Can monks really take care of their health?

Discussion of ordination, the Vinaya and monastic life. How and where to ordain? Bhikkhuni ordination etc.

Can monks really take care of their health?

Postby barcsimalsi » Wed Jan 23, 2013 5:19 am

Monks and Nuns depend on lay people for food. How can they choose what food is really good for their health? What's the use of health insurance and medication if the monks kept getting sick again and again because of unsuitable daily nutriment. We need a healthy body to support our practice.

I acknowledge somewhere in the sutta that hints monkhood is not fit for the weak but even the strong and healthy are subject to impermanent.

The great Ajahn Chah suffered almost 10 years of severe diabetes before his death and i had met many monks who suffered various sickness for long periods which thoroughly cast negative impact on their daily practice. Not everyone has a divinehealth like Buddha Boy.

Appreciate anyone who has ordination experience to share their thoughts.
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Re: Can monks really take care of their health?

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Jan 23, 2013 6:53 am

barcsimalsi wrote:Monks and Nuns depend on lay people for food. How can they choose what food is really good for their health? What's the use of health insurance and medication if the monks kept getting sick again and again because of unsuitable daily nutriment. We need a healthy body to support our practice.

I acknowledge somewhere in the sutta that hints monkhood is not fit for the weak but even the strong and healthy are subject to impermanent.

The great Ajahn Chah suffered almost 10 years of severe diabetes before his death and i had met many monks who suffered various sickness for long periods which thoroughly cast negative impact on their daily practice. Not everyone has a divinehealth like Buddha Boy.

Appreciate anyone who has ordination experience to share their thoughts.

when a mendicant is sick is when special requests can be made without being prompted to ask.
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Re: Can monks really take care of their health?

Postby appicchato » Wed Jan 23, 2013 7:24 am

A monk who's into his practice takes what comes and lets go what goes...it don't matter...
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Re: Can monks really take care of their health?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Wed Jan 23, 2013 7:47 am

In the Buddha's time, after he became famous, the monks got sick because devotees offered too much rich food every day. The Buddha allowed monks to do sweeping to improve their health. This practice is widespread in Thai forest monasteries. Tthe monks spend quite a lot of time sweeping leaves. This also ensures that snakes and centipedes are easier to see on the foot paths.

It is difficult to avoid eating too much rich or sweet food if that's what people offer to monks. However, the bottom line is that we alone are responsible for our own welfare. Its no use blaming others for offering too much food if we eat too much. We may be obliged to accept what is offered, but we do not have to eat all of it. After eating what we need, we can discard the leftovers for animals to eat if there is no one else who needs it.

If people ask, then we can say what is suitable for our health. If the monks set a good example in eating healthy food, the lay community will follow them.

There are four kinds of food:
  1. Physical nutriment (āhāra). Reflecting wisely he eats not for pleasure, not for fattening, not for beautifation, but only to sustain the body to live the holy life. It is vital to keep a check on how much one is eating. The practice in the forest monasteries is to take into the almsbowl only as much as one needs, then to eat it all. The rest is passed down the line to the other monks. In Burma, the food was offered on a table, shared between half a dozen monks. There was always more than enough for everyone. One could take as much or as little as one wanted into the almsbowl and leave the rest for the lay people to use.
  2. Thought (citta). Some diseases arise due to unskilful thinking. A monk should meditate and keep his mind free from stress and unwholesome mental states such as lust and anger.
  3. Climate (utu). Some diseases arise due to climate. Although its not possible to change the weather, in extreme cases, one can move to another place. At least, one can get out in the fresh air, bathe and wash robes, and get some exercise.
  4. Kamma. If one has past kamma of killing and injuring living beings, one will get many diseases. There is nothing that we can do to change the kamma that was done by us in previous lives, or earlier in this life, and even Arahants will have to endure the consequences of kamma. We can practise loving-kindness in this very life. Meditating on the repulsiveness of nutriment will help to reduce greed if we have a problem with that.
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Re: Can monks really take care of their health?

Postby robertk » Wed Jan 23, 2013 9:27 am

Bhikkhus are the great disciple heroes of the sasana and will endure all types of illness without concern beyond taking whatever medicine is available.
In Sri lanka there was a famine some 500 years after the Buddha's parinibanna and many bhikkhu died of hunger as the laypeople stopped offering enough food. The Bhikhhus would not break their vows and store food that was not offered as this was against the vinaya.

So bhikkhus don't worry about such mundane things as possible future ill health, they are given over to the Dhamma now.
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Re: Can monks really take care of their health?

Postby Ben » Wed Jan 23, 2013 9:32 am

My understanding is that there are large state financed monks hospitals in both Bangkok and Yangon.
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Re: Can monks really take care of their health?

