pp. 13-14 in Intractable Neurological Disorders, Human Genome Research and Society. Proceedings of the Third International Bioethics Seminar in Fukui, 19-21 November, 1993.

Editors: Norio Fujiki, M.D. & Darryl R.J. Macer, Ph.D.


Copyright 1994, Eubios Ethics Institute All commercial rights reserved. This publication may be reproduced for limited educational or academic use, however please enquire with Eubios Ethics Institute.

Intractable diseases and Zen

Shosyu Kohzuki
Priest, Eiheiji Temple, Fukui, JAPAN


Since I was previously working at Eiheiji Temple, I have been kindly requested to give an address on the subject of Zen and intractable diseases. When I heard this I thought maybe there was some mistake. In the audience there are many distinguished professors from all around the world, and I hope that you will understand that as a complete outsider to this field I feel a little nervous, and even presumptuous, speaking in front of so many distinguished experts. I'd like to thank Prof. Fujiki and all the organisers for their support for me.

People who suffered from the kinds of problems, we are looking at today, in previous days were the subject of strong discrimination and were hardly treated as people. But now we are looking at how we can solve these problems and encourage self respect, and by the help of all those around us, build a better and more compassionate society. I thank you for your efforts to build that society by gathering us together today.

Dougen Zenji the founder of our temple was born in Fukui. If we are speaking clearly, Zen is to become one, not to become separated but to become "one". The centre of our practices is "zazen" or quiet meditation. Dougen's "zazen" does not mean to get spiritual awakening by "Za", rather he taught that all people are true live spiritual human beings, in other words, real and true people can do Zen by their own study and make an effort to share their light and thus become better persons. If the real spirit of our person is defeated by our efforts we are stubborn and if I speak for myself, we can become self-centred and we cannot realise our disease. We have to overcome this, and throw away our self-centredness, and make efforts to become really spiritual human beings. It is the fact that we can do this as people which makes us noble or valuable.

All the professors and doctors here have tackled topics with your best efforts, I hope that you will tackle them with self respect. You're talking of people who have been cast out of society. But you are supporting such people. Children who are born with genetic problems, by your efforts, can be born as people and live in society. It is a miracle that by karma we ourselves have been born as humans out of all the species of organisms. I think it is wonderful to make an effort to be one with those suffering, rather than escaping from the suffering. And so you have made efforts to help these people into the world, to become one with their suffering, and to become human beings.

I'd like to talk about a man, Mr Murayama, who during the war, lost sight in his eyes and lost his hearing by treading on a mine. He lost his legs from below his knees, and his left arm up to the shoulder. All that he had was his second and third finger on his right hand. He couldn't hear and couldn't see. His teeth were in disarray, but he had to live in that state. Someone who had been healthy and whole met this horrible fate. Having to live in this state is an unknowable hell. He feel into everyday anger and resentment at his condition, nomatter how his nurses and physicians tried to help them, he threw them off. He was disliked.

He was moved to Hakone, this is close to Saitama, to be close to his mother. His mother brought their children with her to come to see him. He didn't know that they were there as he couldn't see or hear. But following is the voice of her son that she couldn't forget. All that was lying on the bed was a small body wrapped in bandages but the mother jumped to his side, but he couldn't understand her words, and whatever she tried to do he threw her off. Finally she burst into tears, his uncle and younger sister as well. Time for the visit was over but she wouldn't leave. There was a large chair in the room, and she asked them to bring it over to her. She used it to get onto the bed, and then took out her breasts and stood on top of him, and gave her breast to him. In that instant his angry voice changed to tears, and with the one arm he had left he clasped his mother and shouted out "Mother, mother I've come home". For the first time since his suffering began he spoke with a human voice. His mother couldn't even cry, she could only nod her head. But there was no time, so she said "I'll come again, I'll come again", and his clasping hand was pulled away from him. At that time the nurse thought that her care for him was only the care of a nurse, what his mother had done was something only a mother could do. Only a mother would think of, that marvellous figure of her limping to the side of her son, was deeply moving.

It is well substantiated that the fact that by their behaviour, or their way of talking, a doctor can help a patient pick themselves up and hearten themselves, even in the midst of their difficulties, and striving and enduring to live through them, is truly due to the words and actions of the doctor born out of compassion.

Dougen Zenji (the founder of Eiheiji) calls us to make this "Fuse" or offering, the words of compassion in becoming one with the patient, speaking to the heart of the patient, throwing heart, soul and body into the patients treatment, all without requiring any return for oneself. It is not by give and take, but by giving and giving that the doctors' and patients' hearts become one in expressing the shared spirituality that is the faith of Buddhism.

On the next day he was quiet, he said to the nurse, "I'm sorry for all the demands I've made on you. As long as my mother is alive I will live too, that is the least I can do for her. I will reform myself". And he made a song about mothers, "Because I cannot see, I felt my mother's face, and felt her cheek was soft, I felt she was smiling". His wrinkled mother's face which he felt with his two remaining fingers, looked to his heart like the face of Kanzeonbosatsu, filled with love and compassion. This man was able to return from this hell, to live again in human society. This is the story I heard.

We tend to become selfish and egotistical but we have to become renewed, we have to become someone with compassion, this is like the actions of you doctors who say to patients as you wave your hand to them, "Yes, it's alright". This relieves the anxiety of the patients or the families themselves. I hope that you continue devoted to your research in the future, and I thank you very much.


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