A Buddhist Perspective on Health Care Reform

Charles Day

A Talk Presented to an Interfaith Gathering on Health Care Reform in Des Moines, IA, July 9, 2009

I want to thank the sponsors for organizing this Interfaith Gathering and for inviting me to provide a Buddhist perspective on health care.

Buddha lived 2600 years ago in northern India and for 45 years he taught others how to live in order to overcome suffering. His teachings, which continue to spread throughout the world today, can be summarized in three ways:

Do No Harm,
Do Good, and

Meditation is emphasized because it is a powerful practice for developing insight into the critical realization that we are not the separate, independent, autonomous individuals that we think we are. We are, in fact, part of an interconnected and interdependent web of reality or unified whole. And when we realize this, we will naturally do good and avoid harming.

From the perspective of this realization, I’d like to comment on three classical Biblical teachings that are especially relevant to supporting health care for all: “You are your brother’s keeper” - not because you are separate beings but because you are your brother and he is you. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” - because you are not different, you are the other and the other is you. And, to paraphrase Jesus, “Whatsoever you do unto others, even unto the least of your brethren, you do unto yourself.”

We are all one, appearing as separate, individuated manifestations of a continuously unfolding, unified interdependent whole. God looks through six billion pairs of eyes.

This realization of interconnectedness leads to the spontaneous expression of what Buddhism considers our innate virtues of compassion, generosity, lovingkindness, appreciative and altruistic joy, and the peace that surpasses understanding. How could one feel and act otherwise toward another being after deeply appreciating that oneself and the other are not two, but one? This was Buddha’s message.

In terms of our shared humanity, that we are all one, we are all in this together, and we all possess the same virtues, health care reform is really a no-brainer. Everyone should be entitled to the same care, regardless of differences in economic status, employment, age, health, or any other factor, and regardless of whether they are a citizen or a resident, temporary or permanent, documented or undocumented. Ideally in some distant future we will adopt this view toward all beings everywhere. Let us begin by striving to achieve in the U.S. what other industrialized nations have already achieved.

We should not be side tracked by considerations of personal wealth entitling some to better care than others, by who is being taxed to pay the bills, by political rhetoric regarding encroaching socialism or nationalism, or by the arguments of corporations and the insurance industry regarding market competition, profit margins, shareholder returns, and trillion dollar price tags.

Granted that the realities of cost, resources, and other complex factors are legitimate considerations that need to be dealt with, the bottom line remains that any health care plan should benefit everyone equally, and/or everyone should be willing to suffer equally. Like education and justice, receiving health care should be everyone’s right, and providing it should be everyone’s responsibility. And, of course, we need to educate and encourage everyone to assume responsibility for maintaining their own health and the health of their dependents.

Ours is a government formed by the common consent of the governed to meet our common needs and solve our common problems for our common benefit. Sounds Buddhist to me. So let our lovingkindness, compassion, and generosity prevail, and let us joyfully provide health care for all our brothers and sisters, as well as for the health of the earth that we inhabit. Thank you.

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