Postby cooran » Wed Jan 23, 2013 9:49 am

Hello Ben,

My understanding is that there are a few hospitals especially for Monks and separately for Nuns. Sometimes the Burmese sangha are transferred to Thailand - but this is costly to the Burmese state.

A few sites:
Bangkok Priest Hospital
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrKex56nJgA

Priest Hospital is located in Ratchathewi district of Bangkok on Si Ayutthaya Road. This hospital was established in 1949 as a hospital specifically set up to care for ailing Buddhist monks and novices. Up to this day, the hospital still cares for monks, as well as conducting medical research and providing a support system for medical care of the monastic order throughout Thailand.
http://www.bangkokpost.com/lifestyle/he ... ital/5905/

Yangon’s Jivitadana Sangha Hospital
http://www.mmtimes.com/2012/news/621/news62110.html

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Re: Can monks really take care of their health?

Postby James the Giant » Wed Jan 23, 2013 11:05 am

There was a western monk a few decades ago in the far north (north-west? Burmese border area?) of Thailand who went blind because the local people didn't know and didn't care to ask what he needed to eat. So they just gave him either white rice, or just instant noodles. I can't remember which.
So he gradually suffered from all sorts of nutritional deficiencies and finally went blind!
A supporter from another part of the country came to visit him one day and was appalled at what he was eating.
So the supporter told the village people to give healthy things, not just white rice. Fortunately the monk regained his eyesight.
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Re: Can monks really take care of their health?

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Jan 23, 2013 3:22 pm

Ben wrote:My understanding is that there are large state financed monks hospitals in both Bangkok and Yangon.
kind regards

Ben

I do not know about state funded hospitals in Myanmar but there is a charitable one started by Sitagu Sayadaw.
2 .SITAGU ARYUDHANA HOSPITAL,

SAGAING HILLS, SAGAING CITY, MYANMAR. TEL: 95-72-21310

SITAGU AYUDHANA HOSPITAL, a one hundred bed project began in 1985 and the hospital was opened in 1989 for the monks, nuns, novices and poor people of Sagaing. The hospital is fully equipped with surgical and X-ray units, an optical surgical units, an in-patient ward and out-patient ward and has a permanent staff of doctors, nurses and non-professional workers.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
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Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: Can monks really take care of their health?

Postby Alobha » Wed Jan 23, 2013 7:12 pm

James the Giant wrote:There was a western monk a few decades ago in the far north (north-west? Burmese border area?) of Thailand who went blind because the local people didn't know and didn't care to ask what he needed to eat. So they just gave him either white rice, or just instant noodles. I can't remember which.
So he gradually suffered from all sorts of nutritional deficiencies and finally went blind!
A supporter from another part of the country came to visit him one day and was appalled at what he was eating.
So the supporter told the village people to give healthy things, not just white rice. Fortunately the monk regained his eyesight.


A few decades ago, malnutrition most likely wasn't just a problem for monks in northern Thailand, but the local people likely have been affected, too. As far as I know, the northern part of Thailand was quite poor (and still is?) so sometimes the question is not what people give, but also what they can give.
As for Ajahn Chah: Diabetes in old age happens.
Besides that, I don't know how educated people were at that time about malnutrition and proper nutrition. When there are no well-educated doctors around, diagnosing malnutrition may not be easy either.

Monastics have the freedom to choose a different place to stay and they can freely choose how much they eat. We as laypeople can not only inform other laypeople about the need for healthy food, but can give more importance to health than taste whenever we give dana ourselves.
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Re: Can monks really take care of their health?

Postby philosopher » Sat Feb 02, 2013 2:51 pm

Alobha wrote:As for Ajahn Chah: Diabetes in old age happens.


I respectfully disagree. Diabetes is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases that can be prevented and managed through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes.

Diet plays an extremely important role in both the treatment and prevention of many chronic diseases. Also, diabetes is a great example of a chronic disease which is not all or nothing; rather, it is a matter of degree. What I mean by that is that even with elevated sugar levels that don't qualify one as "diabetic" according to current guidelines, damage is still being done on a systemic level to one's organs, etc. Diet is probably the most important factor (along with vigorous and plentiful exercise) that has both immediate and long term, cumulative effects on the health.

I wish that I could cite the exact talk, but I believe I remember Ajahn Munindo saying in one of his talks that Ajahn Chah did express regret he hadn't taken care of his health better so that when we was at the height of his spiritual maturation he could have been less restricted by his failing health and able to do more for others. Please excuse the very rough paraphrasing.

On the other hand, being overly attached to having good health is probably not skillful, either.

But not being able to control one's diet has personally caused me the most hesitation in pursuing a monastic life.

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