I learned about Doctor Jivaka, the Buddha's doctor, when I was young. His achievement truly impressed me so much that I wanted my only daughter to also become a doctor. I would like to dedicate this story to my dear daughter
Dr. Sirikanya Sastri, MD(a surgeon working for the US Airforce).
Jivaka Kumarabhacca: The Buddha's Doctor
[by Fotopoulu Sophia ,Archived in Religion section 08/05/2005]
At the time of the Buddha, among the lay physicians, the most renowned was Jivaka Kumarabhacca, who is described as providing free medical care to the Buddha and other monks and donating his mango grove at Rajagaha for use as a monastic community, named Jivakarama. Jivaka's fame as a healer was widely known and tales about his life and medical feats can be found in almost all versions of Buddhist scriptures.
Versions about Jivaka’s birth and infancy:
The Pali version began with Salavati, a courtesan of Rajagaha, giving birth to a son whom was then given to a slave woman, who placed him in a winnowing basket, which was left at a rubbish heap on the roadside.
In the Sanskrit-Tibetan account, a promiscuous wife of a merchant from Rajagaha gave birth to a son of King Bimbisara, placed the infant in a chest, and ordered maidservants to set the chest at the gate of the king’s palace.
In the Chinese narrative, a divine virgin named Arampali, who was raised by a Brahman, gave birth to a son of King Bimbisara. The boy was born with a bag of acupuncture needles in his hand and therefore was predestined to become a doctor and a royal physician. His mother wrapped him in white clothes and ordered a slave to take him to the king.
In all versions, the infant is taken and raised by the king’s son 'Prince Abhaya'.
In the Pali account, the boy is given the name Jivaka because he was alive (from root jiv, to live), and because a prince cared for him he is called Kumarabhacca (nourished by a prince).
Jivaka's Medical training
Concerning his interest in medicine and his medical education, in the Pali account, Jivaka, as he approached the age at which he must seek his own livelihood, decided to learn the medical craft. Hearing about a world-famous physician in Taxila, he travelled to that city, famous for education, to apprentice with the eminent doctor. After seven years of medical study, he took a practical examination that tested his knowledge of medical herbs, passed with extraordinary success, and, with the blessings of mentor, went off to practice medicine.
In the Sanskrit-Tibetan version, Jivaka desired to learn a craft. Seeing white-clad physicians, he decided to become a doctor and studied the art of healing. After acquiring the basics of medicine, he wished to increase his understanding by learning the art of opening skulls from Atreya , the king of physicians, who lived in the city of Taxila. So Jivaka went there, took the practical examination on medical herbs and performed other healings, and so deepened his knowledge of medicine that he could even advise his master on therapeutic procedures, thereby earning the latter’s respect. Pleased with Jivaka depth of understanding, Atreya communicated to him the special technique of opening the skull. Jivaka eventually left the company of Atreya and journeyed to the city Bhadrankata in Vidarbha, where he studied the textbook called “The Sounds of All Beings” (most probably a textbook related with the practice of dharanis and mantras). During his travels, he purchased a load of wood from a thin and feeble man and discovered in the woodpile a gem called “the soothing remedy of all beings"(The Bodhisattvas of Healing). This gem, when placed before a patient, illuminated his inside as a lamp light up a house, revealing the nature of illness.
In the Chinese version Jivaka relinquished all claims to the throne and studied medicine. He found that the education he acquired from local physicians was inadequate and showed their deficiencies in the knowledge presented in the textbooks on plants, medical recipes, acupuncture, and pulse lore, which he had successfully mastered. He therefore instructed them in the essential principles of medicine and gained their respect. Hearing of a famous physician, Atreya, who lived in Taxila, he traveled to the city to learn medicine from him. After studying medicine for seven years, he took the practical examination on medical herbs and passed it with great success. When Jivaka departed, his master told him that, although he himself was first among the Indian physicians, after his death, Jivaka would become his successor. On his travels, Jivaka encountered a young boy carrying firewood and found he was able to see the inside of the boy’s body. Immediately realizing that the bundle of wood must contain a piece of the tree of the King of Healing, who, according to early Mahayana scriptures, is a Bodhisattva of healing, he bought the wood, discovered a twig of the auspicious tree, and used it to diagnose illnesses in the course of his famous medical practice.
Jivaka is regarded as the Father of Medicine, a source of knowledge about the healing powers of plant, mineral, massage and so forth. His teachings travel to Thailand at the same time as Buddhism. Definitively a central figure in the Buddhist medical system, he is legitimately regarded as the aspiration for all practitioners of Ancient Massage.
Jivaka became a disciple of the Buddha and would treat him and any monks or nuns when they became sick. He had a beautiful mango garden just outside the east gate of Rajagaha which he donated to the Buddha and which later developed into a large monastery. The remains of this monastery were discovered in 1954 and excavated by archaeologists. The Buddha delivered two discourses to Jivaka. In the first he gave the conditions under which monks and nuns can eat meat and in the second he defined a lay disciple as one who has taken the Three Refuges and who observes the five Precepts. After the discourses, Jivaka attained sotapatti fruition. Because of the dedicated attentive care with which he ministered to his patients, the Buddha praised Jivaka as an etadagga amongst his disciples who were "loved by the people".
Burmese version posted by myanmarpedia on September 27, 2007
Jivaka led a privileged life in the palace. His friends, however, often teased him as he had no mother. Jivaka, who was embarrassed by the teasing, questioned his father about his origin. When he heard about his origins and his will to live he decided that he would one day grow up to be a preserver of life. He felt that he had no real heritage or family as he was only the adopted son of the prince. Physicians, however, were treated with great respect. Determined to earn the respect he felt he lacked due to his birth, Jivaka decided to go to the University of Taxila to become a physician.
