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Buddhist Patients

The Buddhist faith centres on the Buddha, who is revered not in the sense of Buddha as God but as an example to us as a way of life. The 'Buddha' (The Enlightened One) is the title given to Siddartha Gautama.

Born a prince, as a young man he became a wandering holy man and ascetic, seeking answers to the questions of suffering, old age, sickness and death.

Adopting a middle way, between excess and self-denial, he eventually attained enlightenment whilst sitting under a Bodhi tree at full moon. All sentient beings have the potential to become enlightened to become a Buddha.

Those who want to become Buddha must realise Buddhahood within themselves through prayers, purifications, retreats and virtuous conduct such as the practice of generosity.

Buddhists also believe in reincarnation. Central to the Buddhist belief is the injunction not to cause harm to others and to help all beings.

Daily Prayer and Worship

The individual concerned will usually explain what is required, but the prime need will probably be for space for meditation, the amount of which will vary between individuals.

Some Buddhists, however, are not able to meditate at all at this time, and the needs of the individual should always be respected.

Holy Days and Festivals

There are many different schools of Buddhist thought, each celebrating various special days for different reasons for example Theravadin, Thai, Tibetan, Mahayana and Western:

Wesak (May Full Moon):
Celebration of Buddha's enlightenment
Rains Retreat
Time for searching of one's inner thoughts and exchange of forgiveness
Kathina Day
At the end of Rains Retreat, monks are presented with presents, such as a robe; the celebration is marked with processions in some countries
Dhamachakra Day (July Full Moon)
Celebration of Buddha's first sermon, setting out the 'Wheel of Law'
Sangha Day (November Full Moon)
Celebration in remembrance of the Buddhist's order of monks
Bodhi Day
Celebration marking the enlightenment day of Buddha

Padmasambhava Day

Celebration to mark gratitude to Padmasambhava who took Buddhism to Tibet
Commemoration of the death of the Buddha
Uposatha Days
Full moon and new moon days are sacred times. Buddhists of all traditions may visit a temple to make offerings, pay respect to the image of the Buddha

Diet and Hygiene

Most Buddhists are vegetarian and diets vary according to the climate of the country involved. However, one can find both vegetarian and non-vegetarian Buddhists.

Except for ordained monks, fasting is not a feature and practice for most Buddhists.

In respect of hygiene requirements, Buddhists follow different social customs dependent on country of origin.

Gender Issues

There are no specific problems as helping people is fundamental to Buddhist ideas, and so patients will always respect the doctor and nurses for helping them.

There is no belief in a fixed destiny. People make ethical choices for themselves - which may include family planning. All Buddhist tradition will condemn abortion.


The Buddhist patient may seek the help of the chaplain in arranging for a time of peace and quiet for meditation.


A Royal or very high-class baby would have special ceremonies performed for him, but there are no special ceremonies for the babies of ordinary people. It is a time for gratitude and practices of generosity; baby blessing may be performed later.


A Buddhist patient would wish to be made aware of the effect of pain killling drugs on their mental alertness because clarity of mind is important. Such drugs should only be used with their agreement.

When they do lapse into unconsciousness they would wish to have done all in their power to prepare themselves for death.

A dying Buddhist may like to hear readings from Buddhist scriptures, to see religious objects such as a picture or statue of the Buddha, and to hear chanting. They would also like to have a visit from a Buddhist monk or teacher from time to time. The patient would in most cases know who to call.

In Tibetan Buddhism, it was sometimes the case that a body was kept 49 days whilst special daily prayers for the deceased took place. Normally the time before committal depends on the lunar calendar and varies from 3 to 7 days.

The most important thing when a Buddhist dies is that a Buddhist priest is informed as soon as possible, and he preferably should be of the same school of Buddhism as the deceased.

Most Buddhists would be quite happy to give a 'who to contact' name and this might be done systematically when a patient enters the hospital.

Ideally the body should not be moved too much before the priest arrives. When he arrives the priest may do the necessary prayers, which could take an hour or thereabouts, depending on the school.

It is not always necessary for the officiating priest to recite the prayers actually in the presence of the corpse - they can be recited at a distance, in a temple for instance.

Buddhists can choose whether they would prefer to be buried or cremated.

There is no objection to a post mortem examination. Buddhists generally cremate their dead and return the ashes to the earth in a graceful way. A tree is often planted at the spot where the deceased's remains have been left, so the tree is the rebirth, the completion of the cycle.


In case of problems please contact the duty chaplain on 01274 542200.