Jivaka, the physician

01 Sep

Jivaka, the Buddha_s physician. British Library

Jivaka, the Buddha’s physician. British Library

There is a natural association between Buddhism and medicine. The Buddhist doctrine recognizes the phenomenon of suffering; unravels its causes; understands the state of elimination of suffering; and , prescribes the right method for elimination of suffering seen and heard.

The Pali texts describe the Buddha as the physician (bhishak) and as the skilled surgeon (sallakatta).Ashvagosha the poet (80-150 BCE) called Buddha Maha –Bhishak (the great physician). At a later stage in Buddhism, the Buddha worship in the Bhaishajya Guru (The Guru of all physicians) form came into practice.

Interestingly, the life of one of the celebrated physicians and surgeons of the ancient India was closely associated with that of the Buddha. Jivaka came to the Buddha as a young man in the prime of his youth and stayed faithful to the Buddha until the later years of the Master, as his disciple, friend and as his physician.

He gained a great reputation as a surgeon who successfully conducted operations like craniotomy ( surgical incision into the skull) and laparotomy (surgical incision into the abdominal wall). He was known for curing jaundice, fistula and other ailments. Jivaka’s fame as a healer and as a child specialist was widely known; and, tales about his life and medical feats are found in almost all versions of Buddhist scriptures.

The Jivaka’s story is elaborated in four versions – the Pali; the Sanskrit; the Chinese; and, the Tibetan.

Here, we will follow the Pali version; because, some important discourses addressed to Jivaka are scripted in that version.

The Buddha-Jivaka story is a very human story. Their relationship was not cast in the usual mold that one comes across in religious texts. In a way, it de-mystifies the Buddha imagery. The Buddha you meet here is not the ethereal philosopher with his head in the clouds ; nor is he The God himself. You will find, he not always resembled the serene, ever smiling young Apollo – Greco Roman God like images that sit on our coffee tables or that decorate our bookcases.

The Buddha, you meet here, is a real person, a wise, compassionate, mellow, independent and a mature person who walked and lived on this land. He did encounter many problems; but, more importantly, he got over them with reason and dignity. He suffered from injuries, illness, constipation, diarroehea and other ailments related to old age. Whenever he needed help, he did ask for help. But, you never see him losing his composure. Here you see him put forth some unusual but rational views on the day-to-day concerns of the monks and the lay. That brings us closer to the Buddha.


Once when Prince Abhaya,  son of Bimbisara the king of Rajagriha, was riding through the city, he noticed a flock of crows circling and cawing round a winnowing basket, thrown on a rubbish heap. As he got closer to the basket, he saw, to his amazement, a lovely looking baby boy wrapped in clothes placed in the basket. He took the baby home and decided to raise him as his son. The baby was given the name Jivaka, the live one, since he survived his abandonment on the rubbish heap. Because the prince raised him, he also acquired the pet name Kumarabhacca (nourished by prince).

Jivaka enjoyed a happy princely childhood. As his birth-situation later dawned on him, Jivaka reasoned that it was unfair and dishonorable to be dependent on the generosity of the prince, forever. He determined to earn his livelihood by pursuing a career, independently. He aspired to be a physician. He then left home, without informing the prince, and traveled all the way to Taxasila, in the distant West; to study medicine under the well-known teacher Disapamok Achariya. There, he studied medicine diligently for seven years.

Towards the end of his seven-year study, he took a practical examination that tested his medical skills and his knowledge of medical herbs. He passed the test with merit. With a little financial help and blessings of his mentor, Jivaka set out into the world in search of a carrier, fame and fortune.

On his way back home to Rajagriha, he stopped at Saketha where he came to know that the wife of the richest merchant (setthi) in the town was suffering from a chronic head ache for the past seven years; and , the local physicians were unable to find a cure for her ailment.

Jivaka succeed in convincing the rich lady that though young as he was, he would surely rid her of the ailment. He procured some herbs and cooked them in pure ghee obtained from the lady’s household. He made the patient lie on her back on a couch and injected the medicine, he had prepared, through her nose.

When the injected medicine was flowing out of her mouth, the patient gestured to her servant to mop up that fluid (ghee/medicine) with a piece of cotton and store it a vessel. The bemused physician Jivaka wondered, “That ghee ought to be thrown away, but this stingy woman ordered it to be saved by swapping it  with  cotton. I do not know whether I will get my fee. This thrift is rather too much”.

