The Bodhisattvic Hippocratic Oath

Here is the original Hippocratic Oath taken by ancient Greek doctors, from which modern versions of doctors’ moral conduct is derived:

I swear by Apollo, the healer, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgment, the following Oath and agreement: To consider dear to me, as my parents, him who taught me this art; to live in common with him and, if necessary, to share my goods with him; To look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art. I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone. I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion. But I will preserve the purity of my life and my arts. I will not cut for stone [do surgery], even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art. In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves. All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal. If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.

The oath swears by the related gods believed in then. Buddhist today can vow in the name of the Medicine Buddha and Bodhisattvas in general perhaps, as to heal another is a Bodhisattva practice if done with compassion and wisdom! The oath speaks of gratitude to one’s teachers via reciprocation of benefits earned, and by perpetuating one’s mastered skills. In the context of Bodhisattva practice, this would be respect for one’s Dharma teachers and spreading of the Dharma. It next speaks of doing only good as a doctor and not evil, by adhering to the first precept of not killing or encouraging so in any way. to uphold the integrity of one’s practice. It also speaks of not doing that which one knows another is better skilled in. Then it speaks of not healing for unjustified rewards, and protecting patients’ confidentiality. It concludes with the aspiration to keep to the above in one’s practice, so as to earn happiness and respect, or one might suffer instead.

I thought the oath is pretty much aligned with the Bodhisattva path. It also happens that the Buddha is often likened to a great spiritual doctor, the Dharma he taught as great medicine, and the Sangha the great community of nurses who aid the good doctor in administering the Dharma to the masses. Extending this medical analogy, with the Four Noble Truths standing for the Dharma, the First Noble Truth is about the symptoms of our illness of suffering, the Second Noble Truth about the diagnosis of their causes, the Third Noble Truth about the definition of desired health, and the Fourth Noble Truth about the prescription that leads to being cured. While doctors of our physical forms specialise in healing our bodies, the Buddha and the Sangha specialise in healing our minds.

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