From a talk by Venerable Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche and Ven. Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche
"In both the Sutra tradition and the Tantra tradition of the Mahayana, there are many teachings on the Bodhichitta mind. It is called the only teaching of Buddha. One may ask, 'What exactly is Bodhichitta?' It is compassion for all sentient beings, or using all sentient beings as a base. The cause of Bodhichitta is compassion and the desire for the enlightenment of all sentient beings. Through the raising of the four immeasurables we attain: a desire for the happiness of all sentient beings, that all sentient beings be away from suffering, that all sentient beings remain in happiness and in the cause of happiness, and that all sentient beings always reside in the great equanimity. This is what is known as the nature of the substance of Bodhichitta. In order to follow the practice of Bodhichitta, to raise Bodhichitta, there are two different aspects: one is called the aspiration and the other is called the actual practice of entering. The path of aspiring Bodhichitta is to pray or think whatever you do is for the sake of all sentient beings. Whatever you do, you will be able to help all sentient beings reach Buddhahood. On the basis of the practice of entering, one actually aspires to enter the path of Bodhichitta, which is to practice the six paramitas of giving, morality, patience, vigor, samadhi, and meditation on egolessness, or wisdom. This is known as entering the path of Bodhichitta."

"The most important point of all the Buddha's teachings through your passion. You raise that thought and carry it into the practice of the path of Dharma. In the precious mind of Bodhichitta, there is a quote by Patrul Rinpoche which says that to have the Bodhichitta mind is the highest, supreme possession; if one does not possess the Bodhichitta-mind, it is impossible to reach Buddhahood. Consequently, at the end of the quotation it says: 'I take refuge,' or 'I prostrate to the Bodhichitta.' There are many different ways to talk about Bodhichitta as there are different kinds of Bodhichitta, such as the relative and the absolute. These two are the most important for you to meditate upon. Whatever you do, you should do with a Bodhichitta-mind. Sometimes it is good to just do the Bodhichitta meditation seperately."
"You should always think that whatever you do is for the benefit of other beings. If you continue practicing such compassion, spiritual and personal growth will be your reward. You can then take the actual Bodhisattva vow with a Lama, or you can go to a shrine and raise the Bodhichitta-mind. By making this vow that from today onwards I will raise the Bodhichitt-mind, by this profound thought, from that day on you become a Bodhisattva, and a place or object of reverence by gods and people. Through this, one's practice flourishes. Because of this connection, whatever one does or wants is accomplished. You acquire a peaceful, tranquil mind and long life. It is said in one of the Buddha's sutras that even if you raise one thought of Bodhichitta, one thought of enlightenment, if that thought were transposed into form, so to speak, that form would not be able to fit within all the world systems."

"Bodhichitta is a Sanskrit word. The word Bodhi in Tibetan is changchub, meaning that the two obscurations of emotion and knowledge are completely purified and so the ultimate aim is realized. The word citta is the Tibetan word sem, or mind. It is the mind that is raised for enlightenment; it is unchanging, unwavering, and made of great strength and power. That is the meaning of Bodhichitta. And the person who has this thought in their mind-consciousness or mind-stream is known as a Bodisattva."

"At the time of taking refuge, then who is it you take refuge in? You take refuge in the completely perfect Buddha who is omniscient, possessing all the different qulities of omniscience and compassion. He is completely realized, the supreme holder; he has reached the end of what has to be known. He is completely omniscient, has all-pervading compassion and power."
"Who is it who takes refuge? It is we who take refuge. You take refuge in the Buddha because the Buddha is the teacher who shows the path of enlighenment. Now you do not have complete omniscience, nor complete compassion, nor complete power. It is the Buddha who possess these qualities and for that reason you take refuge in him until you yourself have reached final enlightenment. The reason for taking refuge is that one does not possess these supreme qualities of the Buddha, because of the suffering and the fearfulness of Samsara. By remembering the supreme qualities of the Buddha, one should take refuge. One takes refuge in order to become enlightened, and since one is not yet enlightened it is necessary to take refuge in the Buddha; and after one has reached supreme enlightenment, there is no reason to take refuge." "The result of taking refuge is that demons and demi-gods are not able to harm you. The benefit of taking refuge is that one remembers past lifetimes and gains the blessing of Buddha at all times. You take refuge by visualizing the object or place of refuge as in the preliminary practices. One goes for refuge continuously. It can be done similarily to the one in the refuge formula, or a very concise way of doing it is to visualize in front of yourself a very beautiful and pure land where Guru Rinpoche dwells with all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future, and all the Bodhisattvas. Then you take refuge not only with all your friends, parents, and enemies, but with all sentient beings. You should then recite the refuge. After taking refuge many times, the visualization is dissolved into the main visualization. This then dissolves into light and is absorbed into oneself. For as long as possible, one should remain in the void nature; all knowable things remain in the void nature. After the refuge, there are many different practices of Vajrasattva."

"You should do the meditation continuously on the Buddha Shakyamuni, the holder of Dharma,in this vast time. Or you should do the visualization of Guru Rinpoche who is the second Buddha. You can interchange these two concurrently to meditate on the Buddha Shakyamuni. You take refuge and raise Bodhichitta. From the natural world of dharma, all things are voidness. Out of this voidness there arises on a lion throne a lotus and moon disk, the letter "A", and from the letter "A" in one instant arises the Buddha Shakyamuni. If you look at a thangka you comprehend the visualization which should be clear and bright in front of oneself. With your mind, you should think that you prostrate to the Buddha. And then you offer up all your possessions and eleven of the various enjoyable things in the world. You confess all the sins and obscurations in this and past lifetimes, and rejoice in the virtue of all sentient beings. One prays, beseeching the Buddha to turn the wheel of Dharma. As you follow, think that the Buddha should remain as he is in front of you now; you beseech him to remain and not pass into Nirvana. Then you offer up; you share all the merit gained from doing this. This prayer of the Seven Branch Offering is very important. This is the prayer to the Buddha of beseeching refuge and the mantra of the Buddha Shakyamuni. You should say it as many times as possible. Then light emanates from the Buddha, which strikes or is absorbed into oneself and all sentient beings, purifying them. After the light radiates out from Buddha, objects are without any inherent existence and their nature is voidness. One should remain meditating in that state. Then after that you should recite the sloka (skt) that comes in the printed book, the sadhana of the Buddha Shakyamuni. The meaning of the sloka is that you say to the Buddha, "May myself and all sentient beings realize or actually obtain the same qualities and omniscient knowledge, compassion, and power as you have. May myself and all sentient beings actually obtain this."

"Now I will also give a very short version of a sadhana of Guru Rinpoche. Going for refuge and raising the Bodhichitta is the same as in the Shakyamuni sadhana. You must understand the three samadhis. The first one is the Suchness Samadhi: that all dharma, all things from the very beginning have been pure; they have no inherent reality; their nature is voidness. Through grasping onto self and outside dharma where there are none, sentient beings wander through suffering. So through this raising of compassion, the All Phenomena Samadhi, known as the second samadhi, is realized. It is the samadhi of compassion because it covers all phenomena. The third part is that out of this voidness, there then arises the completely pure, beautiful Buddha-field of either Dewachen, the Pure Land of Great Bliss, or the Pure Land of the Copper-Colored Mountain. In one instant, from the voidness of the Pure Land, there arises a palace; the place where one practices is the Pure Land of Great Bliss. Then one must visualize that in one instant one becomes Guru Rinpoche. From the letter HRI, which is our awareness, in one instant, like a fish jumping out of water, one becomes Guru Rinpoche. He is seated on a lotus, sun and moon, in the kingly position, wearing different robes. In his right hand he holds a golden five-pointed dorje at his heart and in his left he holds a skull cup and vase. On his shoulder is his Khatanga which is his consort, or the symbol of his consort. You can use a thangka to see exactly what he looks like. He is extremely light, made of rainbow light; he is extremely brilliant and bright. As Guru Rinpoche, one must not have the slightest doubt, but remain in complete certainty and pride that one is Guru Rinpoche. One must not for one second think that one has one's ordinary body. Do not think even for one second of one's ordinary body, but one must raise great pride in that of Guru Rinpoche's translucent form. You should think that you are the body, speech, and mind of Guru Rinpoche. In your heart center on the moon disk base, you can visualize either the syllable HRI or the syllable HUNG. When you visualize the syllable, it should be very fine and its nature is very bright and clear light. Around that is the mantra of Guru Rinpoche, the Vajra Guru Mantra. Lights radiate from the mantra, from the heart center out, making offerings to all the Buddhas in all the different Buddhafields, and return, bringing the blessings of all the Buddhas in all the different realms. And again the lights radiate down and out towards all sentient beings, purifying them. Then the lights return back into oneself. One should visualize this when one's mind is very clear and steady. One does not have to do this visualization at all times, but it is good to do it when one's mind is very steady. Then one must raise great pride and without any doubt, one should think that one's body is that of Guru Rinpoche. From the very beginning, one's mind is the self supreme awareness/voidness. One should have the understanding without any doubt that one is the body, speech, and mind of Guru Rinpoche."

"And so remain in the meditation without the slightest wavering, without the slightest ordinary thoughts and in that way recite the mantra. The twelve-syllable mantra of Guru Rinpoche, OM AH HUNG VAJRA GURU PADMA SIDDHI HUNG is very important; it is the secret speech of Guru Rinpoche. It is the heart of the mind of Guru Rinpoche. It is called the heart mantra of Guru Rinpoche because it is the heart or life mantra of Guru Rinpoche. This is a very special mantra, very important. It is Sanskrit, and although we could make up also a Sanskrit mantra or words, they would not have the power, the blessings, would not have any benefit. It is a very powerful mantra. This sound is Guru Rinpoche. It is like the form one sees from the eyes: and in the realm of sound, this is Guru Rinpoche. Even if one says the mantra once, it is of inconceivable benefit. This mantra is like the wish-fulfilling gem (norbu); it is the place where the obscurations will be purified; it is a place of gaining great accumulation of merit; and it is a way for realization to arise in the mind. Then one will gain long life and one's wishes will be fulfilled. And so one should not regard it lightly. One should think that by understanding the qualities of the mantra, then one will raise great certainty in these qualities and thereby gain great benefit. If one takes it lightly, one will not gain the blessings. By remembering this, one will have great devotion. In raising great devotion, one will attain great benefit from reciting the mantra. If one thinks why do you get such great benefit out of doing the Vajra Guru Mantra and why you would not get very much benefit if you made up a Vajra Guru Mantra, it is good to question. If we look at the difference between Guru Rinpoche and ourselves, we will see that we are just ordinary, obscured human beings, and that Guru Rinpoche is the wisdom of the Buddha; he is completely purified, omniscient. We will then see very obviously that these two different things exist. We're not even able to think of the abilities or the power of the Buddha. The mantra is the words that contain the blessing of all these qualities or powers of the Buddha. So by saying it, it is a way of arousing the blessings of the Buddha. It is not like other mantras, it is very special, incredibly powerful, many blessings. If one gave a commentary on each of the twelve syllables of the Vajra Guru Mantra, all the teachings of the Buddha would be contained in it."
"Now I will give you a very brief, concise meaning of the syllables. This first seed syllable is OM and the meaning of that is the essence or blessing of the Vajra Body. The seed syllable AH is a symbol of the Vajra speech of all the Buddhas. Third is the HUNG which is the symbol of the Mind of the Buddha which is wisdom; the blessing, the wisdom of all the Buddhas. The word Vajra or Dorje is the Dorje which is the symbol that all things from the very beginning are pure. It also is a symbol of the Dharmakaya of the Buddha, and its blessings; the Vajra also has the seven different qualities of a diamond unchanging, indestructible, a symbol of the void nature of all things. The word "Guru" in Tibetan "Lama," means something that has great weight, the substitute of the Buddha; it is the person who shows the teachings of the Buddha. It is the vast and unencompassable Sambhogakaya Body of the Buddha. The meaning of Guru is that it contains the inconceivably vast Samghogakaya. The word Pema is from the family of flowers that grow out of the water. It is a very special flower. It is a symbol of the Nirmanakaya of the Buddha. The lotus arises in purity out of impurity of Samsara the same way that the Nirmanakaya form of the Buddha arises out of the ignorance and defilements, desire and anger, from the different emotional obscurations of sentient beings in the world. The same way the Nirmanakaya body arises, so the lotus is like a symbol, for it is pure itself and arises out of impurity. The word SIDDHI, in Tibetan gumdrop, means actually accomplished, it means to obtain the fruit. What is the fruit that one obtains through doing this mantra? The person who does this mantra will have long life and they will be able to accomplish what they wish. This is the temporary or ordinary accomplishment or result that will happen. The cho gyi gumdrop, or the supreme accomplishment or fruit or siddhi, is that one obtains the five wisdoms and the four kayas. Contained in the word SIDDHI are the two accomplishments, the ordinary and the supreme. The last syllable HUNG has many different meanings; it is the symbol of the wisdom of the Buddha sangye gyi yeshe; it is also like a weapon with which one can destroy one's enemies. In this case, it is an expression of beseeching; you are beseeching Guru Rinpoche that you can accomplish the blessing and accomplish the meaning. If you ask what accomplishment you are asking for . . . You are asking for the accomplishment of the body, speech, and mind of the Buddha. One is beseeching for the accomplishment of the Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya of the Buddha, the Vajra body, speech and mind of the Buddha. You are asking that would you please, please bestow the three enjoyment bodies for the benefit of all beings."

"In this mantra is contained the meaning of all the Dharmas like the Five Wisdoms; all the different teachings are contained in this mantra; it is enough. It is all-encompassing, powerful, so think very strongly like this. Now that you understand the character, the reason of the mantra, you should practice like that. Then at the time of meditation, when one meditates on Guru Rinpoche, the form body of Guru Rinpoche is the phenomena; the form body is the voidness and the voidness, form. The speech is the sound of voidness, sound/voidness; and the mind of Guru Rinpoche is the wisdom awareness/voidness (yeshe rigtong). If one remains in this meditation, doing the meditation this way, then it is like the union of the arising yoga and the perfecting yoga. If one does this, one does not have to do the visualization of Guru Rinpoche dissolving into light; but if one meditates in this way of the form/voidness, then everything is contained within that."
"One can visualize Guru Rinpoche on top of one's head in the manner that Guru Rinpoche contains the essence of all the lineages, the holder of all the lineages. So one meditates with Guru Rinpoche on one's head. There are many other ways of meditating and all these are different stages of the practices of the tantra, classes of the tantra. The best way is if one does the meditation of the union meditation of the two yogas as we have just discussed. If one meditates in that way at all times, that is the best. There will be no "Now I am meditating and then coming out of meditation." It will be both the meditation and post-meditation practice. Both will be fulfilled in meditating this way. If one cannot do this, then one has to do the meditation and one has one's ordinary state, but it is best to practice the arising and perfecting yogas. Because phenomena have no inherent reality, one should meditate and keep this view when ever possible. Afterwards one should dedicate the merit, not just by saying a few words, but from the bottom of your heart, you should believe the merit you dedicate to be of benefit to all sentient beings. You should not have any doubt, but be completely sure and pray from the bottom of your heart that all this merit will be shared with all sentient beings. This is most important."
"If you ask what is the essence or main point of the Dharma, then it is in order to discipline the mind, to overcome the different emotional obscurations of ignorance and passions. This is the main meaning: the essence of the Dharma is to discipline your mind. At all times one should raise compassion for all sentient beings and devotion to the Dharma; and, one should keep in mind, have devotion to, faith in the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. At all times keep in mind that all things have no inherent reality. One should also keep in mind, contemplate, impermanence and the difficulties of obtaining a human birth. One should also remember virtue and unvirtue and remember the methods for increasing virtue and remember the antidote to prevent the arising of all unvirtuous actions and the leaving of unvirtuous actions."
"The great teacher Patrul Rinpoche said that if you're not able to really practice the Dharma, don't get angry; and that not getting angry, that in itself, is practicing the Dharma."
"In brief, if one explains what the Dharma is: at all times one should have devotion and compassion and pure vision--keep those in mind at all times. If one practices like that, one will quickly be accomplished in this lifetime and after death and wherever one goes, it is of great benefit. If one doesn't practice the Dharma within and just keeps the outward form, so to speak, then it is not of any benefit. The greatest and most important and highest benefit comes when one constantly, and from the heart, has devotion, faith, and pure vision."
New York. 1982.


Bodhisattva Commitment
by Yongey Mingyur Dorje Rinpoche
Kagyu Samye Ling, Scotland, August 2003. Translator: Chödrak

This afternoon we are going to have instructions on taking the Bodhisattva Vow and the benefits of taking it. Generally speaking, having desire, anger, pride and many conflicting emotions in our mind is the cause of all the suffering that we experience. Suffering is caused by conflicting emotions and also we have a mind which has great grasping.
If we have great grasping and a mind which is under the power of conflicting emotions, then our mind becomes smaller and smaller. Normally what is the thought that occupies our mind? It is the thought that I am the most important, I should succeed, I should have victory and the other person should fail. If we have a mind state where we think only about ourselves, and try to put ourselves at the top or be the best, then generally speaking, whatever we try to accomplish, we will fail. So then we lose both the benefit which we could have obtained for ourselves, and also benefit for anyone else. It is like what was taught yesterday: if you wear a pair of glasses with blue tinted lenses then everything will be perceived as blue. Or if one wore yellow tinted lenses everything would be perceived as yellow.
We are going to use an example of somebody who habitually steals. Wherever he goes, as he passes by people's homes he looks in wondering how he could break in and steal their belongings. If he is in town he looks at the shop doorways and windows thinking how he could get inside and steal things. Imagine that thief is in his own house with his own belongings, there is jewellery and other precious things that he owns. Somebody comes to his house and happens to look at some of the things on the table. The thief automatically thinks, "This person comes to my house and after one second he is looking to see how to steal my stuff!" If you went into a house where you have never been before, it's quite natural that you might look around at the windows, doors and the contents of the house. Someone does this and the thief is thinking, "Oh, he really is thinking of stealing my stuff and not only that, he is working out how to escape!" So if one is a confirmed habitual thief, you will perceive other people as having that kind of mind state and intention. And if you are a person who has a lot of anger, then you will perceive other people to have anger and ill intent towards you.
What beneficial method could be used at this point? At this point we need wisdom. We need to think, "What appears to me to be somebody else's anger or whatever emotion is arising, is an appearance, just an illusion. It's not real. One needs to understand the illusory nature of appearances. So it's like before in the thief's house - the man comes in and just generally looks around. He is not thinking of stealing things but your perception is such that you think he intends to steal your belongings. The person who has an habitual tendency to steal, to be a thief, will perceive other people to have that intention towards him, and without reason he will shout at this person, abuse them and accuse them of trying to steal his things.
But if the thief realizes that "Oh, the person just entered my house, and it's just my own illusion that I think he is a thief - if he understands that, if he has that wisdom, he won't have any problem. The first stage of wisdom is to recognize that you have, for example, anger in your mind. One needs to recognize, "I have anger in my mind and this is how it manifests, this is how it makes me think and react." It is the same for jealousy.
With anger, a person always has an object for their anger. Having that object gives rise to anger in his mind: seeing the object makes him unhappy. Then jealousy comes, thinking that he and other beings are exactly the same. But it seems that other people like others better than him. "That's not very good. We are equal, same type of person and we have the same amount of belongings. In the future this person may get more wealth than me and that's not going to be good at all." With that fault in his mind, he starts to think badly about that person, he has thoughts of harming him. Then come harmful thoughts and harmful actions. Meaning and benefit are lost. Both people end up accomplishing nothing.
Now if we look at pride, this is based on wanting someone to be inferior to you. "This person has no good qualities at all, he is nothing. I'm the best, I've got so many possessions and so much wealth. I'm really famous. He has got nothing. I can meditate really well. He doesn't understand anything. The sort of realization and experience that I've got - nobody has that." That's what we call pride. If we have pride in our mind we rule out the possibility of having much opportunity to obtain any more qualities. The fault we have is thinking that nobody else has any qualities at all.
Desire comes from an object which causes desire to arise in the mind. We are completely out of control, our mind thinks solely about obtaining this object. Any other thoughts are totally obstructed. One has only one idea, to obtain this object.
Ignorance is really not knowing what is good and what is bad. One's mind becomes smaller and smaller and one can only think about small things.
That's what we call the classification of the five emotions, the mind poisons. But all of these various emotions really are, if you bring them down to one point, thinking that one is superior, and one needs certain things, and that others are worse than you. So, if a person has these five emotions in his mind and also the attitude of selfishness and thinking solely about themselves and maybe putting other people down, then this will result in not being able to obtain a mind which has any happiness or peace in it. We will have an example.
If a person has a very strong grasp of the idea that they are the most important, what kind of emotions would come up in the mind of that person? The sort of thing that would come up is "that person is intending to harm me. So then anger will arise and he thinks: "That person wants to get higher than me, wants to be better than me." Then jealousy will arise. Thinking that that person has nothing, no qualities whatsoever, and "I've got everything, I'm very clever" or "I'm very famous", this is giving rise to pride. Thinking that "I need to get this object and I don't want anybody else to get it, I'm the only one who can have it", that's giving rise to desire. So ignorance is that one's mind becomes very small and one doesn't have a light body or a vast open mind and one has thoughts only about very small topics.
The arising of these five mind poisons depend really, if you look at it, on the feeling that I myself, I am the most important, and having a very great grasping at that idea. The main point is that one thinks only about oneself. "That person doesn't want to do anything nice to me, he wants to hurt me." Me, me, me. "That person wants to go higher than me, again me, that person and me, we are not equal. That thing I need to obtain." If we have this kind of mind state, which is pervaded by the five emotions, and grasping at the thought that we are the most important, then one will never be able to say: that's enough now, I'm satisfied. You would never to be able to say that, because you would never feel it. So you will have a very small and very touchy mind. You think, "He is not good, that person is not nice…" For example, if you look at somebody who is not doing anything, just neutrally sitting there. You are looking at this person and he just sits. "Hmm, I don't think he likes me." You look at him out of the corner of your eye. The man, who is just sitting there, minding his own business, thinks, "That's a bit strange, that guy is giving me a really strange look. I haven't done anything to him, what's wrong? Maybe he is a bit crazy; he might be thinking of harming me." Then he looks back at you and thinks, "Maybe you are not very nice." So then you think: "He did look at me very strangely. Now he is looking me strangely again! That's twice now." Then the two of you end up arguing and it will grow and grow. That's what we call misunderstanding. The reason for the misunderstanding, arguing and fighting, is that one's mind has become very small, very sensitive.
We'll have another example. If we have an argument, it's normally based on something very small. For example one person puts his watch down. The other person says, "Don't put it there, put it here." The first one disagrees. They change it backwards and forwards, "I'm right, you are wrong." There is no point to it. Starting with a very small idea, we make it bigger. That's a sign of having a very sensitive mind. It's also a sign that one has a very strong sense of feeling that one is important and just thinking about oneself. If we have this very strong grasping, that we are the most important, we will never be able to accomplish our wishes. If we have love for another person they will generate love for us, return love. So, if we give love to another person, that love is the best. Then we can give rise to the best type of love.
Generally speaking, all our problems and suffering start with a very small beginning. In the beginning, at the point when anger arises, we need to recognise it. Then think, "Oh, I'm beginning to become angry." That's called wisdom or mindfulness. If one doesn't have any other method, if one just has that method, that's wisdom. So, one will be able to control one's mind. Normally one will be able to have this awareness arising, mindfulness.
I'm going to give you a story. This story is related to love and compassion. This story happened in China. There was a husband and wife. Traditionally the wife and her mother-in-law don't get along very well, they are constantly arguing. One day it happened that they had quite an argument in someone's home. The wife was thinking that her mother-in-law is very cruel and often says very bad things. She felt very angry towards her. Later she was even angrier. She thought, "I'm going to kill my mother-in-law. How am I going to do it?" She went to a doctor and asked for poison. "I need the poison, because my mother-in-law is always nagging me and shouting and putting me down. So I shall give her poison and then she will die. I'll be happy." The doctor agreed and gave her some medicine. He gave advice with it, "Now you give this medicine to your mother-in-law, but she won't die immediately, she will die very slowly. So you need to give this medicine a little bit every day with the food. If she dies immediately, then everybody will know that you gave her the poison. They will know that I gave the poison to you, and they will take me to jail. So it's better she doesn't die straight away. "Give the medicine a little bit every day and after you have given it, you have to be really nice to her, say nice things to your mother-in-law." She thought, "This is great." Every day she put little bit of poison in the food and gave it to her, saying nice things. In her mind she thought - she is going to die soon. A few days later she looked at her mother-in-law and thought, "She doesn't seem so bad after all." After a month she thought, "She actually is a decent person, a very good person. Oh dear, I have been giving her poison for a month!" What to do? Although she had given poison to her mother-in-law, now she liked her. Also the mother-in-law's attitude had changed and she liked her daughter in law more than her own son.
So the daughter-in-law ran off to the doctor again, worrying. She said, "Look I came to you a month ago and asked for poison to kill my old mother-in-law, but actually I really like her now, she is very good. When I thought she was bad before I was mistaken. If you have any antidote for this poison, please give it to me." The doctor said, "Is it really true? Do you really believe that?" She said, "Yes, I really believe this." The doctor said, "Sorry, there is no antidote." She was very sad. The doctor said, "If you don't give poison to somebody, there is no need of an antidote. If you do give poison to somebody, then you need an antidote. In this case you didn't give her poison and I haven't got any antidote to a poison which hasn't been given." Both the doctor and the daughter-in-law were happy. Then the doctor gave her a technique. What the doctor told to the daughter-in-law I'm going to tell you. I'm going to give you this method.
In the first instance the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law had a misunderstanding, and they both saw each other in a very negative way, so they had many arguments. At the time the daughter-in-law was speaking nicely to the mother-in-law, they both changed somewhat, and they both saw each other in a different light. If we have very small and shrivelled up minds, we will cause problems for ourselves and others. But if we have a light, open mind we are going to give happiness and peace to others and we will also experience happiness and peace in our own mind. That's the end of the story.
So, if we don't have a mind which is intent on benefiting others, we will see other people as enemies and cause harm to them, and we will never obtain peace and happiness. As many enemies as we try to subdue, we will never be able to do it, there will always be another one. If we really want to defeat an enemy, the best way is to kill them. If you kill an enemy, behind him are two further enemies. Kill two - four come. If you kill four, eight come. In the end the whole world becomes transformed into enemies. Then you will not be able to subdue the enemies. They increase. If you look at it, the real enemy is anger etc. If we have peace in our mind, a peaceful mind, everybody will perceive us as a friend and we will have no enemies at all. Whatever we say, people will listen. Our friends will become more and more. They will become stronger friends. As an example, if the leaders of Britain (whoever they are) look after the people in a good way, the people will vote for them, support them and their power will grow. If they don't look after the people, we won't vote for them and they will become less powerful. This is the nature of things, interdependence.
If you take as an example Hitler in Germany, he subdued and killed lots of his enemies. But even at the time he was killing his enemies he didn't have any peace in his mind and in the final instant he committed suicide. He didn't achieve his purpose at all.
If we really do have this desire in our minds to be of benefit to other beings, then our mind becomes open and vast, we have courage and self-confidence and our view will be spacious. We will see other sentient beings as our friends. All beings will naturally give rise to a feeling of love in us. Then we will see everybody as good. If we wear a pair of glasses with lenses extremely clear and clean, we'll see everything as being clear and clean. We'll have no enemies. You will have self-confidence, peace and happiness.
Here is another example. At the end of this example there will be a question. The question is not difficult. It's about a man in a forest. The man in the forest walks around, up and down the hills. Long time ago people were like that. While walking, the man was getting stones and thorns in his feet. He thought, "How can I stop my feet being hurt by the gravel and thorns? I know what to do, I'll cover all the roads with leather." So he covered the roads, but he only managed to cover about three miles before the leather run out. After those three miles he had to walk on gravel and thorns again. At that point, what method could he use?
Answers: Use shoes. Walk on his hands. Jump from a tree to another. Learn to levitate.
Rinpoche: If it is possible to do all these it's very good. Now I'm going to tell you. The best method would be to have a small piece of leather, just the size of his feet. That will be enough. Long time ago people did not have shoes. And they weren't able to meditate very well. If one had just enough leather to cover the shape of one's feet, then one could go all over the world and it would be the same as covering the whole world with leather. Likewise with us, if we have peace in our mind, if we pacify the conflicting emotions, then it is the same as conquering all the enemies in the world.
Having the motivation to benefit others is a benefit for us in the present life. It's said that if one has even a small particle of compassion, at that moment it purifies countless aeons of negative karma. If we have a mind which benefits others, then demons and ghosts and so on cannot harm us. Also the black magicians cannot harm us, if we have the wish to bring benefit. If we have a mind which causes harm to other people by generating anger, we are also harmed. But if we have a mind which wishes to benefit others and our actions are motivated by that, we will receive the best of benefits and others are benefited too. So, naturally, benefit arises both for us and others.
Following this bodhisattva path to the level of complete enlightenment, buddhahood, this is the way the previous Buddhas and Bodhisattvas followed, and when you reach complete enlightenment, then you will have total omniscience and you will have complete and vast love. One has complete power.
What's the reason for these three qualities arising? The cause is having generated the bodhicitta mind previously and the wish to benefit others. The cause for us to be travelling around in samsara lifetime after lifetime is the selfish idea that we are the best and we should be victorious and others are inferior and they should lose.
There are three types of mind which wish to benefit others: there is loving-kindness and compassion, there is limitless loving-kindness and limitless compassion, and there is the bodhicitta mind. With these three, one's mind will become vaster and greater, open. What is the most vast, open and strong of minds? The most vast of minds would be to think that based on the realisation of my natural mind state, my bodhicitta mind, I have the desire to bring all sentient beings, totally freed from suffering, to the level of complete and perfect enlightenment. For that reason I am going to practise and I will bring all beings out of suffering to the level of perfect enlightenment. Then one's mind becomes very vast. There is no other way to get a mind so vast, that's the only way. The bigger one's mind, the bigger the benefit will be.
For example, if you plant the seed of a medicinal plant, the root of that plant will be medicinal and beneficial. If you plant a poisonous plant, then the result will be poisonous. That's the completion of the explanation of the benefits of the bodhicitta mind.
If you take the commitments of the bodhisattva vow, what are the commitments we have to stick to, what do we have to think about? There are several kinds, but if you want to put them into one there is one main point of teaching which contains all types of commitments.
One has the intention to bring all sentient beings out of suffering to the level of complete enlightenment. To have that in mind is the basis of one's commitment. So even if there is one sentient being with whom from time to time you have arguments, and who maybe causes harm to you, you don't abandon them, you don't leave them out. You think, "At the moment you are causing harm to me, but in the end, even you I'm going to take to enlightenment." But at certain times you might have arguments and unpleasantness between you. If you haven't completely purified your mind stream of the five mental poisons, then of course it is easy to have arguments with people and unpleasantness from time to time without you being in control of that.
You can't think: ""I'm going to take all sentient beings except that one, to the level of enlightenment, that's not correct. But it does happen from time to time that we might give rise to some small doubts and think that we are not able to bring all beings to enlightenment. That's okay, it is possible something like that may arise, but in your deep mind you still hold onto the idea that to bring all sentient beings out of suffering to complete enlightenment would be a very good thing. It is very good to have that.
It is said that even if you broke your bodhisattva vow, there is great benefit in taking it in the first place. There are two situations: one is when you have not taken the bodhisattva vow and you are not generating either too much good or negative karma and the second situation is when you take the bodhisattva vow and you keep it a certain period of time, and you again don't generate too much negative or positive karma, and you actually come to a point that you break your vow. Out of these two situations, having taken the vow up to the point of breaking it is more beneficial, it is said. But if you can take the bodhisattva vow and not break it, then it is said you swiftly reach the level of enlightenment. That is the completion of the advice about the bodhisattva vow.