After she recovered, the Settani watching the puzzled expression on Jivaka’s face smiled ; and,  explained, “That is a good ghee mixed with medicine and can be used for rubbing on sore feet. Don’t be alarmed. I am not so stingy . I will pay you your fee.”

She was highly pleased with the miracle cure ; and, paid the young physician four thousand kappanas (silver coins). Her son added an equal amount to his purse.

On his return to Rajagriha, flushed with success and money , Jivaka set up his own establishment. He had a great start to his medical career. He performed the operation of trepanning (to pierce with a surgical crown saw) on a setthi of Rājagaha ; and, followed it up with an operation on the son of the setthi of Varanasi , who suffered from chronic intestinal trouble due to its misplacement.

A son of a merchant while playing at somersaults suffered a twist in the bowels (an entanglement of his intestines). He could not digest properly whatever he ate and drank; and looked discolored with the veins standing out upon his skin. Jivaka cut the skin of the stomach, drew out the twisted bowel, and sewed the skin of the stomach. On applying an ointment given by Jivaka, the boy in due course became well.

Jivaka was also a well-known pediatrician. His name Kaumarabhtya (in Sanskrit) was some times interpreted to mean ‘expert in children’s diseases’. A part of the Bower MSS discovered during 1880 in Kuchar of Chinese Turkistan quotes Jivaka’s formulae as the “Navan_taka” (meaning ‘butter’).

This medical compilation of the 4th century AD attributes two formulae dealing with children’s disease to Jivaka, saying ‘Iti hovaca Jivakah” i.e. thus spoke Jivaka.

One formula is: Bhargi, long pepper, Paha, payasya, together with honey, may be used against emeses ( act of vomiting ) due to deranged phlegm. Some of the cures attributed to Jivaka may be exaggerations; but, they indicate the importance attached to accurate observation and deduction in ancient times.


[His teachings traveled to Thailand along with Buddhism, around the 2nd and 3rd century BC. Learners and practitioners of the traditional Thai massage art respect his methods, even today.]


As his fame spread, the king’s men invited Jivaka to cure the king Bimbisara of his fistula. The successful physician was paid a huge fee; and, was appointed as the physician to the king.


Jivaka, the successful young physician, enjoying fame and fortune went to meet his benefactor and adopted father Prince Abhaya and laid at his feet all the wealth he earned. Jivaka thanked the Prince for his love, compassion and caring.

Prince Abhaya appreciated the gesture; and, said that the gifts were undoubtedly very valuable indeed; but it was not the gift he was waiting for, he said. ”You verily are my true gift” he exclaimed.

Prince Abhaya explained that during Jivaka’s absence he enquired into the circumstances of his birth. His mother, Salawathi, was the most sought-after courtesan of the kings and nobility. Wanting to retain her freedom, she discarded her baby, who , she feared , might burden her. Prince Abhaya had unknowingly adopted his own child.

Prince Abhaya built a palace to serve as his son Jivaka’s residence ; and, provided him with riches and many servants


The turning point in Jivaka’s life happened  when Ananda came to fetch him to treat the Buddha who suffered from “blocked intestines” (constipation?). When Jivaka saw the condition of the patient, it occurred to him he might not survive a strong purgative. He then had fat rubbed into the Buddha’s body; and, gave him a handful of lotuses to inhale the essence emanating from the flowers.

Jīvaka was away when the mild purgative was later administered to the patient, and he suddenly remembered that he had omitted to ask him to bathe in warm water to complete the cure process. The Buddha, it is said, read his thoughts and bathed as required.( Vin.i.279f; DhA. ii.164f).

On another occasion when the Buddha’s was injured in his foot by a splinter from a rock hurled by Devadutta (Buddha’s cousin), the Buddha had to be carried from Maddakucchi (a park near Rajagriha) to Jīvaka’s Ambavana residence. There, Jīvaka applied an astringent; and , having bandaged the wound, he  left the city expecting to return in time to remove it.

However, by the time he did return, the city gates were shut. He was greatly worried because if the bandage remained on all night the Buddha would suffer intense pain. The Buddha, it is said, read his thoughts and had  the bandage  removed. (J.v.333.).


