Special Topics

Q1: Why am I getting this illness?

A: Have you ever wondered why it's not someone else?

When people get sick, especially young people, they often wonder, "Why me? I'm still young." Most people believe that one's illness has to do with getting "old," and that only when you're old will you get sick and die. But that's not true. This kind of thinking arises because we lack understanding of the nature of life. We assume that a person's life naturally progresses from birth, education, work, marriage, having children, getting old, getting sick, and, finally, approaching death. So when we are diagnosed with a serious illness or experience accidents, we become confused, resistant, angry, scared, and may even blame everyone and everything except ourselves.

When we are sick or are feeling physically or mentally uncomfortable, it's natural to complain. That's because we lack a correct understanding of the nature of life. Therefore, it's important to understand how the body comes into existence and what life is all about.

All phenomena in the world arise due to causes and conditions working together. Our bodies are also the result of the interplay of the "four elements" as mutual causes and conditions. Causes and conditions are constantly changing, and when they change, our bodies change accordingly. Therefore, as long as we have this body, it's inevitable that we will experience the suffering of aging, illness, and death. Therefore, it's normal to get sick. Everyone will experience various forms of illness and pain, since this proceeds from the law of cause and effect.

Furthermore, according to the Buddhist doctrine of dependent origination, all things are temporary and do not last forever. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? When I go to sleep tonight, will I definitely wake up tomorrow? Not necessarily! Who can guarantee that? The birth, aging, sickness, and death of our body; the process of becoming, maintenance, disintegration, and being empty for an environment; and the arising, abiding, changing, and extinction of thoughts—these all help us understand that causes and conditions are constantly changing. This is called "impermanence." Because we aren't aware of this or don't want it to happen, we experience various kinds of pain and afflictions. Once we recognize these two points and are willing to open our minds and change our perspectives, illness and suffering can be distinguished.

When facing illness, most people may fall into misconceptions and believe that Buddhist practitioners are more open-minded. However, that's not necessarily the case. Some people may have been practicing Buddhism for a long time, yet may still become agitated when faced with difficulties. Whether we can face the pain of our illness as it is does not necessarily depend on whether we study Buddhism; it depends on whether we can open our mind and change our way of thinking.

Extended Reading:

Taking illness as teacher and learning to live well with illness

Buddha's Teachings on Suffering from Illness

Practicing the Dharma While Ill

Q1: Why am I getting this illness?

Q2: I've been in and out of the hospital so many times. When will I recover?

Q3: Why do some infants get sick immediately after birth? How does Buddhism view this?

Q4: What can be done if someone is sick in bed for a very long time and feels hopeless about life?

Q5: I have recited the Buddha's name, practiced generosity, and performed good deeds, so why do I still get sick?

Q6: When a family member of mine is suffering from an illness, what can I do to alleviate his fear and pain?

Q7: If the body is in unbearable pain, isn't reciting Buddha's name an additional burden?

Q8: My health is deteriorating, and I feel like there is not much time left for me. How should I prepare myself for death?

Resource: Issue 380 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Photos: Issue 380 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation 
(Photos painted by 劉建志)
Translation: Olivia
Editing: Keith Brown,
Chia-cheng Chang (張家誠)