Happy Buddha: The Health Benefits to Living a Buddhist Lifestyle

This image shows a small statue of Buddha in a relaxed posture on a table in front of a window.

We all know the statues and images of the Happy Buddha, so in this piece we look at what the Buddha did to promote such happiness. According to Buddhist teachings, happiness is achieved through optimum physical and mental well-being, which comes from harmonizing a number of different factors. Read on to find out what they are how to maintain long term good health free from illness.


The strictest Buddhist diet is followed by monks in monasteries and is sourced solely from alms which must come from donated leftover foods. Of course, this is a strict diet, but if follows the sensible belief that a regular and proper diet should simply cure hunger, relieve thirst and prevent illness; this is a diet that therefore avoids unhealthy eating habits like snacking and overeating. Less strict Buddhist monks who cook in monasteries aim for a healthy cuisine that is high quality and wholesome and flavourful. Importantly, it should also be natural and sourced from what is locally available, so there is no room for processed or chemically preserved ingredients. Formal monastery meals in the Zen tradition consist of "three bowls" including a grain-based dish such as rice or porridge, a dish like a stew or soup, and a third, smaller bowl of vegetables or salad.

This three bowl system clearly shows the focus on three healthy food groups (slow carbs, protein and fibre), and whether or not other Buddhists follow this three bowls pattern, Buddhist cuisine always includes rice, an abundance of vegetables which are stir-fried or cooked in broth, and some all important protein (which may or may not include meat, depending on the country or Buddhist sect). For vegetarian Buddhists, the Buddhist diet has become well known for soy or wheat gluten based meat substitutes. Traditional Buddhist monks and Buddhist vegetarian chefs have become very skilled at making alternatives which closely resemble meats like pork or fish, and can be used to create traditional Chinese dishes.

Meditation and Yoga

Equally important to physical health, Buddhism teaches that spiritual health is essential for positive well-being. Various Buddhist sutras actually state the cause of disease as emotional - not physical. For example, The Sutra of Buddha’s Diagnosis says that sickness can come from sadness and anger as much as from postponing excrement and holding the breath. According to Buddhist practices, the brain can become overloaded, overwhelmed and stressed by the range of human daily activities, so to prevent illness, humans need to strive for a balanced emotional life.

Meditation and yoga practice are both highly recommended for promoting a greater state of balance. Buddha taught that psychological and physiological health can be improved by breathing slowly and concentrating on one's breath for the mind to focus and find clarity. Indeed, a Japanese physician who wrote The Medicine Chan found these additional three advantages to meditation: increased energy; improved blood circulation; and improved function of the endocrine system. Research conducted by the University of California found that areas of the brain associated with good mood and positive feelings are more active in experienced Buddhists, and other research has indicated that those who practice Buddhist meditation experience fear less often, as meditation is proven to encourage calm. Experienced Buddhists who meditate often are also less likely to be shocked, flustered, surprised or angry.

,h2>Avoiding Addictive Products

In addition to using meditation to achieve a clear, focused and well organized mind, most Buddhists are also encouraged to stay healthy by refraining from intoxicants, which cause mindlessness. This teaching is part of the Five Precepts which discourages buddhists from consuming "addictive materials." For the most part, this is seen as a reference to coffee, alcohol, tobacco and contraband drugs, which are all classed as addictive. In particular, alcohol is seen as harmful because it can cause “heedlessness" and acts as a hindrance in the development of an enlightened mind. Consuming alcohol also goes against one of the most important teachings of Buddhism: Buddhists should always be responsible for their own actions, and intoxication from alcohol makes this principle difficult to adhere to. For lay people who have taken all five precepts, alcohol should not be taken at all, and while it is denounced by many Buddhists and Buddhist sects, it is not forbidden for other Buddhists. However, those who do choose to drink alcohol are encouraged to use their spiritual maturity and self-honesty to drink moderately and sensibly.

While tea is known to contain addictive caffeine, it is not out of bounds for Buddhists. On the contrary, the mild stimulant effect from drinking tea is said to have distinct health benefits like aiding concentration. Some Japanese and Indian Buddhists recounted a story about Buddha waking up from a deep five year long meditation, and then sitting by a wild tea tree to revive himself. Tea was adopted into various religious and meditative services by Zen Buddhists, who suggested that the substance enhanced spiritual concentration.

Living Environment

For thousands of years, Buddha has taught the importance of humans living in harmony with nature by stressing that humans are part of nature, not separate from it. Buddhist teaching states that humans are very easily affected and changed by processes of nature like temperature and weather, so we need to adapt to these environments to stay healthy. According to the teachings of the Dharma, the correct living environment is also important. The ideal landscape is forests, with green vegetation, clean and refreshing ponds and lakes, fresh air, and a variety of species living in peace.

Clearly, today's urban environment is far from this ideal for Buddhists, many of whom teach that modern society causes physical and spiritual health problems. Physical environmental diseases include pollution which affects the purity of the air we breathe, and the harmful chemicals which are applied to the foods we consume. Noise pollution from transportation, construction and manufacturing is also seen to be harmful because it causes deafness, stress, and irritation; it is also distracting and therefore lowers efficiency for meditation. Spiritually, urban society is harmful because according to Buddhism it is motivated by greed and results in fatigue. Both conditions are considered causes of illness, so to stay healthy, it is strongly advised to escape the city, and take a break in the mountains, forest or beach, to find more tranquil and peaceful surroundings where it is easier to meditate, breathe deeply, and get plenty of rest.

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