“Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.”

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This one crops up with tedious frequency on Twitter, and is in many books as well — mostly those published since 2005. Here are just a few:

  • The Healthy Green Drink Diet: Advice and Recipes for Happy Juicing, by Jason Manheim (2012).
  • Physical Activity & Health: An Interactive Approach, by Jerome E. Kotecki (2100).
  • Teachers of Wisdom, by Igor and Irene Kononenko (2010).
  • Zero Trends: Health as a Serious Economic Strategy, by D W Eddington (2009).
  • Elevate and Transform Your Life, by Manuel A. Ortiz Cordero (2008).
  • Pray It Forward: Daily Meditations, by Rowena Holloway and Joyce Bullion (2007).
  • Cracking the Cancer Code: The Secret to Transforming Your Health, by Matthew J. Loop (2006).
  • Autoimmunity: It’s Time for Truth; It’s Time to Heal, by Kathy Browning (2005).

There are dozens more, all attributed to the Buddha. Or, if the author wants a bit more credibility, “Siddhartha Gautama.” And in some cases the attribution goes to “Gautama Siddhartha. Hindu prince and founder of Buddhism (563-483 B.C.).” This is in fact how the Buddha is described on at least one famous quotes site, so we can tell where these authors source their quotes. Of course “Hindu” is an anachronistic term, since “Hinduism” didn’t have any meaning at the time of the Buddha. He certainly didn’t regard himself as being of the same religious tradition as the pantheistic, sacrificing Brahmins of his time, who would not have described themselves as “Hindu.” The Buddha also wasn’t a prince, since he came from one of the last-remaining republics in north-eastern India.

Anyway, the quote struck me as obviously fake. The Buddha didn’t use language like this at all. And it didn’t take much to track down the source as Swami Sivananda (1887 – 1963), who was indeed a Hindu, although he wasn’t a prince. He was, Wikipedia tells us, the founder of The Divine Life Society, Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy, and author of over 200 books on yoga, vedanta and a variety of other subjects.

In page 202 of Swamiji’s Bliss Divine, we read:

“Every human being is the author of his own health or disease. Disease is the result of disobedience to the immutable laws of health that govern life.”

There are passages where the Buddha is quoted as talking about the role of karma in health. For example:

But here some woman or man is not one who harms beings with his hands, or with clods, or with sticks, or with knives. Due to having performed and completed such kammas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination… If instead he comes to the human state, he is healthy wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to health, that is to say, not to be one who harms beings with his hands or with clods or with sticks or with knives.

He also pointed out, though, that health is elusive, and that we should not pin our sense of well-being on our being healthy:

The body is afflicted, weak, & encumbered. For who, looking after this body, would claim even a moment of true health, except through sheer foolishness? So you should train yourself: ‘Even though I may be afflicted in body, my mind will be unafflicted.’ That is how you should train yourself.

And in fact we should reflect on our predisposition to ill-health:

Now, based on what line of reasoning should one often reflect… that ‘I am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness’? There are beings who are intoxicated with a [typical] healthy person’s intoxication with health. Because of that intoxication with health, they conduct themselves in a bad way in body… in speech… and in mind. But when they often reflect on that fact, that healthy person’s intoxication with health will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker…

So the Buddha’s claim that illness is the result of karma doesn’t mean that we should expect perfect health as a result of meditating and living ethically. It may, on the whole, be better for us (and in fact studies have shown numerous health benefits from meditating), but we’re still going to get sick and the really important thing is to accept that fact with equanimity.

7 thoughts on ““Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.””

  1. Aside of the words, but in regard of the meaning: Yes, very yes.

    Upajjhatthana Sutta: Subjects for Contemplation “>’I am the owner of my actions (kamma), heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir’…

    just an example and its cited all over the world every day:

    Upajjhatthana Sutta: Subjects for Contemplation Sabbe sattā kammassakā kamma-dāyādā kamma-yonī kamma-bandhū kamma-paṭisaraṇā.
    All living beings are the owners of their actions, heir to their actions, born of their actions, related through their actions, and live dependent on their actions.
    Alle Lebewesen sind Besitzer ihrer Taten, Erben ihrer Taten, geboren aus deren Taten, verbunden durch deren Taten und leben abhängig von deren Taten.

    One would even find the different reasons of illness in Abidhamma, but even such, does not touch the “quote” at least.

    1. The passage that you quote doesn’t say that everything we experience is the result of past karma. There’s an entire sutta devoted to demolishing that idea.

      The early tradition identified a number of levels (niyamas) at which conditionality worked, of which karma was only one. Some illness is entirely biological in origin, for example. Narada Thera’s “The Buddha and His Teachings” has a section (“Everything is not due to Kamma”) that discusses this. It’s available online here. Mahasi Sayadaw discusses the niyamas here. [I’ve replaced the link with one pointing to archive.org since the original site is currently infected with malware.]

      It’s unfortunate that so many Buddhists cling to a notion that he himself regarded as being un-Buddhist. I suppose many people like the idea that “everything happens for a purpose.”

  2. Take your time, valued Bodhipaksa and read carfully and on topic.

    The first sutta that you quoted deals on non-action and has nothig to do at all with “Is health selfmade”, but actually if you like to interpret it into the topic and make the vici versa says, nothing comes by it self.

    The other hints you gave, that not all is about kamma, like for example “illness” because of food, is actually right (as mentioned already) in the first palace, but after, when you think further: why is food taken at first place? Think on Buddhas “Death-meal” an his choice not to avoid it. Hes death and illness was caused by his kamma, as every death is caused by it.

    I suppose many people like the idea that: “everything happens for a purpose” its not all right when you say so, as it mean “all has a cause” and that is something one needs to understood. As you quick-shot has a cause and you might think its me. Relax Avuso!

    So once again about your windmile: Nobody says that “all happens for a cause” but “everything has a cause”. Its not good to put preoccupations (“People think that way.”) in things without thinking first uninvolved.

    So once again, illness and sickness, always has its cause and such is always a kammic thing, so the body it self, birth… is. The pain and if it touches your mind, is also a kammic thing and could be totally different taken dependent on your “present” actions. The decay of you body is up to you previous life time deeds…

    How ever, at least all comes down to “cetana is kamma” is becoming, old age, sickness and death, again and again. Devas die as well. You should think about it.

    Don’t get sick and to avoid it, remember: “Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.” and make nothing else resposible for your problems. Better remember, on the first sutta that you have posted about “non-acting” sectarians. If somebody likes it in german, just change .org to .eu

    metta & mudita fighting Avuso, and take care that nobody might start to fight you. So calm an optimistic before giving a quick prejudice and than fearing the face and fall deeper an deeper till one might kills or make real mad deeds.

    1. I’m afraid this is so confused that I’m not even going to attempt to reply, except to say that everything does indeed arise from a cause, but not all those causes are karmic, as the Buddha and the early Buddhist tradition were at pains to point out.

  3. Well I know, Buddha told that thinking about cause and effect can make people running crazy so that’s why he sad not to do it.

    Letting go is always the way out. No need to explain an replay but me really don’gt know why people say “I will not replay…” and already do/did… Its fast, that cetana thing and its moves later in Body and speech. Breath is good.

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