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Excerpts from A discussion between SGI President Ikeda, Soka Gakkai Nurses' Group Leaders Reiko Inamitsu, Kazuko Matsumoto and Secretary Akiko Kojima from the bookHumanism and the Art of Medicine, (p.198 – 208):
President Ikeda: When we fall ill and go to the hospital, it is invariably the nurses who give us the greatest care and comfort. The presence of a sympathetic nurse can give untold hope and reassurance to a patient. Florence Nightingale said, "Nursing is an art." It is the art of health. She said that a painter works with a canvas, and a sculptor, with marble, but a nurse works with the most precious vessel of all, the living body, thus making nursing the finest of fine arts. She was indeed proud of her vocation. I agree that nursing is an art. A nurse is a healing artist who combines medical expertise, wisdom and character to work wonders. Nothing could be more admirable. I believe we must value nurses and the nursing profession more than we do today. As nurses your selves, what do you feel to be especially important when it comes to nursing?
Matsumoto: First, I think, one must listen carefully to what patients have to say. Having someone listening while they explain their feelings gives patients a chance to get their own thoughts organized; it also makes it easier to clarify and specific worries or problems they may be experiencing. President Ikeda: People who are sick always have to deal with inner turmoil of some kind. They carry on a painful inner dialogue with themselves about their illness, posing questions that they then try to answer. Just by listening to a sick person articulate this inner conflict and pain; we can relieve some of his or her suffering. This is in accord with the Buddhist teaching of relieving suffering and imparting peace of mind. And we are not talking about pretending to listen, either. No, we must listen carefully and closely, with true concern. That personal warmth can actually help a person recover from illness. Matsumoto: After every medical step has been taken, it is the patient's life force that makes them work. And, the support of nursing staff and family members is invaluable in strengthening the patient's life force.
President Ikeda: Strengthening the patient's life force is the essence of nursing, isn't it? Florence Nightingale also felt that minimizing the expenditure or depletion of the patient's 'vital energy' is of crucial importance in nursing. It is essential to create an environment most conducive to the recovery of each patient, she said, with the thought being given to letting in a proper amount of fresh air, making sure the patient gets sufficient sunlight as well as peace and quiet, and maintaining a well-balanced diet and cleanliness. I feel that Florence Nightingale firmly believed that the key to recovery from illness lies in the patient's life force, or 'vital power', as she called it. The task of nursing is to ensure that the patient's life force is not weakened and doing whatever possible to strengthen it. The fundamental basis for nursing, therefore, is a deep reverence for life. Inamitsu: The little things are so important, aren't they? Florence Nightingale said, "Nursing is in general made up of little things; little things they are called, but they culminate in matters of life and death."
President Ikeda: Those are very wise words. They are very similar to the attitude that a Buddhist leader must cultivate. Inamitsu: The first Chinese character in the Japanese word for nursing (kango) combines the ideographs for 'hand' and 'eye'. In nursing, you have to both observe the patients with your eyes and to care for them with your hands. President Ikeda: There was once an ascetic monk who had fallen ill and lived all alone. When Shakyamuni saw how sick he was, he inquired, "Why are you suffering all alone?" The monk replied, "Being indolent by nature, I have never been able to endure caring for others when they were ill. Consequently, now that I am ill, no one will take care of me." "I will care for you," Shakyamuni said, and he began gently rubbing the sick monk's body. He continued is this way for some time, and the monk's suffering gradually lessened, Then Sakyamuni changed the sick man's bedding, bathed him and dressed him in a fresh robe. And finally, when he encouraged the monk to persevere with his practice, the monk's body and mind were filled with joy. Shakyamuni's hands stroking the body of the sick monk – that, surely, is the healing touch, the symbol of compassion. This story presents the quintessence of nursing, don't you think? Matsumoto: Yes, I do. All of the important elements of nursing – touch, changing bedding, bathing, changing clothes, and offering encouragement – are included in the story. Inamitsu: There is a profound relationship between Buddhism and nursing, isn't there? President Ikeda: They are one and the same. Sakyamuni said, "If you would like to make an offering to me, make the offering to the sick instead." And he also said, "You must make offerings to all sick people with the same reverence that you would make offerings to the Buddha. Nursing the sick is the greatest of all good deeds." Caring for and encouraging the sick are true Buddhist practice and the offering that please the Buddha more than any other. President Ikeda: One problem is that the old image of doctors being superior to nurses has got to go. Rather, aren‘t doctors and nurses equal partners striving together towards a shared goal? Inamitsu: In one respect, I think you can say that doctors provide the cure and nurses provide the care.
President Ikeda: Nursing is truly a noble profession. We must all recognize the true worth of nurses and their profession. I am sure nursing is very hard work. But nothing is so wonderful as to be able to care for and to ease the suffering of others. In Buddhism, one who does this is called bodhisattvas. Florence Nightingale declared that it is a privilege to suffer for humanity – a privilege not reserved to the Redeemer and martyrs alone, but one enjoyed by numbers in every age.. Nurses are in a position to enjoy this special privilege of saving others. Matsumoto: Regarding nursing as a special privilege reflects a very spiritual state, I think. Why, it makes all one‘s complaints just fade away! President Ikeda: Florence Nightingale also said that the kind of person one is mattered more in nursing than in any other profession. The nursing and the teaching professions rely almost entirely on the quality of the people in them. Inamitsu: It makes one humble. As members of the SGI and practitioners of Nicherin Daishonin‘s Buddhism, I think we are very fortunate to be able to develop ourselves through faith and practice.
Source: People of Culture and Wisdom Building an Oasis of Hope, Trust and Friendship in Society SGI-USA Culture Department Selected Encouragement to the Healing Arts Division from SGI President Daisaku Ikeda pdf.