Learning to see with the eyes of wholeness (Day 8)


100 Days of Lovingkindness

A sticking point some people have with lovingkindness practice is what it means to wish someone “well.” This came up the other day with someone who has health difficulties that just aren’t going to go away. What does it mean for him to wish himself well? He’s not ever going to be completely healthy, so wellness is never going to be attained. What’s the point of wishing yourself something you can’t have? Isn’t that just a source of suffering. Yikes!

And the same applies to others. If you have a friend who’s, say, dying of cancer, what does it mean to wish them well?

There’s a nice little dialog that the Buddha has where he does some self-commentary — basically going over a teaching he’d previously passed on, and saying what he’d really meant. And it’s rather fascinating, because when you read the original verse you think you know what the Buddha meant, but you’re wrong:

Health is the most precious gain
and contentment the greatest wealth.
A trustworthy person is the best kinsman,
Nibbana the highest bliss.

That’s from the Dhammapada, and it’s verse 204. It’s hard to imagine anything more straightforward than the first line, which basically is equivalent to the old saying, “if you have your health you have everything.”

But in a discussion with a healthy man (who says he’s therefore happy), the Buddha says that’s not what he meant at all.

The body is “a calamity and an affliction” even when it’s healthy, he points out. You might say that a healthy body is an unhealthy body waiting to happen. The “health” that the Buddha’s talking about is freedom from mental suffering, which ultimately is enlightenment. Now even the enlightened get physically sick and experience physical pain and discomfort, but they don’t have the secondary suffering that comes with having aversion to sickness, and for craving for things to be otherwise. Think about the self-pity we commonly experience when we’re sick. That resistance to sickness, that “poor me” attitude, is far more painful than the actual illness itself. So this is all dropped when we’re enlightened, and there’s no more aversion or craving. Now we don’t have to be enlightened to experience this freedom (although you have to be enlightened to permanently experience it).

When we say “may I (or you) be well” we’re wishing ourselves or others freedom from the secondary suffering of aversion and craving with regard to the sickness. We’re wishing that the discomfort of illness be borne mindfully. We’re wishing that we, or the other person, be at peace with whatever is happening with the body.

Jon Kabat-Zinn puts this very nicely:

Healing does not mean curing, although the two words are often used interchangeably, While it may not be possible for us to cure ourselves or to find someone who can, it is always possible for us to heal ourselves. Healing implies the possibility for us to relate differently to illness, disability, even death, as we learn to see with eyes of wholeness. Healing is coming to terms with things as they are.

Of course if there’s a cure, that’s great. You can wish someone well in the sense that you hope they’ll be back to health. But in the long term we’re all headed for sickness and death, and true peace and happiness is going to come from patient acceptance of those things we cannot change. We “learn to see with eyes of wholeness” and accept, without resistance or aversion, even the most painful experiences.

[See the previous 100 Days of Lovingkindness Post : See the next 100 Days of Lovingkindness Post]
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3 Comments. Leave new

  • Thank you Bodhipaksa, so thankful for your efforts & teachings.
    Instead of wishing someone to be ” well”, one could state I wish for peace & happiness for that person.
    The physical body is a temporary structure that breaks down over time. The average person equates wellness & determines it via a physical exam. Can wellness be achieved without mindfulness ? Contentment is the greatest wealth, health is the precious gain:)
    Recently a co- worker that I have interacted with for years & have ” struggled” with reached a ” boiling” point yet again.
    After meditating on it, I observed my reactions to the situation.After the storm calmed down in my mind, I approached the person & stated that I hoped she achieved peace & happiness in her life.
    If every human would attempt to spread peace in this world, it would be a better place . The first step is finding peace with ” oneself” in order to spread peace on this earth.
    It’s easier to spread love & kindness to people close to you. It can be difficult to spread it to ones that ” challenge ” us. The ones that challenge us teach us the most about ourselves .
    Thanks again for spreading wellness via mindfulness .

    • Well, it’s fine to wish literal good health for people. But if they have good health, what then? People take their health for granted, and it ceases to be a source of happiness for them. So we need to wish them more than “mere” health, and hope that they develop the true happiness that comes from within.

  • […] I discussed what “well” means when we say “May you be well.” It’s not as […]


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