Buddhism, Health and Disease
Pinit Ratanakul, Ph.D.
Director of the College of Religious Studies, Mahidol University, Salaya, Puthamoltoll 4, Nakornpathom, 73170, Bangkok, Thailand
Email: pinitratanakul2@hotmail.com
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 15 (2004), 162-4.

Health and disease are among the common experience of human life that is the special concern of religion. Religion, in every society, in every stage of history, upholds the value of well-being and health as necessary for a meaningful life, and provides its adherents with ways and means to enhance their health and to enable them to deal creatively with human vulnerability to disease, pain and suffering.
There is a consensus that health and well-being does not mean only or simply the absence of pain and suffering or the lack of disease, disability, defect and death, but has a positive meaning. There is much debate today over what this positive meaning is. This article is a short introduction to the Buddhist approach to health and disease. After all Buddhism has over 2,500 year history of involvement in medical theory and practice. As a living religion its teachings have much influenced the ways Buddhists think and act in matters of life and death. Since health is a human value that all of us are concerned with, it is hoped that this introduction will serve as a Buddhist contribution to the ongoing discussion on how to define health and therefore the role and function of the modern health care professionals who represent and serve this crucial human value.

Buddhist worldview, dependent origination, and kamma
The Buddhist worldview is holistic and is primarily based on a belief in the interdependence of all phenomena and a correlation between mutually conditioning causes and effects. This belief is formulated by the principle of dependent origination, also referred to as the law of conditionality, the causal nexus that operates in all phenomena - physical, psychological, and moral. In the physical realm, for example, all things in the universe are intimately interrelated as causes and effects without beginning and end. And the world is an organically structured world where all of its parts are interdependent. Similarly in human society every component is interrelated. The same is also found in the psycho-physical sphere, in which the mind and the body are not separate units but an interdependent part of the overall human system1.
The Buddhist worldview also comprises a belief in kamma, the correlation between deed and its subsequent consequences, as in the moral realm this principle of dependent origination operated by the name of the law of kamma stating the conditionality of this causal relation2. This implies that the Buddhist law of kamma does not entail complete determinism. If such a determinism were accepted there would be no possibility of the eradication of suffering. A man would ever be bad for it is his kamma to be bad. But this is not so and the effect of kamma can be mitigated not only in one life but even beyond, as, according to Buddhism, life is not limited to a single, individual existence. Present life is only a part of the round of existence (samsara) which stretches out across space and time. A single existence is conditioned by others proceeding it and in turn conditions one or a series of successive existences. Existence is thus at the same time and effect in one respect and a cause in another. This imprisonment in the round of existence is the result of one's own deeds (kamma), good or bad. Conditioned by deeds, the present form of existence can be changed or dissolved by deeds. This is possible because the present is not the total effect of the past. It is simultaneously cause and effect. As an effect, we are conditioned by the causal matrix made up of the social and biological continuities of life themselves and thus are the effect of our past deed. What we are now is the result of what we have been before. But as a cause, we are the absolute master of our destiny. The present, though elusive, is the building block of the future. What we shall be depends on what we are and shall do, with our own choice.

Dependent origination, health, and kamma
Within this worldview, health and disease involve the overall state of a human being and are interwoven with many factors such as economics, education, social and cultural milieu. All these conditional factors need to be seriously taken into account in the understanding of health and disease. Health is therefore to be understood in terms of holism. It is the expression of harmony - within oneself, in one's social relationships, and in relation to the natural environment. To be concerned about a person's health means to be concerned with the whole person, his (her) physical and mental dimensions, social, familial, and work relationships, as weel as the environment in which he (she) lives and which acts on him (her). Therefore the tendency to understand health only in relation to particular parts of the human organism such as the defects in unacceptable to Buddhism. In the Buddhist holistic perspective, disease is the expression of the disturbed harmony in our life as a whole. By its physical symptoms, disease draws our attention to this disturbed harmony. Hence healing in Buddhism is not the mere treatment of these measurable symptoms. It is more and expression of the combined effort of the mind and the body to overcome disease than a fight between medicine and disease. Its real aim is to enable the patient to bring back harmony within himself and in his relationships with the others and the natural environment. In this context healing is not an end in itself, but rather a means by which medicine helps to serve the value of human health and well-being.
Apart from this holistic approach, Buddhism attributes kamma as an important contributing factor to health and disease. In the Buddhist perspective good health is the correlated effect of good kamma in the past and vice versa. This interpretation of health and disease in terms of kamma is to emphasize that there is a relationship between morality and health. Health depends on our life-styles, i.e. the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we live. Illness is the consequence of an unhealthy life-style such as one characterized by sensual indulgence, for example. This is the normativistic component of the Buddhist perspective on health which involves the practice of moral and religious values such as compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness. This is the underlying reason why Buddhism advises those who want to be healthy to practise morality (sila), mental discipline (samadhi), and wisdom (panna), in the Noble Eightfold Part.
Perhaps we will understand the role of kamma in health and illness as we look at the following cases. For example, in the time of an epidemic there are usually some people who succumb while others escape even though both groups are exposed to the same conditions. According to the Buddhist view the difference between the former and latter is due to the nature of kamma of each in the past. Other examples are the cases where though the treatment given was successful the patient died, and where in spite of ineffective treatment the patient lived. There have also been cases of remarkable and unexpected recoveries when modern medicine has given up all hope for remission. Such cases strengthen the Buddhist belief that besides the physical cause of disease, illness can be the effect of bad kamma in past lives. A disease with a kammic cause cannot be cured until that kammic result is exhausted. But the kamma of every person is a mystery both to himself and others. Hence no ordinary person can definitely know which disease is caused by kamma. Therefore one has to be careful in imputing kamma especially for disease because it may lead to a fatalistic attitude of not seeking any cure at all or giving up treatment out of despair. Buddhism advises us that for practical purposes we have to look upon all diseases as though they are produced by mere physical causes. And even if the disease has a kamma cause it should be treated. As no condition is permanent and as the causal relation between deed and its correlated consequence is more conditional than deterministic there is the possibility for the disease to be cured so long as life continues. On the other hand we cannot tell at what point the effect of bad kamma will be exhausted. Therefore we need to take advantage of whatever means of curing and treatment are available. Such treatment, even if it cannot produce a cure, is still useful because appropriate physical and psychological conditions are needed for the kammic effect to take place. The presence of a predisposition to certain diseases through past kamma and the physical condition to produce the disease will provide the opportunity for the disease to arise. But having a certain treatment will prevent a bad kammic result manifesting fully. This kind of treatment does not interfere with the working of the individual kamma but reduces its severity. The advice of Buddhism to a person with and incurable disease is to be patient and to perform good deeds to mitigate the effects of the past bad kamma. At least the individual effort to maintain or recover is itself good kamma.
The belief in kamma in relation to health and disease does not lead to fatalism, nor to pessimism. As mentioned before, the law of kamma does not rule with an iron hand or bring a curse. This law only stresses the causal relation between cause and effect. It does not entail complete determinism. Te believe in kamma is to take personal responsibility for health. Health is not given. It has to be gained by one's own efforts, and one should not blame others for the suffering one is going through because of the disease. Besides, it may be a comfort to think that our illness is no fault of our present lives but the legacy of a far distant past, and that by our own attitudes and efforts towards illness good kammic effects can arise. The belief in kamma also enables us to cope with the painful aspects of life, for example suffering from terminal illness such as leukemia or a more malignant form of cancer with tranquility and without fruitless struggle, nor negative and depressing mental states. Such acceptance will also enable us to overcome despair, endure the condition to the last days, and thus die a peaceful death.
The emphasis on the kammic cause of health and disease implies individual responsibility for health and illness. Kamma is created by choices we made in past lives. Health is to be gained by continuing personal efforts in this life. Good deeds (e.g.regular exercise, proper nutrition, etc.) lead to good health whereas bad deeds (e.g. poor living habits, abusing the body and the mind) in this and previous lives bring illness. The sense of responsibility is much needed in health care. At present, with the invention of "miracle drugs" and the development of new technologies, many people tend to have the illusion that all pain and suffering in life can be eliminated and that all suffering is bad, whether physical, mental, emotional, moral, or spiritual. And by blaming it on external forces people seek external means (e.g. pills, injection, therapies, etc.) of alleviating suffering rather than examining themselves and their own lives and seeking to change what it is within themselves that has resulted in illness. The Buddhist kamma view of health and disease, on the contrary, recognizes the reality of self-inflicted disease that can be traced to an individual's own life-style and habits, and encourages one to seek also for the cause of our disease, pain, and suffering within oneself, e.g. in relation to one's own life-styles, decisions, attitudes, and relationships that must be changed. It also recognizes the positive role of disease and suffering in refining our spirit and in strengthening our moral character, e.g. courage, self-understanding, and sympathy towards others.
However, the Buddhist emphasis on individual kamma or personal responsibility for health does not mean that Buddhism assigns personal responsibility for all illness. In the Buddhist view kamma has both individual and social dimensions. This latter component is what may be termed as social kamma which, in health care, refers to the environmental factors that could aggravate or mitigate and individual kamma. These factors such as socio-economic factors, e.g. unhealthy and dangerous working conditions, can act as the hazardous/supporting environment for health/illness of and individual. And society could hold employers and businesses responsible if they did not maintain a healthy environment for their workers or provide safety measures. This concept of social kamma also implies responsibility on the part of government to provide adequate health care services to all its citizens in proportion to their health needs and medical conditions.

The body and physical health
In the Buddhist perspective the unique body of each of us, both in appearance and structure, is a result of our past kamma. The human body is at the same time the means by which we contact the world and the physical manifestation of our mind. Being such an important instrument, the body must be duly attended to, i.e. one must not abuse it through food, alcohol, drugs, or by taxing it with over-indulgence and deprivation. Even enlightenment, the highest goal of Buddhism, cannot be attained by the mortification of the body, as witnessed in the personal experience of the Buddha. This is due to the interdependency of the mind and the body. Intellectual illumination can be attained only when the body is not deprived of anything necessary for the healthy and efficient functioning of all bodily organs.
According to Buddhism, any life lived solely for self-seeking or self-indulgence is a life not worth living. Buddhism therefore encourages us to make use of the body for higher purposes, particularly for attaining the highest goal, nibbana, liberation from the endless cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara) as subjects of contemplation. Constant practice of morality and meditation will enable us to have self-control over the appetites, sensations, and egoistic drives.
Physical health is viewed by Buddhism as constituted by the normal functioning of the body and its organically interrelated organs. When one of them fails to function, debility and disease set in. The normal function of the body organs is the result of the harmony and equilibrium of the four primary elements in the body, i.e. earth (pathavi), water (apo), wind (vayo), and fire (tejo). If the balance is disturbed, the normal function is disrupted and a state of disease appears. Curing is the restoration of this balance, i.e. putting the entire physical being, and not just the pathologically afflicted part, into good condition. Since each part of the human body is organically related to all other parts, for good health the entire body must be in good condition. In view of the fact that the body, like all phenomena, is always in a state of change, decline, and decay, physical health cannot last long. It is impossible for the body to be perfectly healthy and free from all diseases at all times. Human life is vulnerable to disease at very stage. Disease is a reminder of human fragility. This implies that (complete) health is not a totally attainable state. Human wholeness or well-being, therefore, does not mean the absence of all pain and suffering in life, but learning to deal with pain and suffering, how to use it and transcend it for the sake of personal growth and sympathetic understanding of others.
The Buddhist understanding of physical disease in terms of the disturbance of the harmony and equilibrium in the body is different from the militaristic view of disease focused on the hostile germs. According to this view disease is caused by the attack of the hostile germs in the environment to a particular part of the body. These different views lead to different ways of curing. The Buddhist way is to bring harmony to the body where disharmony has taken place either by medicine or by the change in thought and way of living. Medicine is used to boost the body's self-healing power i.e. to be able to deal with the disease, to restore the balance in its own way. Healing is more an expression of the combined efforts of the mind and the body to overcome disease than a fighting between medicine and disease. On the contrary the other way is to fight back the germs with drugs which usually are chemical. The effectiveness of these drugs depends on their attacking power on the inflicted part and not on the restorative power as in the case of Buddhism.

The mind and mental health
Physical health is important because Buddhism regards is to be the means to intellectual enlightenment. Buddhism does not want people to spend a large part of their lives in poor health or else they will not be able to devote themselves to the highest purposes. Although Buddhism views the mind and the body in interdependence, its teaching gives special attention to the mind and its power. It is stated in the very first verse of the Dhammapada that what we are is the result of our thoughts. The source of our lives and hence of our happiness or unhappiness lies within our power. No one can harm us but ourselves. It is the kind of thought we entertain that improves our physical well-being or weakens it, and also ennobles us or degrades us. This it the reason why Buddhism designates thought as the cause of both physical are verbal actions with their kammic results and considers mental health of the utmost importance and the training of the mind to attain the highest stage of health as its sole concern. This preoccupation with mental health is also regarded as the true vocation of Buddhist monks. The training is based on the belief that both the body and the mind are prone to sickness. But since the mind is able to detach itself from the body it is possible to have a healthy mind within a sick body.
According to Buddhism for the mind to be healthy, first it is necessary to develop a correct view of the world and ourselves, i.e. a realistic acceptance of the three traits of existence: impermanence, insubstantiality, and suffering of unsatisfactoriness. The adoption of the wrong views makes us see the transitory as permanent, the painful as happy, the impure as pure, and what is not-self as self. Consequently we crave and struggle for what is not something that does not seem to change, e.g. the illusory permanent and identical self and the permanent object od desire -and we always suffer disappointment. By accepting thing as they reality nothing more than a name for the complex of psycho-physical elements (nama-rupa) - the mind no longer strives for the satisfaction of self-seeking impulses nor clings to objects. As a result the mind is at rest and thereby psychological suffering is eliminated leading to improved mental health.
Apart from changing our thought by the adoption of this correct view and by developing an attitude of detachment towards the world and ourselves, our mental health is dependent on our power to rein in our appetites and to restrain and/or eradicate negative motions much as greed (lobha), hatred (dosa), anger (moha), and our possessive and aggressive tendencies. All these unwholesome states can act as the cause of mental and physical illness. Such control can be achieved through the practice of morality and meditation. Every set of Buddhist precepts and every type of meditation are aimed at controlling the senses, impulses, and instincts and easing the tension and eliminating the unwholesomeness of thoughts that tend to make the mind sick.
Buddhist meditation is not only a means to cure the mind from its ailments caused by incorrect views, self-indulgence, hatred, and anger of all forms, but is also devised as a means to induce positive wholesome mental states, particularly the four sublime states: loving kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekha). Loving kindness enables us to love and be kind to one another while compassion wants us to help those in distress. Sympathetic joy is an ability to rejoice in the joy of others and equanimity is the equanimous temperament without being either elated or dejected in the face of the vicissitudes of life - gain and loss, fame and lack of fame, praise and blame, happiness and sorrow. The continual cultivation of these wholesome mental states is an important Buddhist way of making the mind healthy. Actions spring from this healthy mind are always good and wholesome and thus conductive to our holistic health. This over-all health is reflected in all aspects of life including thinking, speaking, living and doing.

Concluding Remarks
The Buddhist concept of health and disease is formulated within the context of the principle of Dependent Origination and its related law of kamma. Accordingly health and disease are to be understood holistically in their over-all state in relation to the whole system and environmental conditions-social, economic, and cultural.
This view is diametrically opposite to the analytic view which tends to dissect human beings into different segments both in the physical and mental realms. As a result health is defined too narrowly as the mere absence of measurable symptoms of disease. Doctors and other medical personnel who hold such view direct their attention to particular parts of a person when considering whether or not a person is healthy and have not been concerned enough with their patients as whole human beings, reducing their care of them to the quantifiable control of physical symptoms. The Buddhist holistic perspective, on the contrary, focuses on the whole person and argues that since human beings are not merely physical creatures but mental, emotional, social and spiritual beings as well and that, as a psychosomatic unity, bodily illness affects the mind and emotions and emotional, mental and social maladjustments can affect the body, then to be concerned about a person's health one must be concerned about his entire person, body, mind and emotions, as well as his social environment. This may seem an utopian goal that medicine or health care services alone cannot accomplish. But it should be thought of and striven for Perhaps this overall health could be made possible only through the concerted efforts of medicine, the individual and social agencies concerned.

1. The most detailed and coherent systematic exposition of the principle of Dependent Origination is given in Visuddhi Magga: The Path of Purification.
2. This law is also referred to as the law of causality according to which a deed is likened to a seed which will sooner or later result in certain fruits.


Buddhist for the future
By Venerable Dr. Sri Dhammananda Venerable Sri Dr Dhammananda Nayake Maha Thera holds a doctorate in Buddhist studies and is one of the most widely known senior Monks in the world. To date, the Venerable has more than fifty-five publications in his credit, which have inspired Buddhist and non-Buddhist all over the world.
He founded the the Buddhist Missionary Society Malaysia in 1961, and embarked on a speaking and writing career, which literally transformed the state of Buddhism in the country. He has received numerous awards in recognition of his work, the most recent of which is from Myanmar, which carries the title, "Agga Maha Pandita".

