Life of the Buddha

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(Part Two) 19. Jivaka, the Buddha’s Doctor

Jivaka was the most celebrated doctor in India during the Buddha’s time. Immediately after his birth, Jivaka was placed in a wooden box and thrown away by his mother, a courtesan, on a rubbish heap beside the road.

The same morning baby Jivaka was abandoned, Prince Abhaya, a son of King Bimbisara, happened to pass by the rubbish dump on his way to the palace. When the prince discovered that the baby was still alive, he was moved by compassion and ordered it to be brought up as his adopted son.

When he grew up, Jivaka studied medicine for seven years under a famous teacher. Soon his unusual skill as a physician and a surgeon became known. He was called upon to treat kings and princes, including King Bimbisara himself. But of all the distinguished people Jivaka attended to, his greatest pleasure was to attend to the Buddha, which he did three times a day.

Jivaka helped in many ways. When Devadatta threw down a rock splinter and injured the Buddha’s foot, it was Jivaka who healed him.

Realising the advantages of having a monastery close to his house, Jivaka built one in his mango garden. He invited the Buddha and his disciples to the monastery, offered alms and donated the monastery to the Buddha and the monks. After the blessing ceremony of this monastery, Jivaka attained the first stage of sainthood (sotapanna).

Later, when King Ajatasattu asked him where he could go for religious discussions, Jivaka brought him to see the Buddha. Although the king had killed his father under the evil advice of Devadatta, King Ajatasattu became a distinguished lay follower of the Buddha and supported the First Buddhist Council after the Buddha’s death.