Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Buddhism: A Religion Created to Deal with Disabilities

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Buddhism: A Religion Created to Deal with Disabilities

Article excerpt

"Imagine a religion created to deal with crooked limbs, sickness, aging and even death." (1)

Buddhism isn't what most Westerners think of as religion. It holds no promise of heaven, offers no God to hear your prayers or cure your disability. However, Buddha did not rule out the existence of a God or gods altogether. As Buddhism spread, local deities and religious practices were included in it. (1)

In India in 563 B.C., Prince Gautama Siddhartha (known as Shakyamuni) was born in the Himalayan foothills in what is now Nepal. It was predicted that if he remained inside the palace he would become a universal monarch. To ensure the prediction, he was shielded from anything remotely unpleasant. Despite these precautions, he was exposed to the three "ugliest" facts of life--an old man staggering on crutches, a diseased person with crooked limbs and a shroud-covered corpse. He left the palace and for six years he explored the religions of India to find an end to suffering. Realizing that there was no answer except turning into himself, he meditated under a tree for six days and found the cause of human suffering and became the Buddha--"The Enlightened One." (1) He proclaimed the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, his prescription to end humanity's suffering and "... the vicious cycle of birth and death ..." (2)

According to Buddhism (and shared with Hindus and Sikhs), Karma (the effects of a person's actions that determine his destiny in his next incarnation) is the pervasive force in the world. Karma operates inexorably to reward good deeds with meritorious rebirths, and evil deeds with rebirth in one of the evil modes of existence. An individual may attempt to change his karma by performing good deeds that will earn merits. One's karma is not wholly dependent on one's deeds but is also a function of both the individual's motive at the time of performing the deed and the end result of the action. Actions in this life, however, may not bear results until a future lifetime. (4)

For example, people who drink excessively, do drugs or other intoxicants have expressed their lack of desire for a coherent mind. "They have expressed over and over that they do not care to have full mind capacity. Therefore, when they are given a chance to be reborn, they receive what they have done, they receive limited brain ability." (5)

The Buddhist concept of nirvana represents a form of reward for proper conduct; such as: not to murder, not to steal, not to drink to intoxication and not to tell lies. (4)


"There is nothing very mysterious about meditation; it consists of sitting quietly and watching the mind." (6) From the point of view of Buddhism, we are all "neurotic," in the sense that these hidden impulses of emotional upheavals, depressions, and issues of self-esteem exert control over our seemingly "normal" personalities. Meditation offers a path towards working on these problems, not as a form of therapy but almost as a side effect of getting to know yourself. (6)

Meditation for individuals with disabilities can help cut through some of the additional confusion created by having a body that is not "normal." Acceptance of the actual situation, ("things-as-they-are" is the traditional Buddhist phrase). "Much of the difficulty one faces in dealing with a disability stems from the constant attempt to measure up to supposed social norms. Society's conventional wisdom is that the best thing a person (with a disability) can do is to try to become as 'normal' as possible. This approach contains within it the implicit assumption that the disabled person will never fully arrive." (6) Meditation calls into question much of what passes for normalcy.


The complaint: There are those who would argue that Buddhism dehumanized suffering and has led people to accept suffering when they should not. In Buddhism, suffering is the status-quo of life and a person suffers now for their transgressions in previous lives. …

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