Notes from a dharma farmer: Dharma and Health

Dharma and Health

©Tarchin Hearn (March 14, 2008 Strathean, Otaki, NZ)

If you investigate a healthy field or forest, you will find an extraordinary profusion of life forms. Each creature or being, eats and digests and excretes and self-maintains, its on- going structure. It also replicates, and dies, and is eaten by other members of its living community. These activities are going on day and night in an unbroken continuum through myriad dimensions of being, micro to macro. The vitality of the field or forest is palpable. There is a harmonious balance of uncountable interdependent species; below the ground, on the surface, and above. Creatures look healthy and unstressed. The air smells good. It seems to invite deeper breathing, and there is an overall feeling of vibrancy that can carry us into a sense of reverence, wonder and primal worship.

The Buddha is often quoted as saying, “I teach but two things, suffering and the cessation of suffering.” It would be reasonable to associate the cessation or absence of suffering, with the presence of health. For a deep understanding of the Buddha’s teaching, it is absolutely necessary to see that he was a living creature rooted in the soil of the natural world of his time, teaching real people who themselves were products and participants in that same collective soil or ecosystem. His methods of meditation were directed to what was happening in the here and now, and the here and now is always specific; this creature, this environment, this perception, this thought. “Pay attention to detail”, is a phrase that accompanied his teaching. It would be very contradictory to assume that he pointed people to the immediate and ever fresh, here and now, while theorising statistically about all beings in general. In today’s terms his teaching was ‘hands on’, direct and immediately practical. It addressed actual people in the context of their lives and the physical and social environments they lived in.

By the criterion of a healthy field or forest; (a rich balance of species, unstressed individuals and collectives, fresh air and overall feeling of vibrancy and so forth), we would have to admit that the way we humans are living today is becoming less and less healthy.

Buddhism often holds out the goal of nirvana or peace, the ability to be easefully and flowingly present, with any situation or circumstance. Surely real peace has something to do with deep pervasive health. Buddhadharma is sometimes translated as the teaching of awakening. We could also call it the way of healthy living. Any practice of buddhadharma today must involve opening our eyes to the causes of suffering and then taking steps to alleviate it. The Buddha spoke of clinging and ignorance as being major contributors to suffering. I find myself looking to the field or forest for an indication. Suffering arises in proportion to how much the fabric of living process is interrupted. The path to the cessation of suffering is connected with whatever activities support the good functioning of the whole community. Perhaps true dharma is the same as good farming.