Illness as Teacher

Yutang Lin

Learning adjustments as remedies to sufferings of illness,
Undergoing ordeals to test the extent of one's practices,
Once known to rest for recovery sound health restored,
Regarding illness as teacher one gains benefits profound.


In the middle of August my hemorrhoids became beyond my control for about a week, and it was quite an ordeal. Fortunately I was able to follow the physician's instructions to remedy the situation and rest, so I had recovered from this illness soon enough. Throughout this ordeal I had learned much about how to accommodate the situations and gained reflections on applications of Dharma; hence I put it down here to share with the public.

I have had hemorrhoids for over twenty years. In the distant past there were also occasions when they bled along bowel movement. I sought physicians' help on several occasions, but always received only bending on some hemorrhoid with strings or rubber band. In the latest for many years they constituted no problem to my daily life; all I had to do is to push them back inside after bowel movements. It was so easily accomplished that it was no matter of concern to me. To push hemorrhoids back in one should first pay attention to their relative positions, and then push first the one that is innermost, and then the rest in the order of inner ones and then outer ones. Thus it would be easier to succeed.

On August 13, in front of the usual two hemorrhoids there came out a new one. Fortunately it was still small and was easily pushed back. On the 14th, the hemorrhoids were pushed back only after quite a struggle. So I phoned the hospital, left a message for my regular physician, and reported to him the situation. In the morning of the 15th even though I exerted all I could till I was exhausted the hemorrhoids could not be pushed back by myself. Hence I phoned the hospital for appointment. According to the hospital procedures I needed to see my regular internal medicine physician first. In the morning of the 16th I received a phone call from a nurse on behalf of my regular physician. She said the doctor wanted to see me first because I had not seen him for many years, so he wanted to diagnose the problem himself. Consequently I got to see the physician only on the 17th. As soon as he saw the severity of the situation he arranged an appointment with the Surgery Department for me. However, there were no vacancy on that day, and if I went for immediate treatment, we did not know if they would operate on me right away or not, and I went to the appointment alone, and my family was completely unprepared for the possible operation, so I concurred with the physician that I would go to the Surgery Department appointment scheduled for the afternoon of next day.

Therefore, there were over three days when those huge hemorrhoids were hanging outside. During this period my wife used towels to arrange into a u-shaped cushion for me to sit on, and I did not stop my Dharma activities but completed the revision of the transcript of my talk given in Mandarin in Melaka, Malaysia on "Aspects of Impermanence." On the 17th I also drove myself to and from the hospital. At night on the 15th I felt very dry in the mouth and kept drinking water. Due to the huge hemorrhoids hanging outside, both urination and defecation became difficult. Fortunately from my long experiences in dealing with hemorrhoids I had learned to soak in hot water to relax the body, and temporarily forget the pain and tension of unusual pulling here and there, and so I was able to relieve myself. On the 16th I already felt that my body had adapted to the new situation, and I could fall sound asleep. In daytime on the 16th while I was standing suddenly muscles of my whole body moved as if they were working together trying to pull the hemorrhoids upward, back into where they should be. The hemorrhoids were huge so the effort did not succeed. I figured that this was because my whole body had been relaxed through years of Dharma practices and hence it was able to make such moves to attempt self-readjustment.

On the 17th once I was back home, I could not tell if I would be operated on the next day, so I sent out emails to Buddhists on my list, asking them to send Powa or prayer requests to Stanley Lam instead. Once this news reached people, quite a few responded with consolations, or offered special treatments that were known to be valid, or faxed me the Chinese version of "Buddha on Curing Hemorrhoids Sutra" for my recitation to receive blessings, or dedicated merits of their Dharma practices for my well-being, or pleaded me to stay in the world for a long time, or ordered helpful dietary products to be sent to me. In the week that followed I checked emails but did not even read them. The special treatments are: eat kelp; before getting up in the morning apply saliva to hemorrhoids and massage them; eat thirty raisins at 4 p.m. daily for a month; and not to use toilet paper but use only water to wash or flush after bowel movement. As to the prospect of operation two Buddhists who had had it recommended it as a way to be forever free from this problem; nevertheless, some Chinese medicine doctors said that hemorrhoids could still recur after surgery. The dietary supplements are: oxy-energy drops added to pure water, molecular resonant water, aloe vera juice, and green juice obtained from soaking clean mung bean in boiling water.

