All conditioned phenomena arise due to one of four causes. These are known as the four foods, or four nutriments:
1. Physical food.
3. Mind or consciousness.
4. Kamma (including, but not confined to kamma in past lives).
Physical food is essential for life and strength. Good healthy food eaten in moderation gives us health, beauty, long-life, and strength. Too much rich food can cause poor health, while insufficient or poor quality food can also cause disease.
Climate is another factor. In cold climates we need heating, in hot climates we need air-conditioning. Extremes of cold and heat can also cause diseases or death.
Mind or consciousness is important too. Too much anger, lust, fear, or worry is not good for one’s well-being. How we stimulate the mind affects our happiness. We need wisdom to avoid stimulating the mind in unskilful ways.
Then there is kamma. We do not know what we did in the past, and can do nothing about it now. It will give its result when the conditions are ripe, and if it was powerful bad kamma, we will have to suffer. If we are enjoying good results, we can be happy, but we must plant good seeds for the future while enjoying the fruits of the past.
Pain and Disease
Pain and disease comes from having a body. We have to accept it the way it is. When we were young, we had lots of energy and recovered quickly from diseases, as we get older the body decays and finally perishes. The Buddha’s chief supporter, Anāthapiṇḍika, was in agony on his death-bed, even though he had done heaps of powerful wholesome kamma during his lifetime. However, when Venerable Sāriputta taught him the method of insight meditation he was able to transcend the pain and attained bliss as he lay dying.
Actually all pain is mental, not physical. If you are unconscious, you cannot feel any pain. When we talk about physical pain, we mean the unpleasant feeling that arises through physical contact. Mental pain is the unpleasant feeling arising through mental contact.
If one meditates seriously, it is possible to separate mind and matter and observe even severe physical pain and discomfort with equanimity. It is not easy to sit in meditation at first. The beginner may claim to be in agony after only twenty minutes of sitting still, whereas an experienced meditator can sit still for two hours or more without difficulty. It is not that they have no pain, but they do not magnify it with fear and aversion. When mindfulness and concentration are strong enough, pain is not a problem.
Ardent meditators with strong faith in the Dhamma have overcome serious medical conditions such as cancer, eczema, tuberculosis, gall stones, etc. Even the average person can soon learn to overcome mild ailments such as colds, headaches, high blood-pressure, etc., and minor mental disorders such as stuttering, acute anxiety, compulsive obsessions, phobias, and depression.
We do not claim that meditation is a cure for all ills. Medication and therapy should also be used, but the concentrated mind has powerful healing qualities.
Severe mental disorders cannot usually be overcome, because the unfortunate victim’s mind is just too weak and distracted.