The Third Millennium
This year we, the members of the Human Race entered into what has been termed by the largely Western-dominated international media as the Third Millennium or Y2K for short. We have been subjected to an enormous amount of hype by commercial interest groups and some religious enthusiasts who promised us that the world would surely end. The ignorant, the superstitious and the fearful were especially a target for these groups. New cults sprang up threatening the wrath of a frustrated God on humanity that has consistently refused to believe in him or obey his unrealistic commands. The gullible were persuaded to part from their material wealth and even kill themselves to escape the ultimate, final, holocaust of the end of the world. Then of course, there were those who made loud and strident calls to warn us of the horrors of the "millennium bug" which would wipe out modern civilisation at midnight on the last day of 1999. Computers were supposed to erase information relating to when we had been insured, when we were last inoculated, that our fixed deposits interest rates would have to be renewed - the prospects were simply horrifying! Then came the great anticlimax - nothing happened! There were many shamefaced religionists who had to run to their holy books and interpret them - once again.
Now, what was the Buddhist attitude to all of this? We did not join the mad crowd and view this whole situation calmly and rationally. To begin with, we remembered that we reached our second millennium five hundred years ago and we are already half way into our third millennium. That certainly gave us some greater seniority and maturity with which to view the universe and to advise our fellow beings on how to conduct ourselves in the pursuit of ultimate happiness. Perhaps we could now prevail on our younger brothers and sisters with different world views that their perspectives have motivated them to act in ways dangerous not only to the human race but to all inhabitants on this lovely planet, including plants and animals. Before we become too smug and divide the human race into "us" Buddhists and "them", the rest, let me hasten to remind ourselves that all of us have been guilty of joining the same rat race and those who call themselves "Buddhists" have just as happily trod the "primrose path" of sensuality, materialism and greed like almost everyone else in the 20th Century. What I will proceed to discuss in the rest of this essay is how the Sublime Teachings of the Buddha, if rightly understood and correctly followed by everyone can save the human race from ultimate disaster.
We need not think that the beginning of the 21st Century had any particular, or cosmic significance in the supramudane sense. Time is a human invention and a human being is no different today from what his ancestor was two or three thousand years ago. We humans have the same propensity for good or evil as our forebears, did during the time of the Buddha. The difference may be that today, given our vast technological advances and education, we are in a better position to develop our good or evil natures. If we have the good sense to slow down and look at the Teachings without bias and practice them sincerely, we can raise the human race to high levels of divinity. If we persist in ignoring the precious teaching we will continue to give in to the beast in us. The choice is ours. The Buddha taught for all mankind. If this message can be brought to all human beings, if we can persuade all human beings and their governments that the Buddha was not bound by narrow sectarian interests, but that he was concerned with all sentient beings, we would have gone a long way towards making this world a better place for all its inhabitants.
To effectively promote social harmony and universal peace through Buddhism we have some serious thinking to do. We should seriously consider what our attitude to the Buddha's message is; we must be united and not waste precious energy and resources arguing about the superiority of any particular school of Buddhism, we must recognise the rights of our fellow inhabitants on earth (including plants and animals); we must recognise the equality of all members of humanity, (including women and children). Once we have set our own house in order, so to speak, we will be in a better position to work for the happiness and welfare of everyone just as the Buddha intended.
Social Concerns
A great deal has been spoken and written about the Buddha's concern for the well-being of all living beings and humankind in particular. While the greater part of his ministry was devoted to the edification of those who renounced the worldly life, he was most free with his advice to uplift the condition of the householder. Some of the best known Sutras are devoted to the development of social harmony and are addressed to royalty as well as common folk. In the Agganna Sutra for example the Buddha speaks in mythical terms about the origin of society and the causes of inequality; in the Kasibharadvaja Sutra he distinguishes between labour for spiritual progress and labour to gain material wealth. In the Sigalovada Sutra he explains the duties and responsibilities of the different groups which comprise society - parents, children, husbands, wives, employers, employees, teachers and religious persons. He speaks of the benefits to be derived when every member of a community knows what is expected of him or her and sincerely fulfils his or her obligations. In the Parabhava Sutra he enumerates the various forms of antisocial behaviour which cause personal and social loss. In the Vyagghapajja Sutra he describes the benefits that can be gained by the householder even without "going forth". In one section of the Mahaparinibbana Sutra the Buddha explains the government and national unity. In the Mangala Sutra he enumerates good social behaviour which obstructs misery and woe to the individual and thereby the community.
Beside these sutras, there are of course the numerous stories and legends recorded in the Dhammapada and the Jataka which again emphasise the factors which promote social harmony and universal peace. The question now remains to be asked, how practical are these admonitions in modern times? It has often been suggested that the Buddhist formulae for social well being are rather idealistic. They may have worked when governments exerted far more power over their subjects in ancient India than they do today. Today's citizens are too independent and selfish to be ruled with gloved hands. This need not be so. People can still be treated humanely and we can still follow the principle that if you treat people well, they will behave well. Part of the reason why governments are so harsh today is that they operate from a point of view that the world is finite and that everything is real. We must remember that all the Buddha's advice was given against a world view which is totally different from the world view of a vast majority of humans today. If we want to effectively make use of the Buddha's Teaching to promote social harmony and universal peace we must begin to see the world as the Buddha did. We must "see the world as it really is". We must use all our efforts to give an understanding of the three characteristics of Anicca (impermanence), Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) and Anatta (non self). Admittedly this is a huge task. We have to overcome two millennia of propaganda which spread the false notion that the world and its creatures were specially created for the selfish pleasure of man. We have to counter the Renaissance notion that "man is the measure of all things."
Surely it is a difficult task, but certainly it is not impossible. More and more people in developed countries are waking up to the obvious fact that the world was NOT made for man's pleasure, and that it was not created in one glorious moment but that everything that exists is an illusion and dependent on everything else, that man's ultimate happiness lies in his working not for himself alone but for the safety and happiness of others. This is exactly the Buddha's view and a large number of people, weary of past excesses and fearful of impending disaster are ready to give heed to the Buddha's advice on peaceful coexistence where duties and responsibilities take precedence over rights.
The time is therefore ripe for Buddhists all over the world to explain the message of the Buddha in modern terms, to help people understand the REAL nature of existence. Once there is Right (or Perfect) Understanding then naturally all other aspects of the teaching will not seem so naive and impractical after all. Already many education systems in the west are paying due attention to the development of a culture where man is taught to put the concerns of others before his own needs. Increasingly the innate goodness of beings is fostered through proper education and understanding. Yes, the Buddha's model for a Perfect Society can work, but we must work intelligently and ceaselessly to make it work. A Buddhist value system is already recognisable in many organisation such as UNESCO, WHO, FAO and so on. It is of no concern to us whether or not every human being is converted to Buddhism. The Buddha has declared that we can respect any system which contains aspects of the Four Noble Truths which obviously these organisations do. Our concern is only for the happiness of humanity, both material and spiritual. Greater awareness of the Buddha's teachings will make his principles universally accepted.
Unity in Buddhist Schools of Thought
To create this awareness Buddhists must adopt a two fold strategy. First we must put our own house in order. Two millennia of dissension within ourselves and aggression from outside have weakened our practice. We must look at ourselves clearly and examine what are our inner weaknesses which reduce our ability to truly practise the Buddha's message to help our fellow beings. Ever since the First Council following the passing away of the Buddha we Buddhists have expended enormous amounts of energy to develop different schools or traditions within Buddhism. Of course this development of our divergent views took place with a degree of brotherly feeling which is unique in the history of religion. We can proudly assert again and again that we have practised a path of peace which is unique. We can proudly assert again and again that guided by the Master's Teachings in the Kalama Sutra (and reiterated in the edicts of Asoka) we have never shed a drop of blood or raised a single whip to spread our beliefs or to defend them. This record alone gives us a greater credibility over others. We have the blueprint to create universal peace.
However, let's be realistic. While we can go on forever patting ourselves on our backs for our tolerance, the fact remains that we have gone in different directions and that we have tended to consider "our" school superior to that of others. The Buddha taught only one Path to Perfection. Our imperfections gave rise to the different schools. The time has come for us to transcend our narrow sectarian views and look forward to developing an understanding of what has been, described as "Transcendental Buddhism". This pooling of our resources, and leaving behind our culture-bound approach to the teachings, has become absolutely necessary, given the fact that the world has shrunk so much and so many people with such diverse languages, beliefs, cultures and attitudes are taking an interest in the Buddha and his teachings. All of us, who have inherited this rich treasure from various sources, must come together to help all of mankind gain ultimate happiness.
This does not mean of course that we must abandon the indescribable richness and variety of our different traditions. The world would be so much poorer if we lost the invaluable treasures of Sri Lankan, Japanese, Korean Chinese, Tibetan and South East Asian Buddhist way of life. No, what I mean is, while we continue to foster the mundane manifestations of the teachings within our own cultures, we must vigorously make efforts to let the world hear the Buddha's voice. This will reduce the confusion regarding the Teachings especially among people who hear it for the first time. After all, we must never lose sight of the Buddha's first injunction to spread the Dharma for "the happiness and welfare of sentient beings". This clearly altruistic motive for our missionary efforts must never be forgotten. To realise this ideal we must be humble and be prepared to look at the teachings of the other schools without discrimination. Members of the Sangha particularly must highlight the areas of agreement amongst the various schools so that the younger generation is helped to view Buddhism as a perfect, harmonious whole that evolved from a single teaching.
One way of doing this of course is to encourage more dialogue amongst the different traditions. The "First World Buddhist Propagation Conference" organised by the Nembutsu Sect of Japan, in Kyoto in 1998 is an excellent example of such a successful meeting of Buddhist minds. Such gatherings of prominent Buddhists from different traditions, meeting amicably, serve to remind the world that Buddhists are really united and do share identical views on such issues as enlightenment and service to mankind.
An obvious area where Buddhists can promote co-operation effectively is in the dissemination of the Dharma. Books, periodicals, magazines and more recently the Internet should all try to encourage inter-sectarian dialogue between schools of Buddhism so that readers begin to see the underlying unity of Buddhism in the apparent diversity of its practices.
Role of the Sangha
Aside from making efforts to come together and fostering the acceptance of the concept of Transcendental Buddhism, one more area we must look at seriously to ensure our inner strength in the Buddhist world, is the Role of the Sangha. It is clear that the Buddha recognised the vital importance of the Sangha in keeping alive the purity of his Teaching. This is evidenced by the fact that he included the Sangha as the third component of the Holy Triple Gem. The Sanghas important role then and now as the transmitter of the Dharma across time and space can never be underestimated. From the Buddha's time until now the history of Buddhism has been illuminated by such glorious names as Sariputta, Moggallana, Ananda, Mahinda, Sanghamitta, Nagarjuna, Vasubhandhu, Bodhidharma, Asvaghosa, Buddhaghosa, Yuan Chuan, Fa Hsien - the list is endless. Philosophers, preachers, commentators, travellers - they all had one thing in common. They were sons and daughters of the Buddha. Even in our own times there are so many names of members of the Sangha who keep the glorious flame of the Dharma alive, bringing the voice of the Buddha to every corner of the globe.
From the time of the Buddha right up to our own times, the members of the Sangha have been the force which sustained and interpreted the Buddha-word so that it is kept ever alive and fresh in the hearts and minds of men and women. So much for their importance. Let us now look at their function in today's society and the challenges that they face.
Although there have been great monks who went far beyond the monasteries in which they first donned the mendicants' garb, the vast majority of monks never strayed beyond their monastery walls. They were content to live quiet secluded lives of contemplation avoiding as much as possible the turmoil of the outside world. But as we reach the end of the twentieth century we cannot ignore the fact that the world is indeed very different from what it was for centuries, particularly in Asia. The world is creeping very much into the monastery. The monk is increasingly called upon to serve the society which supports his material needs. It is no longer enough to conduct the occasional devotional practices for the lay person or teach the rudiments of reading and writing and calculation to his children. The world has shrunk. Events which occur in the US or Europe deeply affect the lives of everyone on the planet. The Buddhist monk is part of that global life. Social harmony and Universal Peace are the responsibility of everyone on this planet: the Buddhist monk must carry out his part of that responsibility. The obvious exception to this is of course, the Bhikkhu of the Forest tradition, who completely renounces all contact with society and seeks salvation for himself. The monastery monk does not fall into this category.
Not only in Asia, but in Europe, the Americas, Australia, and increasingly, even in Africa, Buddhism is playing a vital role in contributing to social harmony and universal peace. The Buddhist monks or nuns are the vital links between the Buddha's message of peace and harmony and the people of the world who so desperately need it.
Is the Sangha ready for the challenge?
My immediate and honest answer to that is "No. At least not yet".
To begin with, traditional life in rural Asia has changed very little over the centuries. But at the same time, technological and urban developments and westernisation have moved ahead at dizzying speeds. The result : the average Buddhist in a traditional Buddhist country (possibly with the exception of Japan) has become increasingly disoriented and there exists a vast gap within him, between his traditional values and his modern concept of the world with its banking systems, sensational entertainment, materialism, nuclear families and so on. He is torn between what he is "told" he should be as a model Buddhist parent, son, employee or citizen, and the demands made on him in the real world: the world of materialism, greed and selfishness. Too often, the Sangha is ill-equipped to help their lay supporters to bridge the gap between the modern and the traditional. The average modern monk in a Buddhist country is found to be woefully out of touch with the modern world. It is more likely he has not even seen a computer, let alone being proficient to operate one! He has very little contact with the outside world, so how can he help his fellow beings to cope with it?
What is interesting to note here is that this has not always been so. Who can deny that a Buddhist monk has always been an agent of change for the better throughout history? Who can deny that it was the Buddhist monk who brought Art, Architecture, Technology, Music and Medicine to every country in Asia? It has even been suggested that the ancient Egyptian THERAPEUTAE who practised monasticism and specialised in healing ("therapeutic") were originally Buddhist monks, therapeutic being a corruption of THERAVADA! Be that as it may, the Sangha civilised the ancient world. But they can hardly be held up as role models for change today! What happened? Of course we can point a, finger at colonisation, but blaming others for our shortcomings is a luxury we can ill afford. The only thing we can do is to ask ourselves how we can change the situation and once again make the Buddhist monk the leader of men and women in his society.
I believe the key is in Education. Governments as well as social reformers in Buddhist countries must recognise the tremendous potential that members of the Sangha have to help their fellow beings. They are generally highly intelligent as can be seen by their ability to memorise, understand, interpret and teach the Sublime Dharma. While continuing to uphold these traditional forms of learning, we must give them additional skills - computer-literacy, farming techniques, counselling, engineering, nursing, teaching for example. They must not only be proficient in the Dharma, they must be practical in serving society's material needs. Over the centuries the Saffron robe has earned its wearer a high degree of respect. Today the Buddhist monk can make use of this psychological tool to help laymen become better people. It must never be forgotten that the Buddha never condemned material prosperity. There are enough Sutras in our scriptures to show that the Buddha even went to the extent of declaring that wealth, honestly earned, gave a person self esteem, human dignity and the power to do good. The Buddhist monk who helps his lay devotee to attain material success with Right Understanding is indeed following his Master's injunction to work for the benefit and welfare of humanity.
All of this however could possibly lead to a further problem. And that is, we could have monks who are trained without understanding. They could go to the other extreme and cut off all links with the past. (It has happened!) No, monks have an all important role to uphold tradition. Tradition links us to the past. It gives us our roots, it helps us to remain steady against the onslaught of alien cultures, alien religious practices and alien values. The monk must be so steeped in and proud of his significant traditions that he imbues his devotees with that same love and pride in his own culture. Can it be done? Of course! Just look at Japan.
This is one area where the Sangha can perform a useful function as a factor in promoting harmony by contributing to the success of that society economically.
The Bhikkhuni Order
Another area which is worth looking into is the Bhikkhuni Order. I am certainly aware that this is still a thorny issue among some quarters, but I am convinced that there are fewer people around who cannot see the importance of the Bhikkhuni Sangha. It is again a matter of great pride to us, that the Buddha was the first religious teacher to constitute the component of female monasticism. While it cannot be denied that he had some well-founded initial reservations, he did give in to Ananda. What is generally (conveniently?) overlooked is that the organisation spread like wildfire, almost literally, as soon as it was instituted, showing the tremendous spiritual need women had for upliftment. It is also a matter of record (to the eternal credit of the Buddha) that once accepted, women had no difficulty whatsoever in achieving the highest pinnacles of spiritual achievements human beings are capable of: Patacara, Khema, Kisagotami, Dharmadinna, Uppalavanna, Visakha - need one continue?
Today, women have proven that they are capable of becoming Presidents, Prime Ministers and Scientists as well as teachers and nurses, women are equal partners in every field of human endeavour. It is time, therefore that Buddhists recognise the tremendous contributions women can make to the promotion of Social Harmony and Universal Peace. In fact women have made contributions to both these areas and they can do so today. It is of course a credit to the Buddha's Teaching on this matter that the first woman prime minister of the world was a Buddhist woman from Sri Lanka. A belief that as nuns, Buddhist women have an undeniable role to play especially in harnessing the female workforce and playing an efficient and intelligent part in human development. Their contribution can be invaluable as teachers, nurses, counsellors, in fact, as anything, to effect social change. The voice of the women can no longer be ignored as a voice to seek and promote International Peace. As mothers they are better qualified than anybody else to speak against the sacrifice of sons and husbands on the altars of war.
The Sangha male and female, if properly trained and conversant in many languages and skilled in many disciplines, can be a powerful force in the development of peace. Thanks to world leaders like H.H. the Dalai Lama, the Buddhist monk has always been a symbol of peace even among non-Buddhists. What is necessary now is for Buddhist monks and nuns the world over to equip themselves with the skills needed to spread the Buddha's message of peace to all mankind. Given our past history of non-violence, we are better qualified than anyone else to encourage everyone to practice the "love thy neighbour" policy.
The Lay Person
In a wider sense the Sangha comprises not only Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis but Upasakas and Upasikas (male and female lay devotees) as well. Given the admirable spirit of democracy proclaimed and practised by the Buddha, the members of the Sangha as well as lay people have duties and responsibilities towards the development of Social Harmony and Universal Peace. There are today upasakas and upasikas who are performing an invaluable service in spreading the Buddha's message in the world. This is especially true in non-traditional Buddhist countries like Malaysia and Singapore where lay devotees are leading their friends to practice the noble Teachings by leading fellow Buddhists along the Path. They even build and run Viharas, Orphanages, Old Folks Homes, Clinics to serve the community. In the Western, developed countries also lay Buddhists will play an increasingly important role to promote International Peace in the world, although perhaps they may not be needed as much in areas of social development. This does not mean however that the Sangha will be replaced by lay workers in the cause of Buddhism either in the near or distant future. The Sangha will and must continue to play an important role not only as guardians of the Dharma but also as a role models and teachers of the lay people in matters pertaining to Buddhism. This of course further emphases the point that the Sangha must be capable of taking on this added responsibility of training lay people for Dharmaduta work.
Buddhism as a force against war
Still on the theme of International Peace, religious leaders have an increasingly important role to play in teaching their followers to walk in the path of peace. Sadly however, the history of mankind is replete with examples of so called religious people who waged war in the name of religion. Buddhism never has and never can ever condone war even if it is disguised as a "just" or "holy" war. The Buddha condemned violence of any kind for whatever reason. He repeatedly declared that the only victory is the conquest of self and the only miracle is the conversion from evil to good. Buddhists therefore, Sangha and lay people alike, are bound by precedent and precept never to wage war but to persuade all people to walk the path of Peace. It, is certainly not an accident therefore that the UNESCO Charter begins with the preamble: "Since it is in the minds of men that wars are created, it is in the minds of men that the fortresses against war must be erected". This is almost exactly like the very first verse of the Dharmapada which states:
"Mind precedes all wholesome and unwholesome states and is their chief; they are all mind wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts, misery follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox".
If one speaks or acts with pure mind, because of that, happiness follows one, even as one's shadow that never leaves. The teaching of the Buddha, if inculcated in the young mind from the beginning, will no doubt be a powerful civilising factor that will turn humanity from violence to compassion. One of our tasks therefore is to make available the teachings of Buddha in more languages and through various media, including the Internet.
Although the human race has made such tremendous progress in almost every field of endeavour, warfare is one area in which we have behaved no better than animals. In fact one might even say that we have even descended lower than animals because given our higher intelligence we should know better than to succumb to our lower instincts of lust, anger, hatred and delusion. It has been said that man's worst characteristic is his ability to inflict pain - mental and physical - on his fellow beings. The worst manifestation of this irrational behaviour is man's tendency to wage war on the flimsiest of excuses. Ever since man learnt to hold a weapon he has waged war against his fellow beings, and any student of history will readily agree that there never has been such a thing as a "just war". And wars get from bad to worse. At least in the past, wars were only waged between men silly enough to get involved on the battlefields. But today whole hordes of innocent men, women, children and even animals suffer indescribable privations as a result of war. Mothers are separated from children, husbands are separated from wives, brothers are separated from sisters - there is no end.
Some people argue that conflict and war cannot be avoided because they are expressions of human nature. I am realistic enough to realise that it would be foolhardy to sit down and do nothing when aggressors are brutally destroying innocent lives on the basis of unrealistic and unfounded claims, but we must always bear in mind that war is at best a last resort to maintain peace. However, if we believe that war is inevitable, then we will wage war. But if, like the great emperor Asoka, we have the spiritual development and the wisdom to see the folly of war we can certainly avoid it. Buddhists can be very proud of the fact that in our own times the greatest advocate of peace is His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet. For nearly half a century this great Buddhist leader has worked tirelessly to regain his homeland, without once uttering a malicious word against those who occupy his land. He has never condemned them but treated them as fellow-beings. On the other hand, he has not been a coward either. He has fearlessly spoken against the ill-treatment of his subjects and the lies spread against him. But he has not chosen to take arms against his people's aggressors. This is because he lives by the advice of the Buddha given in the Dharmapada,
"Hatred does not end by hatred
By love alone it is quelled".
A struggle which is ended by force is no victory. Real victory can only be attained by a true change of heart founded on understanding on the part of the aggressor. His Holiness the Dalai Lama truly believes in inculcating peace through non violence.
We are all familiar with the story of how during the time of the Buddha a prince called Vidudabha annihilated the entire Sakya clan simply because he harboured a grudge against them for a slight insult. We have to learn from that example and seek rather to follow in the footsteps of the great king whose name was changed from Chanda (cruel) Asoka to Dharma (righteous) Asoka because he had the wisdom to walk the path shown by the Buddha. Let us also recall the Buddha's declaration that the people of a certain kingdom could not be overcome by force because they followed the seven conditions for the progress of a nation. These examples show that war is avoidable if we truly wish it. There is a principle of Modern Management today which declares that if we expect Zero Defects in our operations we will achieve them. Similarly if we envisage a society without war, we will achieve peace. Unfortunately we have been so indoctrinated to believe that war is the only way to get what we want, that we will continue to wage war. The most horrible irony of it is that people even wage wars in the name of religions which teach the brotherhood of man.
Therefore the greatest challenge facing us in the next millennium is to grow up, to stop fighting like small boys and heed the word of the Enlightened One:
"All fear death, all fear the rod, knowing this we should never strike nor cause to strike".
The world today is divided by many factors. Sad to say one of the most important of the organisations responsible for these many divisions is religion. Today, perhaps like at no other time in history, are the vast resources of certain religious organisations being exploited shamelessly in a mad scramble to win converts at any cost. These include the spreading of malicious lies against other religions like Buddhism. Young, innocent impressionable people are being lured away from their traditional religion through blatant false propaganda and even through bribes. There are instances of whole villages in certain countries being converted en masse through the promise of material gain. Conversion in itself may not be a bad thing, but when methods employed and the motives for converting are suspect then we must not stand idly by and do nothing about it.
In many countries conversions which are not accompanied by a full understanding of what is being accepted can lead to serious problems, often causing the break-up of marriages and families and other social problems. Therefore it is not conversion but buying people.
There is therefore an urgent need for Buddhists to seek the dialogue with other religious groups to voice our dissatisfaction with their activities. There are genuine members of these faiths who are themselves embarrassed by the antics of their fellow religionists. They must speak against their own kind and Buddhists must make every effort to urge them to do so. In the past, traditional religions were the victims of colonial missionaries. Today, the problem is much more insidious - citizens of the same country are working to undermine the traditional cultures and practices of their forefathers and introducing alien ways to their people, separating parents and children, the old and the young.
On a more positive note, however, Buddhists have always been encouraged, in the Kalama Sutra for example, to seek dialogue with others to show respect for other genuine seekers after the truth. We need to talk with other religionists formally and informally to know how they think, to show them how we think and to find common ground on which we can co-operate to work for the betterment of the human race. In some cases we must even be humble enough to admit that we can adopt their methods particularly in social and charity work and help the poor and the weak and helpless in every corner of the world.
Buddhist Values
Having examined some of the challenges facing Buddhists today and how we can help to promote peace and social harmony let us examine how we can identify some Buddhist values which we will need to achieve our goals.
It cannot be said that there are "Buddhist Values" which are unique to Buddhism and not to be found in other religious systems. The Buddha recognised this when he declared that we must accept and recognise the worth of any religion in so far as that religion contains the Four Noble Truths. What is unique about Buddhism is our understanding of the nature of these values and why we practice them. When the Bodhisatta practised the Ten Paramis, he was motivated in an entirely different way than any other follower of a spiritual path either in part or as a whole.
The ten paramis - dana (generosity), sila (precept), nekkhamma (renunciation), panna (wisdom), viriya (energy), khanti (patience) sacca (truthfulness), adhitthana (determination), metta (loving kindness) and upekkha (equanimity) - can form a solid value system on which a Buddhist builds his or her personal spiritual life. This individual effort is then extended to members of the family, the community, the nation and finally the world as a whole. All Buddhists all over the world must consciously make the effort to understand the importance of practising these values, endeavour to practice them earnestly, and then explain them to others. Our education system and our media network must spread these values through every means possible so that our daily thinking is affected by them. We all know the famous Jataka tale in which the Bodhisatta advises his acrobat master. To ensure perfect safety each performer must be fully concerned about his own welfare and security first. In that way both parties will be safe. Therefore the implementing of a Buddhist value-system involves making each individual understand his responsibility towards the rest, to understand the inter-relatedness of all beings, to guard him or herself and thereby guard others.
The year 2001 holds many promises and challenges for all members of the human race. Buddhists are in a particularly strong position to help all human beings realise their full potential and live in peace and harmony not only with themselves but with others as well. It is our duty to help spread the Buddha's message by spreading it through the written and spoken word, but, far more importantly through the example of living noble lives in accordance with the Sacred Teachings.


Buddhist Healing

The Buddhist view is that all phenomena and experiences are manifestations of causes, gross and subtle, and ultimately linked to the individual experiencing them, and beginning in the mind.
What is the cause of disease? All of the alternative therapies have their own answers and because they achieve results, they probably all claim to be right.
Homoeopathy attributes disease to a disturbance of the vital force and this in turn is caused by an array of factors: hereditary, environmental, life-style, diet, emotional, suppressive allopathic drugs, etc.
Nutritionally led disciplines say, "you are what you eat". Extraordinary cures are obtained from special diets.
Hypnoanalysis and psychotherapy lay the blame at repressed memories, inner conflicts, unfulfilled needs etc.
Still others claim that unhealthy electro-magnetic waves, natural and man made are contributors.
Buddhism recognises all of these explanations of disease as valid, but would claim that such causes of disease were themselves manifestations of deeper causes.
The Buddhist concept of disease is a multitiered system of causes. The following analogy will explain: A man drinks a bottle of vodka, steps out of the pub, and blindly walks into the road, where he is at once knocked down and killed by an oncoming bus. What was the cause of the man's death?
The apparent cause was being knocked down by a bus - analogous to dying of lung cancer. A deeper cause was being drunk - analogous to the cancer being caused by smoking. But why was he drunk? Because he was unhappy - analogous to the actual cause originating in the mind. And why was he unhappy? Because his wife had left him - analogous to the law of cause and effect (karma).
Hence Buddhists would ultimately say that the lung cancer was created by negative karma: the negative energy created in dependence upon a negative thought or its consequent actions (in this life or a past life), and therefore ultimately to remove somebody's predisposition to disease one would need to remove the negative karma.
Karma makes sense of why two similar people can both spend their lives smoking 40 cigarettes a day and why one dies of lung cancer and the other lives to be a hundred and dies of natural causes. Unless the root cause of negative karma to experience a particular effect exists, the secondary causes cannot function.
Whilst karma is virtually impossible to prove to a sceptic, I suggest there is a link between the negative energy created by karma, and the vital force as perceived in homoeopathy, or even a disturbance of the libido as described by Freud. Experiments with Kirlian photography clearly show that the electro-magnetic field surrounding the body (aura) is affected by thought forms and that there is a definite correlation between the weakening of the aura and disease (this also supports the theory put forward by Dr Edward Bach, which has much in common with Buddhist thought).
Buddhist healing involves working with both the primary and the secondary causes. Many of the methods act upon both and one aim is to restore physical and emotional balance. In common with the system of Chinese medicine, Buddhism recognises that the mechanism of disease is to disturb and imbalance the inner elements, so many healing exercises are aimed at harmonising the elements.
The ultimate healing in Buddhism which acts upon primary and secondary causes and also re-establishes equilibrium is to destroy the innate concept we have of the self as being a real and solid entity. As a result of such ego identification we generate fearful, tight and negative minds: the ultimate cause of all disease, mental and physical. By learning to relax our grasping and see through the illusion like ego we gain a state of openness and ease, and physical afflictions can melt away. However, this is not an easy practice and requires considerable instruction.
Buddhism calls upon a great range of methods to alleviate pain and illness, some of which can be performed by oneself and others which require the assistance of another person. They include many different visualisations, breathing exercises, mantra recitation and rituals. Perhaps one of the most strange types of healing is the pacification of "malevolent spirits".
For most Westerners (including Western Buddhists) this seems quite hard to believe and is almost always relegated to the realms of primitive beliefs. I have however had direct experience of spirits causing both physical and mental disturbances. Some years ago I entered a room in a Buddhist temple to discover a young man suffering from an epileptic fit. Conventional measures were applied without alleviating the horrendous convulsions. Remembering the possibility of spirit intervention, I began to recite the mantra of a wrathful deity very forcefully and within no more than a minute the fit stopped and the young man came back to his senses muttering something about having been possessed. A similar event happened some weeks later and consequently I gave the man an exercise to do daily to give him protection. During the 3 months that he performed the exercise he was free of epilepsy. Shortly after stopping the exercises the fits returned.

Buddhist masters cite spirits as the cause of more than half of all illnesses and claim that many serious illnesses can be cured with the help of certain rituals. Immediately one thinks of Western style exorcists and indeed the rituals do have much in common, the fundamental difference being that the foundation of Buddhism is compassion and therefore it is not permissible to harm the spirits when encouraging them to leave. Perhaps the belief in spirits does not seem so impossible if we consider Western beliefs in positive forms of spirit like entities such as fairies and devas. Is it not the case that huge vegetables have been grown with the help of devas? Of course, there are many interpretations, and many a Western psychotherapist writes off malevolent spirits as negative thought forms, or claim that the healing rituals work via a trance-induced suggestion.
Buddhism talks about the life force and this may be the same force as talked about in homoeopathy: the vital force. For example, Buddhism attributes 3 main causes to death: the karmically determined lifespan ends, the positive energy (karma) becomes exhausted or the life force becomes depleted. The life force is a subtle energy which sustains life and all of the functions of the body. It can be depleted through any excess use of energy - for example sexual activity or even jogging etc., as well as sleeping too much or too little, eating unwholesome food, emotional disturbances etc. Other Eastern forms of thought and medicine aim to cure life force disturbances with exercise methods such as Chi Kung and emphasise that Western forms of aerobic exercise are seriously harmful to the life force if practised in excess.
One method described by many Buddhist teachers to increase the life force is extracted from the tantric teachings and presented in a simplified form which can be learnt in a few minutes (Yoga teaches a similar method).
The technique is performed either in a traditional meditation posture or sitting on a chair, with an erect but relaxed spine. One begins inhaling deeply with abdominal breathing, whilst mentally hearing the sound OM (Aum). The breath is then held and imagined at the spiritual heart (midway between the breast towards the spine) whilst mentally hearing the sound Ah. After holding the breath for 3-5 seconds, or until it becomes uncomfortable, the breath is exhaled whilst mentally hearing the sound Hum (Hung). The whole process is then repeated for between 5 and 20 minutes. It is not necessary to take exaggerated breaths and it is essential to perform the exercise whilst remaining physically and mentally relaxed. Many people engage in meditation to overcome stress and illness and finish up worse than before because they push and strain in meditation. There are a number of variations on this meditation linked to colour. One is to think of the colour white whilst inhaling the OM, to think of red whilst holding the Ah at the heart and to think of blue whilst exhaling the Hum. Those who practice this exercise, diligently, every day for a few weeks will soon start to notice the benefits.
Mantras are very powerful healing aids. They are not simply sounds in the conventional sense but are the resonance of subtle primordial energies which we have within ourselves, the vibrations of which distribute gentle healing energies throughout our being.
Most healers have their fair share of failures. Often it is said that when a patient doesn't get better it is because he does not wish to get better. Of course, sometimes this is the case: when the illness provides the patient with a significant benefit; but sometimes the cause of failure is deep rooted negative karma going back to a previous life. Such a case is difficult to heal and sometimes not possible at all. The Buddhist solution is to purify the negative karma and Buddhism teaches many methods of purification.
The practice of Taking generally depends upon two things: compassion and faith. Compassion is like the power which heals and faith is like the fuel which sustains the power. Love and compassion are great healers and are two sides of the same coin. One definition of love is a universal wish for others to experience happiness. Compassion is a universal wish for others to be free of suffering. They are not to be confused with our usual self-centred emotional responses which we attach similar names to. To generate compassion it is necessary first to reduce our own sense of self importance: most of us feel as if the world revolves around ourselves. However, we are just one of many beings seeking happiness. We then need to empathise with others and to contemplate their suffering.
Faith can refer to many things. It can mean to have confidence. Without faith most mental healing practices won't work. On the other hand, with faith miracles can be achieved. One way to understand faith is to perceive it as a focuser or magnifier. By focusing our healing efforts through the mind of faith the power of healing is magnified and concentrated. Faith can also mean acknowledging our innate perfect nature variously described as Buddha nature, the Inner Guru, the Inner Wisdom or the Higher Self, or perhaps from a Christian point of view as God. Faith in such an Inner Wisdom would mean to rely upon the ability we have to perfectly heal ourselves and provide whatever is necessary for that process. It can help greatly to imagine our Inner Wisdom as an external source of power and to receive its healing energy.
Faith can also be understood from a Western psychotherapy point of view. Faith is to programme the unconscious mind with a certain idea or image, which then needs to find expression in our everyday life. Therefore faith would seem to have much in common with the power of suggestion and many hypnotherapists would say that all ancient healing methods, including rituals, exorcisms and visualisations are all forms of hypnosis and positive suggestion.
To perform the practice of Taking one starts by contemplating others suffering from the same illness or problem (if emotional) as yourself. So for example if you suffer from cancer, you think about all of the people suffering from cancer. Many of them are suffering more than you. You think about their pain, about how they fear death, about the sadness they have thinking about leaving their family behind, or how they fear and suffer from any conventional treatment they are due to receive. Essentially you identify your own pain and then empathise with others who suffer a similar pain. It is important to think that these people are just like you. They share a common wish of wanting to be happy and free from suffering.
By thinking like this, in time a warm feeling, a feeling of compassion will arise in the heart. This is the beginning of real healing. Just thinking like this already reduces your suffering. Why? Because suffering depends upon your awareness of it and if your awareness is turned towards others instead of towards yourself your pain diminishes! The power of the compassion should not be underestimated! It is said in the Buddhist scriptures that true strength comes from compassion.
The next step requires a radical thought! Having generated compassion and the wish for others to be free from suffering, one courageously thinks, "if I could take on the suffering of all these people and therewith free them from their pain, I would do." It is quite a thought, isn't it? Supposing it really were possible that one person could choose to suffer instead of a million people suffering! We try to imagine we have the courage to think like that and to identify with that thought. It is like a man who is taken prisoner and tortured. If he gives in to the pain and gives his torturer the information he wants, maybe a thousand people die. He has to choose. Of course, such a choice takes great courage. So, one tries to think like that. At first, our compassion is so weak that we cannot genuinely generate that thought. At first we have to imagine. Imagination is a very powerful tool and since reality depends upon the mind, imagination can be used to shape reality.
Having generated that thought you then think, "right now I will take on their suffering". You imagine their suffering and illness dissolving into thick black smoke and you absorb this smoke into your spiritual heart. As it dissolves into your heart you think of it destroying your ego grasping; your selfishness.
Then you imagine all the other people free from their suffering and such a thought makes you very happy; very joyful. And so you become very still and bask in that sunshine-like happiness and let it pervade your whole being. Joy is another powerful healing agent. When joy flows through our bodies and minds it generates a powerful positive energy which heals, nurtures, relaxes and regenerates. The practice is repeated several times in a session if desired, and performed daily. Tibetans are very familiar with this practice and many people have been cured from seemingly incurable diseases.
These are just a few of the many techniques which Buddhism has to offer. Fundamental to all healing, of course, is the power of relaxation. Half an hour of quality meditation a day can do much to rebalance our minds, bodies, energies and emotions. When we gain deep awareness of these factors and learn to harmonise them, healing can be achieved without recourse to outside influences.


