Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

A Comparison of Self-Acceptance of Disability between Thai Buddhists and American Christians

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

A Comparison of Self-Acceptance of Disability between Thai Buddhists and American Christians

Article excerpt

Disability is a phenomenon that is ubiquitous around the world and its meaning varies greatly across religions and cultures. Disability has been characterized as a series of losses with which one must adjust, including the loss of a sense of control over one's destiny, the loss of the ability to plan for the future, and the loss of a sense of fairness in the world (Fine, 1991). Factors such as religion and spiritual well-being (i.e., an inclination to find understanding through one's relationships with a higher power, others and self) are believed to have influence on the adjustment to and acceptance of a disability (Reed, 1992). Research supports religion as a means of coping with a disability (Kaye & Raghavan, 2002). More precisely, religious belief is identified as one's spiritual perspective and refers to rituals, values, and external formal systems of beliefs. However, beliefs regarding the origins of the universe and life differ substantially among diverse groups of people and are often particularly associated with religious worldviews. Although religion is recognized as an essential component in the world of disability (Treloar, 2002), individual perspectives of disability have been noticeably absent from recent discussions and discourse (Yong, 2011).

For the purpose of this empirical study, the authors will use religion in reference to Buddhism and Christianity. The two religions approach the topic of self-acceptance in regard to disability from somewhat different angles. Buddhism is mainly practiced in the Far East, Southeast Asia, and part of the South Asia Indian continent, while Christianity has long secured a solid foothold in Europe and the Americas (Crane et al., 2009). Buddhism draws on the teachings of Buddha and Christianity is based off of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Buddhists believe Buddha did not die for the deliverance of people; instead. Buddhism is an individual effort to shed light on nirvana for the common people. In contrast, Christians believe Jesus Christ died for their sins and their salvation is not an independent effort.

Views on Disability in Religion

As spiritual beings, humans seek to understand the reason and purpose of disability. A spiritual question may sound like "What does disability mean to me?" or "Is there a purpose and meaning behind this disability?" A variety of spiritual coping strategies, both religious and nonreligious, may be utilized when an individual is learning to cope with or accept a disability (Baldacchino & Draper, 2001). Buddhism claims that the higher power, Buddha, is equally present in all beings and every part of existence, while Christianity teaches that human beings are born spiritually separate from the higher power, God, due to the original sin committed by Adam and Eve. Religious belief systems, aside from formal religious practice, may be instrumental in promoting acceptance and giving meaning to disability (Bennett, Deluca, & Allen, 1995; Rehm, 1999). Some studies have suggested there are belief differences concerning disability; however, they tend to fall short of focusing on the individual perspective of accepting disability (Schumm, 2010; Swinton, 2011; Yamey & Greenwood, 2004). One philosophical point of view on disability where the two religions diverge from each other is this: The Buddhist tenet of karma suggests that people with disabilities have earned their unfavorable rebirths (Cho & Hummer, 2001; Hampton, 2000) whereas Christian dogmas center on an afterlife in heaven.


Historically, people with disabilities have been excluded from participating in many sociocultural and religious practices (Miles, 2002). In recent decades, scholars and practitioners have begun to investigate the Buddhism tenets relevant to disability and people with disabilities (Miles, 2002). Much of the Western world has gradually become more aware of Buddhist traditions and practices, but many misconceptions and erroneous assumptions about Buddhism philosophies and beliefs still exist (Crane et al, 2009; Wallace, 2006). …

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