Home » Letters » Why Do Some Buddhists Die Of Incurable Sicknesses?

Question: Why do some who pray to Buddha faithfully, who are even vegetarian for many years die of incurable sicknesses?

Answer: Life is already a fatal disease for every unenlightened human, whether vegetarian or not, Buddhist or not. It has never been the case that all Buddhists will not get sick or die. In fact, in the Buddha’s time, there were only a few disciples who never got sick in their entire long lives. (One of them was Ananda, the Buddha’s personal attendant.) This was due to their very strong compassion and positive karma, as partially created in their lives then, and partially accumulated from their previous lives. Being able to depart not due to sickness (but of old age naturally) likewise requires much positive karma. Also, although many in the Buddha’s time attained liberation from the cycle of birth and death, many others who encountered the Buddha’s teachings did not straightaway transcend death. This is so as they needed more time to master the teachings taught.

We ought to remember that the First Noble Truth taught by the Buddha includes the inevitability of birth, ageing, sickness and death for the unenlightened. We also have ripening negative karma from past lives to deal with. For instance, while some Buddhist vegetarians’ lifespans might not seem particularly longer or healthier than average, they could have lived less and in more sickly ways if they did not turn vegetarian, which does create positive karma to dilute existing negative karma’s effects. The severity of sicknesses and pains involved could be less and better handled than others too. All in all, faith aside, it is statistically true that vegetarians, or better yet, vegans, have longer average lifespans with better health than others. (Note than vegetarians who still consume dairy products still remain susceptible to bone-related diseases, cancer and such.)

Although they are invaluable practices, being Buddhist is not merely about praying to Buddha and not eating animals. Buddhist practice also includes learning the more profound teachings well, for cultivating purer conduct in thought, speech and action with greater compassion and wisdom. Those who truly practise the Buddha’s teachings well can indeed lessen suffering of ageing, sickness and death, even if not yet enlightened. They are able to age more graciously with less physical and mental ailments, and depart peacefully, or even blissfully, as in the case of proficient Pure Land practitioners, possibly skipping severe ageing, sickness and the usual dying process. Upon reaching Amituofo’s (Amitabha Buddha) Pure Land for further training towards guaranteed enlightenment, even before attaining liberation in terms of enlightenment, they will already be liberated (or ‘cured’) from the suffering of ageing, sickness and death.

One Response to “Why Do Some Buddhists Die Of Incurable Sicknesses?”

  1. Fong William-Replied 8 March 2021

    Re: Is cancer a result of karma? Some of the elderly seem to get cancer because their body systems are already malfunctioning. A friend said it is due to karma. Is this so? For example, some get heart problems due to old age or diet. Is this not natural? 

    Reply: All sicknesses that lead to physical and/or mental suffering involve negative karma, as expressed through biological processes naturally.

    Not all of the elderly will get seriously sick before departure, as some depart peacefully, relatively or totally free from sickness, with good spiritual practice. This also means they did not have the karma to suffer from serious sickness in their last days. Good spiritual practice can also dissolve negative karma to lighten suffering from sicknesses.

    Even the eventual malfunctioning of the body is karmic in nature, as it is the karma of all unenlightened beings to undergo ageing, sickness and death, if they do not practise the Dharma to transcend these in time. Thus does Buddhism call this body we have a ‘(negative) karmic retribution body’ (业报身), in contrast to the ‘reward body’ (报身) we attain in Pure Land, with Amituofo’s blessings.

    Even having heart problems due to a poor diet filled with animal products and by-products is karmic in nature. (Notice that it is now occurring to the much younger more these days, with their first heart attack being their last.) Negative karma in this case could have been created by greed, hatred and delusion. There might be greed for ill foods, hatred of healthy vegan foods (i.e. WholeFood Plant-Based Diet: WFPBD), and delusion about proper nutrition – all at the same time. (Cancer is also avoidable with a good diet and good spiritual practice.)

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