Buddhist Healing
By Steven Lane

Mention chakra disturbances, spirit intervention or karma to most people and they may ask what planet you live on! Whichever planet, Buddhist healing works with all such forces, and many more, and can obtain extraordinary results.
Of course, it is not for everyone! It requires time and effort, and the willingness to take responsibility for your own health. Buddhist healing, in common with other esoteric traditions, believes that the power of the mind can be employed to combat illness and restore health.
Modern research is beginning to support the idea that visualisation and imagery can have hugely beneficial effects for health, as can joy and relaxation - all aspects of Buddhist practice. So, whilst Buddhist healing methods are centuries old, modern science, as it begins to observe and understand the mind-body connection, is cautiously opening itself to its possibilities.
The Buddhist view is that all phenomena and experiences are manifestations of causes, gross and subtle, and ultimately linked to the individual experiencing them, and beginning in the mind.
What is the cause of disease? All of the alternative therapies have their own answers and because they achieve results, they probably all claim to be right.
Homoeopathy attributes disease to a disturbance of the vital force and this in turn is caused by an array of factors: hereditary, environmental, life-style, diet, emotional, suppressive allopathic drugs, etc.
Nutritionally led disciplines say, "you are what you eat". Extraordinary cures are obtained from special diets.
Hypnoanalysis and psychotherapy lay the blame at repressed memories, inner conflicts, unfulfilled needs etc.
Still others claim that unhealthy electro-magnetic waves, natural and man made are contributors.
Buddhism recognises all of these explanations of disease as valid, but would claim that such causes of disease were themselves manifestations of deeper causes.
The Buddhist concept of disease is a multitiered system of causes. The following analogy will explain: A man drinks a bottle of vodka, steps out of the pub, and blindly walks into the road, where he is at once knocked down and killed by an oncoming bus. What was the cause of the man's death?
The apparent cause was being knocked down by a bus - analogous to dying of lung cancer. A deeper cause was being drunk - analogous to the cancer being caused by smoking. But why was he drunk? Because he was unhappy - analogous to the actual cause originating in the mind. And why was he unhappy? Because his wife had left him - analogous to the law of cause and effect (karma).
Hence Buddhists would ultimately say that the lung cancer was created by negative karma: the negative energy created in dependence upon a negative thought or its consequent actions (in this life or a past life), and therefore ultimately to remove somebody's predisposition to disease one would need to remove the negative karma.
Karma makes sense of why two similar people can both spend their lives smoking 40 cigarettes a day and why one dies of lung cancer and the other lives to be a hundred and dies of natural causes. Unless the root cause of negative karma to experience a particular effect exists, the secondary causes cannot function.
Whilst karma is virtually impossible to prove to a sceptic, I suggest there is a link between the negative energy created by karma, and the vital force as perceived in homoeopathy, or even a disturbance of the libido as described by Freud. Experiments with Kirlian photography clearly show that the electro-magnetic field surrounding the body (aura) is affected by thought forms and that there is a definite correlation between the weakening of the aura and disease (this also supports the theory put forward by Dr Edward Bach, which has much in common with Buddhist thought).
Buddhist healing involves working with both the primary and the secondary causes. Many of the methods act upon both and one aim is to restore physical and emotional balance. In common with the system of Chinese medicine, Buddhism recognises that the mechanism of disease is to disturb and imbalance the inner elements, so many healing exercises are aimed at harmonising the elements.
The ultimate healing in Buddhism which acts upon primary and secondary causes and also re-establishes equilibrium is to destroy the innate concept we have of the self as being a real and solid entity. As a result of such ego identification we generate fearful, tight and negative minds: the ultimate cause of all disease, mental and physical. By learning to relax our grasping and see through the illusion like ego we gain a state of openness and ease, and physical afflictions can melt away. However, this is not an easy practice and requires considerable instruction.
Buddhism calls upon a great range of methods to alleviate pain and illness, some of which can be performed by oneself and others which require the assistance of another person. They include many different visualisations, breathing exercises, mantra recitation and rituals. Perhaps one of the most strange types of healing is the pacification of "malevolent spirits".
For most Westerners (including Western Buddhists) this seems quite hard to believe and is almost always relegated to the realms of primitive beliefs. I have however had direct experience of spirits causing both physical and mental disturbances. Some years ago I entered a room in a Buddhist temple to discover a young man suffering from an epileptic fit. Conventional measures were applied without alleviating the horrendous convulsions. Remembering the possibility of spirit intervention, I began to recite the mantra of a wrathful deity very forcefully and within no more than a minute the fit stopped and the young man came back to his senses muttering something about having been possessed. A similar event happened some weeks later and consequently I gave the man an exercise to do daily to give him protection. During the 3 months that he performed the exercise he was free of epilepsy. Shortly after stopping the exercises the fits returned.
Buddhist masters cite spirits as the cause of more than half of all illnesses and claim that many serious illnesses can be cured with the help of certain rituals. Immediately one thinks of Western style exorcists and indeed the rituals do have much in common, the fundamental difference being that the foundation of Buddhism is compassion and therefore it is not permissible to harm the spirits when encouraging them to leave. Perhaps the belief in spirits does not seem so impossible if we consider Western beliefs in positive forms of spirit like entities such as fairies and devas. Is it not the case that huge vegetables have been grown with the help of devas? Of course, there are many interpretations, and many a Western psychotherapist writes off malevolent spirits as negative thought forms, or claim that the healing rituals work via a trance-induced suggestion.
Buddhism talks about the life force and this may be the same force as talked about in homoeopathy: the vital force. For example, Buddhism attributes 3 main causes to death: the karmically determined lifespan ends, the positive energy (karma) becomes exhausted or the life force becomes depleted. The life force is a subtle energy which sustains life and all of the functions of the body. It can be depleted through any excess use of energy - for example sexual activity or even jogging etc., as well as sleeping too much or too little, eating unwholesome food, emotional disturbances etc. Other Eastern forms of thought and medicine aim to cure life force disturbances with exercise methods such as Chi Kung and emphasise that Western forms of aerobic exercise are seriously harmful to the life force if practised in excess.
One method described by many Buddhist teachers to increase the life force is extracted from the tantric teachings and presented in a simplified form which can be learnt in a few minutes (Yoga teaches a similar method).
The technique is performed either in a traditional meditation posture or sitting on a chair, with an erect but relaxed spine. One begins inhaling deeply with abdominal breathing, whilst mentally hearing the sound OM (Aum). The breath is then held and imagined at the spiritual heart (midway between the breast towards the spine) whilst mentally hearing the sound Ah. After holding the breath for 3-5 seconds, or until it becomes uncomfortable, the breath is exhaled whilst mentally hearing the sound Hum (Hung). The whole process is then repeated for between 5 and 20 minutes. It is not necessary to take exaggerated breaths and it is essential to perform the exercise whilst remaining physically and mentally relaxed. Many people engage in meditation to overcome stress and illness and finish up worse than before because they push and strain in meditation. There are a number of variations on this meditation linked to colour. One is to think of the colour white whilst inhaling the OM, to think of red whilst holding the Ah at the heart and to think of blue whilst exhaling the Hum. Those who practice this exercise, diligently, every day for a few weeks will soon start to notice the benefits.
Mantras are very powerful healing aids. They are not simply sounds in the conventional sense but are the resonance of subtle primordial energies which we have within ourselves, the vibrations of which distribute gentle healing energies throughout our being.
Most healers have their fair share of failures. Often it is said that when a patient doesn't get better it is because he does not wish to get better. Of course, sometimes this is the case: when the illness provides the patient with a significant benefit; but sometimes the cause of failure is deep rooted negative karma going back to a previous life. Such a case is difficult to heal and sometimes not possible at all. The Buddhist solution is to purify the negative karma and Buddhism teaches many methods of purification.
One powerful method taught initially centuries ago in India is the practice of Taking. Some years ago I was approached by a man who had been diagnosed as having AIDS, and was estimated by his doctor to live only 3-6 months more (in itself a dangerous negative suggestion). I instructed him in the practice of Taking, as well as another Buddhist purification practice and suggested that he enter a retreat for a few weeks. He was very sceptical, but nevertheless agreed to try. After the retreat he continued to practice and a few months later he told me that the doctor had noticed a considerable improvement and could not understand it - at the same time the doctor ridiculed the practice he was doing. Three months later the man returned to say that the doctors were now saying there was no trace left of AIDS and that they must have mis-diagnosed him. Interestingly the man himself arrived at the same conclusion some months later and dismissed the practice he had done as wishful thinking. Most healers will be familiar with such occurrences of post recovery denial.
The practice of Taking generally depends upon two things: compassion and faith. Compassion is like the power which heals and faith is like the fuel which sustains the power. Love and compassion are great healers and are two sides of the same coin. One definition of love is a universal wish for others to experience happiness. Compassion is a universal wish for others to be free of suffering. They are not to be confused with our usual self-centred emotional responses which we attach similar names to. To generate compassion it is necessary first to reduce our own sense of self importance: most of us feel as if the world revolves around ourselves. However, we are just one of many beings seeking happiness. We then need to empathise with others and to contemplate their suffering.
Faith can refer to many things. It can mean to have confidence. Without faith most mental healing practices won't work. On the other hand, with faith miracles can be achieved. One way to understand faith is to perceive it as a focuser or magnifier. By focusing our healing efforts through the mind of faith the power of healing is magnified and concentrated. Faith can also mean acknowledging our innate perfect nature variously described as Buddha nature, the Inner Guru, the Inner Wisdom or the Higher Self, or perhaps from a Christian point of view as God. Faith in such an Inner Wisdom would mean to rely upon the ability we have to perfectly heal ourselves and provide whatever is necessary for that process. It can help greatly to imagine our Inner Wisdom as an external source of power and to receive its healing energy.
Faith can also be understood from a Western psychotherapy point of view. Faith is to programme the unconscious mind with a certain idea or image, which then needs to find expression in our everyday life. Therefore faith would seem to have much in common with the power of suggestion and many hypnotherapists would say that all ancient healing methods, including rituals, exorcisms and visualisations are all forms of hypnosis and positive suggestion.
To perform the practice of Taking one starts by contemplating others suffering from the same illness or problem (if emotional) as yourself. So for example if you suffer from cancer, you think about all of the people suffering from cancer. Many of them are suffering more than you. You think about their pain, about how they fear death, about the sadness they have thinking about leaving their family behind, or how they fear and suffer from any conventional treatment they are due to receive. Essentially you identify your own pain and then empathise with others who suffer a similar pain. It is important to think that these people are just like you. They share a common wish of wanting to be happy and free from suffering.
By thinking like this, in time a warm feeling, a feeling of compassion will arise in the heart. This is the beginning of real healing. Just thinking like this already reduces your suffering. Why? Because suffering depends upon your awareness of it and if your awareness is turned towards others instead of towards yourself your pain diminishes! The power of the compassion should not be underestimated! It is said in the Buddhist scriptures that true strength comes from compassion.
The next step requires a radical thought! Having generated compassion and the wish for others to be free from suffering, one courageously thinks, "if I could take on the suffering of all these people and therewith free them from their pain, I would do." It is quite a thought, isn't it? Supposing it really were possible that one person could choose to suffer instead of a million people suffering! We try to imagine we have the courage to think like that and to identify with that thought. It is like a man who is taken prisoner and tortured. If he gives in to the pain and gives his torturer the information he wants, maybe a thousand people die. He has to choose. Of course, such a choice takes great courage. So, one tries to think like that. At first, our compassion is so weak that we cannot genuinely generate that thought. At first we have to imagine. Imagination is a very powerful tool and since reality depends upon the mind, imagination can be used to shape reality.
Having generated that thought you then think, "right now I will take on their suffering". You imagine their suffering and illness dissolving into thick black smoke and you absorb this smoke into your spiritual heart. As it dissolves into your heart you think of it destroying your ego grasping; your selfishness.
Then you imagine all the other people free from their suffering and such a thought makes you very happy; very joyful. And so you become very still and bask in that sunshine-like happiness and let it pervade your whole being. Joy is another powerful healing agent. When joy flows through our bodies and minds it generates a powerful positive energy which heals, nurtures, relaxes and regenerates. The practice is repeated several times in a session if desired, and performed daily. Tibetans are very familiar with this practice and many people have been cured from seemingly incurable diseases.
These are just a few of the many techniques which Buddhism has to offer. Fundamental to all healing, of course, is the power of relaxation. Half an hour of quality meditation a day can do much to rebalance our minds, bodies, energies and emotions. When we gain deep awareness of these factors and learn to harmonise them, healing can be achieved without recourse to outside influences.


Buddhist Psychotherapy

"Of the eyes of the thousand-armed thousand-eyed bodhisattva of great compassion, which is the true eye?"(Question from Zen tradition)
The goal of both Buddhist discipline and psychotherapy (to the extent that psychotherapy can be considered a unified discipline) is freedom from suffering. It is not unusual to hear the claim that psychotherapy aims to establish emotional health, and that contemplative disciplines - such as Buddhism - have aims deeper or beyond those of therapy. Consequently, it is possible to think of psychotherapy as a complement to meditation. However, this isn't a comprehensive view: not only does psychotherapy have significant insights of its own to contribute to our understanding of the essentials of an engaged human life, but it is possible that we may see a psychotherapeutic practice develop in this the twenty-first century which can be pursued as a life-long spiritual path.
In Buddhist terms, one of the psychotherapeutic approaches that provides a particularly valuabe link to spiritual practice is Object Relations theory. Buddhism deeply investigates, and its practitioners transcend, the 'subject/object split' in human consciousness. In object relations psychology this split is able to be explored from what could be thought of as a karmic (intentional) viewpoint - that is, object relations psychotherapy asks the questions: "How does the consciousness of a child create the subject/object relationship?" and "How does this process contribute to suffering?" it is possible that in future we will see an extension of this approach into the realm of transendence. It is already being developed in the (non-Buddhist) work of A.H.Almaas. So, on this site, along with Buddhist links exploring these matters further, I've provided some links that introduction the work of A.H.Almaas. Almaas' approach to therapy isn't Buddhist, but it does take psychotherapy as a legitimate spiritual path in itself, and anyone interested in pursuing the links between spiritual practice and object relations psychotherapy would do well to investigate his teachings.
The key to understanding suffering lies in understanding the personality - what is its nature, and how is personality activity maintained? To what end? We spend much of our energy struggling to maintain a coherence of personality that has no basis in actuality. That is, the basis of the unexamined personality is ignorance, and the attempt to maintain a basically painful, false, separate, independent, solid entity-like self constructed in childhood - what Alan Watts called the 'skin-encapsulated ego' - produces the significant level of personal strife that we take to be quite normal. The root of our problems is found in the fact that we take our representations of our self to be the self. We have, as a Buddhist text says, "mistaken a thief for a friend". Western psychology has studied the ways in which this mistaken identity becomes established (although they usually don't see it as mistaken), and although the formation of personality is only rarely spoken of in terms of being a loss of Being, nevertheless such a rich body of knowledge is invaluble for understanding how the self obscures the essential riches of Being.
Another aspect of the beneficial interchange between Western therapy and Buddhism can be found in the process-orientation of both, especially where therapeutic models are influenced by the phenomenological philosophical traditions. In the long-term this could transform 'present-centred' therapy into a profound discovery of the transcendent dimensions of Being, as in the Essence work of A.H.Almaas, or as in the Buddhist-oriented work of John Welwood (book), or as in the work of Hakomi. The Existential therapies speak of the present moment, but my sense of them is that they don't often enter into this spacious dimension of mind, that is, into mind as Space. Phenomenological psychotherapy - the experiential approach to therapy, the direct exploration of Being - if it looks to the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, for example, will find such Spacious dimensions, if they include the practices practice of mindfulness and meditation as a part of their investigative praxis. (Specialists in cognitive psychology might want to read Varela, Thompson & Rosch's book: The Embodied Mind. There authors, respected scientists, say: "Mindfullness means that the mind is present in embodied everyday experience; mindfulness techniques are designed to lead the mind back from its theories and preoccupations, back from the abstract attitude, to the situation of one's experience itself.").
Another gentle and yet powerful experiential approach to human understanding that can support self-knowledge is "Focusing", a body-oriented process that has been explored and articulated by U.S. philosopher, Eugene Genglin. It awakens an appreciation of the body's 'knowings.'
It is possible, then, to use psychotherapy to search for the true life of the human being - the inter-dependent, sacred life - the discovery of which dissolves the identifications that make up the personality, dissolves the false way of seeing the world, and allows the emergence of the inherently pure nature of the mind, what the Chinese Buddhist sage Lin Chi called "The True Person of no rank". Lin Chi spoke of the realisation of our basic nature, which is always free of conditioning. He said:
"Buddha - this is the cleanness and purity of mind. The Dharma - this is the shining brightness of the mind. The Way - this is the pure light that is never obstructed anywhere."
An understanding of the mind as primordially-pure, unobstructed, uncompounded, and space-like, is of crucial importance for the development of a comprehensive psychotherapy. Here, the anguish of existential emptiness, and of other states of deficient emptiness, give way to the vast fruitful Void.


Buddhist spirituality--a compassionate perspective on hospice care
by Pam McGrath
Vol. 3 No. 3 Nov.1998
Copyright by Mortality

ABSTRACT The practical, everyday metaphysic of Buddhist philosophy, which
is based on notions of compassion and wisdom, a willingness to serve,
tolerance, a duty to do no harm, and the significance of death, shares a
commonality with hospice discourse. This discussion explores the connection
between these two compatible discourses by detailing some of the findings
of research recently completed on a Brisbane community-based, Buddhist
hospice service (the Karuna Hospice Service).

Karuna Hospice Service [KHS] [1] is a community-based, Buddhist
organization in Brisbane, which provides comprehensive home care services
for people with a life-threatening illness and their loved ones. It
provides full hospice-at-home service, with expert nursing, counselling and
respite care. Nursing care is provided on a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week
basis and specialist palliative care medical consultation is made available
if required. Individual and family counselling is provided, as well as
bereavement counselling and support, and pastoral care. The KHS team cares
for adults and children who have a life expectancy of under six months, who
have a caregiver available and a general practitioner willing to be
involved in home-based care. The service was established by a group of
'visionaries' in the community under the charismatic leadership of a
Buddhist monk. It is now five years old and presently receives some of its
funding from the Regional Health Authority. Although it has only been
established for five years, the organization has already earned an
excellent reputation in the local community for its innovative, committed
and compassionate work with the dying.

Reports I received about KHS, from both health professionals and clients,
were that it had a caring and genuine approach to working with the
terminally ill that was considered in someway 'unique'. These reports
stimulated and sustained a desire to explore and describe, through
research, the organization's 'uniqueness'. This exploration was developed
with two secondary questions in mind: how is this uniqueness (if
documented) sustained in relation to the biomedical model? What
constructive contribution could such an alternative model offer to our
approach to death and dying in our society? This discussion is not
concerned with the totality of these findings, but rather focuses on the
data that arose from the research which specifically addressed the Buddhist
influence within the organization.

Buddhist spirituality emerged as one significant factor in inscribing KHS's
'uniqueness'. This discussion will look closely at the findings on this
Buddhist factor, and in so doing will seek to demonstrate the value and
commensurability of this Eastern metaphysic with the hospice ideology and
practice of humane and compassionate care of the dying.


This research was not concerned with the modernist notion of simulated
neutrality, supposedly attainable through methodological strictness, which
is expressed in beliefs about proof, objectivity or measurement (Powles,
1973; Fay, 1975; Chalmers, 1976; Oldroyd, 1986; Capra, 1990; Fox, 1991;
Lather, 1991). The interest was rather to capture and document the way in
which 'reality' (in this case the 'reality' of KHS's 'uniqueness') is
socially constructed through organizational 'talk'. The methodological
focus was on exploring Mumby & Stohl's (1991: 313) notion of how "social
collectives come to privilege certain articulations of reality over
others". A postmodern approach to research was used which focused on
Foucaultian notions of discourse (Foucault, 1972; 1973; 1980; Lyotard,
1984; Weedon, 1987; Best & Kellner, 1991; Valverde, 1991; Fairclough, 1992;
Davies, 1994). The research task was to record and explore the description
of KHS's 'uniqueness' articulated in the 'talk' of individuals both within
and outside the organization. Such descriptions were taken as examples of
discourse and analysed using the insights of writers on deconstruction
(Norris, 1982; Dear, 1988; Lemert, 1992; Smart, 1993; Elam, 1994). The
assumption that underpinned the analysis was that:

Language does not simply inform; it creates the very possibility for the
creation of meaning environments. (Mumby, 1988: 102)

The methodological issues surrounding this research are as important as the
findings. Consequently, care has been taken to publish the full details
separately so that understanding is not compromised by brevity in
discussions that are designed only to present aspects of the findings. For
those interested, a complete discussion is now available internationally as
several chapters in a book published on this research or in journal
articles focusing on specific epistemological concerns (McGrath, 1997a;
1997b; 1998a; 1998b).

In summary, the data, which comprised 15 participants' comments
(language/texts) about KHS, were collected through open-ended,
non-structured interviews. The participants were representative of a
diverse group of individuals associated with KHS. This selection included
those with roles within the organization, e.g. doctor, nurse,
administrator; those outside the organization e.g. health professionals and
patients; those with a past connection and those presently involved.
Participants included those with both positive and negative experiences
with the organization. Exact replication of the spoken texts was made
through audio recordings and then transcribed verbatim. Each interview when
transcribed varied from 6,000 to 10,000 words, producing an immense amount
of data. The texts were then developed using a thematic analysis of
significant statements. All ideas expressed were included, with one
interview at a time being used to create categories and with subsequent
interviews analysed in such a way as to build on these or to create new
categories. As this research was concerned with discursive practices, such
an analysis used the exact words of the participants, not abstract concepts
developed from such transcripts. It must be emphasized that the statements
that became categorized under headings associated with the Buddhist factor
in the organization, and which will consequently be used for this
discussion, were only part of the wider findings. These statements were
included under a specific category entitled 'Buddhist philosophy', which
included further subcategories such as 'contributing to the difference';
'Buddhist representation'; 'Buddhist principles'; 'public presentation of
Buddhism'; 'translation of principles to service provision' and 'the
problems of translating Buddhist philosophy'. Although the spirituality of
the organization is informed by Buddhism, it tolerantly embraces a wide
variety of philosophical/theological positions. Consequently, the
statements on Buddhism were also included under more generic headings such
as 'spirituality' and 'charismatic leadership'.


The findings which arose from the research suggested that the respect given
by members of this service to the transcendent notion of spirituality was
seen as the important factor inscribing KHS's stated 'uniqueness' (McGrath,
1997a; 1997b). A caveat to the discussion on this finding is that it is the
'talk' about spirituality and the valued discursive space inscribed by a
respect for this transcendent dimension in KHS's everyday existence, which
is presented in these findings. There is no attempt to engage in a
positivist discussion of the empirical proof or otherwise of spirituality
per se. It is acknowledged, however, that the challenge of making the
connection between empirical data and philosophy is presently an
interesting trend taken by leading scientific writers (Hawking, 1988;
Heisenberg, 1962; Koestler, 1967; Davies, 1983; Dyson, 1988; Capra, 1991;
Capra & Steindl-Rast, 1992; Davies, 1992; Smoot & Davidson, 1993; De Duve,

A significant part of KHS's generic, everyday 'talk' on spirituality was
informed by the primacy within this organization of a Buddhist discourse.
The discussion in this article will present the findings on this Buddhist
construction of reality and how it relates to both hospice ideology and
KHS's spiritual way of 'speaking the world'. By developing such a focus on
Buddhism this discussion will be presenting only part of the story of KHS's
spirituality. To balance such a discussion it must be emphasized that the
organization's discourse embraces a theological/metaphysical openness which
is respectful of a multiplicity of world views. As one participant stated,
it welcomed:

People of all different religious backgrounds but who have spiritual
yearning for some sort of satisfaction. (EQ:A.21.j) [2]

Introducing KHS's Buddhist discourse

As a Buddhist based organization the Karuna Hospice Service also acts as a
compassionate service model to the dying for the world Buddhist community.
Our vision springs from a Buddhist value base. (The Karuna Hospice Service
Vision and Values Statement, 1995)

Karuna Hospice Service is in the unique position of being the only
Buddhist-based community hospice service in Australia. Although it now
receives significant funding from the Queensland Government's Regional
Health Authority, KHS, a registered charity, is part of the Foundation for
the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT). The FPMT is a non-profit
network of Buddhist healing, meditation and publishing houses with over 70
centres in more than 17 countries.

This hospice service was established by a group of visionaries in the
community under the charismatic leadership of their founder, Ven. Pende
Hawter, a Buddhist monk. The initial idea for the hospice came from an
instruction from Ven. Pende Hawter's Buddhist teacher. During the initial
stages of the establishment of the service the members were labelled, 'Just
that bunch of Buddhists' and met a great deal of resistance from the health
establishment. They have now earned a reputation for excellence and are
seen as leaders in the provision of community-based hospice care.

Clearly, Buddhist philosophy is of considerable importance to the
organization. Throughout the language/texts, such a Buddhist influence was
seen to give a significant stamp of difference specific to KHS, setting it
apart from other local hospice, palliative care or nursing organizations
working with the dying. As participants stated the case:

What is different is our spiritual philosophy is Buddhist. [EQ:A.20.e]

Karuna is also unique partly because it is a Buddhist organisation.

In this research Mahayana practitioners (Dharma students) spoke in detail
of the Buddhist principles which guide their work. Although KHS is a meld
of theological-metaphysical traditions (including, for example Christian,
Zen, atheist) with an inscribed tolerance of a multiplicity of
perspectives, even non-Buddhist members of the organization spoke with
great respect for the influence of the Buddhist philosophy and about their
attraction to, and ability to be comfortable with, such ideas.

Ideas of particular significant which surfaced throughout such discussion
can be summarized as an understanding of, and commitment to, notions of
compassion and wisdom, the importance of a practical metaphysic, a
willingness to serve, tolerance, the duty to do no harm, and the
significance of death. These ideas will now be explored in detail.

The notion of compassion and wisdom

Compassion (the sanskrit word for which is Karuna) and wisdom (or prajna),
according to Florida (1994: 107) are the core values in the Buddhist
metaphysic, and are intricately linked as the essence of the Buddhist way:
compassion being the practical expression of wisdom (ibid). Metaphorically
described as the pillars of Buddhist teaching, wisdom and compassion are
seen as one (Humphreys, 1974: 109; Kornfield, 1977: 14), each one is
considered dangerous without the other.

The Buddhist principles articulated by the participants, although concise
and without full description, were reflective of these core Buddhist
principles, as stated in the literature, and exemplified by the following

I guess compassion ... they call the two wings of enlightenment wisdom and
compassion ... and so I guess compassion and wisdom in trying to cut
through some of your own [problems], in trying to just be more open to
situations and less defensive and ego centred or more just open and not
always trying to do the best for me and protect me. (EQ:A.20.mm)

The Buddhist concept of universal compassion has traditionally been tied to
the care of the ill through the provision of a caring and loving service
(Ratanakul, 1988: 302). The desire to serve is seen in Buddhist literature
as the moral imperative of compassion (Florida, 1994:107): a self-giving,
self-denying act of generosity of spirit. Ratanakul stated that to
demonstrate by example, "when nurses or doctors stay with patients who need
them, night and day, foregoing rest and family, this is an act of
compassion, of self-denial" (1988: 312).

This aspiration to be of benefit to all living things is described in the
Mahayana Buddhist literature as a desire directing the central path to
Buddhahood (Dalai Lama, 1995:10). Such a desire is privileged throughout
the discourse of this organization. One example illustrates the point:

Buddhist principles of serving others the whole organization was based on
what the client needs, what do they and their family need, and how can we
meet it. [EQ:A.20.uu]

Understandably, compassion is also a central concept emphasized throughout
the literature on hospice care (Fulton & Owen, 1981; Koff, 1980; Manning,
1984; Munley, 1983; Saunders & Baines, 1983; Saunders et al., 1981).
Compassionate, caring hospice service is seen to provide the dying with a
sense of security and trust, and hence safety, which is only available when
a dependable plan of care is maintained by people who really do care (Mor
et al., 1988: 10).

A practical, everyday metaphysic

As can be seen by the above quotes, a Buddhist discourse is highly
compatible with hospice care as it creates the discursive space for a
caring day to day practice. Mahayana Buddhism is chiefly an altruistic
psychological metaphysic with implication for the everyday actions of
individuals. As Keown (1996: 60) explains "the highest ideal in the
Mahayana is a life dedicated to the well-being of the world ... the
Mahayana places great emphasis on working to save others". Throughout the
literature on Buddhism, and certainly as demonstrated by the language/texts
of this research, abstractness is not privileged as a virtue by itself, as
is often the case in Western philosophical theory. The Buddhist metaphysic
is guided by religious insight, rather than philosophically abstract and
rational argumentation. Buddhists speak of a 'religious path', a 'spiritual
journey'; their philosophical orientation is pre-eminently practical
(Florida, 1994:107). There is no dichotomous separation between intellect
and psychology. The first step to wisdom is self-domination: "he who
conquers himself is the greatest warrior" (Humphreys, 1974: 61). This idea
was clearly expressed by one of the participants, who stated that:

Everything about Buddhism is about how you see the world ... everything and
so it all comes back to you. (EQ.A.20.nn)

The inward discovery is not a journey into egoic consciousness, as in
Western psychology, which privileges the importance of a sense of self or a
personal identity to be protected, developed and self-actualized. Rather,
the Buddhist notion of the inward journey is to discover the non-self, 'the
original self', which is both pure and empty: in short, to discover our
buddha-nature (Humphreys, 1974: 43). Buddhism steps outside the dualism of
Western thought and posits the interconnectedness of all existence which is
integrated into a single, non-dual reality (Ryomin, 1990: 86). While
promoting ideas of self-awareness and responsibility for one's own actions,
such an idea silences the right to impose dogma and values on others, and
incorporates a respect and flexibility, honesty and humility in
relationships with others (Kornfield, 1977: 133). This is definitely seen
as a positive aspect of working in the KHS, as seen by the following
statement of a participant:

Working in a Buddhist organisation I feel more obligation or whatever to
own my own stuff and work through it, rather than trying to find ways of
externalising it ... it has an incredible influence. (EQ:A.20.c)

This is a flexible metaphysic with a central psychotherapeutic message
(Ross, 1993: 160), moral rather than intellectual purpose (Ward, 1947: 61),
and practical foundation (Florida, 1994: 107) which emphasizes the
importance of personal humility and self-awareness.

Although the palliative care/hospice literature is awash with sensitive
insights into the experiences of the dying and their caregivers, this
wisdom is not usually accompanied by an emphasis on the role of
self-awareness, or the need for 'pure motivation' in acting out this
understanding. Indeed, even in such an important document on hospice
spirituality as the 'Assumptions and principles of spiritual care' which
was developed by the Spiritual Care Working Group of the International Work
Group on Death, Dying and Bereavement (1990: 78-81), no direct reference is
made to self-awareness or to the need for purity of motivation, in spite of
the sensitivity of the document to the needs of the dying.


The basic thing ... I guess is tolerance, it is a religion or philosophy
which sees that there are many different paths ... it doesn't say this is
the right way as some religions do ... it can embrace all religious beliefs
that don't cause harm to people. (EQ:A.20.kk)

Buddhism is documented as a tradition of tolerance, which affirms freedom
in matters of belief, worship and religious practice (Florida, 1994: 105).
Simply stated, in the words of one interviewee:

a basic principle of Buddhism is ... that caring for others is a source of
happiness and that if you are self-centred and care only about yourself
that is a cause for sadness. So actually, the two things go hand in hand:
your own happiness, your own satisfaction and being of service to others.
It is what the Dalai Lama calls being wisely selfish. If you can generate
compassion and kindness towards others you will have your own happiness.

Such a caring, compassionate tolerance of others in the discourse of KHS is
not just privileged in relation to the families they care for, but also in
relation to the members of the organization and the wider social network.
As with the previously mentioned notion of self-investigation, this virtue
of tolerance emerged as one of central importance in defining KHS's

An indication of KHS's practical application of the notion of tolerance can
be seen by the non-proselytizing, non-ritualistic approach taken to the
expression of their Buddhist philosophy. From the perspective of
deconstruction, the language texts demonstrated a silencing of the notion
that rituals (e.g. chants, meditations or ceremonies) are, or should be,
prioritized as the modus operandi or public face of this Buddhist
organization. There were also no references to the need to convert,
advertise or persuade. In short, at KHS the Buddhist philosophy is
expressed through the process of actively engaging in a strongly held
commitment to a tolerant Buddhist outlook. That outlook does not emphasize
difference, but rather affirms a shared compassionate commonality with all
other 'sentient beings'. The only overt signs of KHS are the small altar,
occasional Buddhist artifact, the brief meditations before the commencement
of meetings, and the robes worn by the leader of the organization. As most
of the work of the hospice is carried out in the community, even these
signs are not visible to most clients. However, members of KHS's staff will
perform ritualistic practices with clients, but only if specifically
requested by a patient with an understanding of Buddhist philosophy.

Equally, tolerance is seen as a cornerstone of hospice care. The very
notion is enshrined in clauses found in the Dying Patient's Bill of Rights,
such as, "I have the right to retain my individuality and not be judged for
my decisions which may be contrary to the beliefs of others" or "I have the
right to discuss and enlarge my religious and/or spiritual experiences,
whatever these may mean to others" (Koff, 1980: 26).

The duty to do no harm

Another Buddhist notion which surfaced in this research and is highly
compatible with the spiritual and holistic goals of hospice palliative care
(Manning, 1984; Martocchio, 1982; Munley, 1983; Seibold, 1992) is that of
ahimsa: the duty to do no harm. As one participant commented:

Dalai Lama says the basic foundation is if you can't do anything else,
don't do any harm to anybody. (EQ:A.20.jj)

The Buddhist duty not to harm is seen as important in human relationships
in general, but especially in medicine (in this case the care of the
dying), where one is dealing with the vulnerable, those already
experiencing the harm of pain and helplessness of disease and disability of
terminal illness. Indeed, the duty of ahimsa, when applied to those
suffering from illness that can not be cured, has a conceptual paralleled
with Western ideas on palliative care. The idea is to 'cloak', alleviate,
or lessen the distress. This Buddhist ethical notion was expressed by
Ratanakul (1986: 99) as, "if one cannot remove it [harm or disease], our
duty is to alleviate it, lessen it [i.e. relieve the suffering, care for
and comfort the dying and maintain as best we can those beyond our capacity
to cure] ".

Similarly, the philosophy of hospice/palliative care grew out of a response
to the distress caused to the dying by the invasive processes of highly
technologized, institutional, curative treatments (Munley, 1983; Ratcliff
et el., 1989: 264; Rinaldi & Kearl, 1990; Seibold, 1992). The aim of
hospice care, similar to ahimsa, was to provide a less harmful approach
which offered death with the dignity of caring designed to comfort, not to
cure aggressively (Saunders & Baines, 1983).

The significance of death

So far in this discussion central concepts in Buddhist discourse such as
karuna, prajna, and ahimsa, have been shown to have a similarity and
compatibility to ideas in hospice/palliative care. The resemblance between
these two discourses is further strengthened by the shared view of the
significance of the dignity and importance of death. Participants in this
research believed that Buddhist ideas could enrich hospice practice, as
seen by the following language/text:

Having studied the Tibetan literature on death and dying, I am totally
convinced of the amazing understanding that the Tibetan understanding of
dying can make. (EQ:A.20.qq)

Buddhism is a metaphysic which points to an understanding of the
significance of death as an essential ingredient in understanding the
meaning of life. The intense significance attributed to the time of dying
flows from the Buddhist idea of reincarnation. A calm and peaceful death
can positively improve the next rebirth (or samsara), despite negative
karma of past lives. According to Rinpoche (1992: 224), such a privileging
of the significance of the moment of death is predicated on the assumption
that the last thought and emotion individuals have before death has an
extremely powerful determining effect on their immediate future, their
rebirth into a new life.

A core Buddhist belief is that the whole of life is a preparation for
death: the mark of a spiritual practitioner is to have no regrets at the
time of death (Hawter, 1995: 3). As Pende Hawter, the Buddhist monk who
founded KHS, explains:

the basic aim is to avoid any objects or people that generate strong
attachment or anger in the mind of the dying person. From the spiritual
viewpoint it is desirable to avoid loud shows of emotion in the presence of
the dying person. We have to remind ourselves that the dying process is of
great spiritual importance and we don't want to disturb the mind of the
dying person, which is in an increasingly clear and subtle state. We have
to do whatever we can to allow the person to die in a calm/happy/peaceful
state of mind. (1995: 4)

Participation by all in the multi-disciplinary team is seen as making an
important contribution to achieving this calm and peaceful state.

Participants in this research made comments referring to the idea that
death is "extremely significant" [EQ], indeed, the "culmination of all
life" [EQ], and hence, that the moment of death is the "most important
moment in your life" [EQ]. The orientation in working with the dying was to
achieve a calm and peaceful death: a notion directly compatible with
hospice care.

