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Buddhism and the Profession of Medicine*

Dr. R. L. Soni, Mandalay.

Director-in-Chief of the World Institute of Buddhist Culture

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Vol. III, No. 11, 1958

          At a time when most of the students in Burma are falling an easy prey to the stark materialism of the age, brutally ignoring the grand cultural heritage coming to them through the ages, it is a matter of great satisfaction to witness the medical students of Mandalay banding themselves together into an association for the study and the understanding, practice and propagation of the Buddhist values.

          It is in the fitness of things that medical students in Mandalay should have risen to the occasion, for, Mandalay, though today no longer the political capital of Burma, is still the cultural metropolis of the land, besides being the world's leading seat of Buddhist learning.

          I am doubly happy today; firstly, because of the inauguration of this Buddhist Association within the four walls of the young University of Mandalay, and Secondly, because of this Association being sponsored by the medical students.

         My love for Mandalay is great; for my profession, to which you have enlisted as students, no less; and, for Buddhism supreme. This Buddhist Association of yours brings the three together. I am confident that this synthesis shall bear happy fruits. Verily, it is such a synthesis that Burma needs today. This I say, for, firstly, the greatest need of Burma today is cultural renaissance, which alone is expected to impart the requisite momentum for a push forwards towards peace, prosperity and progress. Mandalay obviously is the most suitable place for this, it being the heart of Burmese culture and located amidst the relics of several capitals of the land, vividly reminding us of the glory that was of Burma not very far back. Also, this historic town has several organisations of note, doing excellent social, religious and cultural work locally. Of the Buddhist bodies here, most known abroad, are three, namely The Buddhist Foreign Mission, which sponsored a world-wide survey of Buddhism through Ven. Lokanatha of the world Dhammaduta fame, The World Institute of Buddhist Culture with its world-wide contacts, and Burma Buddhist Society, which publishes "The Light of Buddha", an English Monthly on Buddhism.

          Secondly, the profession of medicines, imbued with the ideal of service to suffering humanity, has a great role to play in steering the nation from its unfortunate contemporary mire of disease and suffering to the glorious bloom of health and happiness.

          And thirdly, the most vital role falls to the lot of Buddhism, decidedly the religion of 90% of the population, and as such with far reaching responsibilities to the nation in spheres not only religious but also cultural, social, and even political.

          Proper understanding and adequate practice of Buddhism will make you not only patriotic citizens, ever ready to promote the cause of the country, and excellent doctors, ever upholding the ethical dignity of the profession above personal interests, but also personalities inspired by high cultural and spiritual standards. Therefore, while offering to you my congratulations for your good luck in prosecuting your medical studies amidst historical associations and cultural scenes, I cordially greet you for your genuine interest in the sublime teachings of the Buddha, and wish you the best of luck.

         The more you study Buddhism the more you will find it in accord with reason and science. The more you practice it, the more you will find it I fruitful in the solution of the various difficulties and obstacles that create problems in life. Buddhism will make you good students, efficient doctors, and excellent citizens. It will not only illumine the medical ethics but also add a lovable glow to your professional labours and a humane touch to your social dealings. Thus will be illumined your path to success and happiness, here and hereafter.

          Buddhism is the religion of peace. Marvelously enough, without shedding a single drop of blood, human or animal, during its march of 25 centuries, it has become the leading religion of mankind today, having in its fold at present over 500 million persons spread over some forty countries. You and I, and most of us here are the members of this gigantic world-wide fraternity, the proud inheritors of a glorious culture in the making of which generations after generations of men and women devotedly toiled.

          In this atomic age, science occupies the position of authority, not only in the laboratory but in the public life as well. Luckily, Buddhism also flourishes under the auspices of reason and investigation. Buddhism and science have a great role to play in the world of today and tomorrow. And, the science and art of medicine would certainly be worth a great delight and the cause of unimaginable inspiration were these to be always illumined by the ethical and spiritual values of Buddhism, not only in the practices of the profession but also in the activities going on in its laboratories, experimental centres and pharmaceutical concerns. We, the medical persons professing the Buddhist faith, have a sacred obligation towards the Dhamma. In this connection, the one dilemma that has been troubling me for a long time, I would like to share with you today. I have practised medicine for well-nigh 30 years, and Buddhism, most earnestly, for a quarter century. While I found no moral contradictions in Buddhism, I was at times very much pained to think of vivi section without which the profession found it hard to register much progress. In our endeavours to make man healthy and happy, we have been transferring pain and sufferings to the animals. Of course, the barometer of human health rose to an extent in consequence, but the fact is also patent that the thermometer of happiness, far from registering a normal temper, has been hectically rising, registering more and more unhappiness. Buddhism teaches that real happiness cannot be had by making others unhappy. While not denying the great advance made by the science of medicine through the application of vivi section, I certainly, as a Buddhist, deplore the approach employed for the purpose. It is condemnable, alike from the standpoints of ethics as from spiritual considerations, though seemingly laudable from the point of view of practical utility so far as man is concerned. While we of the older generation failed to adequately tackle with this dire contradiction between the precepts of Buddhism and the practice of medicine, I ardently wish that you, who are taking to the profession on the eve of the thermonuclear age and the era of space travelling, should be able to find the scientific discoveries and certain technological advances helpful in meeting the challenge and in solving this riddle in a way honourable to the Dhamma as well as fruitful to the profession of medicine. Such a success would certainly usher in a new era in the history of medicine, an era conditioned by sublime means as well as the ends. Such an advance in the evolution of the profession, from the point of view of the Buddhist principles, is certainly indicated.

          I close with the best of wishes to this Buddhist Association of the Medical Students of Mandalay, and wish one and all of you success in your studies, also in personal health and happiness, as well as in public life when you enter it, and above all in meeting the obligations you owe to the profession, to the Dhamma, and to humanity at large.

*          An address at the inauguration of the Buddhist Association of the Medical Students in the University of Mandalay, on the 28th September 1958.