Modern health care providers contact representatives of various religions; therefore, they have to be aware of the main features of all major religions in order to offer individual and appropriate care. Christianity and Buddhism are among the most wide-spread religions worldwide, which requires a more in-depth discussion of key practices and beliefs, common for followers of these two faiths. In fact, these two faiths are highly different in most respects, including their attitudes to health care. However, there exist certain commonalities between them, such as their belief in suffering as an integral part of human life. Hence, the current paper is aimed at providing a brief comparative analysis of Christianity and Buddhism, with a particular focus on their attitudes to health care. Besides, some recommendations for treating patients who are followers of these religions are given to health care providers. Nevertheless, it is essential that health care providers do not impose their personal views and beliefs on patients, irrespective of the faith they follow.
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Nowadays, health care providers frequently contact with people who are from different ethnic groups, nationalities, and cultures, and who have different systems of beliefs, which means that providers have to be aware of the multitude of cultures and religions in order to provide individual and high-quality care. Globalization means that people of all faiths come to hospitals and require care that would take into consideration their spiritual and religious beliefs and practices. Therefore, medical practitioners of all kinds have to study and regularly read about various religions with a view to being able to provide the best possible care, irrespective of their own beliefs. Christianity and Buddhism are among the most widely spread religions worldwide and have millions of followers, which necessitates health care providers to be aware of peculiarities of health care, as adopted by these religions. Overall, these two faiths are different in most respects; however, there are some common attitudes to health and healing, for instance, value of peacefulness, love, and respect, which can facilitate the process of health care provision.
In fact, in the recent past, researchers have become highly interested in the question of religion and its influence on health care provision. They emphasize that all kinds of health care providers have to take into account faith-based preferences of patients in order to provide the best possible care and avoid conflicts with patients concerning treatment options (Rumun, 2014). It has also been shown through numerous studies that any religion, irrespective of its peculiarities, benefits the process of treatment, since it is capable of making individuals stronger primarily by establishing and maintaining links with a religious community and a certain supreme force, which, in turn, provides psychological stability and has overall positive influence on patients’ well-being (Rumun, 2014). Thus, nurses are currently taught to be aware of spiritual needs of their patients and encouraged to employ spiritual care interventions in the process of caring for patients. Most common of such interventions include the following five: “listening to the patient express key concerns; praying with the patient; reading favorite portions of religious readings; spending time with the patient; and making a referral to a chaplain” (O’Brien, 2008, p. 131). These interventions seem to be universal, but, nevertheless, the most effective and efficient approach to spiritual care implies adaption of interventions to a particular faith.
Christianity is a religion with the highest number of followers worldwide, including the USA. It is divided into a wide range of congregations that differ in terms of their beliefs and religious practices (HealthCare Chaplaincy, 2013). From the Christian perspective, doctors are members of a needed and respectable profession (Col. 4:14), but this concerns only true doctors rather than some magicians or charlatans, who are regarded with disfavor and have to be avoided (Lev. 19:31). In fact, Jesus Christ is viewed as the Great Physician in the New Testament, for he cared not only about spiritual development of people, but also about their physical health, which is evident from the fact that he healed many people. For instance, Jesus once healed a woman on the Sabbath and responded to criticism of his deed as follows, “Should this woman…not be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (Luke 13:16). Respectively, Jesus sent his disciples “to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:2). Therefore, it is obvious that the Christian faith system, and the Bible in particular, has nothing against doctors and treatment in general; however, there are some peculiarities that should be discussed in more detail.
Some of the most common Christian congregations include Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholicism, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, Protestant, Seventh-Day Adventist, and Christian Science, with some of them being further subdivided into denominations that have their own peculiarities. In order to find out about these peculiarities, health care providers have to talk with patients and ask them about their beliefs and preferred practices, as well as possible taboos. Since discussion of all congregations would be extremely lengthy, the current paper will focus on Catholicism as one of the most numerous Christian faith systems worldwide. Hence, Roman Catholics are strong believers in the Bible and Apostolic teachings; they emphasize importance of various practices, such as baptism, prayers for the sick, holy orders, penance, etc., and patients should be provided with an opportunity to engage in such practices if they wish. Some of their daily practices include prayers before meals, before going to bed, and at other times of need, for instance, while suffering. Some Catholic patients may want to attend Mass or Eucharist, in case they are able to do so physically, as well as use candles, rosary beads, and other aids while praying. From the Christian perspective, organ donation, autopsy, blood transfusion, blood products, and most medical procedures are acceptable, while sterilization, artificial conception, and abortion are prohibited (HealthCare Chaplaincy, 2013). Nevertheless, a patients’ body has to be treated with respect, and no medical experiments are allowed.
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With respect to death, Catholics believe in life after death and emphasize the significance of performing the Last Rites (HealthCare Chaplaincy, 2013). Human beings who have led a faithful life go heavens to reunite with God, while those who have sinned go to hell to be punished. By nature, human beings are seen as sinful creatures of God, who have been created by Him together with the entire world; they are descendants of Adam and Eve. In its turn, the world is seen as a place created by God during six days, to which human beings were banished after the original sin. The right and wrong can be told on the basis of the Bible and other writings approved by the Church. Those who follow the Ten Commandments and other principles, preached by Jesus, and live rightly will go to paradise after death. Individuals who suffer greatly are frequently encouraged to bear the suffering and compare it to that of Jesus, so that it will grant them eternal life in God after death.