It is important to note, however, that although the hospice practitioners
at KHS bring a deep respect for the process of dying, because of their
tradition of tolerance they in no way see it as their right to impose the
Buddhist philosophy of dying on their clients. There are specific rituals
for Buddhist practitioners (Goss & Klass, 1997: 381) but these are only
engaged in if requested by the client. The Buddhist tolerant and
non-judgemental commitment to supporting others in their individual journey
necessitates a flexible, compassionate approach to dying which affirms the
right of each person to die in the way they choose.

Participants made reference to the individual variability of the dying
experience, and KHS's non-judgmental support of individuals' choice of how
they die. Underpinning such supportive work was the stated fact that
members of this organization were comfortable with issues of death and

This acceptance of death as a spiritual event and ease with the dying
experience parallels the hospice notion of the 'normalization of death' in
which death is seen as a very human event, a legitimate and normal process,
an inevitable part of life (Hamilton & Reid, 1980: 48). Such an orientation
is a significant move away from the dominant attitudes in our death-denying
society, where the medical 'war' against death is maintained to the end
(Fuchs, 1968: 192; Short, 1985; Dutton 1988: 351-352; Jonsen, 1990: 51).

In hospice care, as with Buddhist philosophy, the final days and hours of
death are given particular attention, with opportunities provided for
patients to experience their final moments in a way meaningful to them (Mor
et al., 1988: 10).

Summarizing the connection between Buddhist spirituality and hospice care

This discussion has presented research findings on Karuna Hospice Service
which indicate that the organization's Buddhist discourse not only
contributes significantly to defining the 'uniqueness' of the organization,
but is also seen as a major ingredient in the service's success in
achieving an excellent reputation for compassionate work with the dying.

As Fairclough (1992: 55) states when pointing out the primacy of
interdiscursivity, "any discursive practice is defined by its relations
with others, and draws upon others in complex ways". The 'talk' of KHS, it
is suggested, draws on and combines both the hospice and Buddhist discourse
as an effective discursive space for working compassionately with the
dying. In particular, Buddhist notions of compassion and wisdom, the
importance of a practical metaphysic, a willingness to serve, tolerance,
the duty to do no harm, and the significance of death are seen as
commensurable with and supportive of hospice practice.

Situated at the crossroads of two compatible and complementary discourses
(Buddhism and hospice) the KHS 'talk' sanctions compassionate,
non-judgmental caring which translates into practical, humane care of the
dying. In doing so, KHS demonstrates the commensurability of Buddhist
philosophy with hospice practice. The spiritual ideology central to both
discourses embraces a commitment to Rinpoche's Buddhist vision for the care
of the dying, which is:

To inspire a quiet revolution in the whole way we look at death and care
for the dying, and so the whole way we look at life and care for the
living. (1992: 358)


[1] The postal address of this service is Karuna Hospice Service, PO Box
2020, Windsor, Queensland 4030, Australia. Tel: (07) 3857 8555.

[2] The reference (EQ) is used to signify a verbatim quotation from a
language/text of the research.

Correspondence to: Pam McGrath, Centre for Public Health Research,
Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove Campus, Locked Bag No. 2,
Red Hill, Queensland 4059, Australia. Tel: + 61 (07) 3864 5916. Fax: + 61
(07) 3864 3369. E-mail: p.mcgrath@qut.edu.au


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Biographical note

Dr Pam McGrath, BSocWk, MA, PhD, is a postdoctoral Research Fellow at the
Centre for Public Health Research at the Queensland University of
Technology. Dr McGrath is presently directing a program in psychosocial
research in the area of oncology and palliative care.

By Pam McGrath, Centre for Public Health Research, Queensland University of
Technology, Australia


om muni muni mahamuniye svaha

A powerful technique for the control of the inner and outer environment involves the use of mantras. One that we often repeat is that of Shakyamuni Buddha,
om muni muni mahamuniye svaha. Mantras are effective because they help keep your mind quiet and peaceful, automatically integrating it into onepointedness. They make your mind receptive to very subtle vibrations and thereby heighten your perception. Their recitation eradicates gross negativities and the true nature of things can then be reflected in your mind's resulting clarity. By practising a transcendental mantra, you can in fact purify all the defiled energy of your body, speech and mind.
Whether repetition of a mantra is a transcendental meditation or not depends on you and your wisdom. Its power does not come solely from itself. It is not as if there were some ancient sacred syllables that you could recite without contemplation and they would bring you great spiritual benefit automatically. This is misconception. For instance, if you are under the sway of craving desire, your mindless repetition of the most blessed mantra in the universe will be of limited benefit. It will be just another samsaric activity.

Suppose you are sitting somewhere reciting a mantra yet thinking, 'chocolate, chocolate, delicious chocolate'. If you are totally preoccupied by the thought of this or some other supermarket treat, how can such a practice ever be a transcendental meditation? How can it lead to an everlasting peaceful result? For a mantra to be effective you need to have stilled your mind to a certain extent and to have gained at least some measure of concentration.
In addition, you should have a pure motivation. It is not enough to be concerned with gaining temporal pleasure for yourself. The true purpose of all mantras, as with all other dharma practices, is to benefit all motherly sentient beings. Rather than always thinking, 'I want, I want', try to develop the pure wish to be helpful to others. You need not be either too intellectual or super-emotional about this. Merely dedicate the mantra's energy for this altruistic purpose and beneficial results will follow by themselves.
Mantras also have the power to cure diseases. For example, some people become temporarily insane because they are preoccupied with the false energy of their distorted minds. The purifying vibration of a mantra is able to bring the mind back to a calm and smoothly functioning state and the mental illness is thereby cured. Since physical diseases are also intimately related to distorted states of mind, mantras are effective as part of their treatment as well. There is nothing magical about this. Scientific experimentation has clearly demonstrated their healing powers.
The specific connotation of the Buddha mantra, om muni muni mahamuniye svaha, is 'control, control, greatest control'. Now you might think that Buddhism emphasises control too much and feel that the lamas are saying, 'Your deluded mind is so full of negativities that you must restrict it tightly'. But this is not what we mean. Rather, if in the morning you establish a certain kind of mind you will automatically be more conscious of your actions during the day. Once set, your mind's internal watch continues to run by itself. This is true because by channelling a great deal of energy in one direction you ensure that all subsequent energy will flow along the same path.
In Tibet we say that directing the mind is 'like bridling a fine horse to make him rideable'. A horse is a tremendously powerful animal and if you do not have the means to control him properly he may gallop off wildly, possibly destroying himself and others as well. If you can harness all that energy, however, the horse's great strength can be used for accomplishing many difficult tasks. The same applies to yourself. Looked at scientifically, your body, speech and mind are nothing but varying forms of energy. Thus, if in the morning you direct this energy by strongly affirming your motivation, all the remaining energy of body, speech and mind will follow in the came direction. So the control we are talking about is similar to that of a pilot who does not restrict but rather directs the power of his aeroplane. The problem with language is that words cannot really describe inner experiences exactly. But if you yourself practice a particular teaching and gain a realisation from it, then such words as 'control' will no longer be any problem for you.


Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on July 16, 1998 in Plum Village, France.
Our Appointment with Life
© Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Sangha, today is the sixteenth of July, 1998, and this is the first Dharma talk for the Summer Opening. I would like to invite the young people to meet together today, in order to discuss how to profit from the practice, from the Summer Opening, because there must be things that you like to do for your practice to be more fruitful, more joyful; and we have to meet about that. So the young people will find time to meet today and discuss these issues: do you like to practice with grown-up people, and how much do you want to share their practice? Of course, as young people you like to be together as a group, and you may like to have practices of your own, but from time to time you would also like to participate in the activities of other people. So, discuss how much you want to do on your own, and how much you want to do with other groups of people. Then I would like you to discuss joy and difficulties in your daily life, because I would like to know more about your daily life in order to offer the appropriate teaching and practices.

What are the kinds of difficulties you encounter in your daily life, in your family, in school? Please have a very thorough discussion, and write down all the kinds of difficulties that you encounter at home and in school. We have to be able to call these difficulties by their true names: what you don't like to happen in school, what you don't like to see happening in your family. I need you very much to tell me what kinds of difficulties you encounter at home, or in school, or in society. And then I would like you to tell me also about your daily joy and happiness, what kind of things you like in your family, in school and in society. Take time to sit quietly and recall, and to think, not as an individual but as a group, and each person will help the others to remember what kind of joy, what kind of happiness, what you like that happens at home, in society, in school. It is the opposite of what we just discussed before, when we mentioned what we dislike, and don't what to happen. The second topic is what is happening that you really like, in school, in society and in your family. Thirdly, I think this is important, what you really like, but it has not happened…what you wish to happen, but it has not happened, and what you think would be the conditions for it to happen.

I think you can discuss this among yourselves, as the young people, and then you can talk with other people, grownup people, and you will have a deeper view, a clearer view about what has been happening, and why the things you wish for have not happened. This discussion is already the practice of meditation, because to me, to meditate means to be still and to look deeply into our situation, to really find out what is there in our situation. And when you sit down together calmly and practice looking together, you will begin to see things more clearly. I would like you to record all that you have seen in your practice of collective looking.

I know that life is difficult sometimes, and as a young person you have already suffered. But the Buddha says that there is always a way out of suffering, but you cannot see that way out of suffering unless you see very clearly the nature of your difficulties. You are only eleven, or twelve, or thirteen, but you already suffer. You are fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen, you are almost an adult, yet you have the impression that life is already very difficult. All my life I have been in touch with young people. I have managed to always be in touch with young people. I like to listen to them, I like to understand their suffering, their difficulties; that is why I am very interested in hearing more about what is really happening, and you are the ones who can help me. In retreats that I organize in many countries, I always welcome the young people to come and to practice with us. The presence of young people makes the retreats very alive. Your practice of looking deeply together will be a great help to me. However, if you think that today you cannot finish that practice of looking deeply at your difficulties and your joys, you can organize other meetings tomorrow and after tomorrow. And the fruit of your practice will be enjoyed by other groups that come after you. So please note, first of all, how much you want to practice with the adults, and how much you want to practice as a young group; the difficulties, the suffering that you encounter in your daily life, at home, at school, and in society; the kind of joy and happiness that you are able to have every day in school, in society, and at home; and finally, what you like, what you think to be wonderful, to be uplifting, to be nourishing, but which have not happened yet; and what kind of conditions you think you need in order for these things to happen.

For the very young people, I would like them to draw a wave for me, on paper. Do you know what a wave is? A wave is what you observe when you look at the ocean, at a river. You know that a wave is made of water. Try to draw the water also. It is very difficult-I don't know whether you can draw the water. I am sure that you can draw a wave, but without having succeeded in drawing in a wave, try to draw water. You think you can do it? There is one child who had drawn a wave, and I asked her, "What about the water?" She was very intelligent, and she pointed at the wave and she said, "This is water." But you may have other ideas. We know that water and wave cannot be separated. Sometimes the water is still, and sometimes it is not still. When it is not still, the water becomes waves. And when the water becomes still, what does it become? Can you draw it?

We have a poem that helps us to practice: "Breathing in, I see myself as a flower; breathing out, I feel fresh." And the young people can practice this. You breathe in and you visualize your self as a flower. "Breathing in, I see myself as a flower; breathing out, I feel fresh." I think the grownup people can practice this too. It's easy to see children as flowers. Everything in the child looks like a flower: their eyes are a kind of flower, their nose is a kind of flower too, their mouths, their hands, their feet, their faces look like flowers. So it would not be difficult to visualize yourself as a flower, because you are a flower by yourself. "Breathing in, I see myself as a flower." A flower is always fresh and beautiful. And that is one of the reasons I like to have children with us during retreats. These are flowers…we want to decorate the retreat with flowers, and children are also beautiful flowers. "Breathing in, I see myself as a flower; breathing out, I feel fresh." The grownup people are also flowers, but many of them don't know how to maintain their flowerness. That is why their flower is somehow a little bit tired. So this practice is to restore your flowerness, so that you'll be fresh again. You know that you can be fresh, like children, but because many of us have not had the opportunity to learn how to maintain our flowerness, our flower has suffered. We also have beautiful eyes like children, but because we have cried so much, we did not sleep well so many nights, our eyes look tired. But if you know how to take care of your eyes, they will become flowers again. And so with your face, your face was originally a flower, but because you have not taken good care of your flowerness, an expression of despair and fatigue makes your face look less than a flower. So this practice is very helpful: "Breathing in, I see myself as a flower"-you restore your flowerness. "Breathing out, I feel fresh."

The second exercise is: "Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain." Believe it or not, inside of you there is a mountain, the element of solidity, stability-you cannot take the mountain out of you. There is a mountain in you: the capacity to be solid, to be stable.
Because we have not taken care of our mountain, we have lost a lot of that element of stability and solidity within us. So sit like a mountain again, learn how to sit like a mountain again, learn the half-lotus position, learn the lotus position, or learn the chrysanthemum position. Do you know what the chrysanthemum position is? That is the position that you find the most comfortable, with or without a cushion. So, "Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain; breathing out, I feel solid." Do you know that the sitting position is one of the most beautiful positions of the human body? A half-lotus, lotus or chrysanthemum-find a position that fits you the best, using a cushion or two. Your cushion might be more or less thick, but you have to try in order to find the cushion that fits you. When you have found the position, your chrysanthemum position with the cushion, I am sure you can sit for at least twenty minutes like a mountain. And sitting like that is a wonderful way to restore your mountain. We suffer because we are less than a mountain. We are shaky, we are vulnerable, but there is a mountain in us, and we have to restore it, and to practice sitting meditation is one of the ways to do it.

Children are capable of sitting also; if they don't sit half an hour, then they can sit two minutes, or three minutes. I'm sure all of you can sit like a mountain for two or three minutes. I'd like to see each of you sitting in that position, then someone can take a picture of you as a mountain, like this, smiling: " Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain; breathing out, I feel solid." Solidity is one basic condition for happiness. If you are not solid, you suffer. So, restoring the element of solidity within you means that you can be happy right away. "Flower fresh, mountain solid."

Enjoy your breathing!

First of all, "Flower fresh, and then mountain solid." Now we come to the third exercise: "Water reflecting." "Breathing in I see myself as still water." You know still water is not a wave. Sometimes you enjoy being a wave-it's very wonderful to be a wave, coming up very high, and going down very low. But sometimes you are tired, you don't want to be a wave anymore. You just want to be still water. To be still water is also a great joy-you feel peaceful, you feel quiet, and you enjoy the peace and the quietness that is in you. I know the young people like to be waves, but they should know that it is also wonderful to be still water. Have you seen a pond that is very still? You look into the water and you see reflected in the water the blue sky, the clouds, the trees. You can even take a picture of the sky and the clouds just by pointing your camera at the water, because still water reflects things perfectly. Still water does not distort things. When you are not still, you distort things. When your mind is not still, you distort everything. The other person did not hate you, but you believe that she hated you. That is a distortion, because your "water," your mind, is not still. Therefore it is very important to practice so that your mind becomes still water. And now you know why I asked you to draw still water. "Breathing in, I see myself as still water; breathing out, I reflect things as they are." This is very important. We should not be victims of our wrong perceptions. In order for our perceptions not to be wrong, our minds should be still, like water. And there are ways to help your mind to become like still water.

The last exercise is: "Breathing in, I see myself as space; breathing out, I feel free." Space is very important. Imagine a bird without space. A bird without space could not fly; it would have to die. We humans are like birds: if there is no space around us we cannot move. If there is no place inside our hearts we also cannot move. So it is very important to practice in order to give us a lot of space inside, to practice in order to give our beloved one space so that she can move, so she can breathe. That is the practice of love. So you can ask yourself whether you love him, or whether you love her. If you love him, if you love her, you'll give him or her a lot of space, both inside and around him or her. It is very important to bring space into ourselves, and to restore space around us. And we will learn how to do it together.

I would like everyone to sing with me the song: "Flower Fresh," so that we memorize it, and we will begin to learn to practice like a flower, a mountain, still water, and space.

Breathing in, breathing out,
Breathing in, breathing out,
I am blooming as a flower,
I am fresh as the dew.
I am solid as a mountain,
I am firm as the earth.
I am free.

Breathing in, breathing out.
Breathing in, breathing out.
I am water, reflecting
What is real, what is true.
And I feel there is space,
Deep inside of me.
I am free, I am free, I am free.

Shall we sing it once more? I think we have to sing it in French.

Quand j'inspire, quand j'expire,
Quand j'inspire, quand j'expire,
Je me sens comme une fleur,
Aussi fraiche que la rose est.
Je suis solide comme une montagne,
Je suis firme, comme la terre.
Je suis libre.

Quand j'inspire, quand j'expire,
Quand j'inspire, quand j'expire
Je suis l'eau reflectante
Ce qui est vrai, ce qui est beau.
Et je sens il y a de l'espace
Tres profonde en moi
Liberte, liberte, liberte.

I think we have other versions ready…today we shall learn the Italian version, the Vietnamese, and so on. Now I think it is time for the very young people to stand up and to bow to the Sangha and go out.

The transformation and healing we are looking for is not outside of us, it is in us. It is like the wave: if it wants to be still, the stillness should not be obtained from the outside, it is in the water itself.

We have the capacity to be a wave, but we also have the capacity to be still water. So we look for peace, we look for stability, we look for well being within ourselves, and these things are not something that we can acquire from outside. But maybe there are those of us who are only used to being waves, and we have forgotten how to become still water again. We know that we have the capacity of becoming still water again, but we have forgotten how to do it. That is why we need the practice. We need a teacher who will tell us how to restore our stability, our stillness. We need a Dharma brother, a Dharma sister, we need a Sangha in order to learn how to be stable and still again. Peace is first of all something that you are, not exactly something you do. That is why we like to use the expression "being peace," the way to be peace. Peace is there, only if we allow it to be, then it will be. Because we have not allowed peace to be, that is why peace is impossible. We cannot say that peace is not there, peace is there somehow, but we have to allow it to manifest. It's like in a wave-there is water, and the capacity of the water to be still is there inside the wave. That is why learning how to be peace, to allow peace to be, is very important. There is a kind of energy that is pushing us day and night, preventing our becoming peace. Within Buddhism that energy is called vasana, meaning "habit energy." And we have to learn how to recognize it. We don't have to fight it, we have to learn how to recognize it in our daily life, and when we are able to recognize it and smile to it, it will lose its energy, and allow us not to be carried away by it. Vasana," tap khi, this is like chi gong, khi energy, and "tap" means what you have learned so that it becomes a habit, so we translate it as "habit energy."

We have more than enough intelligence to know that if we say these words, then we will damage our relationship with the other person. Yet when the time comes, we cannot be ourselves--we say it. We know that we should not do it, because if we do it will cause damage to our relationship, and yet we do it. We say, "It was stronger than I am." What was stronger than you were? It is the habit energy. We know very well that we should not say these things, that we should not do these things; we know very clearly that saying it will destroy our relationship, will cause a lot of damage. Yet we find ourselves in the situation, and we say it, or we do it. And after the destruction, after the damage has been done, we regret a lot, and we say, "Why have I said that, done it? I already knew that if I said it, if I did it, I would cause damage, and yet I have said it, I have done it." And we promise to ourselves that we will not do it again, we will not say it again. We know that we are very sincere in that moment, we want to begin anew. "That is the last time that will happen. I will never repeat that again." Yet, because the habit energy is always there, when you find yourself in the same kind of situation, you will say it again, you will do it again. And the damage continues, we know that it takes several months to repair the damage, yet it will take only a few minutes to cause the damage. We have learned the lesson, yet we cannot practice it, because the habit energy is so strong.

We are taught to practice mindfulness in order to recognize the habit energy every time it manifests. Mindfulness is also a kind of energy, the kind of energy that can help us become aware of what is going on, as when I look at my hand and I know that I am looking at my hand, that is mindfulness of looking. When I drink some water and I know that I am drinking water, that is mindfulness of drinking. When I walk, if I know that I am walking, that is mindfulness of walking. When I breathe, if I know that I am breathing, that is mindfulness of breathing. That is the practice that we do in Plum Village, in order to generate the energy of mindfulness. And the energy of mindfulness is the only kind of energy that can recognize the habit energy every time it is manifested. That is why the practice of mindful walking, mindful breathing, mindful eating is very important, because every moment you practice mindfulness of walking, or eating or breathing, you generate, you cultivate that energy of mindfulness in you. That energy is so important because it will help you to recognize what is going on, and therefore when the habit energy is manifested, we know right away. "Hello there, my habit energy, I know you." And you just smile to it, and then it cannot do anything to you anymore. There is no fight. It is not necessary to fight. The Buddhist way is very gentle, very non-violent. Just become aware of that habit, smile to it, "My dear friend, I know you," that is all, and your habit energy might go back to store consciousness a little weaker. And next time when it manifests itself you will say, "My dear little habit energy, I know you are there. I will take good care of you." Then it will go back to the store consciousness again.

I would like to tell you the story of a young man who came from America and practiced here, I think more than ten years ago. During the first three weeks, he enjoyed the practice so much. He enjoyed stability and joy during practice, because the practice of the Sangha in the Upper Hamlet was so strong. He was supported by monks and lay people who practiced here in the Upper Hamlet, and he was quite happy. One day he was sent by his fellow American practitioners to Ste. Foy-la-Grande, the town nearby, to do some shopping, because on that day we organized a Thanksgiving Day, and each national group was supposed to cook a dish typical of that nation to be placed on the ancestral altar. And he was sent by his American friends to Ste. Foy-la-Grande to do the shopping. It was the first time he had left the Upper Hamlet to go to a city. During the time he was shopping, he suddenly realized that he was rushing, there was no calm or stability anymore, because he wanted to get things done quickly. And that was not pleasant, because in the three weeks before he had not had that kind of feeling, that kind of energy. But since he had been practicing mindful breathing, he was able to recognize that the energy of rushing was in him, the energy of wanting to get things done very quickly was in him. He was capable of seeing that that energy had been transmitted to him by his mother, because his mother was always like that, always rushing and wanting to get things done very quickly. At that point he took a deep in-breath, and he said, "Hello, Mommy." And suddenly the energy of rushing was no longer there. And he knew that without the Sangha around him he should practice strongly, and he followed his mindful breathing until he finished the shopping, and from that moment on the energy of rushing was no longer with him.

When you are supported by a strong Sangha and a strong practice, the practice becomes very easy, and negative habit energies will have no occasion to manifest themselves. But when you find yourself alone, and you are not supported by the collective energy, these negative habit energies can spring up and manifest themselves, and you have to be equipped with enough mindfulness in order to be able to recognize them, and not to let them lead you and push you to do things that you don't want to do, to say things that you don't want to say.

When you practice mindful breathing and mindful walking, you allow peace to be. The negative energies are still in you, but they do not manifest themselves. If you continue, if your practice works out, then the negative energies will be transformed little by little in the depth of your consciousness. They are transformed in two ways. The first way is that when they manifest themselves, you recognize them, you smile to them, and every time you do that they will go back to the form of seeds in the lower level of your consciousness and they will lose some of their strength, through the phenomenon of discharge. Your habit energy will still be there, but it will lose a little bit of strength every time it is embraced by your mindfulness. So the next time it manifests itself, you do the same, you embrace it, you recognize it, and it loses a little bit of strength and it goes back to the lower level of your consciousness. And that is the first way to help it to transform.

The second way is that you continue to cultivate the energy of peace, the energy of mindfulness, and during one hour of walking meditation or mindful breathing, you nourish and you cultivate the energy of peace and mindfulness in you, because the energies of peace and mindfulness also have their own seeds in the lower level of your consciousness. And these seeds continue to grow in you, and when they are important, they know how to take care of the opposite kinds of seeds. You don't have to directly touch the negative seeds. You cultivate only the positive energies in you, and during the time you sleep, during your daily life, the positive seeds, the seeds of peace and stability, will know how to take care of the negative seeds, and there will also be a transformation, even if you don't directly deal with them. I have many stories to tell about this.

When I was first exiled from my country in 1966, when the war in Vietnam had become very intense, I had to leave the country for a few months in order to go to Europe and the United States to advocate for a cease-fire, for the stopping of the war. Because I tried to speak with the voice of the victims of the war and not the voice of the warring parties, I was not allowed to go home, and I was exiled from my own country. It was very hard for me. At that time all my friends were in Vietnam, all my work was in Vietnam, and it was very difficult to survive if I did not go home. Everything in Europe and America was very strange to me. There were no Vietnamese refugees abroad yet. I had to travel extensively in order to speak about the situation in Vietnam, and I stayed two or three days in each city. Sometimes I woke up during the night and I did not know what city or what country I was in, because of the extensive speaking tour.

During the first year of my exile I used to dream of going home. The same dream came back again and again. Usually I saw a beautiful hill, a green hill, with beautiful trees and little houses on it, and I was climbing on it. I knew that everything I loved was on that hill: my friends, my work, the people I loved, they were all on that hill. And always, halfway up, there was something preventing me climbing anymore. And I always woke up at that moment, and realized I was exiled. The same kind of dream came back again and again. But at that time I was already practicing mindfulness, recognizing what was happening in the present moment. I learned to appreciate the trees, the birds, the fruits, the people, and the children in Europe and America. In Vietnam we had different kinds of trees, fruit and birds. I spent time with children in Germany, in France, in England and in America, and I talked to and made friends with pastors, Catholic priests and all those who would like to support me in helping end the war. I continued to make friends, I continued to learn how to appreciate what was there in the present moment. The practice brought fruit, because that dream did not come back any more. It looks like I have adopted this part of the world as my home also. I did not meditate on the dream. No, I did not analyze my dream. I did not invite my dream up in order to have a talk with it, I did not do any of that work. I just tried to live mindfully each minute of my daily life in Europe and in America, and I was able to touch what was wonderful, beautiful, refreshing here in this part of the world, and I cultivated this kind of joy and relationship. It was exactly that joy and relationship that took care of my pain of being in exile, and I experienced a transformation deep down in store consciousness. I did not work on it intellectually at all.

So transformation and healing can happen in two ways: the first way is that you directly embrace it and look deeply into it. The second way is to just cultivate the positive energy of peace, of solidity, of joy, and then they will know how to take care of the negative energy within you. So, the habit energy that we have within us…if we allow it to continue to push us in our daily life, then we will continue to create suffering for ourselves, and suffering even for those we love. That is why we have to learn how to be able to recognize and to transform it, and you know already that the factor that can recognize that habit energy, the factor that can embrace that energy and help it to transform, is the energy of mindfulness. That is why one hour of mindfulness practice is one hour of cultivating that energy. That is why, when we come to Plum Village, we should invest our time and our energy in the practice of mindfulness, so that when we go home we will be able to continue, because that is the only energy that can help us with transformation and healing. I used to tell Catholic and Protestant friends that, to me, the energy of mindfulness is equivalent to the energy of the Holy Spirit, and we are capable of generating that Holy Spirit within ourselves.

Habit energy manifests itself several times a day. If you are attentive, you will recognize it, in your way of walking, for instance. There is a belief that what you are looking for is not here, it is somewhere in the future. You believe that the things you want, whether it is peace, or happiness, or stability or freedom or God or the Buddha, are not available in the here and the now. So there is a belief that you have to look for them somewhere else, or in the future. That is why the way you walk is conditioned by that kind of belief. You walk as if peace and happiness are not available in the here and the now. That habit energy can be seen in every step you make. You run…and we have been running for a long time, not only during this life, but in previous lives we have been running, because the habit of running was there in our ancestors and in our parents. They still continue to run in us. Even when we sit down and eat our lunch, they continue to run, to run inside. We are not capable of eating our lunch in peace. There are those of us who practice strongly-once they sit down, they want to be there. And they want to enjoy their lunch with the brothers and sisters who have come, and to enjoy the practice with them. There is a strong determination to stop in the here and the now, and to live deeply this moment of your daily life. So, sitting like a mountain, do not allow the past and the future to carry you away. Bring your mind back to your body, and sit there as if sitting there is the most important thing of your life. And when you eat your lunch, eat your lunch in such a way that peace and joy are possible. And in order to really do that, you have to stop running.

When one hundred people, three hundred people are sitting together and eating lunch together, a number of us are capable of sitting still in the present moment, not allowing any projects, any worries to invade us. Just sitting there and establishing ourselves in the here and the now, because sitting with the Sangha is a joy, by itself. While we eat, we touch deeply the food that is a gift of earth and sky, of the cosmos, and we just enjoy our sitting and our eating, our breathing. We enjoy our life, expressed in our presence and in the presence of brothers and sisters who surround us. The only condition for that to be possible is to stop running. We have been running for a long time, and even during our sleep we continue to run. Learning to stop is the most important practice of Buddhist meditation. To stop on the ground of the insight that what you are looking for is already there in the present moment, in the here and the now. The Buddha was very clear about it. Do not allow the past to get you, don't be attached to the past because the past is already gone. Do not allow the future, worries about the future, to get you, because the future is not yet here. There is only one moment for you to be truly alive, and that is the present moment. All the wonders of life can be touched in that moment. So the Buddha was clear on that. Everything belonging to life is there in the present moment; the blue sky, the beautiful face of your child is there, available in the present moment. If you get lost in the future, in worries about the future, or in sorrow about the past, life will not be available to you. So the basic condition is to go back to the present moment, to allow yourself to be touched by the wonders of life.

There are elements that are beautiful, refreshing and healing. If we allow ourselves to be touched by these elements, we can restore our well being, our peace. How can we do that, unless we learn how to stop running, to allow our bodies to rest, to be in the here and now, and to allow our mind to be present, to touch life. And this is our practice. When we find ourselves alone, and try to practice according to the teachings in a book, it may be difficult. But when we find ourselves in a Sangha where everybody is doing that, then it will be very easy, like walking meditation. You know that the monks and the nuns and the lay people who are permanent residents in Plum Village practice walking meditation every day. Every time they need to go from one place to another place, even if the distance is only two or three meters, they always practice walking meditation. There is no other style of walking but mindful walking. You walk in such a way that every step can bring you solidity and peace. It is not only during retreats that we practice like that, but outside of retreats we always walk like that, because you can enjoy every step you make. Every step, make it more solid. Every step, make it more peaceful. And you cultivate peace and solidity with every step you make. If you are a visitor coming to Plum Village, and you see everyone is walking that way, then you can do it very easily because you are reminded by everyone. Everyone is a bell of mindfulness, calling you back to the practice of mindful walking. And when you walk, and experience the peace and the joy, you become a bell of mindfulness yourself. And when we see you walking like that, we have confidence. If it happens that we get lost in our worries, in the past, in the future, and we see you walking like that, we have a chance to come back to the here and the now and enjoy our steps also. That is the virtue of a Sangha.

