Disability illuminates core Buddhist beliefs about the life cycle: the meaning of suffering, imperfection, and compassion. Some of Buddha’s early disciples were people with physical disabilities, including a dwarf named Bhaddiya who was spiritually embraced by the Buddha. Bhaddiya attained Enlightenment.
The Buddha was called Siddhartha Gautama when he was born into a royal family during the 6th century B.C. in the area of India that is now called Nepal. Siddhartha’s mother died in his infancy, and he was raised as a sheltered prince who was comforted and contained by palace walls that obscured the outside world. Following his marriage and the birth of a son, Siddhartha left his father’s palace for the first time and witnessed human suffering. Buddha’s isolation had been so complete that his charioteer was needed to explain the significance of an elderly man and a sick man. Buddha left his family and his kingdom, determined to relieve the world’s suffering through his renunciation of all physical comfort. When years of sacrifical asceticism did not reveal the path that would eliminate suffering, Buddha embraced moderation in the form of “The Middle Way”. Buddha next meditated under a Bodhi tree, struggling to free himself from the snare of evil that manifested itself to him as the demon, Mara. Buddha defeated evil, understood human suffering, and attained Enlightenment.
Karma, a term that means “action” or “doing” in the Pali canonical language, refers to the Buddhist belief that human spirit can endure after the body’s death and attach to a new body . Through the process of re-incarnation, new opportunities are created for spiritual growth. Buddhists believe that spiritual perfection is the purpose of human life, and that the cycle of birth-death- birth continues until liberation from human suffering is attained through the experience of Enlightenment.Disability is misunderstood by some Buddhists as a karmic declaration of bad behavior in a prior incarnation. Yet, Buddhists are explicitly warned in the Acintita Sutta against drawing any conclusions whatsoever about karma. Karma is described as one of four “unconjecturable” phenomena.
Disability, within the Buddhist tradition, does not preclude spiritual gifts. In the Sutta Lakuntaka Bhaddiyah, we learn that “
if a small one is wisdom-endowed,
...certainly, he is great..."
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