results in withdrawal symptoms — physical symptoms like nausea, shaking, sweating and nervousness. Withdrawal from opioids results in symptoms such as bone pain, insomnia, vomiting and uncontrolled leg movements. Stimulant withdrawal can produce depression, exhaustion and sleep problems. Withdrawal from some sedatives and tranquilizers can lead to life-threatening consequences. (Ulifeline, 2014)

2. Guide of Buddhism in Treatment and Development of Disease

The teaching of Buddhist Medicine was first taught by the King of Medicine Buddha 50,000 aeons ago. Buddha Shakyamuni in this aeon, as the emanation of Medicine Buddha (Bhaishajya-Guru), also gave many transmissions of medical texts 2500 years ago. These texts contain thousands of chapters on causes, prevention and cure of diseases. (PIBS, 2012)

Buddha taught that the root causes of all diseases are the three poisons – delusion (obscuration, ignorance, confusion), attachment (desire, pride, craving) and aversion (anger, hatred, aggression). It is due to these three poisons that 404 main types of psycho-physical disorders and their 84,000 types of manifestation come to exist in this world. These 404 main types of disease can be classified into four main categories of 101 types each. (PIBS, 2012)

The first category of diseases is caused by past karmic condition and cannot be cured. Attempts to bring cure to it by any conventional means will only increase its karmic weight and generate a further round of suffering for the patient in both the present life and future lives. The second category is caused by the influence of harmful negative spirits. These can be eliminated by ritual practice performed for the patient by a qualified lama or tantric yogi. The third category is caused by seasonal factors, improper conduct and improper diet. These can be rectified by proper conduct, proper diet and medicine. The fourth category comes about due to superfluous causes. These minor diseases usually attain recovery without the need of medicine. (PIBS, 2012)

3. How Prevention Outweighs Treatment

             As mentioned earlier above, the main difference between Eastern and Western Medicine is that Eastern medicine focuses on the early prevention of the diseases, and Western medicine focuses on treatment of the disease after it is acquired. This is also shown in different cultures. Nations of East tend to have frugal lifestyle with humble diet and spending. For example, people of Japan do not indulge on food. Instead, they eat as little as possible. Japanese people are known to have longest expected life years. People of West know that they can be cured when they acquire diseases, so they do not care about prevention of the diseases in the first place. Logically thinking, preventing diseases is much more beneficial than taking care of it after being sick.

             IV. Conclusion

             Humanity has been fighting with the smallest but deadliest force since its existence: virus and diseases. In ancient times, we did not have enough knowledge or technology to fight against them. As great scientists such as Flemming or Sack developed medicine to declare extinction of diseases, virus and diseases too became stronger and fought back. Contrasting with Western cultures where scientists tried to divide human body into segments and treated diseases as opponents at war, Eastern cultures treated them as individual beings that just try to exist. Buddhist teachings also affected development of Eastern medicine, and Buddhist teaching’s power is so powerful that it can be applied to today’s medical development.



V. Bibliography


CIC (n.d.). Buddhist Philosophy on Health Building. Retrieved June 23, 2014, from

CML (n.d.). Buddhism. Retrieved June 27, 2014, from

Dreyer, A. (n.d.). Pancha Tanmantra Martial Arts – Amie Dreyer – Chrysalis. Retrieved June 27, 2014, from

PIBS (n.d.). Buddhist Medicine and Healing. Retrieved June 27, 2014, from

Pinit Ratanakul (n.d.). Dharma World Buddhist magazine. Retrieved June 27, 2014, from

UNICEF (n.d.). Statistics by Area – Immunization – Trends. Retrieved June 27, 2014, from

Vactruth (n.d.). How Pharmaceutical Companies Hide the Dangers of Vaccines from Parents. Retrieved June 1, 2014, from



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