What we enjoy here in Plum Village, when we come, is the presence of the Sangha. A teacher without a Sangha cannot do much. Therefore, take refuge in the Sangha, have confidence in the Sangha, surrender yourself to the Sangha, and allow the Sangha to transport you like a boat on the ocean. That is our practice. Don't worry, we know that our practice is to cultivate mindfulness. That is why during the time of eating, we eat in such a way that mindfulness is there. It means body and mind united, you are really there in the present moment, and you enjoy your lunch, and you enjoy the brothers and sisters around you. Please do not think of the past, of the future, of anything-just sit there, allow yourself to be there. Simply being there, eat in such a way that peace and happiness are possible, and the place will become the Pure Land, the Kingdom of God. Whether the place is Hell or the Kingdom of God depends entirely on you. If you can dwell in the here and the now, if you can let peace and solidity and freedom be the energies nourishing you in that moment, then the piece of land you are walking on, sitting on, is the Pure Land, the Kingdom of God. Everything depends on us.

In the meditation hall, we sit and we walk. What is the purpose of sitting and walking? Sitting is to cultivate our stability, our solidity. The sitting is not an exercise for you to arrive at a certain state of mind. This means that you have to enjoy the sitting, sitting just for sitting. And the moment when you enjoy the sitting, joy and stability become a reality already. When we are a wave, let us be a real wave. When we want to be still water, we can enjoy being still water. To be a wave is wonderful, but to be still water is also wonderful. Sitting is to allow our bodies to be quiet, to be solid, and to allow our minds to be at one with our bodies. While we sit we might enjoy our breathing, because our breathing will bring our minds and bodies together, and will help keep our minds and bodies together. Every moment of our sitting and breathing can be a moment of joy and peace. If you sit as though at hard labor, it will not result in anything at all. So the problem is not to sit a lot, but to enjoy the sitting, and to make the sitting pleasant.

We should use our intelligence in order to do sitting meditation. It is like when you stand and contemplate a beautiful sunset. If I ask you, "What is the purpose of standing here and looking at a sunset?" you don't see any purpose--you just stand there enjoying the beautiful sunset. Sitting is like that. If someone says, "Why do you sit like that? What is the purpose of sitting like that?" you could say, "I just enjoy sitting." That is the best way of sitting, to just enjoy sitting. You know, when Nelson Mandela, the president of South Africa, first came for an official visit to France, he was met by the press, and the members of the press asked him what he would most like to do now, and he said, "Just sit down, because since the time I got out of prison I have not had a chance to sit down and do nothing." And now Plum Village offers you that opportunity, just to sit down and do nothing. Sitting down and doing nothing like that, if you enjoy it, will promote a lot of transformation and healing.

So in our Dharma discussions, please do not venture into areas of speculation, but bring our experiences together related to how we can better enjoy our sitting, our breathing, our walking and our eating together. The energy that helps you to succeed in enjoyment is mindfulness, because mindfulness is the capacity of being there, body and mind united, so that you can touch life deeply in that moment.

The energy of mindfulness can be generated by mindful walking, it can be generated by mindful breathing. It can be generated by doing things, or by mindful eating, mindful working, mindful walking, mindful sitting, mindful breathing. Mindfulness as I define it is the energy that can help you to be there, in the here and the now. From time to time, we see a person sit there, but he is not really there. His body is there, but he is completely absent. We can come and pat on his shoulder and say, "Anybody home?" and then he'll come back to us. So mindfulness is to be there, body and mind united in the here and the now. Mindfulness is the capacity to recognize what is there. Because you have to be there first, and when you are there something else is also there, and that is life. The beautiful sunset is not for you if you are not there. The blue sky is not for you if you are not there. And the multitude of wonderful, refreshing and healing elements will not be for you if you are not there. This by itself is a gift, because when you love someone, the most precious thing you would like to offer to her or to him is your presence, because how can you love unless you are there? Please look deeply to see it: the most valuable gift you can make to your beloved one is your presence. Therefore, to be present means to be loving. "Darling I am here for you." That is the most meaningful statement of love. If you are not there, if you are always absent, if the place you are used to going is the past or the future, then you cannot love. When you are there, you can offer your presence as a gift, and then you can do something else, you can recognize the presence of your beloved one: "Darling, I know you are there, and I am very happy." To be loved means to be recognized as existing. If you are too busy, if you are not there, then the person that you love will have the feeling that she is ignored by you, she does not mean anything to you. That is why, when you are there, you are in a position to recognize what is there, and what is there is your beloved one, it is life. The Buddha said, life is available only in the here and now, and your appointment with life is in the present moment. If you miss the present moment, you risk your appointment with life. So the teaching is very clear and also very simple: that we should train ourselves to go home to the here and the now, and touch deeply the life that is available in that moment. And everything we do, walking, sitting, breathing, eating, is to realize that.


Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on July 23, 1998 in Plum Village, France.

The Practice of Mindfulness

© Thich Nhat Hanh

Good morning my dear friends. Today is the twenty-third of July, 1998 and we are in the Upper Hamlet. I will speak in English today.

Thank you, young people, for having performed opinion lines. You did very well, but I have to confess that some of you spoke too quickly, and I could not get all of the words. I don't know how much time each of you spends sitting in front of your television sets. I hear that there are children who spend up to three hours a day sitting in front of the TV screen, but I don't know whether that is true or not. Three hours, or four hours, that is a little bit too much. Some grownup people use television as a kind of baby-sitter. They don't have the time to take care of their children, so they ask the television to be a baby-sitter for them. I remember, about ten years ago, I organized a retreat just for young people in Santa Barbara. Many hundreds of children came, because that retreat was for children alone. I have conducted a number of retreats like that in North America and in Europe; a lot of children came, and their parents also came to support them. Dharma talks, Dharma discussions, lemonade meditation, everything was created just for young people. Among these children there were those who had been in retreats, that is why they knew the practice, they enjoyed the practice, and they helped the other children to join the practice, so it was a wonderful retreat. I think I had two retreats like that in a row, in Santa Barbara.

I remember that during one of the retreats, a little girl about eight years old came up to me with a sheet of paper on which she had very carefully written the sentence: "I vow not to watch television on weekdays." That statement was made after a Dharma discussion by the children, who discussed how we should deal with television, how much time we should spend for television, and what kind of programs we should watch and what kind of programs we should refrain from watching. That is why that young lady came up to me with a sheet of paper with that sentence: "No television on weekdays." She wrote that sentence several times on that sheet of paper-just one sentence, and when I turned it to the other side, the same thing was written again. It means that she had really made up her mind not to watch television on weekdays. And when I asked her why, she said, "Because I want to have more time for my studies, to have more time to be with my Mommy, my Daddy, my brother, my sister; that is why is promise with you, Thay, and the Sangha, that I will not watch television a lot like before. I decided that I will watch television only on weekends. I asked what were the other reasons, and she said, "On television there is bad stuff, and that is one of the reasons why I will watch the TV less." I was pleased with her practice, and I told the story to other children in the retreat, and I asked whether there was anyone in the retreat who would like to join that young lady in practicing the same kind of thing, meaning to watch television less, specially on weekdays. To my surprise, more than twenty children came up and made the same kind of commitment, not to watch television on weekdays. All of them promised that they would go back to their rooms and write the same kind of sentence on both sides of a sheet of paper. I took all these sheets of paper. I believe that all of these children were very sincere when they made the commitment, and that also made me happy.

You know, television is sometimes wonderful, and there are very beautiful programs. You can learn a lot from watching television. You can learn about the lives of animals and of flowers, and about the lives of people in other countries far away. You can learn a lot, and I feel very thankful to those who create such programs so we can learn without having to go out a lot. But I also observe that there are many bad television programs, and when we look at these programs we receive a lot of poisons, as when we eat something that is not healthy, we get poisons in our stomach, and we get sick. So television is a kind of food, and we have to be careful, we have to be very mindful when consuming television. You know that if you consume edible food unmindfully, you can get sick, you might have diarrhea and other things. The same thing happens when you consume television without mindfulness. There is a lot of fear, violence, craving, suspicion, and hatred in many programs, and if we allow ourselves to be penetrated by these poisons we will not have good mental health. I think that people who have depression have watched a lot of television and have gotten in touch with a lot of negative things in their daily life, and that is why they get sick mentally. That is why our practice is to be mindful in consuming edible food, and television. So I wish that today you will have a Dharma discussion and continue the discussion in the opinion line. I would like to hear from you, after your Dharma discussion, about your determination of how to use your television set.

I learned that in North America many people are enlightened concerning smoking. They know that smoking is not good for their health. That is why many people in North America have stopped smoking. Not many people in my country have stopped smoking. I am very sad about that, and I would like the people in my country to stop smoking. Many people get sick because of smoking, because of nicotine. About ten or fifteen years ago, every time I took the train or the bus or the airplane, I was very afraid of sitting close to someone who smoked. I suffered a lot because of the cigarette smoke. But now there are air companies that offer us non-smoking flights. That's wonderful. There are many non-smoking flights, even in France. I think there must be many of us who have been working silently and continuously in order to increase awareness that smoking is hazardous to our health. It is wonderful to see on every package of cigarettes in America that wonderful sentence: "Be aware-smoking may be hazardous to your health." An awakening, enlightenment on the dangers of smoking, has been made into law. If you produce cigarettes, you have to put that label on each package of your cigarettes; otherwise it would be against the law. That is why I think our American friends have been wonderful in working on that aspect of enlightenment, so that mindfulness regarding smoking has become daily life.

We have to step up our efforts regarding other aspects of our daily life. I would like to urge that our American friends do something similar with television sets. I wish that someday, when we go to buy a TV set, we will see stuck on each TV set the same kind of sentence: "Be aware-if you are not mindful, this can be very toxic, and can bring you a lot of suffering." This is our practice, mindfulness of consuming. When we sit around a table, about to eat our dinner or lunch, we should have enough time to practice breathing in and breathing out, and to look deeply into the food that we are going to eat, to see whether this food contains poisons or toxins. There are many kinds of food that are not good for us, and if we eat them, we'll suffer later on. It may be half an hour later, it may be two hours later. That is why before eating something you have to practice mindfulness of breathing and look deeply to see whether the food is good for you or not. The food might be okay for other people, but for you it's not good. That's why you have to be very careful. In Plum Village we call that kind of practice "mindfulness of eating, mindfulness of drinking."

We should also apply it in other aspects, such as when you pick up a newspaper, when you are about to read an article, when you pick up a novel, you should also breathe in and out and smile, and look deeply to see whether what you are going to read will bring into you a lot of poisons or not. So next time you see your brother reading a novel, you might like to ask, "Dear brother, have you looked deeply into it to see whether there is poison in that novel?" Or if your sister is reading a magazine, you also might like to look and see whether that magazine is healthy, or whether that magazine contains a lot of poisons, a lot of toxins, because we would not like to intoxicate ourselves by consuming those kinds of things. That is also mindfulness of consuming.

Concerning television, I think that is a big issue, because many people have got a lot of violence, craving, hatred, and fear, just because they consume television without mindfulness. So I think we should practice looking deeply, because "to meditate" means to look deeply, to understand, for our own protection, and I think the young people should join us in the practice of looking deeply in order to identify poisons. When you identify poisons in the items of consumption, you should tell yourself that this is not a good thing for consuming, and you tell your friend that this is not a good thing to consume, and that is the practice of meditation. Maybe you don't need to practice for a long time, perhaps just one minute of breathing in and out and looking deeply can reveal the truth. I have friends who are writers, who are film-makers, who are artists, and they are helping us very much in making this kind of mindfulness known to many people, because everyone has to practice mindfulness to protect ourselves, to protect our families, and to protect our society.

I also have friends who are in Congress, and the other day, travelling with such a friend on the train, I had the occasion to suggest to him that he should work with other Congressmen to bring about mindfulness of television consumption. He agreed with me that there is a lot of negative stuff in many television programs, and these TV programs have affected a lot of young people. They have become more violent, they have acted out what they have seen in films, and when they are angry they don't know what to do, or how to handle their anger. They just explode, and if they cannot manage and take care of their anger, they would like to express themselves in a violent way, and if a gun is available, then they would not hesitate to use the gun in order to kill people. That is why our society is now suffering so much, because of so much violence, sex and cravings, and so on. That Congressman, with whom I talked on the train, is an influential Congressman; he's a leader in the Congress and his words are listened to by many of his fellow Congressmen, and he said "Thay, this is a little bit difficult, because in our Constitution, in our Bill of Rights, it is said that people are free to express themselves…"freedom of speech"…we cannot tamper with the Bill of Rights." I said that we are not proposing anything against the Bill of Rights, because freedom of speech is wonderful, and we don't want to lose it. To declare that everyone is free to say what he wants to say is wonderful. But freedom has to be defined, freedom is not irresponsibility. We cannot, in the name of freedom, allow the destruction of our body and our spirit, and the bodies and spirits of the people in our families and our society. That cannot be described as freedom, because freedom is not destruction. That is why, when we work on an amendment to the Constitution, we also bring about another revolution, and this revolution is going to support the first Revolution. To declare that we should have freedom of speech is a revolution, and we have all profited from that revolution. But to help people understand that freedom is not irresponsibility, that we have to practice mindfulness in order to protect our bodies and our minds, and the bodies and minds of our families, and the collective body and mind of our society, is also a revolution, one which will support and make the first revolution even greater. So the Congressman was very happy, and he was going to go back and talk about that to his fellow Congressmen.

I hope that our friends over here, whether they are young or less young, whether they are educators, or film-makers, or journalists, can do something with their talent to create that kind of awareness, that kind of mindfulness. Supporting every kind of action which will stop the destruction of our bodies and our consciousness through unmindful consumption. Of course, the basic practice in Plum Village is the practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The fifth Mindfulness Training is about mindful consumption, because mindful consumption seems to be the only way to help us get out of this situation where destruction is going on every day-the destruction of our bodies and our consciousnesses-because of the way we consume, not only edible food, but also sights and sounds, everything.

I trust that the young people will join us in the practice. Please join us to practice breathing deeply and looking deeply to find ways to protect ourselves and our families from that kind of unmindful consumption that will bring a lot of suffering and pain to our bodies and our souls.

So, young people, when you hear the sound of the small bell, please stand up and bow to the Sangha before going out. This is the end of the Dharma talk for very young people.

Perhaps you are familiar with the expression "Pure Land." There is a Buddhist school called the school of the Pure Land. The Pure Land is the land of bliss, the equivalent to the Kingdom of God, where we feel safe, we feel protected, we feel solid, and we feel free-free from afflictions, from anger, from despair. Of course, if we look for a word that describes the opposite, we have the word "Hell." Hell is a place where we have to suffer a lot, where it's very hot. I think all of us have had some taste of Hell. We suffer so much; we are burned by the fire of our anger, our despair, and our afflictions. We know what Hell is. So we aspire to be somewhere else: the Pure Land, the land of bliss, the Kingdom of Heaven. In the teachings of the Buddha, both Hell and the Pure Land are there within yourself, and they exist within every cell of your body. If you allow Hell to manifest, then it will manifest; and if you want the Pure Land, the land of bliss, to manifest, it will manifest. What we learn is that every time Hell is about to manifest, we should be able to be aware of it, and to do something so that Hell will stop manifesting. We could also learn how to give a chance to the Pure Land in us to manifest. Also in Buddhism we have the expression: "crossing over to the other shore," Paramita. We may be standing on this shore, the shore of anger, the shore of despair, the shore of ill being, and we don't like it here. We want to cross the river and to get to the other shore. The other shore is the shore of well being, the shore of freedom, the shore of solidity. A good practice is a practice that can allow us to cross over to the other shore.

It is said that every enlightened being, like a Buddha or a bodhisattva, would love to create a Pure Land for himself or herself to be in, and also to welcome friends into that Pure Land. We know that "Buddha" is not the name of a person, Buddha is a word to describe an enlightened person, and Shakyamuni is only one of the Buddhas. There were Buddhas in the past, there are Buddhas in the present moment, and there will be Buddhas in the future. According to the teaching of the Buddha Shakyamuni, each of us is a Buddha-to-be, un Bouddha devenir. It means that we have the capacity to be enlightened, to be liberated, and that capacity is in every cell of our bodies. We call it Buddha nature, or Buddhata, or la nature du Bouddha. The practice is to touch the Buddha nature in us, in order to touch the nature of enlightenment, the nature of freedom, and if we are able to touch that the Pure Land will manifest, and will be available to us.

Last week in a Dharma talk I spoke about the therapist who tried to create a space for people to come and to feel safe, to feel protected, and to work for healing and transformation. I said that the therapist should be an architect, because an architect is someone who creates space for people to live in--space where you feel safe, where you feel protected, where you feel supported in your work of transformation and healing. When the Buddha wants to create a Pure Land, he or she is motivated by the same desire, to create a space for people to come and to feel safe, to be protected, to be supported in the work of transformation and healing. So the Buddha is a kind of therapist, and we can learn from him or her how better to create an environment, for ourselves, for our beloved ones. Because we want ourselves and our beloved ones to be protected, to live in an environment where they can feel safe, where they can get the support they need in order to work for their transformation and healing. A practice center is a kind of "mini-Pure Land."

If you are motivated by the desire to set up a practice center where people can come and touch the wonders of life, and feel protected, then you are on the same path with Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Because I think that what Buddhas and bodhisattvas want most to do is to create a space, a kind of island, a kind of country, where people can come and take refuge. Many of us are sick, in our bodies and our consciousnesses, and we all need therapy. We are exposed to all kinds of sickness, because we have not learned how to protect ourselves, how to consume. Not only can edible food that we eat every day bring a lot of war into our bodies, but the food for our six senses that we ingest every day has brought into our consciousness a lot of war, a lot of poisons, a lot of toxins. We allow our children to be intoxicated in their daily lives, because we have not taught them how to consume mindfully, and we have allowed ourselves to be intoxicated because we have not been careful in consuming.

Even conversation can be highly toxic. Remember that day when you spoke to him or to her-the conversation lasted just one hour, but after the conversation you felt paralyzed, because the content of the conversation was so toxic. There was a lot of sorrow, a lot of despair in the conversation. We did not know that the conversation was toxic, that's why we sat for one hour and we joined in the conversation, and after that we had all the toxins. So, sitting there and watching a television program, or reading an article, or just driving through the city and looking at these images and listening to these sounds can be toxic. We have not known how to protect our bodies and our consciousness from the invasion of these toxins, and that is why we have gotten sick. Sometimes we create the toxins within ourselves. Our minds, with their imagination, and thinking, can create a lot of ideas, a lot of feelings, a lot of fear, and our depression may come from ourselves, our way of thinking, our way of conceiving things. When we cannot do it anymore, when we feel that we need help, we go to a therapist: to a doctor for our physical pain, and to a psychotherapist when we have a mental problem. The therapist would want to listen to us, to know what is wrong in us, and that is the general tendency-when you come to the therapist you want to tell him or her what is wrong in you, and she always wants to hear what is wrong in you. But in the Buddhist way of practice, we need more than that. Maybe the first thing we need is to touch what is not wrong in us and around us. The therapist, like the Buddha, like the bodhisattva, should be able to create a space where the sick person, upon arrival, will feel better already: a space that can be refreshing and healing, a space where you can feel protected, where you can feel supported. Everything you touch with your eyes, with your ears, and with your body, should be able to support you and to help you.

Creating a space is so important, and in that mini-Pure Land there must be healthy living beings, like trees, birds, plants, water, air, and brothers and sisters who are successful in their practice, namely people who are capable of smiling, of walking peacefully, of sitting peacefully, of drinking tea happily, of cooking or washing with happiness. We need a number of people who are sane, who are healthy, who are refreshing, who are supportive, in order for our Pure Land to be truly a Pure Land. In any Pure Land there would be a number of bodhisattvas, young or less young, a number of Buddhas who are there, ready for us, to welcome us and to protect us and to support us in our practice. A therapist, like a physician, might like to do as Buddhas and bodhisattvas do: they know that people come to them because they are sick, and they want these people to feel better already from the moment that they arrive. So creating an environment is a very important practice.

If the therapist or the physician works alone, and the only instruments they have is their knowledge and a medicine cabinet, that will not be enough. We know how important the environment is. That is why therapists, like doctors, have to come together and operate as a Sangha. To me, it is very important, because therapists and physicians also need support and nourishment, otherwise they will also get sick very quickly. We know of therapists who cannot help themselves, who do not have good relationships with members of their own families, who are not able to transform the suffering within themselves, and in that case, how can they help other people? That is why therapists, as well as physicians, need a Sangha, a Pure Land like us, in order for them to go far, in order not to burn out, in order for them to help more people. They also need protection, nourishment and support. People in the helping professions know it is very easy to burn out, it is very easy to give up half-way; that is why we have to arrange the building up of mini-Pure Lands for our own nourishment and support. It is very crucial in our times.

I know that there are medical centers where doctors and nurses work together as a Sangha, but they don't live there as a Sangha. They don't share with each other. They do share about questions of how to help this patient or the other patient, but they don't have a chance to share with each other their own difficulties, their own negative aspects. But in a practice center, we live as brothers and sisters, and everything that happens to one brother happens to all of us. Everything that happens to a sister happens to all of us. And we practice taking care of the other person.

In Plum Village everyone has a "second body" to take care of, and you have to be aware of anything that happens to your second body. You are aware of the quality of practice of your second body, you are aware of all the difficulties of your second body, and you are in charge of your second body. You try to help, and if you need help from other brothers and sisters, you ask them, but you are the main one responsible for your second body. And your second body also has her second body. Everyone in the Sangha takes care of his or her second body. It means that not only do you have a second body, you have a third body and a fourth body. Your third body is the second body who is taken care of by your second body, and so on. So everyone in the Sangha is your body, and that is why we use the word "Sangha-body," Sanghakaya. If you travel as a Sangha, and if your second body has not stepped into the bus, you won't. You have to make sure that she is in that bus. If you are sick, and you need some medicine, or something special to eat, then the person who takes care of you - you are his second body, and he has the duty, the joy, to take care of you. By taking care of one person in the Sangha, you take care of everyone in the Sangha. You practice the teaching of no-self, because you have so many bodies, and you have a big, big body that is the Sangha-body.

To live together twenty-four hours a day as a Sangha is a very important thing, because you can help each other to advance on the path of transformation and healing. Then you can offer yourself as a center, as a place for other people to join you in the practice. Of course, the space has trees, and water, and air, but also it has people, people who know the practice, people who have succeeded in the practice, and they are there for you, they are there to share the practice. For instance, when you arrive in Plum Village, you notice that all the monks and nuns and lay people walk mindfully. There is only one style of walking in Plum Village-that is mindful walking, walking in such a way that every step can bring you healing and transformation. You only accept walking in the Pure Land, you don't walk in Hell. If we allow our afflictions, our anger to overwhelm us, then the place where we walk must be Hell, and soon you'll walk like that. Walk in such a way that each step of yours transforms this very land into the Pure Land. Every step should have the quality of stability and freedom, because walking meditation is not to arrive, walking meditation is to put yourself into the Pure Land. By making steps like that, you transform the very place where you live into a Pure Land, a safe place for yourself, for your brothers and sisters, and those people who come to you to share the practice.

To practice walking meditation is to learn how to live deeply the wonders of life that are available in the here and the now. In the here and the now there may be negative things, like sickness, like fear, like sorrow, but also in the here and now there are refreshing, healing, and wonderful elements. They are to be touched within ourselves, and they are to be touched around us. To go back to the present moment is first of all to touch the positive elements that have the power of transforming and healing, and the therapist, and the Dharma brother, or the Dharma sister will help you to do that from the very first day of your visit. You might have the habit of allowing yourself to be caught in your sorrow, the sorrow of the past: you cannot get rid of the sorrow or the regret concerning the past, and you cannot get rid of your anxiety, your anguish, and your fear about the future. You are not capable of touching life in the here and the now. In the here and the now there are many wonderful, healing and refreshing elements that can help you, but if you are caught by the past and by the future, by your fear, by your anguish, then these elements will not be available to you. So, from the moment you arrive, there should be a brother or a sister helping you, pointing out to you that there are many positive things, that you should get out of your prison of sorrow and fear to get in touch with these things, because these things are healing and nourishing.

If you are a therapist, you can do the same thing: when the other person comes, you'll be able to take his hand or her hand and show him or her that there are positive things to be with, to touch. You don't begin with "What is wrong?" You begin with "What is not wrong?" The practice of Plum Village places much emphasis on that, because while there are things that go wrong, there are still things that do not go wrong. Your own life is like a garden: there may be a number of trees that are dying in the garden of your body, in the garden of your life, but you should know that there are still many vigorous and beautiful trees, and you should not allow the negative aspects to overwhelm you. You have to be able to touch the positive aspects. That is why the environment, and the people who inhabit that environment, should be a support for you, so that you can get out of your prison of sorrow and fear, and touch the wonderful, positive aspects of life that are available. The Buddha is very clear about this. He said: "The past is gone, the future has not yet come; there is only moment for you to live, and that is the present moment." Life is available only in the present moment, and if you miss the present moment you miss your appointment with life. The message is very simple, very clear. It sounds easy, but without a brother, or a sister, or a teacher, without a good environment you cannot do it, you allow yourself to be caught in despair, in the negative. That is why the therapist should be like a Buddha, should be like a bodhisattva. The therapist should be like a Dharma brother, like an architect - capable of creating a space and convening joyful people in that space, in order to help you to touch life.

Walking meditation is a wonderful way to go back to the present moment.Your destination is the here and the now, and if you are to arrive somewhere, that somewhere is the here and the now. So every step should bring you back to the present moment. You arrive with each step. You have been running all your life. You have believed that happiness is not possible in the here and the now-happiness may be possible in the future. That is why you have always sacrificed the present moment for the sake of the future, and you have developed the habit of running. But when we come to a place like Plum Village, the first thing we learn is how to stop running. Only stopping will help us to get in touch with the here and the now. The things that you would like to see and touch the most are available only in the here and the now. The Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, peace, stability, the kingdom of God, everything, should be contacted in the here and the now. The present moment is the only moment when life is available. That is why it is very important that we make an effort, with the support of these brothers and sisters, to practice stopping.

Stopping is a very important practice of Buddhist meditation. It is only when you have stopped that you can realize calm and concentration, that you can encounter life. That is why the practice of mindfulness is described first of all as the practice of stopping and touching life deeply in the here and the now. To be mindful means to be here, fully present, fully alive; not to be caught in forgetfulness, not to be caught in the past and the future; to make yourself available in the here and the now, to be fully present. What does it mean to be fully present? To be in a state of being where body and mind are fully united with each other. That state of being we call the oneness of body and mind. Usually in our daily lives our body may be here, but our mind is not here, it is caught in the past or the future, it is caught in our anguish, our projects, our fear--so you are not really here. The practice of mindful walking, or mindful breathing, can help you to bring body and mind back together. Our body may be here, but our mind is going in another direction. That is what happens in our daily lives. Between the body and mind, there is something that connects the two like a bridge, and that is our breath, our mindful breathing. The moment when you hold to your breath and breathe in and out mindfully, your body and your mind will come together, and that is the first exercise of mindful breathing that the Buddha proposed: "Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in; breathing out, I know that I am breathing out."

There is a discourse given by the Buddha, called the Anapanasati Sutra (the Discourse on Mindful Breathing), and in that discourse he proposed sixteen breathing exercises for transformation and healing. Just a month ago I offered a twenty-one day retreat in North America on the theme of Mindful Breathing, and about four hundred people practiced together, just the sixteen exercises on mindful breathing for transformation and healing. If you had been there, you would have witnessed the transformation of so many people. When you practice mindful breathing, you naturally bring your body and your mind back together, and the exercise is so simple: "Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in; breathing out, I know that I am breathing out." It is the practice of identifying the in-breath as in-breath, and the out-breath as out-breath. It is like a children's game, and yet the outcome is very great.

Mindful of your in-breath, mindful of your out-breath, you become concentrated. The object of your concentration is your in-breath. "Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. " Suppose that this pen symbolizes the length of my in-breath: I begin to breathe in here, and I finish my in-breath here. Usually we don't breathe mindfully, but now the practice is mindful breathing, and for that reason we need to bring our minds into it. Suppose my finger is my mindfulness. Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something. I can be mindful of this flower. I can be mindful of the pen, and I can be mindful of my in-breath. Suppose this is my in-breath. It begins like this: "Breathing in, I know I am breathing in," and you are mindful all the way through, "this is my in-breath, this is my in-breath," and you nourish that mindfulness of life all the way through. By doing so, you are perfectly concentrated on your in-breath, and you stop all other thinking. The past is no longer a prison; the future is no longer a prison; you are going back to your in-breath, which is something that is happening in the here and the now. "Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in." You might like to use the sentence, because that is the sentence that is proposed by the Buddha. Or you might like to have a shorter version of the sentence, using only the word "in." "In… Out...."

These words, "in" and "out" are the means for you to nourish your mindfulness of life, mindfulness of in-breath or mindfulness of out-breath. You will get the "stopping" that you need. In our daily lives we keep thinking of this, or thinking of that-we never stop. There is something like a cassette tape, turning non-stop, day and night. And sometimes we think too much, and the thinking is not helpful, the thinking is sometimes harmful. It does not seem to be true that "I think, therefore I am," because thinking brings me out of myself, it does not help me to be in the here and the now, so the quality of being is lost. I think, therefore I am not. Sometimes our heads are like a television set that is left on for a long time and becomes very hot: so much thinking, so many worries, make our heads hot. Sometimes we cannot sleep because we cannot stop the thinking. With a cassette tape, it's easy, because there is a button you can push to stop it. But there is no button here.

When you find it too difficult to sleep because of your thinking, you get alarmed and go to a doctor, who gives you a prescription. Even with that kind of drug, you don't get stopped. Even during your sleep, which is not natural, you continue to run, you continue to think, and you continue to have nightmares. But this is a natural process of stopping, just mindful breathing, and you may enjoy it a lot. Just sit there, or lie down in a relaxed way, and just enjoy your in-breath and out-breath. Because breathing can be very enjoyable, especially when your nose is free, when your lungs are good, and the air around you is clean. The pleasure of breathing! There were times in the past when you were nearly suffocated, with things like asthma, or your stuffy nose, or the quality of the air prevented your enjoying that kind of breathing. But it is still possible for you to enjoy breathing. One of the things that we do during the practice of sitting meditation and walking meditation is to just enjoy our mindful breathing, and to make ourselves available to life, namely, to the here and the now. If you practice mindful breathing, in and out like that for five minutes, you get five minutes of stopping. You don't think during these five minutes. You give yourself a chance to rest, whether in a sitting position, in a walking position or in a lying position. If you want fifteen minutes of rest like that, you just practice fifteen minutes of mindful breathing, in and out. This is the first exercise in the Discourse on Mindful Breathing, you may also like to try the second exercise, which is also nice. There are sixteen exercises.

When you practice mindful breathing, you bring your mind and body together, and you attain that state of being called "the oneness of body and mind." It means the state of being present. You become fully alive and fully present. If you are alive and fully present, if you are really there, someone or something else will be there also at the same time. That is life, because when you make yourself available to life, life will make herself available to you. This is clear. Suppose you are standing there, and enjoying the beautiful sunset. In order to really enjoy the beautiful sunset, you have to be there one hundred percent, body and mind united. If you stand there with other people, and yet you allow your mind to be caught by your worries, the past and the future, then the beautiful sunset will not be for you. That is why the basic condition is that you be there fully, and if you are there fully, then the beautiful sunset will be yours.