A disciple stated that this ordeal was undertaken to reduce the suffering of sentient beings from their sinful karma; as for myself, I simply regarded it as an opportunity for me to reduce my past Karmic dues. For details on this please read my recent work, "Sharing Common Karma." He also stated that this incident tightened his sense of the urgency of Impermanence. Impermanence is an objective truth that seekers of Buddhist enlightenment should deeply appreciate through personal experiences. People on the Buddhist path could easily confined themselves within a self-set scope and itinerary but without the realization that actual evolution of events could hardly meet personal expectations. Only with a keen sense of impermanence could one face and accept changes readily, and thereby transcend self-set limitations and scopes. Applying this to the case of following a Guru, one should realize that a Guru would not stay in the flesh body forever, and hence one should treasure the opportunities to attend and learn from the Guru, instead of paying the Guru only casual visits at one's own conveniences.

On the 18th my sister-in-law drove me to the hospital, and I got to see Dr. Williams. He pushed the hemorrhoids back inside and commented that I was completely relaxed all over. He instructed me to stay in bed as much as possible for the next 48 hours so as to help the hemorrhoids shrink. As to surgical operation, one needs to wait till hemorrhoids have shrunken to arrange for an appointment. After work my wife rushed to the hospital, and drove me home. During the first half of that night all sour and painful spots accumulated through over three days of irregular body positions showed up; nevertheless, for the rest of that night I was able to go into sound sleep for three times.

In the morning of the 19th after the bowel movement the hemorrhoids again came out hanging, and again even after I had exhausted all my strength they still could not be pushed back in. That afternoon my sister-in-law drove me to the hospital, and I bothered Dr. Williams once more to help resolve my predicament. He instructed me to rest for a whole week and stay off work completely. Since I visited the physician on the 18th I stayed in bed as much as possible, and took hot bath often. Consequently, I became aware that the areas of my thighs where I sit on and the area around my anus had fine channels that resumed openness through the rest and hot baths. This indicated that I had not had enough rest in the past.

Since the 15th I ate only rice porridge and drank lots of liquid. On the 20th I refrained from bowel movement so as to keep the hemorrhoids inside longer, and thereby to enable them to shrink sooner. In late afternoon of the 21st after bowel movement the hemorrhoids came out hanging again, and I still could not push them back by myself. Since it was Saturday, the Surgery Department was closed to outpatients, and one needed to go to the Emergency Room first, and then wait for the physician there to call the resident intern of the Surgery Department to come render the service. My wife drove me to the hospital, and it took 4 hours of waiting through the processes for me to obtain the help to push them back in. The intern, Dr. Wang, was a young lady of Chinese descent. Following my oral repetition of Dr. Williams' instructions she was able to accomplish the task in short time. The instruction was as follows: first apply lubricating creams on the hemorrhoids and areas around the anus, then use the flat of the palm to push all hemorrhoids simultaneously inward to reduce their sizes, and then, following the order of their coming out, one by one push the hemorrhoids back in. Dr. Wang was quite smart in that, after the first hemorrhoid was pushed inside, she used one finger to press on it so that it could not slip out again. Consequently, she was able to push the remaining two back in readily. While she was pressing on all the hemorrhoids, she exclaimed, "Perfect relaxation!" However, I did not make any effort to relax; it was but that my body was constantly in a natural state of relaxation. When she returned to say good-bye, I gave her a card with the website of Yogi Chen's Homepage on it, with the hope that she might thereby become connected with Dharma and so I could have thanked her in this way.

