Is Buddhism Good for Health?

You can apply several tests to belief systems. One of the tests of a good religion is that it should make people better. By “better” I mean you are better spiritually, morally and physically by following that religion than if you had not. In other words, there are objective proofs – e.g. is this religion true or is it made-up by man – and there are subjective proofs – does this religion make me a nicer, purer, healthier – or in a word – a “better” person?

Subjective proofs are hard to talk about because they are that – subjective. Many Christians testify that have been miraculously healed by God – many in my own family and church would not be alive today if they had not believed and obeyed God’s Word – so they would joyfully tell you. But you may choose to disbelieve their experience. You may choose to question, “But other Christians prayed and they were not healed? What about them?” To answer that question objectively, we would have to diagnose each individual sick person, Did they obey the Bible? Did they speak God’s Word? Did they, most of all, learn to walk in love, forgiveness and let go of bitterness – which is one of the major causes of sickness in humans. Every step out of love is simply sin.

While we can’t verify every person’s subjective experience, we can say that by following Christ, many people have become better, healthier people. There is plenty of evidence that when people repent, trust Jesus, and walk in love, their health improves vastly, sometimes “miraculously”. Is this true of every religion?

Growing up in Thailand, I have never heard of one miraculous healing by Buddha. Of course, Buddha went “nippan” (or has ceased to exist), so there is no contradiction that Buddhists should expect no supernatural aid from anyone they pray to. But what about following the principles and practices of religion – is Buddhism good for our health?

A well known fact among Asian Buddhists is that the Buddhist ritual of burning incense is harmful to human respiration, pollutes the home, and may even cause cancer in the devotees. This is both objectively and subjectively verifiable. This is so well known that commercial suppliers of incense now offer the modern electric version of incense light without the incense fume. Western devotees have yet to catch on to this as the fad of burning incense and the sale of incense sticks seem to be on the rise in the West. Robert Kiyosaki’s sister Emi Kiyosaki (ordained name: Tenzin Kacho) has encountered health problems and is now conscious of clean air and good venmtilation after years of burning incense in a Buddhist monastery.*

Contrast this with the Bible’s teachings. God prescribed the “kosher” or clean diet for His believers. He told Israel not to eat scavengers of the sea (shell fish, shrimps, etc) even though many of us think they’re pretty tasty. Of course, we are not bound to the Jewish diet to be saved and go to heaven, but following the Jewish diet may keep us healthier longer on the earth. Why? As it turns out, shrimps, lobsters, and shell fish not only contain very high cholesterol, scientists have found that they accumulate high levels of heavy metals and other pollutions of the sea. The sages of the Bible were not trying to restrict our palette. They were apparently given information well in advance of their time. God knows what’s best for us and following the Bible produces better health.

For 4000 years the God of the Bible recommended scrupulous washing of hands, long before medical doctors adopted the practice less than 200 years ago. Back then no one even knew germs existed. So when Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis suggested that post-partum deaths could be prevented by the simple washing of hands, he became the laughing stock of the medical community. But what he observed was later proven true: when medical students go from operating on cadavers straight to delivering babies, the new mothers experienced a higher mortality rate (i.e. they died after giving childbirth). Dr. Semmelweis would not see the medical community adopt his recommendation till after he died. Many mothers’ lives could have been spared if people had simply believed and obeyed the Bible. Anytime someone touched a dead body, God commanded that person to wash himself thoroughly.

There are countless other examples of how following the Bible leads to better health – from proper personal hygiene to communal sanitation – all of which may seem obvious to us now, but let’s not forget these Biblical practices eluded the wisest of religious people in previous centuries and still eludes many religious devotees today.

Lest people dismiss the Bible as preaching only common sense, rather than truths only known by God, I should call your attention to one of the most prominent health commandments in the Old Testament: male circumcision. Any man reading would agree this would not be an idea that naturally comes to a man – to cut the tip of his member or of his offspring’s member! Today, science has caught up with the Biblical knowledge that circumcision carries with it a lifetime of medical benefits, among which are: prevention of kidney infection, urinary tract infection, foreskin infection, protection against HIV, genital herpes, and other sexually transmitted diseases. The benefits extend to the circumcised men’s sexual partners. Circumcision provides women with increased protection from cervical cancer, bacterial vaginosis, and possibly Chlamydia (which can cause infertility). How did the Bible know all this? And if other religions are equally true, why did no other religious leader know about this? (except those who came into contact with the Bible) Every religious leader in the world share one thing in common – they were all uncircumcised except those who believed the Bible.

The Bible not only makes healthy recommendations, it does so with intelligence beyond its time. God was very specific about it. Circumcision was not to be performed on any old day the parents or doctors wanted, but God commanded it on the 8th day. Why should this matter? Because modern medicine has discovered that blood clotting factors are at optimum in a baby on the 8th day. Following God’s order would not only bless the male for life, it would also prevent infant mortality due to poor surgery.

Burning incense in Buddhist homes and monasteries has led to health challenges in many followers. But following the Bible has never caused cancer in anybody. If a religion is true, it has to make people better. If a religion is divine, it has to deliver truths that are beyond human theory at the time. Although I used to believe that the Tao Te Ching and the Tri-pitaka are the same as the Bible (after all, aren’t they all good religious books?), evidence has proven my old assumption wrong. When we look at the Bible dispassionately (unemotionally), we discover God’s commands are best for children and best for adults. That’s why I believe the Bible now.

Enthusiasts sometimes claim “Buddhism is the most scientific religion.” I used to accept that blindly, but the evidence above calls the very statement into question. When people make assertions, I’ve learned to politely ask for reasons, “What is the evidence that Buddhism is the most scientific religion? If Buddhism is so scientific, why hasn’t Buddhism produced any of the great scientists?”

* “Brother Sister Merge Religion With Business,” SFGate.com, Feb 22, 2009,  http://articles.sfgate.com/2009-02-22/news/17189916_1_dalai-lama-medical-bills-robert-kiyosaki/2

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