To make ourselves available to life is the first practice, and you can do it just by taking steps, or by taking in-breaths and out-breaths, and you have freed yourself. That is already the practice of freedom. You have freed yourself from the past, from the future, from your worries, and just going back and enjoying your in-breath and your out-breath, you have become alive. Now, the wonders of life become available to you. Touch what is positive, touch what is beautiful, refreshing, nourishing and healing around you, and do that with the support of the brothers and sisters who are already there and who have the experience of the practice.

Having sickness in your body, or sorrow or pain in your consciousness, does not prevent your practicing, and your getting in touch with positive elements of life. Please do not wait until you do not have anything wrong in your body or your consciousness to enjoy life, to enjoy the practice. You'll never get it. Perfect health is just an idea--perfect health does not exist. All of us have some problem in our bodies, or in our consciousness. All of us have some pain or sorrow in our consciousness. Some of us have some problems in our bodies. But it is like a garden with a few trees dying, but where all the other trees are still solid, vigorous and beautiful. Therefore, we should not allow these few negative elements to block the way. We should learn, with the support of the Sangha, to touch the positive elements of our environment, of our selves, for the sake of nourishment and healing. That is why a Sangha is important. When you have an opportunity to be with the Sangha, please do take advantage of the presence of the Sangha, because there are things you can do very easily in the presence of the Sangha. These things become difficult when you find yourself alone at home. Sitting meditation, walking meditation, enjoying a silent meal, all these things become very easy if you do it together with the Sangha, because the Sangha radiates the collective energy of mindfulness, and you feel supported by the energy.

Suppose you have just come to Plum Village, and when you observe, you see that the monks, the nuns, the lay brothers and sisters enjoy mindful walking, mindful breathing, and mindful sitting. That creates a collective energy. If you allow yourself to be transported by the vehicle of the Sangha, you already begin to profit. The energy has begun to penetrate your body and consciousness. Allow yourself to be in the Sangha, allow yourself to be penetrated by the collective energy of the Sangha. That means the process of transformation and healing has already taken place. Surrender to the Sangha. The Sangha is a community where every member practices mindfulness of walking, mindfulness of sitting, mindfulness of breathing, in order to go back to the present moment and to become fully alive. That practice has the power of healing and transforming. When you join the Sangha you just allow yourself to be transported by the Sangha, as if transported by a boat. The boat will carry us-don't resist. You don't have to be polite, you don't have to find words to say to this brother or sister. You are here in order to enjoy the Sangha, you don't have to say anything, to be polite. Don't ask questions about whether you should bow or not bow, these things are not important. If you enjoy it, if you are mindful of the things that are happening in the present moment, bowing or not bowing will not be a problem.

The rituals, all these things, are not important at all. What is important is that you become alive. The Sangha is not an obstacle, the Sangha is an opportunity, because you might feel very safe in the Sangha. In fact, mindfulness practice is the practice of protection, because our mindfulness is the energy that can protect us, help us not to get lost in our worries, in our fear, in our anger. When that energy is there, we can profit from it. That is why, when you come to a practicing Sangha, you feel that you are safe. You are safe because other people are practicing protecting themselves and protecting the Sangha at the same time. Even the living beings around feel safer, because we are mindful and we do our best not to do harm to them, and to trees and insects. That is why safety should exist in the mini-Pure Land, in a practice center, in the space created by Buddhas, bodhisattvas, therapists, and so on.

When you go back to the present moment, you may discover something wonderful, you may touch something wonderful. Like when you are walking you find out something valuable that you had not realized existed before, yet it is there. When going back to the here and the now, and becoming fully alive, you have the chance to identify it, such as the fact that you are alive. There are many things that are wonderful, among them the fact that you are still alive. To be still alive is a miracle. You have seen a dead person-no matter what you try to do, you cannot make him or her come back to life. Yet, when you go back to the here and the now, and become fully present, you may discover many wonderful things, among these the fact that you are alive. To be still alive is a miracle, is the greatest miracle. That is one thing we can treasure, we can value, and we can be joyful about. It is a jewel, the greatest jewel, that we are alive. We also find out that because we have not been able to touch that fact, that miracle, we have allowed life to go away. There were days when we were not alive at all, when we did not really live our lives deeply. We have allowed days and months to pass by like that, like water through our fingers. We did not touch the wonders, the miracle of life, during those days and months. If someone were to ask you the question of whether the most wonderful moment of your life has arrived or not, you might be tempted to say, "Well, it does not seem that the most wonderful moment of my life has arrived, but I am sure it will have to arrive soon." That famous "most wonderful moment" of our lives…when you look deeply into it, you see that if you continue to live without mindfulness, the way you have lived the last twenty years of your life, then that most wonderful moment of your life is not likely to happen during the next twenty years. We have not allowed that moment to arrive. It's not because it does not want to arrive, it's because in the past we have not allowed it to arrive, because we were always running. So we missed life, we missed the greatest miracle of our lives.

According to the teachings of the Buddha, it is possible to make the present moment into the most wonderful moment of your life. If you wake up, if you are capable of waking up to the fact that you are alive, then you know how precious this moment is. We should do our best to make the most of it, to profit from it, and to live our lives deeply in that moment. That is really the practice of Buddhism. The word "buddh" means to wake up, and "Buddha" just means "the one who is awake, who has awakened." When you are awake, you touch that miracle 'that I am alive', and that is very precious. So you know that you have something very valuable. And when you encounter something negative, when you get angry, when you feel irritated, when you feel that you don't like standing on this shore, the shore of affliction, fear, jealousy, despair, and you want to cross over to the other shore, the shore of well being, joy and freedom, you can go back to the present moment and touch the miracle, because you have stored these wonders within yourself. Just breathing in and out and touching these wonders, you'll be able to cross to the other shore very quickly, and suddenly what bothers you, what makes you unhappy can disappear right away.

In a sutra the Buddha described the practice as "changing the peg." A carpenter can use a peg to connect two blocks of wood, and if he finds that the old peg is no good, he would like to change it with another peg. Just by driving the new peg into the old one, he can replace the old one with the new one. So if you have a state of being that you don't like, you can change the peg. That peg is called a mental formation. We have fifty-one categories of mental formation. Fear is one, anger is another one, and jealousy is another one. If you don't like it, change the peg: use another peg and change it. And since you have stored within yourself many wonderful pegs, it is very easy for you to take one of the pegs and just change it. Then, suddenly, you find yourself on the other shore. And by going back to the present moment, you will discover these pegs, these wonders that belong to life, that are available to you: the positive things that you can identify through your full presence. That is why it is said that our true home is in the here and the now; and if you practice going back to your true home, you'll be able to meet, to touch, to identify these wonderful things, these miracles that will be available to you every time you need them. Crossing to the other shore is a matter of seconds or minutes if you are already capable of identifying the positive things that are still available to you. Among them I just mentioned one: the fact that you are still alive.

Do not allow your afflictions to overwhelm you and to imprison you, because you are more than that. You are more than your afflictions, you are more than your jealousy, your fear. The Buddha said that you have the capacity of joy, of peace, of enlightenment. The Buddha nature is in you, in every cell of your being, and the practice is deep touching. Deep touching is possible when you go back to the here and the now.

I would like to invite all of you to join in walking meditation. Walking meditation is a very wonderful way to go back to the present moment, and to learn how to live deeply in this moment. All of us in Plum Village, as permanent residents, have made the commitment to only walk mindfully. If you learn to walk like that for only one week, you may develop a good habit, and you may be able to learn to live much more deeply every minute of your daily life. Many of us have signed a treaty with our stairs. To begin with, you make the vow that every step you make up the stairs will be mindful, and if halfway up you realize that one of these steps was not taken mindfully, you will go down and begin climbing up again. The same thing must be true when you go down. If you are caught by an idea, by a project, and if you don't go down step by step mindfully, then you go up and go down again. Your stair set may be eighteen or twenty, and you can sign a treaty with it. I myself have done so many years ago, twenty years ago, and in the last twenty years I have never taken one step without mindfulness, whether I go up or I go down. Now when I climb the Grdhrakuta Mountain, or the Wu Tai Shan Mountain, or whether I walk at the airport, or I climb on the airplane, I always climb and take steps mindfully.

My practice, as well as the practice of many of us here, is that every step should be able to help you to be alive in the here and the now, and to cultivate more freedom and stability and joy. So you may like to try to do the same, and select a distance from your tent or your room to a certain tree, maybe three meters, or five meters, and sign a treaty with it. And every time you go by that distance, practice as I do when I climb the stairs. If you find that you have forgotten, you go back. You don't have to go to the meditation hall in order to practice mindfulness. You practice mindfulness right there in your tent. Begin with that, and when you have succeeded with that distance, you go everywhere mindfully, and you stop running, stop inside and stop outside. There are many of us who continue to run during our sleep, and when we sit down to enjoy our lunch together, as a Sangha, we continue to run. There are those of us who can settle down and enjoy our lunch, and enjoy the presence of the brothers and sisters around us, but there are many of us who are still running during lunchtime. Stopping is our practice, stopping first, in order to get the calm and the concentration we need. Then to practice looking deeply is just another step.

(End of talk)


Each of us a Healer: Medicine Buddha and the Karma of Healing

Article of the Month - July 2002
A glamorous fashion consultant was once diagnosed with cancer. This is how she attempted to alleviate her suffering:
She sent a message through a friend of hers, a student at the Vajrapani institute in California, to ask for advice about healing practices. She was advised to buy animals that were in danger of being killed and to then free them in a safe place, thus enabling them to live longer.
This charming woman saved many animals from places where they were going to be killed. She actually freed two or three thousand animals, mostly chickens, fish, and worms. She had the chickens taken care of on a farm, and she freed the fish in open water. She also bought two thousand worms because they were cheap and readily available, and released them in the garden outside her home. Liberating worms was believed to be a particularly good idea as they go straight under the ground when they are released. Since they have some protection there from predators, they have a chance to live longer. It was less certain that animals freed in forests, lakes, or the ocean would have lived longer because they have natural enemies in those places.
It is said that when she returned to the hospital for a checkup after doing these practices, the doctors could not find any trace of the cancer.
True or not, this story should not come as a surprise to those subscribing to the karmic theory. In the words of Deepak Chopra:
"No debt in the universe ever goes unpaid. There is a perfect accounting system in the universe, and everything is a constant 'to and fro' exchange."
Thus by granting those helpless animals the boon of life the lady vindicated her faith in the authenticity of the karmic law, namely that "karma is both action and the consequence of that action." The actions she took were not magical or miraculous but rather a patient planting of causes which eventually bloomed into the effects of health and happiness. Indeed if we want to create happiness in our own lives, we must learn to sow the seeds of happiness for others. As with Buddhist practices more generally, the result one receives depend on one's past karma. Indeed everything that is happening at this moment is a result of the actions we have performed in the past. This is but an illustration of the proverb 'as we sow as shall we reap.' If we have loving kindness and compassion, our prime concern will always be not to hurt others, and this itself is healing. According to Buddhist belief a compassionate person is the most powerful healer, not only of their own diseases and problems, but also those of others. Many of us will vouch that in a sickbay a doctor's friendly smile among the prevalence of disease and suffering all around can work wonders for the overall well being of the patient. Truly the use of love is to heal. When it flows without effort from the depth of the self, love creates health.

In Buddhist tradition the first and primordial healer was the great Buddha himself. Known popularly as the Medicine Buddha he is said to have revealed the teachings embodied in the sacred bodies of texts known as the Four Medical Tantras. The whole of Buddhist medicine is said to have derived from this sacred scripture. As explained in the first of these texts, Buddha the Great Healer was once seated in meditation surrounded by an assembly of disciples including divine physicians, great sages, non-Buddhist gods and bodhisattvas, all of whom wished to learn the art of healing. Rendered speechless by the radiant glory of his countenance, they were unable to request the desired teachings. To accommodate their unspoken wishes, the Medicine Buddha manifested two emanations, one to request the teachings and the other to deliver them. In this way, then, the Buddhist explanation of the various mental and physical ailments, their causes, diagnoses, and treatment is said to have originated.
Other than that, the action of the Buddha in understanding his disciple's needs without their explicitly stating so is in itself a reminder of his infinite compassion. Indeed healers such as the Buddha are referred to as great physicians not because of their medical abilities - as great as these are - but because they have the compassion and wisdom to diagnose and treat the root causes underlying all mental and physical malaise.
In visual arts the Buddha of healing is sometimes represented as golden in color, though his characteristic color is blue.
In either representation his left hand rests in his lap in the mudra of meditation, supporting an iron begging-bowl. His right palm faces outwards, offering, in a gesture of generosity, a stem of the myrobalan plant. This is a healing fruit well-known in Tibetan medicine and a symbol here of the botanical realm's restorative fecundity, reminding us that the earth provides freely, asking for nothing to sustain her fertility but gentle care.
However Buddhist science of medicine grants only a limited application to external medicine. These are considered sufficient only up to the level of removal of external symptoms of the disease. The cure for humankind's root illness is stressed to be spiritual illumination, the way to which lies within our own selves. Towards this end the Medicine Buddha is often shown surrounded with various fragrant and healing plants of the Tibetan pharmacopoeia, as also innumerable gods sages, and other exalted beings. Such a densely packed arrangement is referred to as the 'Paradise of the Medicine Buddha.'
This paradise represents an idealized universe where remedies exist for every ailment. The Buddha himself is said to have stated, "For as many sentient beings as exist in this world system, there is a path to liberation."
According to Romio Shrestha "The Medicine Buddha is our complete spiritual apothecary. To discover the healing force within our being is to enter the paradise of the 'master of remedies.'" In other words this paradise lies within our own selves, only a conditioning of the mind is required to identify it and partake of its pleasures. Romio Shrestha further says: "Our body has the capacity to cure itself of any ailment. Every plant, every herb, every remedy has its counterpart within the subtle essences of the human body."
We have the capacity to heal not only ourselves but also those around us as the following story will demonstrate:
There was once a monk who lived in a small Tibetan village. He was quite ordinary, and spent his life going about his monastic duties. One year a terrible epidemic of small pox broke out in the village, killing many people in the area, the monk also contracted the disease and died. It was the middle of winter, the ground was frozen and the wood was scarce, so his body was taken to a lake and put under the ice. Shortly after this, the epidemic stopped. In the springtime, as the ice was melting, people noticed a rainbow over the place where the monk had been put. They went back and found his body floating there, perfectly preserved. He was brought back to the monastery and given a special cremation ceremony. As his body disappeared into the flames, rainbows came out of the pyre into the sky, and relics were discovered in the ashes. Everyone then recognized that this monk had been an extraordinary person in the garb of an 'ordinary' one, and credited him with purifying the negative karma that had caused the epidemic by taking it (absorbing it) into his own body. In the world of Tibetan Buddhism, sickness can be a manifestation of spiritual accomplishment and a sacrifice made on the behalf of others. This is something a mother can understand, who gives her own vitality to nourish her children. Indeed here some find the justification for the wasting away of their bodies by rigorous ascetics, treating sickness as the broom that sweeps away bad karma, thus justifying their embracing of the hardships and suffering on the spiritual path as the highest form of purification.
An ordinary person has the capacity for extraordinary healing. This ability is gained by recognizing the suffering of others as our own, by suffering as they are suffering, by feeling one with them. Cultivating such sentiments gives rise to a warm and caring heart, full of compassion. Only then can be mobilized the boundless powers of healing that reside within the infinite depths of our consciousness. In fact disease and suffering are believed to be particularly liberating in as much as they offer us an opportunity to experience our interconnectedness with other beings by making us aware of our own mortality. There is a story about an abbot of a monastery who had gained much proficiency in the powers of compassionate healing. One day while addressing his disciples, he suddenly yelled in pain. When the lamas asked what was wrong, he told them that a dog was being beaten outside. Going out, they found an angry man with a stick chasing away a dog. When the man was called in the abbot pulled down his own robes to reveal his back. On the same place where the dog was hit were fresh cuts and bruises. This is the sort of oneness that an ideal healer is sought to possess.
The Buddhist tradition identifies the Medicine Buddha as the ideal healer, and it also stresses that the utmost powers of healing lie within our own selves. According to Deepak Chopra "We have a pharmacy inside us that is absolutely exquisite. It makes the right medicine, for the precise time, for the right target organ - with no side effects."
Thus by extension we come to the realization that the venerable Medicine Buddha is within each of us. The path to this realization lies through meditation, specifically the meditation of visualization. By meditating on him and visualizing him in front of us we can come face to face with the Medicine Buddha whose smile radiates compassion to the universe, and whose gentle eyes melt with love for all living beings.
Next, then, a ray of golden light comes from the heart of the Buddha, and gently penetrates our own heart. (Heart here means 'heart center' - the core of our being inside the center of our chest, not the physical pumping mechanism). This heart-center is defined as:
"Within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself. This sanctuary is a simple awareness of comfort, which can't be violated by the turmoil of events. This place feels no trauma and stores no hurt. It is the healing mental space that one seeks to find in meditation."
--- Deepak Chopra
This realization comes to us as a flash of insight, and it is not verbal, nor linguistically structured. It is a feeling of sudden, liberating knowledge, when without words we experience the truth. A truth gauged through words is not spontaneous since a finite amount of time is required to dwell on their meaning. It is through this imaginative, symbolic and creative spiritual experience that 'ordinary' beings are transformed into extraordinary healers. This is the way to relate to the Medicine Buddha, the greatest of all healers.
No wonder then that doctors believing in these ideals perform this meditation and invoke the Medicine Buddha before they prepare their medicines and when offering them to patients. While doing so they also simultaneously chant his mantra. This mantra is OM BEKANDZE BEKANDZE MAHA BEKANDZE RANDZE SAMUNGATE SOHA. As they recite this sacred formula they visualize nectar flowing down from the syllables of the mantra into the medicine. The syllables then completely dissolve into the medicine and grant it the potency and power to heal.
This is a symbolic gesture aimed at the realization that as the sacred syllables making up the mantra grant the medicine its capacity to heal, likewise by consciously following the path of righteous karma, we are able to soak our lives with the nectar which flows from the virtues gained through such action.

References and Further Reading
" Baker, Ian. The Tibetan Art of Healing, New Delhi, 1997.
" Chopra, Deepak. Journey Into Healing (Awakening the Wisdom Within You), London, 1999.
" Chopra, Deepak. The Seven Spiritual laws of Success: New Delhi, 2000.
" Crow, David. In Search of the Medicine Buddha (A Himalayan Journey), New York, 2001.
" Landaw, Jonathan, and Weber, Andy. Images of Enlightenment (Tibetan Art in Practice), New York, 1993.
" Rinpoche, Lama Zopa, Foreword by Lillian Too. Ultimate Healing (The Power of Compassion), Boston, 2001.
" Shrestha, Romio. Celestial Gallery: New York, 2000.
" Vessantara. Meeting the Buddhas (A Guide to Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Tantric Deities), Birmingham, 1993.
" Yanagi, The Unknown Craftsman (A Japanese Insight into Beauty), Tokyo, 1989.

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Copyright ©2005, ExoticIndiaArt


Facing death - Embracing life
by Nirado
First printed in OurTimes, the Byron Bay, Oz, bi-monthly magazine for free spirits everywhere. ourtimes@om.com.au
What would you do
if you were suddenly given
3 months to live ?

It's probably the last thing you actually want to think about, yet in reality, the only certainty in life is death, other than birth and that we can assume has already happened. What is not certain is the time of death. We live in a culture that is in constant denial of this fact and one that provides very little preparation for this profound transition.
Being one who has probably had her fair share of losses in life: death of a parent, separation from a partner, a miscarriage, and the loss of income due to an extended illness; I thought I knew a thing or two about grieving, letting go, moving on. I'd experienced death celebrations in other cultures and felt I had a fairly healthy attitude to death and dying.
About a year ago, however, I'd reached a plateau in my healing process and a basic enthusiasm for life was eluding me. I had a subtle, nagging feeling that maybe I was actually scared of getting totally well and embracing life with my former energy. Who will I be? What will I do? How will I manifest support for myself? What is my purpose here? I understood somewhere that until I was ready to confront my own mortality, my life was going to remain somehow on hold - my potential unfulfilled. It was actually this fear that motivated me to enrol. A life lived in fear is a life half lived, and all that!
So it was with a sense of inevitability and not a little trembling, that I found myself booked to do a two-day workshop called Facing Death - Embracing Life with Judy Arpana, a friend, teacher, and kind of personal guardian angel of mine whom I've been privileged to know since I moved to Byron Bay nearly 10 years ago. Her wisdom and compassion is dispensed with straight talking, sensitivity and humour and I knew I couldn't be in more capable and caring hands.
An inspirational healer
Arpana's work with the terminally ill and her study of the dying process with Tibetan lamas and other teachers over the last 20 years has been inspirational and healing for many people.
I asked her how she came to be involved in this work. She replied, "Working on the premise that we teach what we need to learn, I obviously need to be doing this work and I'm really happy if other people benefit from it. There has been a lot of grief in my life. When my father died and I wasn't there and I didn't hear about it until later, it was probably the worst possible scenario for a healthy grieving. This drew me to Tibetan Buddhism and I have been blessed with meeting many wonderful teachers in my life. If I can be a vehicle for sharing what I have learned from them, them my life right now seems to have a sense of purpose."
Here on the North Coast of New South Wales, Judy Arpana was responsible for establishing a branch of the AIDS Council of NSW in Lismore. She has been part of a network of support for the sick and dying that now includes an alternative Funeral Service, where bereaved friends and families are offered practical information and support in creating meaningful ceremonies, and a Buddhist Hospice Service in Mullumbimby, staffed by volunteers who care for those who wish to die at home.
Bringing light to the subject of death
Arpana is fond of saying that her mission is to 'normalise' death. In demystifying death, we come to accept it as a part of the natural cycle of life and we can begin to live less fearfully and save ourselves unnecessary suffering.
"During the workshop,we examined the whole nature of loss and grief, not only in relation to physical death, but with all the little deaths that can occur in the course of a lifetime. It could be the loss of a friendship, a pet, a relationship, a lifestyle, job or house...children leaving home, menopause, retirement, the loss of self-image or a physical function."
We often don't recognise grief," Arpana says "because it isn't any one feeling or identifiable emotion. We each have our unique way of dealing with grief, loss and change. Hearing others' stories in the group, you start to recognise that some of the things you might have been feeling are actually a manifestation of grief. To realise that denial is, in fact, a valid coping mechanism is a great relief."
Unreal expectations
Arpana says that it's been her experience that it takes at least two years to adjust to the loss of a family member or close personal friend. "We often expect ourselves to be strong and to be over it in two or three months. Hearing that this is a totally unreal expectation to put on yourself, allows compassion for your own pace and way of grieving."
Stephen Levine in his book 'Healing Into Life and Death ' offers this insight: 'That feeling of not grieving correctly, of being separate from grief, is grief itself. It is that feeling of separation from ourselves and others to which the word 'grief' can most accurately be applied...Opening to the little grief, the little losses, the little deaths, we make room for the greater grief, the greater losses, the greater death.''
It is important to understand and honour the grieving process as an essential part of healing. Change is our only constant. If we can restructure our concept of change as loss and recognise the gains it offers, we can learn not to resist it. Then major life transitions become much less painful. Embracing change with grace and ease, we can move more positively and freely towards the next stage in our lives."
"I think it was Osho who said that there is only one real fear: the fear of death. If we closely examine all our fears, they actually come back to not existing. This state is also attainable through meditation. By meditating we are actually practising for our own death. In the workshop, meditations and guided visualisations assist participants in accepting and preparing for a conscious death."
Life: a preparation for death?
Arpana cites the Buddhist idea that life is just a preparation for death. "They say the most important moment of your life is the moment of your death, and that we will handle that transition in exactly the same way that we have dealt with all other changes in our lives. If we respond at that moment with fear, or anger or grasping (what the Buddhists call attachment), then we will take a rebirth unconsciously. We will incarnate very quickly and without a lot of direction. With a calm and clear mind, however, free of fear, ready to leave and with nothing incomplete, we are able to consciously choose the mode and place of rebirth."
In the workshop there are opportunities to complete unfinished business, prepare a will, even write your own obituary, design your funeral and art-direct your wake. For me, this was a very profound experience, as I really did complete some issues that had been lingering and draining energy. In creating a celebration for my passing, I had a huge amount of fun and really came to appreciate myself as I am now. I realised that I don't need to become anybody else to be worthy of being celebrated.
What Arpana teaches is the kind of information to which everyone should have access. We need more light cast on the subject of death and dying. It needs to be brought out of the dark, unspoken territory where it currently resides in our society. I beleive it should be taught in schools!
One participant reported, "As I begin to prepare for my death consciously, I feel I am preparing for a renewed sense of appreciation for all that is precious to me in my life."
Arpana adds: "In facing the inevitability of our death, the ordinary and simple events in our lives take on a deeper significance. We develop a greater appreciation for those around us and the planet we share. Life's priorities change. We learn not to postpone life and awaken to a deeper compassion and a richer, more meaningful existence."
For me, writing this article has been a confronting journey. Delving into this territory again has brought up a heap of reminders about uncomfortable areas that I've yet to clean up in my life: cupboards not sorted, affairs still to put in order, responsibilities postponed, letters unwritten to loved ones, creative projects yet to initiate, words left unsaid, gratitude unexpressed.
Although, giving voice to this fundamental material represents one piece of unfinished business that's now complete. So if I'm dead by the time this article appears, there'll be one less pile of papers for my loved ones to deal with! It's been a HUGE life so far and if this is it, then I'm full of gratitude. (Detailed instructions for a long, loud and outrageous celebration are scribbled in one of my notepads, guys. Remember, she loved to party!)
If you'd like more information about the FACING DEATH - EMBRACING LIFE workshops e-mail Judy Arpana c/o yoni.