There is a mention of a meal hosted by Jīvaka, wherein the Buddha refused to be served until one Cūla-panthaka (denied entry by the host Jivaka) was served food. Cula_panthaka was the son of a rich merchant’s daughter who eloped with her slave. She, in dire circumstances, gave birth to a baby boy on the roadside. That baby was promptly named Panthaka, who later turned out to be a dullard. He was however , very fond of listening to Buddha; and, spent most of his time in the Vihara, though he was driven out each time. He later gained knowledge ; and, became an Arhant, by the grace of the Buddha’s compassion.


 Jivaka became an ardent admirer and disciple of the Buddha. He tried to meet the Buddha at least two times a day. Since the Veluvana, where the Buddha stayed at that time, was far away, he built a monastery with all its adjuncts in his own Ambavana in Rājagaha; and,  dedicated it to the Buddha and his monks (DA.i.133; MA.ii.590).

With foresight, love and compassion , Jivaka took care of the physical health of the Buddha and His Sangha. The Buddha, at the suggestion of Jivaka , introduced a number of measures to regulate the day-to-day activities of the monks. Those included the following:

-. When Jīvaka went to Vesali (capital of Licchavi) on business, he noticed the monks there had gone pale and were unhealthy looking (Vin.ii.119). At Jīvaka’s request, the Buddha instructed the monks to exercise regularly.

-. As an extension of this routine, the Buddha instructed the monks to sweep the compound of the monastery and attend to other duties in order to exercise their bodies, to ensure good health ; and at the same time , to keep the premises clean.

-. Those monks who were ill were advised to use medicines and whenever needed to apply ointment to their sore feet.

-. The monks were in the habit of walking bare foot; and, many of them had sustained injuries and suffered from sore feet. The Buddha advised them to wear foot coverings.

-. The Buddha advised the monks to use modest clothing and not wander about naked.  He also asked them not to indulge in excessive austerities.

-. A discipline was introduced , which required the monks to take care of each other. The famous advice of the Buddha to the monks, in this context, was,

“Ye, O Bhikkhus, have no mother and father to wait upon you. If you wait not one upon the other, who is there, indeed, who will wait upon you? Whosoever, O Bhikkhus, would wait upon me, he should wait upon the sick.”

-. With the introduction of better health care measures in the Sangha , more and more lay persons entered the Order. Many people, afflicted with disease and unable to pay for treatment, joined the Order in order to avail free medical facilities.

This influx naturally rendered Jivaka’s task more difficult. He was unable to cope with the increased workload. Further, he thought, the Order was being misused. At his suggestion, the Buddha laid down a rule that men afflicted with certain diseases be refused entry into the Order. The diseases prevalent in Maghada of those times included: leprosy, boils, dry leprosy, consumption, and fits (Vin.i.71ff).

Later cripples and homosexual were also kept out of the order. (Vinaya, Vol. 4, pp. 141-142.). 


Once Jivaka offered to the Buddha, an exquisite shawl , which was earlier presented to him (Jivaka) by a king. The Buddha accepted the celestial shawl, as requested by Jivaka.

The Buddha, however, felt that keeping such a valuable shawl in the monastery would attract thieves and endanger His monks. He, therefore, asked Ananda to cut the shawl into strips and sew it again, so that it would be of little value to thieves or for resale . In addition, it would inculcate in the monks a sense of non-attachment to objects. This was how the custom of wearing patched garments came into practice in the Sangha.

The Blessed One accepted the suit,
and after having delivered a religious discourse,
he addressed the bhikkhus thus:

“Henceforth ye shall be at liberty to wear either cast-off rags or lay robes.
Whether ye are pleased with the one or with the other, I will approve of it.”

When the people at Rajagraha heard :“The Blessed One has allowed the bhikkhus to wear lay robes” .

Jivaka gained fame as the first layman to offer  robes to the monks. Thereafter, others who were willing to bestow gifts became glad.  The term kathina denotes a cotton cloth offered by lay people to bhikkhus (monks) annually, after the end of the vassa rainy retreat, for the purpose of making robes. And on that one day, many thousands of robes were presented at Rajagaha to the bhikkhus. Since then , the practice of offering robes to the monks and to the nuns in the Sangha came to be regarded as one of the meritorious deeds .