Besides, all interventions and treatment options should be discussed with the patient and his/her family if the patient cannot make a conscious decision (HealthCare Chaplaincy, 2013). The most effective way of dealing with Catholic patients is discussing their preferred practices and faith-based needs prior to starting any treatment (HealthCare Chaplaincy, 2013). Dietary restrictions are rare and depend on people, for example, some believers do not eat meat on Fridays. Praying is an important part of healing, and patients may ask to be provided with some aids, such as rosaries, incense, icons of the saints, crucifix, etc. to facilitate the process (HealthCare Chaplaincy, 2013). Some Catholics may be against amputation, resurrection procedures, and life-support; however, these issues have to be discussed individually, as there are no faith-prescribed rules for all Catholics. Overall, healing and belief are essential for followers of this religion and play a vital role in the treatment process, as well as specific practices that may need involvement of a priest. All these should be respected and taken into account by health care providers.
In its turn, Buddhism is not so much dedicated to specific practices and mostly focuses on meditation and philosophy, rather than certain prescribed procedures, as a part of the healing process. It should be noted that there are three main Buddhist traditions, including Theravada, Mahayana, and Tibetan (HealthCare Chaplaincy, 2013). Contrary to Christianity, there is no single primary sacred text that governs the main principles of the religion. In turn, the Buddhist teachings are given in numerous texts and stories about Buddha and his well-known pupils. However, all texts emphasize significance of health, which is understood as a balance of mental and physical health. Thus, in Book 1, called “Enkipata”, it is stated that Buddhists should “seek health”, and Buddha explained once that health is “the supreme good” (“84. Atthassadvara Jataka,” n.d.). It is possible to do so in the following way: “be virtuous; Hearken to elders; from the scriptures learn; Conform to Truth; and burst Attachment’s bonds. – For chiefly these six Paths to Welfare lead” (“84. Atthassadvara Jataka,” n.d.).
Besides these six paths to well-being, all Buddhist schools believe in the Law of Karma and the Four Noble Truths, which guide them in life (Tung, 2010). The Law of Karma is understood as the law of cause and effect, i.e. everything that happens in life and that exists has some cause and, subsequently, has some effect. Since Buddhists believe in reincarnation, they claim that karma is that all their deeds and thoughts in the present life will impact their next life, and, respectively, their present life is influenced by their past life’s deeds. Therefore, they emphasize the significance of good deeds and avoid harming living beings, which is why most of them are vegetarians. This dietary preference has to be taken into consideration by health care providers (Tung, 2010). Such approach is considered the right way to live, while harming other living creatures and doing bad deeds constitute a wrong way to live. In fact, human beings are understood as one of the species of living beings in the world, who, after their death, are reincarnated into other creatures, based on their karma. The world is, therefore, a highly intertwined plane of existence for all creatures.
In their turn, the Four Noble Truths support the following claims: “there is a suffering”, “there is the origin of suffering”, “there is the cessation of suffering”, and “there is the eightfold path leading to the cessation of suffering” (Tung, 2010, p. 450). Buddhists, thus, believe that suffering is an integral part of human life, which is a similarity with the Christian perspective on suffering. However, the two faiths differ in their explanation of the origin of suffering, namely, Buddhists suppose that suffering originates from humans’ attachment to material things and ambitions, while Christians do not associate suffering solely with material aspirations. These religions also differ in their views on the possibility of stopping suffering. While Christians do not suppose that it is necessary to stop it and emphasize the need to endure suffering on the earth in order to achieve eternal peace in heavens, Buddhists think that it is possible to cure and stop suffering by identifying its cause (Kongsuwan & Touhy, 2009). Furthermore, Buddhists offer the Eightfold Path that can help people to eliminate suffering. This path envisions the following steps that constitute the right way of living: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration (Tung, 2010). By following these steps, individuals can reach mental well-being and a balance between mental and physical health devoid of suffering.
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Generally, Buddhists have no objections to treatments and do not believe in healing through faith, contrary to Christians. Respectively, they have no restrictions on blood transfusion, organ donation, transplantation, autopsy, surgical procedures, and other treatment options (HealthCare Chaplaincy, 2013). However, they may have peculiar requirements to medications, which is explained by emphasis on the significance of mindfulness. For this reason, Buddhist patients, especially those who are terminally ill, may ask to be given medications that do not affect their state of mind, since they have to die in a mindful and conscious state, as well as in a calm and peaceful environment. Besides, they may ask for some privacy to perform meditations on a daily basis in order to take care of their mental health, which will in its turn benefit their physical health, according to the religion. Buddhists also consider family members to be important stakeholders in the process of caring for a sick person, which is why it is sometimes preferable to alter care protocols, so that family members are given a possibility to care for patients (Kongsuwan & Touhy, 2009). Contrary to Christians, Buddhists have no faith-based objections to contraception, abortion, artificial insemination; however, they are generally against life support if the brain is deemed to be dead.
To summarize, the two faiths discussed above are different in most respects, but they are common in terms of placing a significant value on belief and regarding suffering as an integral part of human life. Besides, patients of both faiths want health care professionals to respect their spiritual beliefs when being cared for, irrespective of whether they share the same beliefs or not. Hence, health care providers are obliged not to impose their personal beliefs on patients and discuss their religious preferences and needs respectfully, as well as ensuring that patients are given an opportunity to integrate spiritual care practices into the overall treatment process. Personally, I am a Catholic and I believe that prayers can have a powerful positive impact on healing; however, I am also convinced that faith should not become an obstacle to receiving the best possible treatment. On the contrary, any faith should become a powerful tool for patients that will give them hope and strength to fight the disease, and, in fact, it makes no difference to which system of beliefs the patient belongs. The most important thing is to respect patients’ beliefs and accommodate their faith-based preferences in a way that would facilitate healing, rather than creating additional obstacles. Consequently, I am convinced that my personal faith preferences will not interfere with my practice, and I am planning to learn about key principles of all major religions in order to understand my future patients and their needs better.