Whatever medicines are found in the world – many and varied –
none are equal to the Dharma.
Drink of this, monks!
And having drunk the medicine of the Dharma,
you’ll be untouched by age and death.
Having meditated and seen,
[you’ll be] healed by ceasing to cling.
– Milinda-Panho (335)
One time when the Buddha was walking among the dwellings of his monks, he came across a monk who was very ill with dysentery, lying alone in his own excrement. He asked the monk why none of the others were caring for him and was told that he was of no use to the other monks, so they left him to cope with his illness alone. The Buddha immediately sent his attendant Ananda for a bowl of water and together they washed the monk and raised him onto a bed. Then the Buddha called together all the monks of the community and asked why this monk had been left unattended in his distress. He was given the same answer: “He is of no use to us, Lord.” (Mahavagga 8.26)
“You monks no longer have mother or father to care for you,” the Buddha said to them. “If you do not care for one another, who else will care for you?” He then used the occasion to lay down one of the 227 rules for the monastic community, enjoining the monks to care for each other in times of illness. It is a poignant story, revealing a side to the Buddha seldom seen in the Pali texts. More importantly, I think it has something to say to us about the situation we all find ourselves in today, and it can offer inspiration and guidance on how we can best get ourselves out of difficulty.
Surely one of the main problems we face, as a species and as a planet, is that we are lying in our own excrement. All the waste products produced by our consumption, from garbage and debris to chemical toxins and exotic poisons, are oozing out of us and soiling the environment we inhabit. And what the Buddha says about everything else surely applies here: Nothing happens without a cause. Things are the way they are not because of chance or the will of a deity but because people have acted in particular ways and generated particular consequences. The world we inhabit is the product of our actions, which are themselves reflections of our minds. [And we have the collective responsibility to care for it together, with one another. If we as the inhabitants of the Earth do not care, who would?]