 The Buddha is sitting at the centre, surrounded by monks and lay people



Another very interesting feature of the Vinaya Pitaka, as elaborated in its Chapters such as the Mahavagga, Chullavagga, Pachittiya etc., is the importance accorded to ones education; the system of education recommended for the young student-monks in the Sangha; the teaching methods; and, the relationship that should ideally exist between the teacher (Upajjhaya- Snkt. Upadhyaya) and the disciple (Antevasi – the resident student).

The Buddha insisted that his teaching should be spread in the language that is commonly spoken by the ordinary people of the towns and villages; and, not in Sanskrit , the language of the scholars. He was keen that the education –spiritual, ritual or otherwise- should be open to all classes of the Society.

At the outset; the Buddha guides the aspirant on the path that leads to right-understanding; and, asks the student to work it out by himself, following a free and fair reasoning. As regards the attitude or the approach that the students should ideally adopt; the Buddha while answering a question asked by Kalamas of Kesaputta, counselled the young learners thus (the kalama Sutta appearing in Aguttara Nikaya (III.653) :

Come, O Kālāmas, Do not accept anything thinking that thus have we heard it from a long time (anussava). Do not accept anything thinking that it has thus been handed down through many generations (paramparā). Do not accept anything on account of rumours (itikirā). Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures (piaka-sampadāna). Do not accept anything by mere surmise (takka-hetu); or upon an axiom (naya-hetu). Do not accept anything by mere inference (ākāra-parivitakka). Do not accept anything by merely upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over (diṭṭhi-nijjhān-akkh-antiyā). Do not accept anything by coming under another’s seems ability (bhabba-rūpatāya). Do not accept anything merely because the monk-teacher says so (samao no garū). Do not accept anything thinking that the ascetic is respected by us (and therefore it is right to accept his word.)

“Kalamas, when you know for yourselves —these things are immoral, these things are blameworthy, these things are censured by the wise, these things when performed and undertaken, conduce to ruin and sorrow – then indeed you do have to  reject them.

“But Kalamas, when you know for yourselves – these things are good; these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise; these things when undertaken and observed, lead to well-being and happiness- enter upon and abide in them.’


Vinaya Pitaka describes the qualities (Guna) of a good student as:

(1) having a keen desire to learn;

(2) accomplish the task assigned by the teacher;

(3) watch ones conduct in word, deed and mind; repent ones mistakes, and ensure such mistakes do not occur again;

(4) practice concentration and meditation; and,

(5) honor and respect your teacher, develop a loving attitude towards her/him.

The Vinaya Pitaka asks the student to :

(1) properly receive the knowledge that is imparted  (Suggahitani );

(2) be attentive while listening (Samansiktani);

(3)  absorb and retain what is taught (Supdharitani ); and,

(4)  render what he/she has learnt in a clear voice , using a simple land meaningful words that are easily understood by the listeners (Kalyaniyasi).

The Vinaya Pitaka encourages the student to rationally and logically analyse the words of the teacher; to politely ask pertinent questions; to clear his doubts; and, to seek the answers himself.

As regards the responsibilities of the Pupils; each was charged with the task and responsibility of maintaining the monastery, in which they all live and study, cleanly and properly. Apart from cleaning and putting things in place, the resident-students were expected to look after their Master, with love and devotion.

Normally, a student-monk would be attached to a teacher till the end of the study-course. But, a student could go to another teacher, in case the present teacher:

(1) goes on a long pilgrimage or tour;

(2) is transferred to another monastery;

(3) changes his philosophy and ideology;

(4) voluntarily allows the student to seek instructions from another teacher;

(4) is unwell or sick; or

(5) dies.

An errant student runs the risk of being expelled from the monastery, in case he/she is held guilty of gross indiscipline, despite the repeated counselling.


As regards the desired virtues (Guna) of a worthy teacher (Upadhyaya) , the Chullavagga mentions that he/she should primarily be well disciplined; gain control of his/her senses ; set an example by his/her conduct; and , practice  in good-faith what he/she teaches. The teacher should ensure that his/her teachings are proper; and, unerringly guide the learner along the virtuous path.

The other merits of a good teacher (Sadguru) were said to be that he/she is: well educated, respected and posses a high moral conduct; has the necessary skill, aptitude and the tolerance to teach; spreads the knowledge without fear, favour or prejudice; well intentioned, having the well-being of the student; and, above all, should be well versed in the tenets and the disciplines enumerated in the Vinaya Pitaka (Vinayadhar), and, brings them into practices.