On the 22nd I refrained from bowel movement. On and after the 23rd the hemorrhoids became greatly reduced in sizes and I was able to push them back in easily. Since then it had been over ten days and all my daily activities had returned to normal. Furthermore, the original two hemorrhoids that were quite large for years had now resumed a tiny appearance. The new hemorrhoid was slightly larger than them but very soft, and it would return base upon one push. Thus it clearly showed that my years of hemorrhoid problems were the result of accumulated overwork without proper rest and care. Once rest and care were sufficient my body could heal and readjust by itself. From now on I only need to pay attention to maintaining proper rest and care to my body, and I would not suffer from hemorrhoid problems any more.

Through this hemorrhoid ordeal I had also learned not to push early during bowel movement, but to wait for the natural gentle movement to accumulate pressure on anus, and then push down upon the natural urge to release the pressure. In recent years I often had to wait for a while for my urine to come out, especially after long sittings. After the hemorrhoids had shrunken this problem had just disappeared. Thus I understood that the problem was caused by swollen hemorrhoids pressing on nerves and numbed the function to urinate. Another related problem is that, due to swollen hemorrhoids inside, I felt the urge to have bowel movement two or three times a day in the past few years. Since the hemorrhoids had shrunken this problem had also gone. Now daily I just naturally had one bowel movement in the morning. I mentioned these here so that people with similar problems could find a cure.

On the 26th following the physician's order I went back to the hospital for re-examination. Dr. Williams was glad to see that the situation had much improved. As a token of my gratitude I offered him a joke that I got the inspiration on the spot; for details please read my recent work "Tokens of Gratitude."

During the week when my hemorrhoid ordeal was most severe my body could adapt within short time to new situations, I could go into deep sleep despite the hardship, my body was naturally relaxed while the physicians were pushing the hemorrhoids back in, and my spirit remained clear and bright, all these were signs of benefits gained through many years of devoted Dharma practices and services.

The unexpected emergence of hemorrhoid problem put a sudden halt on my usually busy daily activities such as emailing, corresponding, etc. Ordinarily very easy activities such as sitting and walking all became awkward posture or movements. The family suddenly had one less able body to help around but instead had one patient to care for constantly. All these illustrated the preciousness and fragility of our healthy states, and the significance of devoting oneself to Dharma services, namely, to dedicate the precious and rare state of a sound mind and healthy body to promote the well-being of sentient beings, without regard for worldly rewards, so that sentient beings might leave sufferings and attain happiness, and realize ultimate enlightenment.

Due to suffering from this illness I visited the hospital several times, including once to the Emergency Room, and thereby enhanced my awareness and experiences of suffering from illnesses in the world. Dharma services that I normally performed without considering their load, such as replying to emails, all became burden during the ordeal. Hence, I learned from this lesson and would not sit long to reply to each and every email. Therefore, I announced to all my Buddhist friends that I would read and confer lineage blessings to all Powa or prayer requests, but will not reply so as to reduce my workload, and begged for their understanding of what had led to this option.

Through this ordeal I realized the importance of proper rest and maintenance of body and mind, and the necessity of giving proper attention to warning signals issued by the body, hence I would not overwork from now on. Consequently, after this illness my body and mind are both more energetic and full of spirit. Thus I had benefited from the illness, and it was obvious to me that Buddha granted me guidance and blessings through such adverse situations.

Throughout the ordeal blessings from Buddhas, constant care in many ways from my family members and concerns and prayers from Buddhists had enabled me to recover within a short time. Here I acknowledged my deep gratitude to all of them.

In summary, the suffering from hemorrhoids lasted only a week, and yet I regarded the illness as teacher and had thereby benefited deeply in many ways with lasting effects that will help the rest of my life to become healthier. In order to share these benefits with the public I wrote this report. May all beings' illnesses be brief, and they gain through such adverse situations ever-lasting benefits!

Written in Chinese on September 6, 2004
Translated on September 15, 2004
El Cerrito, California

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