Jivaka approached Disapamok, a well-known scholar, for his training. At this time Sakka, the King of the Heavens, was observing the world. He realized that it was time for Jivaka, who had in past births aspired to be the physician of the Buddha, to begin his training. Sakka, however, wanted to ensure that Jivaka had more than just the best training available in India. This was the young man who would have the privilege to be the physician of the Buddha. Sakka decided to take a hand in the training of young Jivaka so that he would have celestial knowledge in the art of medicine. With this in view, He entered the body of Disapamok. Jivaka excelled in his studies. Disapamok, however, soon realized that the training that he was providing was being influenced by celestial beings. The knowledge that was being imparted through him far excelled his knowledge of medicine. Jivaka quickly learned medicines and cures of which Disapamok himself had no knowledge. Jivaka completed in seven years the physicians training which usually took eleven years.
Realizing that Jivaka’s education was complete, Disapamok asked him to go forth and bring back a plant, herb or root that could not be used for medicinal purposes for the preservation of life. After travelling far and wide Jivaka returned to his teacher to inform him that no such plant, herb, or root existed. All of nature’s treasures were beneficial for the preservation of life. The joyous teacher then praised his pupil by informing him that his education was complete. Jivaka had surpassed his teacher in knowledge.
Jivaka decided to go back to Rajagaha to his adoptive father. On the way he stopped to rest in a city named Saletha. He soon heard that the young daughter of the city’s wealthiest nobleman was sick. Despite the ministering of many well-known physicians, she had suffered from severe headaches for seven years. Jivaka approached the nobleman, as he was confident that he could cure the maiden. The maiden, however, was not impressed by the very young man who claimed he could cure her when older, well-known physicians had failed. Offering his services for free, Jivaka continued to declare boldly that he could cure her.
Gathering herbs and roots, Jivaka prepared the medicine which he then administered to her through her nostrils. Before long the maiden’s headaches disappeared. The grateful nobleman showered Jivaka with gifts and gold and provided him with a golden chariot. Jivaka approached Prince Abhaya’s palace in great style.
Handing over his newly earned wealth to his adoptive father, Jivaka thanked him for his love, compassion, and caring. Prince Abhaya, however, returned all the wealth to Jivaka and informed him that he owed him naught as he was his true son and heir. He then told him that during his absence he had found out the full story of his origin. His mother, Salawathi, was the sought-after courtesan of the kings and nobility. Wanting to retain her freedom, she had discarded the baby whom she felt would be a burden to her. Prince Abhaya had unknowingly adopted his own child as he had loved his son dearly even prior to knowing that he was in fact his own child. Prince Abhaya built a palace to serve as Jivaka’s residence and provided him with many servants.
Jivaka’s second patient was none other than his own grandfather, King Bimbisara. The king had a huge growth in his stomach that bled from time to time on his royal robe. So prominent was the growth that his consorts had started to tease the king by saying that he was with child. The king had been treated by all the great physicians of the country to no avail. Prince Abhaya informed Jivaka of his grandfather’s plight.
Diagnosing the disease sight unseen, Jivaka immediately prepared the suitable medicine. Then hiding it on his person, he visited the king. After examining the king he administered the medicine that he had brought with him. Before long the king’s growth shrank and his wound healed. The grateful king called his entourage of five hundred consorts who had teased him unmercifully by asking if his first-born was to be a boy or a girl, and commanded them to give all their jewellery as a gift to Jivaka. Before long a mound of precious jewellery higher than Jivaka himself was placed at his feet. However, Jivaka refused this payment and requested permission from the king to return the ornaments back to his consorts. Even more impressed by Jivaka’s deportment, the king showered him with wealth, gifted him with the royal mango grove and made him the royal physician.
Jivaka’s reputation as a great physician grew quickly. He was the physician of kings, noblemen and the Buddha. The text mentions that he operated and successfully removed two tumours from the brain of a rich merchant who was a good friend of King Bimbisara. He also operated successfully to remove a blockage in the intestines of a nobleman. In one instance when the Buddha was afflicted with stomach problems, Jivaka prepared the medicine, and applying it on a blue lotus flower, offered it to the Buddha. Jivaka then asked the Buddha to inhale the essence emanating from the flower. The medicine which Jivaka had prepared with devotion and presented so beautifully, cured the Buddha’s stomach ailment.
Jivaka had in one instance risked his life to attend a very cruel and vicious king named Chanda Pradyotha. One of the King Pradyotha’s subjects had offered him a shawl that had been dropped by a Deva in the forest. Admiring the very beautiful shawl, the king had reflected that he should gift it to Jivaka who had risked his life to save him. Jivaka, however, felt that there was only one person worthy of such a shawl. He in turn offered it to the Buddha. The Buddha accepted the celestial shawl and, as requested by Jivaka, dispensed a sermon on the giving of robes. After listening to the discourse, Jivaka attained the first stage of enlightenment, Sotapanna. The Buddha felt that keeping such a valuable shawl in the monastery would attract thieves, which would endanger His monks. Addressing ananda, he requested that the shawl be cut into strips and resewn so that it would be of little value to thieves. This custom of wearing patched garments still remains among the Sangha. Even their new robes are made of strips of material that are sewn together so that even the robe they wear would help them in the practice of non-attachment.
Jivaka built a monastery in his mango grove so that he could be close to the Buddha when attending to His needs. It was Jivaka who attended to the Buddha’s foot when it was cut by the sliver of rock that Devadatta rolled down the hill at Gijjhakuta. It was also Jivaka who treated the Buddha in His last days, when He was overcome by stomach pains.
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