In regard to the teacher-student relationship, the Chullavagga desires that an ‘Upajjhaya’ should ever bear in his heart and mind a fatherly attitude towards his pupils.

And, in a similar manner, the pupils should respect and regard the teacher as they would to their own father; and, take care of their teacher with love and devotion.

And, the teacher, on his part, should look after and take care of his pupils with diligence. At the time of pupil’s illness, teacher has to look after him; arrange for proper medication; and ,nurse him back to good health.

The Buddha, in that regard, set an example to all other teachers.

Recalling the Buddha’s attitude, Bhadant Upali, a disciple of the Buddha, narrated that once, while in Sravasti, the Buddha came upon an ailing monk in a very sick and dirty condition. The Buddha at once asked his cousin and close disciple Ananda, to fetch a bowl of fresh water and clean the ‘Chivara’ (monastic robe) of the sick and old monk. The Buddha, thereupon, himself washed the body of that monk and changed his attire. Thus, by attending to the sick monk himself, the Master set a shining example to others about the responsibilities that a teacher must bear towards his pupils and followers.

Buddha sick monk

 The above instance illustrates the process in which the rules governing the conduct of the monks evolved in the early Buddhism. This was in sharp contrast to the practices in a few other religions, where the Rule was initially pronounced or written down and later imposed on the followers. The Buddhist practices, especially those concerning the conduct of the monks, emerged out of the incidents in the Buddha’s life or out of his discourses. It was a gradual process; and a Rule developed in response to a challenge or to fulfill the needs of the growing Order.

This tradition, incidentally, helped the Buddhist teaching methods in explaining the significance or the concept behind a certain conduct or a practice recommended for the monks. It helped the learner to appreciate how the rule fitted into a coherent whole.


Dr. Ananat Sadashiv Altekar (1898-1960) – who was the Professor and Head of the Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture at Banaras Hindu University –  (in his Education in Ancient India, 1934)  talks about  Buddhism and the system of ancient Indian education. The following is an extract:

Buddhism and ancient Indian educationChapter X – Section A- pages 225 to 233

Ordination Ceremony:

The wise injunction of the Buddha, that every novice should be properly trained in the discipline and doctrine of the religion, was primarily responsible for the educational developments in and activities of Buddhist monasteries. Two ceremonies were laid down for those who desired to enter the Order, the Pabbajja and the Upwampada.

The Pabbajja marked the beginning of the noviciate period and could be given when a person was less than eight years old. The permission of the guardian was necessary.

The Upammpada was given after the end of the noviciate period, and the recipient had to be not less than twenty years old.

(If he was a debtor, an invalid or a government servant, he was refused admission.)

 The ordination could take place only with the consent of the whole Chapter. There were no caste restrictions for admission.

The novice had to affirm his faith in the Buddha, his Dharma and the Sangha (the Order); and select a learned person as his preceptor. He was to follow strictly the rules and discipline of the Order.

Like the Hindu Brahmachari (student), he was expected to beg his daily food; but he was also permitted to accept invitations for meals from laymen. He was to do all manual and menial work connected with the monastic life, e. g. cleansing its floor and utensils, bringing water, supervising its stores, etc.

(If he was guilty of any serious breach of discipline, he could be expelled by a meeting of the chapter.)

The Relation between the Novice and his Teacher

The Relations between the Novice and his Teacher were filial in character; they were united together by mutual reverence, confidence and affection. Like the Hindu Brahmacharin, the Buddhist novice was to help his teacher by doing a variety of manual work for him ; he was to carry his seat and robes, supply him water and tooth stick, cleanse his begging bowl and utensils and accompany him as an attendant when he proceeded to the town or village for begging or preaching.

The teacher was to teach the student the rules of etiquette and discipline, draw his and abstinence from pleasures and help him in his intellectual and spiritual progress by suitable discourses and lessons* in the morning and afternoon. He was also to help him in getting food and robes, and even to nurse him if he was sick.

 The teacher ‘s own life was to be exemplary ; and, the novice was permitted to act as a check on him if he was wavering in his faith or about to commit a breach of monastic discipline. The needs ol the teacher were to be the minimum; the famous teachers at Nalanda used to receive an allowance only three times larger than the amount given to an ordinary student.

This would give a very clear idea as to how Buddhist teachers led a very simple life and cost next to nothing to society. They were lifelong students of their different subjects; for marriage did not intervene to put an end to or an obstacle in their studies.

The Education of the Laity

 As observed already, in the beginning Buddhist education was purely monastic and was intended only for those who entered, or intended to enter, the Order. This was but natural.

 Buddhism held that the worldly life was full of sorrow and that the salvation could be possible only by renouncing it. It could therefore naturally evince no interest in the education of those who intended to follow secular life and pursuits. In the course of time however it was realised that it was necessary to win public sympathy and support for the spread of the gospel ; this could be more successfully done if the Buddhist monk could help the cause of education .as was done by his theological opponent, the Brahman priest.

 It was also realised that the best way to spread the gospel was to undertake the education of the rising generation. This was  calculated to enable the Order to mould and influence the minds of the younger section of the society, when they were very pliable. There was thus a better chance of both recruiting proper types of persons for the Order and of getting a larger number of lay sympathisers, if the educational effort was not confined to novices but was also extended to the whole community.

Buddhism therefore threw itself heart and soul into the cause of the general education of the whole community from about the beginning of the Christian era. It may be pointed out that lay students were admitted in ‘external’ monastic schools of Christianity, ‘internal’ schools being reserved for those who intended to join the order. Jesuits also used to admit lay pupils, when space permitted the step.

Female Education

Buddhist nunneries went out of vogue from about the 4th century A. D. ; so at  the time when Buddhist monasteries had developed into colleges of international reputation, women were not receiving any advantages of the education imparted in them. Their marriages were at that time taking place very early.

In the early history of Buddhism however, the permission given to women to enter the Order gave a fairly good impetus to the cause of female education, especially in aristocratic and commercial sections of society. A large number of ladies from these circles joined the Order and became life-long students of religion and philosophy. Their example must have given an indirect encouragement to the spread of education among lay women as well


 It will thus be seen that Buddhism may well be proud of its contribution to the cause of  education in ancient In dial Its colleges threw their doors open to all, irrespective of  any considerations of  caste or country: The rise of organized public educational institutions may be justly attributed to the Buddhist influence.

 It raised the international status of India by the efficiency of its higher education, which attracted students from distant countries like Korea, China, Tibet and Java.  The cultural sympathy which the countries in Eastern Asia feel for India even today is entirely due to the work of the famous Buddhist colleges of ancient India. If some of the important lost texts can be reconstructed with the help of their Chinese translations, the credit must be given to Buddhist colleges, which enabled Chinese students to  get their copies.

The Buddhist education also helped in the development of Hindu logic and philosophy by initiating and encouraging comparative study. In the period of its early history, it championed the cause of education through the mother tongue; later on however it could not resist the charm and influence of Sanskrit and began to impart education through that language.

lotus blue

Vegetarianism in Buddhism :

Once while he visited the Buddha ,who was then staying in his Mango grove, Jīvaka asked, if it was true that animals were slain expressly for the Buddha’s use. The Buddha replied— he forbids the eating of meat only when there is evidence of one’s eyes or ears as grounds for suspicion that the animal was slain for one’s express use. Anyone who slays an animal for the use of a monk and gives it to him commits a great evil”. Jīvaka was pleased with the reply and declared himself a follower of the Buddha. (Jīvaka Sutta – M.i.368f.)

 Jivaka sutta :

This is the much-discussed Jivaka Sutta that puts forth the Buddhist views on meat eating and vegetarianism. The sutra and the discussions that follow are elaborate. Some of that can be explored by following the links at the bottom of this paragraph.

In summary:

– a monk or nun should accept, without any discrimination, whatever food is offered in alms , offered with good will; this could include meat. However, the Buddha declared the meat trade as wrong livelihood. (Vanijja Sutta, AN 5:177)

Taking life, beating, cutting, binding, stealing, lying, fraud, deceit, pretence at knowledge, adultery; this is un-cleanliness and not the eating of meat.

– When men are rough and harsh, backbiting, treacherous, without compassion, haughty, ungenerous and do not give anything to anybody; this is un-cleanliness and not the eating of meat.

– Anger, pride, obstinacy, antagonism, hypocrisy, envy, ostentation, pride of opinion, interacting with the unrighteous; this is un-cleanliness and not the eating of meat.

– When men are of bad morals, refuse to pay their debts, are slanderers, deceitful in their dealings, pretenders, when the vilest of men commit foul deeds; this is un-cleanliness and not the eating of meat.

– When men attack living beings because of either greed or hostility and are always bent upon evil, they go to darkness after death and fall headlong into hell; this is un-cleanliness and not the eating of meat.

-. Abstaining from fish and meat, nakedness, shaving of the head, matted hair, smearing ashes, wearing rough deerskins, attending the sacrificial fire; none of the various penances in the world performed for unhealthy ends, neither incantations, oblations, sacrifices nor seasonal observances, purify a person who has not overcome his doubts.

-. He who lives with his senses guarded, conquered, and is established in the Dhamma delights in uprightness and gentleness; who has gone beyond attachments and has overcome all sorrows; that wise man does not cling to what is seen and heard.(Amagandha Sutta)

 – meat should not be eaten under three circumstances: when it is seen or heard or suspected to have been killed on purpose for a monk. (When a living being is purposely slaughtered for the eater).

 – meat can be eaten in three circumstances: when it is not seen, heard, or suspected (when a living being is not purposely slaughtered for the eater). (Jivaka Sutta, MN 55)

He permitted His monks to be vegetarians if they so wished; He did not prescribe that as a rule (to avoid hardship to His monks).

The Buddha declared that kamma is intention. One should not therefore condemn a person merely because he is eating meat to sustain himself. This sets him apart from one who eats meat out of greed for meat or for enjoyment in killing.

None should discourage those who opt not to eat meat. A balanced diet could be achieved without meat, if one so desires. Many Buddhists have opted to become vegetarians because it helps them to practice “loving-kindness”.


The Buddha’s last message to his disciples was:

Behold now, Bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness”

“My years are now full ripe; the life span left is short.
Departing, I go hence from you, relying on myself alone.
Be earnest, then, O bhikkhus, be mindful and of
virtue pure!

With firm resolve, guard your own mind,
Whoso untiringly pursues the Dhamma and the Discipline
Shall go beyond the round of births and make an end of suffering

(DN 16 Maha-parinibbana Sutta)

Jivaka’s story is fascinating by itself; in addition, it provides an insight into evolution of values and attitudes in the early Sangha.

 Buddha myroblalan

Sources and References (Amagandha Sutta)

Transformations in Indian History



Posted by on September 1, 2012 in Buddhism


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6 responses to “Jivaka, the physician

  1. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:19 pm


    nice article. at the moment i have a question.this is just a curiosity and has no bearing on the great being.

    i have read somewhere that buddha died of some sort of food poisoning after he consumed meat (stale ?) at somebody’s home.

    do yu know about it ?

    i also posted a comment just now in sri vijaya’s blog about buddha being a negative avatar of vishnu . pl read and comment



    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 1:21 pm

      dear palahali ,

      thank you.

      the buddha’s last days are described in maha pari_nibbana sutta. please check this @

      scroll down towards the bottom to the buddha’s last meal, for the story you referred.

      as regards the other issue i would rather not get into it.

      thank you

      please keep talking


      • sreenivasaraos

        March 21, 2015 at 1:21 pm

        dear srinivasarao

        thanks for the reference. i looked at wht you suggested and i got my answer. however, the reference has many other things which i will look at later. regards

  2. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    dear palahali

    these texts, though in translation , are not easy to read . they follow a cyclic way of narration. they state a proposition , explain it , come back to the original proposition then affirm it or negate it . while moving on to the next they again carry the thread.many times , they tend to repeat or overlap.

    take your time , read it at your leisure . in any case , you cannot read through it in one go.


  3. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    i enjoyed reading about jivaka, the physician. i am yet to read your links, but i am very enlightened on buddha’s take on veg/non-veg’rism.

    plus, jivaka’s trailblazing life is worth reading about.

    thank you for this lovely blog!


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 1:23 pm

      dear riverine
      thank you. i am glad you found it interesting. those links are about jivaka sutta and related suttas. the other set is about debate on vegetarianism and buddhism. you may go through those at your leisure.
      thanks for help.



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