Foundation of healing
By Tulku Thondup, Rinpoche

Our minds possess the power of healing pain and creating joy. If we use that power along with proper living, a positive attitude, and meditation, we can heal not only our mental and emotional afflictions, but even physical problems.
When we cling to our wants and worries with all our energy, we create only stress and exhaustion. By loosening the attitude that Buddhists call "grasping at self," we can open to our true nature, which is peaceful and enlightened. This book is an invitation to the awakening of our inner wisdom, a source of healing we all possess. Like a door opening to this wisdom, we can bring in the sunlight, warmth, and gentle breeze of healing. The source of this energy is ours to touch and share at any moment, a universal birthright that can bring us joy even in a world of suffering and ceaseless change.
In Buddhism, the wisdom taught in the scriptures is mainly aimed at realizing enlightenment. However, spiritual exercises can also help us find happiness and health in our everyday life. There are extensive discourses in Buddhism on improving our ordinary life and having a peaceful, joyous, and beneficial existence in this very world.
Buddhism advocates releasing the unnecessary and unhealthy tension that we create in our lives by realizing the truth of how things really are. I have seen many examples of the healing power of the mind for mental and emotional problems, and for physical sickness too.
One example is from my own life. When I was eighteen, my dear teacher Kyala Khenpo and I decided to flee Tibet because of political turmoil, knowing that we were losing home, country, friends, and livelihood. In an empty but sacred valley, Kyala Khenpo died from old age and sickness. He was not only my kind and enlightened teacher, but had cared for me as a parent since I was five. This was one of the saddest and most confused times of my life. However, my understanding of mpermanence-- the fact that everything always changes in life-- made it easier to accept. Spiritual experiences enabled me to remain calm, and the wisdom lights of teachings made the path of my future life clearer to me. In other words, recognizing the nature of what was happening, opening to it, and using sources of power that I had already been given helped me heal from my loss more easily. As we shall see, these three basic steps--acknowledging difficulties and suffering, opening to them, and cultivating a positive attitude--are integral to the healing process.
Another of my teachers, Pushul Lama, had mental problems throughout his youth. He was so destructive that when he was a teenager, his family had to tie him up to protect others--and himself--from his violence. Through healing meditations--mainly of compassion--he healed himself and later became a great scholar and teacher. Today I know of no person more cheerful, peaceful, and kind.
When I lived in Tibet, physical healing through meditation and the right attitude were a common part of everyday life. So now when people ask me for examples of physical healing, it's not easy to figure out which story to tell. For someone from Tibet, it is accepted as an ordinary event that the mind can heal the body. The mind leads the energies of the body--this is how it is. There were so many healings, I never paid much attention when I was younger. However, I do know of one recent example that many people might find amazing, even if it is not very surprising from the Buddhist point of view.
A couple years ago, the present Dodrupchen Rinpoche, a highly spiritual living lama, had an attack of severe appendicitis while traveling in the remote countryside of Bhutan. A senior minister of the country arranged for a helicopter to take him to a hospital. The doctors were afraid Rinpoche's appendix would rupture, and the pain was very great. Against the strong advice of his doctors, he refused surgery and healed himself using meditations and mantras.
The ability to recover from such a serious sickness through meditation depends on a person's level of trust and spiritual experience. Of course, most of us would be very glad to have the opportunity for surgery if our appendix were about to burst! I only tell this true story to illustrate the power of the mind, and because people have such a strong interest in maintaining their physical health. Few of us are spiritual masters. But anyone can benefit from meditation and a positive attitude. Beginning from where we are right now, it is possible to live a happier and healthier life.
Although physical sickness is one subject you will read about here, this book is meant mostly as a manual for dealing with our everyday emotions. This is the best starting place for most of us. If we can learn to bring greater contentment into everything we do, other blessings will naturally flow.
The views and meditation exercises in this book are inspired mainly by teachings of Nyingma Buddhism, the oldest school of Buddhism in Tibet, dating to the ninth century, a school that combines the three major Buddhist traditions: Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. However, you need not be a Buddhist to use this book. Unfortunately, many people perceive Buddhism as a religion propagated by a particular historical teacher, the Shakyamuni Buddha, that is intended to benefit only the followers of this tradition.
Buddhism is a universal path. Its aim is to realize universal truth, the fully enlightened state, Buddhahood. According to Shakyamuni Buddha himself, an infinite number of beings realized Buddhahood before he was born. There are, were, and will be Buddhism, the path, and Buddhas (those who have realized enlightenment) in this world as well as other worlds, in the past, present, and future. It is true that almost twenty-five hundred years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha propagated teachings that became known as Buddhism. The Buddhism taught by Shakyamuni is one of the appearances of Buddhism, but it is not the only one. People whose minds are open will hear the true way, which Buddhists call Dharma, even from nature. The Dharmasamgiti says: "People who have mental well-being, even if the Buddha is not present, will hear Dharma from the sky, walls, and trees. For seekers whose minds are pure, teachings and instructions will appear just by their own wishes."
Buddhism recognizes the differences in cultures and practices of people around the world, and in individual upbringings and personalities. Many other cultures and religions have traditions of healing, and offer specific advice about suffering. Even in Tibet there are many approaches to Buddhism. Having different approaches is good, even if they sometimes appear to contradict one another, because people are different. The whole purpose is to suit the needs of the individual.
Healing through meditation is not limited to a particular religious belief. Nowadays, many physicians trained in conventional Western medical science are recommending traditional methods of meditation as a way to restore and maintain mental and physical health. These practices rarely acknowledge the experience of what Buddhists call the true nature or the great openness, but instead emphasize visualization and the development of a positive attitude and positive energy. High blood pressure, which in many cases is created and aggravated by mental stress, is particularly responsive to such alternative treatments. Some physicians recommend concentrating the mind on a physical point where the muscles are contracted and then consciously releasing those muscles, so that relief and relaxation will result. This technique follows the same principle as the Buddhist way of recognizing a problem and loosening the grasping at it.
Healing is most effective if it is accompanied by any spiritual belief or meditation experience. Herbert Benson, M.D., of Harvard Medical School, who originated the Relaxation Response, writes: "If you truly believe in your personal philosophy or religious faith--if you are committed, mind and soul, to your world view-- you may well be capable of achieving remarkable feats of mind and body that we may only speculate about."
Bernie Siegel, M.D., a surgeon and professor at Yale University, describes some of the benefits of meditation: "It tends to lower or normalize blood pressure, pulse rate, and the levels of stress hormones in the blood. It produces changes in brain-wave patterns, showing less excitability. . . . Meditation also raises the pain threshold and reduces one's biological age. . . . In short, it reduces wear and tear on both body and mind, helping people live better and longer."
Many journalists, like Bill Moyers, have long noted the relation of mind and body to health. Here is what Moyers says in his introduction to the book Healing and the Mind, based on the Public Broadcasting System's television series.
I suppose I've always been interested in the relation of mind and body, growing up as I did in a culture that separated them distinctly. . . . Yet every day in this divided world of mind and body, our language betrayed the limitations of our categories. "Widow Brown must have died of a broken heart--she never got sick until after her husband was gone." My parents talked about our friend the grocer, who "worried himself sick," and my uncle Carl believed that laughter could ease what ailed you long before Norman Cousins published his story about how he coped with serious illness by watching Marx Brothers movies and videos of "Candid Camera."
In recent years, Western medical science has begun to take a closer look at mind and body, and to examine the connection between the mind, emotions, and health. In the 1970s researchers found evidence of what they called neurotransmitters, chemical messengers to and from the brain. Some neurotransmitters, called endorphins and enkephalins, act as natural painkillers. Others seem to be related to particular states of mind, such as anger, contentment, or mental illness.
Research is continuing on the biological links between the brain, the nervous system, and the immune system. Although Western medical science is not the topic of this book, discoveries in this area are very interesting. New evidence about mind and body is always welcomed and may benefit many people. However, the basic idea behind the research is actually very old. Buddhism has believed in the importance of the mind for many centuries, long before modern theories of molecular biology were advanced.
In Buddhism, the mind generates healing energies, while the body, which is solid and stable, grounds, focuses, and strengthens them. The main text of Tibetan medicine is the Four Tantras (Gyud zhi), which Tibetans see as a terma, or mystical revelation, discovered by Trawa Ngonshey in the eleventh century. According to these ancient texts, the root of all sickness of mind and body is grasping at "self." The poisons of the mind that arise from this grasping are ignorance, hatred, and desire.
Physical sicknesses are classified into three main divisions. Disharmony of wind or energy, which is generally centered in the lower body and is cold by nature, is caused by desire. Disharmony of bile, which is generally in the upper body and is hot, is caused by hatred. Disharmony of phlegm, which is generally centered in the head and is cold by nature, is caused by ignorance. These categories--desire, ignorance, and hatred--as well as the temperatures associated with them can still be very useful today in determining which meditation exercises might be most helpful, depending on the individual's emotional state and nature.
According to Tibetan medicine, living in peace, free from emotional afflictions, and loosening our grip on "self" is the ultimate medicine for both mental and physical health.
What is this "self" that has come up now several times in this book? The Buddhist view of self is sometimes difficult for people outside this tradition to understand. Although you can meditate without knowing what the self is, some background on the self will make it easier to do the healing exercises presented later.
Language can be tricky when we are talking about great truths. In an everyday sense, it is quite natural and fine to talk about "myself" and "yourself." I think we can agree that self-knowledge is good, and that selfishness can make us unhappy. But let's go a bit further and examine the deeper truth about self as Buddhists see it.
Our minds create the experience of both happiness and suffering, and the ability to find peace lies within us. In its true nature, the mind is peaceful and enlightened. Anyone who understands this is already on the path to wisdom.
Buddhism is centered on the principle of two truths, the absolute truth and the relative truth. The absolute is that the true nature of our minds and of the universe is enlightened, peaceful, and perfect. By the true nature of the mind, Nyingma Buddhism means the union of awareness and openness.
The relative or conventional truth is that in the whole spectrum of ordinary life--the passing, impermanent earthly life of birth and death that Buddhists call samsara--the world is experienced as a place of suffering, ceaseless change, and delusion, for the face of the true nature has been obscured by our mental habits and emotional afflictions, rooted in our grasping at "self."
In Western thought, "self" usually means personhood, or the ego consciousness of "I, me, and mine." Buddhism includes this meaning of self, but also understands "self" as any phenomenon or object-- anything at all--that we might grasp at as if it were a truly existing entity. It could be the self of another person, the self of a table, the self of money, or the self of an idea.
If we grasp at these things, we are experiencing them in a dualistic way, as a subject grasping at an object. Then the mind begins to discriminate, to separate and label things, such as the idea that "I" like "this," or "I" don't like "this." We might think, "this" is nice, and attachment comes in, or "that" is not so nice, then pain may come. We may crave something we do not have, or fear losing what we have, or feel depressed at having lost it. As our mind gets tighter and tighter, we feel increasing excitement or pain, and this is the cycle of suffering.
With our "relative" or ordinary mind, we grasp at self as if it were firm and concrete. However, self is an illusion, because everything in the experience of samsara is transitory, changing, and dying. Our ordinary mind thinks of self as something that truly exists as an independent entity. But in the Buddhist view, self does not truly exist. It is not a fixed or solid thing, but a mere designation labeled by the mind. Neither is self an independent entity. In the Buddhist view, everything functions interdependently, so that there is nothing that has a truly independent quality or nature.
In Buddhism, the law of causation is called karma. Every action has a commensurate effect; everything is interdependent. Seeds grow into green shoots, then into trees, then into fruits and flowers, which produce seeds again. That is a very simple example of causation. Because of karma, our actions shape the world of our lives. Vasubandhu, the greatest Mahayana writer on metaphysics, said: "Due to karma deeds various worlds are born."
Grasping creates negative karma--our negative tendencies and habits. But not all karma is negative, although some people mistakenly think of it this way. We can also create positive karma, and that is what healing is about. The tight grip on self creates negative karma. Positive karma loosens that grip, and as we relax, we find our peaceful center and become happier and healthier.
Buddhists believe that all beings possess Buddha- nature. In our true nature we are all Buddhas. However, the face of our Buddha-nature is obscured by karma and its traces, which are rooted in grasping at self, just as the sun is covered by clouds.
All beings are the same and are one in being perfect in their true nature. We know that when our mind is natural, relaxed, and free from mental or emotional pressures and situations that upset us, we experience peace. This is evidence that the uncontaminated nature of the mind is peaceful and not painful. Although this wisdom, the true nature that dwells in us, has been covered by mental defilements, it remains perfect and clear. Nagarjuna, founder of the Middle Way school of Mahayana Buddhism, writes:
Water in the earth remains unstained.
Likewise, in the emotional afflictions,
Wisdom remains unstained.
Nagarjuna speaks of peace and freedom as our own "ultimate sphere," which is within us all the time if we only realize it:
In the womb of a pregnant woman,
Although there is a child, we cannot see it.
Likewise, we do not see our own "ultimate sphere,"
Which is covered by our emotional afflictions.
Peace is within us; we need not look elsewhere for it. By using what Buddhists call "skillful means," including meditation exercises, we can uncover this ultimate sanctuary. Nagarjuna describes the ultimate sphere--the great openness, the union of mind and universe--this way:
As by churning the milk, its essence-butter appears immaculately,
By purifying mental afflictions, the "ultimate sphere" manifests immaculately.
As a lamp in a vase does not manifest,
The "ultimate sphere" enveloped in the vase of mental afflictions is not visible for us.
In whatever part of the vase you make a hole,
From that very part, light from the lamp will shine forth.
When the vase of mental afflictions is destroyed through vajra-like meditation,
The light shines unto the limits of space.
Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, says in Haivajra:
Living beings are Buddha in their true nature,
But their nature is obscured by casual or sudden afflictions.
When the afflictions are cleansed, living beings themselves are the very Buddha.
Buddahood, or enlightenment, is "no-self." It is total, everlasting, universal peace, openness, selflessness, oneness, and joy. For most people, the prospect of total realization of enlightenment is very foreign and difficult to understand. The purpose of this book is not to go beyond self, not to be fully enlightened, but only to relax our grip on self a little bit, and to be happier and healthier. Even so, it may be helpful to have an idea of what is meant by total openness and oneness.
The stories that we hear about "near-death experiences," of nearly dying but coming back from death, can provide us with insight. Many people who have survived the process of dying describe traveling through a tunnel and being met by a white light that touches them, giving them a feeling of great bliss and peace. Yet the light is not something separate from that experience. The light is peace. And they are the light. They do not experience the light in the usual dualistic way, as someone seeing light, as a subject and an object. Instead, the light, peace, and person are one.
In one near-death story, a man tells of reviewing everything that happened in his life, from birth until death--not just one event after another, but his entire life simultaneously. And he didn't just see with his eyes or hear with his ears, or even know with his mind; he had a vivid and pure awareness of seeing, knowing, and feeling without distinctions among them. In such a case, when limits and restrictions are gone, there is oneness. With oneness, there is no suffering or conflict, because conflict exists only where there is more than one.
For Buddhists, such experiences are especially interesting because they could be a glimpse of the "luminous bardo of ultimate nature"--a transitional period after death that, for people who have some realization of the truth, transcends the realm of ordinary space, time, and concepts. But such stories are not just about the experience of death; they also tell us about the enlightenment that is possible while we are alive.
The enlightened mind is really not so foreign. Openness is here within us, although we may not always recognize it. We can all experience it at some important juncture in our life, or even as a glimpse amid our everyday existence. We don't have to be near death. Although near-death stories can be inspiring and interesting, enlightenment isn't just one story or another. It is not "this" experience, or "that" way of looking or being. Total openness is free from the extremes of "existing" and "not existing"; nor is it both "existing" and "not existing"--or neither "existing" nor "not existing." In other words, total openness cannot be contained in concepts and descriptions.
Enlightenment is oneness, beyond grasping at self, beyond duality, beyond happy or sad, beyond positive or negative karma. However, when we talk of healing, as in this book, it is not necessary to be too concerned with enlightenment. Realizing the true nature of our minds is the ultimate healing, but the ordinary mind also has healing powers. We can use our everyday, dualistic minds to help ourselves. Most of the exercises in this book take this everyday approach to becoming more relaxed and happy.
So our aim is simply to go from negative to positive, from sickness to healing. If we are already in a positive state for the time being, we can learn how to maintain and enjoy that. However much we loosen our grasping, that much better will we feel.
On a long journey, we may want to keep the ultimate destination in mind, but it is good to take one day at a time and rest along the way. If we want to relax our grip on self, we shouldn't try too hard. It is better to take a gentle approach. Whatever steps we take, even if they are small, the most important thing is to rejoice in those small steps; then they become powerful. Always we should appreciate what we are able to do, and not feel bad about what we haven't done.
To be a little more open, a little more positive, a little more relaxed. These are the goals of this book. If we are newcomers to meditation and spiritual training, it is important to be practical, to use our knowledge of ourselves to see the right path to take. When we keep an open attitude, suggestions about specific healing meditations can help us swiftly along the path. The best guide of all is the wisdom within us. We are not restricted to a few methods of meditation. Instead, all of life--thinking, feeling, everyday activities and experiences--can be a means of healing.


Healing and the Reality of Death
by Chogyam Trungpa
Shambhala Sun

We view our desire to get rid of disease as a desire to live. But it is often just the opposite: it is an attempt to avoid life. Illness is not so special- nor so terrible. It is a question of acknowledging that we are born alone and we die alone, but that it is still okay.
In discussing sickness, whether physical or mental, we should recognize the importance of our sense of survival. We want to survive, and when we talk about healing, we are talking about how to survive. Viewed from another angle, our strategy of survival is the pattern of our reaction to the fact of death.
One's attitude toward death is central to any healing process. Although it is frequently ignored it is always in the background. No one actually wants to face the possibility of death, or even the idea of death. Even a mild sickness points to the possibility of nothingness: we might lose control of our physical or mental situation; we might become lost in mid-air. Facing the fear of loss will not exactly solve the problem, but, to begin with, the problem should at least be faced.
When we are willing to acknowledge what is really happening, we pick up spirit, or buoyancy. One could even go so far as to say that by such acknowledgment some kind of sanity develops. So I think it is very important to present the possibility to people that they might have to face some kind of loss, some sense of bewilderment. The healer should encourage people who are sick to confront their uncertainty. Such open communication will allow a real meeting to take place, an honest relationship.
Some people talk about healing in a magical sense, as when so-called healers put their hands on a sick person and miraculously heal them; others talk about the physical approach to healing, using drugs, surgery, and so forth. But I think the important point is that any real healing has to come out of some kind of psychological openness. There are constant opportunities for such openness-constant gaps in our conceptual and physical structures. If we begin to breathe out, then we create room for fresh air to rush in. If we do not breathe, there is no way for the fresh air to enter. It is a question of psychological attitude rather than of being taken over by external powers that heal us. Openness seems to be the only key to healing. And openness means we are willing to acknowledge that we are worthy; we have some kind of ground to relate with whatever is happening to us.
People tend to feel that their particular sickness is something special, that they are the only person with such an illness. But in fact, their illness is not so special-nor so terrible. It is a question of acknowledging that we are born alone and that we die alone, but that it is still okay. There is nothing particularly terrible or special about it.
Often the whole notion of sickness is taken as a purely mechanical problem: something is wrong with one's machine, one's body. But somehow that is missing the point. It is not the sickness that is the big problem, but the psychological state behind it.
We could not have gotten sick in the first place without some kind of loss of interest and attention. Whether we were run down by a car or we caught a cold, there was some gap in which we did not take care of ourselves-an empty moment in which we ceased to relate to things properly. There was no ongoing awareness of our psychological state.
So to the extent that we invite it to begin with, all sickness-and not just those diseases traditionally considered to be psychosomatic-are psychological. All diseases are instigated by one's state of mind. And even after we have dealt with the disease and the symptoms have disappeared, by pretending that the problem is over, we only plant seeds for further neurosis.
It seems that we generally avoid our psychological responsibility, as though diseases were external events imposing
themselves upon us. There is a quality of sleepiness, and of missing the gaps in the seemingly solid structure of our lives. Out of that sense of carelessness comes an immense message. Our bodies demand our attention; our bodies demand that we actually pay attention to what is going on with our lives. Illness brings us down to earth, making things seem much more direct and immediate.
Disease is a direct message to develop a proper attitude
of mindfulness: we should be more intelligent about ourselves. Our minds and bodies are both very immediate. You alone know how your body feels. No one else cares; no one else can know but you. So there is a natural wakefulness about what is good for you and what is not. You can respond intelligently to your body by paying attention to your state of mind.
Because of this, the practice of meditation may be the only way to really cure ourselves. Although the attempt to use meditation as some sort of cure may seem materialistic, the practice itself soon cuts through any materialistic attitude.
Basically, mindfulness is a sense of composure. In meditation we are not accomplishing anything; we are just there, seeing our lives. There is a general sense of watchfulness, and an awareness of the body as an extremely sensitive mechanism which gives us messages constantly. If we have missed all the rest of the opportunities to relate with these messages, we find ourselves sick. Our bodies force us to be mindful on the spot. So it is important not to try to get rid of the sickness but to use it as a message.
We view our desire to get rid of disease as a desire to live. But instead it is often just the opposite: it is an attempt to avoid life. Although we seemingly want to be alive, in fact we simply want to avoid intensity. It is an ironic twist: we actually want to be healed in order to avoid life. So the hope for cure is a big lie; it is the biggest conspiracy of all. In fact, all entertainment-whether it is the movies or various programs for so-called self-growth-lures us into feeling that we are in touch with life, while in fact we are putting ourselves into a further stupor.
The role of the healer is not just to cure the disease; it is to cut through the tendency to see disease as an external threat. By providing companionship and some kind of sympathy, the healer creates a suggestion of health or underlying sanity, which then undermines naive conceptions of disease. The healer deals with the mishandling of the gaps that occur in one's life, with one's losses of spirit.
The healing relationship is a meeting of two minds: that
of the healer and patient, or for that matter, of the spiritual
teacher and student. If you and the other person are both open, some kind of dialogue can take place that is not forced. Communication occurs naturally because both are in the same situation.
If the patient feels terrible, the healer picks up that sense of the patient's wretchedness: for a moment he feels more or less the same, as if he himself were sick. For a moment the two are not separate and a sense of authenticity takes place.
From the patient's point of view, that is precisely what is needed: someone acknowledges his existence and the fact that he needs help very badly. Someone actually sees through his sickness. The healing process can then begin to take place in the patient's state of being, because he realizes that someone has communicated with him completely. There has been a mutual glimpse of common ground. The psychological underpinning of the sickness then begins to come apart, to dissolve.
The same thing applies to meetings between a meditation teacher and his or her student. There is a flash of understanding-nothing particularly mystical or "far out," as they say-just very simple, direct communication. The student understands and the teacher understands at the same moment. In this common flash of understanding, knowledge is imparted.
When there is that kind of openness, the healer does not have to solve a person's problem completely. The approach of trying to repair everything has always been a problem in the past; such an approach creates a successive string of cures and deceptions, which seem to go hand in hand. Once the basic fear is acknowledged, continuing with the treatment becomes very easy.
And finally, what do we mean when we say that a patient has been healed? To be healed, ironically, means that a person is no longer embarrassed by life; he or she is able to face death without resentment or expectation.
©1994 Diana J. Mukpo. By gracious permission of the copyright holder.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1940-1987) was the founder of the Vajradhatu organization of Buddhist centers, The Naropa Institute, Shambhala Training, and other contemplative institutions, including the Shambhala Sun. Among his best known books are Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism; The Myth of Freedom; and Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.


Healing Justice : A Buddhist Perspective
David Loy

"The history of punishment is in some respects like the history of war; it seems to accompany the human condition almost universally, to enjoy periods of glorification, to be commonly regarded as justified in many instances, and yet to run counter to our ultimate vision of what human society should be."[1]
Why do we punish? It seems a silly question, but only until we try to answer it. To punish is to harm, and harming must be justified. Three types of justification are usually offered: the harm of punishment is outweighed by some greater good (e.g., it deters others); punishment does not really harm offenders (because it reforms them); and harming offenders is good in itself (because retribution "annuls the crime"). However, each of these reasons becomes problematical when we examine it.
The first argument is a utilitarian one, but it seems immoral to harm someone because we want to influence others' behavior; such a principle could also be used to justify scapegoating innocents. This is not just an abstract point, for there is the uncomfortable possibility that offenders today have become scapegoats for our social problems. And if punishment warns other would-be offenders, why does the United States, which punishes a larger percentage of its population than any other Western country, continue to have the highest crime rate?
The second argument, that punishment reforms rather than harms the offender, obviously is not true now. The Quakers may have intended the penitentiary to be a place of penitence, yet there is little doubt that today incarceration makes most offenders worse. A RAND study found that recidivism is actually higher for offenders sent to prison than for similar offenders put on probation. That should not surprise us, for the predatory societies found in most prisons make them more like hell than places to repent and reform. Prison settings dehumanize, divert offenders' attention from victims, and reinforce their low self-esteem. As often happens, an institution which does not fulfill its original purpose continues to exist for other reasons - in this case because, to tell the truth, we have not known what else to do with most offenders.
The third argument, that harming offenders somehow annuls the crime, incorporates several types of justifications. The most common is the desire for vengeance, which is understandable but morally dubious and socially destructive. Another version sees punishment as God's retribution; the Buddhist equivalent understands punishment more impersonally, as an effect of one's karma. Neither is a good argument for human punishment: neither God nor an objective moral law needs our help, especially since it is inevitable that humans will occasionally make mistakes (e.g., execute innocents).
The important point is that all versions of this third justification build upon the intuitive belief that something must be done to "make right" the harm that offenses cause to victims and the social fabric. What motivates the restorative justice movement is the increasing recognition that our present judicial system is not doing this well enough. The problem, we are beginning to realize, is a deep one: we sense that there may be something wrong with our atomistic understanding of the social contract and its presumptions about "the good life", but we are not sure which way to look for an alternative paradigm - which is why it is essential to get perspectives on this paradigm that can only be provided by the worldviews and values of other cultures.
The Buddhist approach to punishment, like any other approach, cannot really be separated from its understanding of human psychology and its vision of human possibility. This suggests that criminal justice is not solely a secular issue, for questions of fairness and justice cannot be completely separated from the religious perspectives they historically derive from: for the vast majority of humankind, crime, punishment and reform are still inextricably bound up with religious views about sin, judgement and forgiveness. Justice is one of those ultimate issues that bridge whatever distinction we try to make between sacred and secular, and our criminal justice system will always be subordinate to our larger vision of how people should relate to each other. Then is penal failure a barometer of our social failure in this larger respect - of our inadequate vision of what personal and social possibilities there are? This would explain our discomforting suspicion that criminals have become scapegoats, readily exploited by ambitious politicans (a fourth justification for punishment, unfortunately).
It is difficult to generalize about crime, because there are different types, committed by different types of people, which require different responses. The same is true for Buddhism: there is no such thing as the Buddhist tradition, for Buddhism has been extraordinarily adaptable in its spread to different places and cultures. Thailand, Tibet, China and Japan have had very different political and judicial systems, although some similar threads have been used in weaving their various patterns: especially the beliefs that all of us, offenders and victims alike, have the same Buddha-nature, which is not to be confused with our usual sense of self, an ever-changing collection of wholesome and unwholesome mental tendencies; that we are usually dominated by our greed, ill-will and delusion, but it is possible to change and outgrow them; and therefore the only reason to punish is education for reformation.[2]
We begin with two Pali (early) suttas which exemplify these threads: the Angulimala Sutta, the best-known Buddhist text on crime and punishment, about the reform of a serial killer; and the Lion's Roar Sutta, on the responsibility of a ruler to prevent crime and violence. Although the first may be based upon a true incident, both suttas are obviously mythic, which does not reduce their interest for us, since our concern is Buddhist attitudes. Then we will look at the Buddhist vinaya,which supplies the rules and corrective measures that regulate the lives of Buddhist bhikkhus (monks) and bhikkunis (nuns); these have many implications for our psychological understanding of motivation, education and reform. Finally, we look to traditional Tibet to see how its judicial system embodied these Buddhist perspectives. Tibet's lack of church/state separation means it is not a model that a modern secular and pluralistic society can duplicate - or are we already duplicating it? Does our usual distinction between the religious and civil spheres merely obscure the fact that the state has become a "secular god" for us?

The Angulimala Sutta [3]
Angulimala was a merciless bandit, who murdered many people and wore their fingers as a garland (hence his name, literally "finger-garland"). Although warned about him, the Blessed One (Sakyamuni Buddha) walks silently into his area. When Angulimala tries to catch him, however, the Buddha performs a supernatural feat: Angulimala, walking as fast as he can, cannot catch up with him, even though the Buddha is walking at his normal pace. Astonished, Angulimala calls out "Stop, recluse!"
Still walking, the Buddha answers: "I have stopped, Angulimala; you stop too." In response to Angulimala's puzzlement, he explains: "I have stopped forever, abstaining from violence towards living beings; but you show no such restraint." This impresses Angulimala so much that he renounces evil forever and asks to join the sangha; and the Buddha accepts him as a bhikkhu.
Meanwhile, people had gathered at the gates of King Pasenadi's palace, demanding that Angulimala be stopped. King Pasadeni goes forth with five hundred men to capture him. When he meets the Buddha and explains his quest, the Buddha responds: if you were to see that he is now a good bhikkhu, who abstains from killing, etc., how would you treat him?
The king replies that he would pay homage to him as a good bhikkhu, and is surprised when the Buddha points out Angulimala seated nearby. The king marvels that the Buddha was able to tame the untamed and bring peace to the unpeaceful. "Venerable sir, we ourselves could not tame him with force or weapons, yet the Blessed One has tamed him without force or weapons." Then he departs.
Soon after, the venerable Angulimala realizes the supreme goal of the holy life and attains nirvana, Later, however, during an almsround, he is beaten by townspeople, but the Buddha tells him to bear it, for it is a result of his past karma. The sutta concludes with some verses by Angulimala, for example: "Who checks the evil deeds he did/ By doing wholesome deeds instead,/ He illuminates the world/ Like the moon freed from a cloud."
The point of this sutta is not difficult to see: we need only contrast Angulimala's fate with what our retributive justice system would do to him. The importance of this story within the Buddhist tradition highlights the only reason Buddhism accepts for punishing an offender: to help re-form his or her character. Then there is no reason to punish someone who has already reformed himself. There is no mention of punishment as a deterrent; on the contrary, the case of Angulimala may be seen as setting a negative example, implying that one can escape punishment by becoming a bhikkhu, as if the sangha were something like the French foreign legion. There is also no hint that punishment is needed to "annul the crime", although Angulimala does suffer karmic consequences which even his nirvana (spiritual perfection) cannot escape. More generally, determining what judicial response is right or wrong - what is just - cannot be abstracted from the particular situation of the offender.
Nevertheless, this story is unsatisfactory from a restorative viewpoint. The sutta says nothing about the families of Angulimala's victims, or the larger social consequences of his crimes, except for the crowds at King Pasenadi's gate. That the humble monk Angulimala is stoned by villagers indicates more than bad karma; it implies that there has been no attempt at restorative justice which takes account of his effects on society. The social fabric of the community has been rent, yet there is no effort to "make things right". The particular situation of the offender is addressed by abstracting him from his social context. It would be unfair to take this as indicating a Buddhist indifference to society, yet it does exemplify the early Buddhist attitude to spiritual salvation: liberation is an individual matter, and the path to achieving it involves leaving society, not transforming it.

The Lion's Roar Sutta [4]
The Cakkavatti-sihanada Sutta addresses the relationship between criminal justice and social justice, especially the connection between poverty and violence. The Buddha often summarized his teachings into four noble truths: life is duhkha (unsatisfactory); the cause of duhkha; the end of duhkha; and the way to end duhkha. According to this Buddhist approach, the way to control crime naturally follows from correctly understanding the causes of crime. In this sutta the Buddha tells the story of a monarch in the distant past who initially venerated and relied upon the dhamma, doing as his sage advised: "Let no crime prevail in your kingdom, and to those who are in need, give property." Later, however, he began to rule according to his own ideas and did not give property to the needy, with the result that poverty became rife. Due to poverty one man took what was not given and was arrested; when the king asked him why, the man said he had nothing to live on. So the king gave him some property, saying that it would be enough to carry on a business and support his family.
Exactly the same thing happened to another man; and when other people heard about this they too decided to steal so they would be treated the same way. Then the king realized that if he continued to give property to such men, theft would continue to increase. So he decided to get tough on the next thief: "I had better make an end of him, finish him off once for all, and cut his head off." And he did.
At this point in the story, one might expect a moralistic parable about the importance of deterring crime, but it turns in exactly the opposite direction:
"Hearing about this, people thought: 'Now let us get sharp swords made for us, and then we can take from anybody what is not given, we will make an end of them, finish them off once and for all and cut off their heads.' So, having procured some sharp swords, they launched murderous assults on villages, towns and cities, and went in for highway-robbery, killing their victims by cutting off their heads.
"Thus, from the not giving of property to the needy, poverty became rife, from the growth of poverty, the taking of what was not given increased, from the increase of theft, the use of weapons increased, from the increased use of weapons, the taking of life increased . . ."
Despite some fanciful elements, this myth has important implications for our understanding of crime and punishment. The first point is that poverty is presented as the root cause of immoral behavior such as theft, violence, falsehood, etc. Unlike what we might expect from a supposedly world-denying religion, the Buddhist solution has nothing to do with accepting our poverty karma. The problem begins when the king does not give property to the needy - that is, when the state neglects its responsibility to maintain distributive justice. According to this influential sutta, crime, violence and immorality cannot be separated from broader questions about the justice or injustice of the social order. The solution is not to "crack down" harshly with severe punishments but to provide for people's basic needs. "The aim would be, not to create a society in which people in general were afraid to break the law, but one in which they could live sufficiently rewarding lives without doing so" (Wright 7). Today we prefer to throw our money at "wars on crime", but social indications suggest what the king belatedly realized, that such wars no one wins.
That brings us to the second point of the Lion's Roar Sutta, its understanding of violence. Instead of solving the problem, the king's violent attempt at deterrence sets off an explosion of violence that leads to social collapse. If punishment is sometimes a mirror-image of the crime, in this case the crimes are a mirror-image of the punishment. The state's violence reinforces the belief that violence works. When the state uses violence against those who do things it does not permit, we should not be surprised when some of its citizens feel entitled to do the same (Pepinsky 301). Such retributive violence "tends to confirm the outlook and life experiences of many offenders. Wrongs must be repaid by wrong and those who offend deserve vengeance. Many crimes are committed by people 'punishing' their family, the neighbors, their acquaintances" (Zehr 77). The emphasis on nonviolence within so much of the Buddhist tradition is not because of some otherworldly preoccupations; it is based upon the psychological insight that violence breeds violence. This is a clear example, if anything is, of the maxim that our means cannot be divorced from our ends. If there is no way to peace, peace itself must be the way. Since the state is not exempt from this truth, we must find some way to incorporate it into our judicial systems.

The Vinaya [5]
The Vinaya Pitaka is, in effect, a canonical compendium of the rules that bhikkhus and bhikkunis are expected to follow. The vinaya is based upon sila morality, which, although only one part of the three-part path (the others are samadhi concentration and prajna wisdom), provides the ethical foundation essential for all Buddhists. The five basic sila precepts are to abstain from killing, stealing, improper sexual behaviour, lying, and intoxicants. These precepts help us eradicate the three roots of evil: "As lust, malice and delusion are the basis of all undesirable volitional activity done by means of thoughts, word and body, the disciplinary code or Buddhist Laws are regarded as a means established for the rise of detached actions which finally result in pure expressions of body, speech and thought" (Ratnapala 42).
Although now rigidly codified, the vinaya approach is quite practical. Almost all rules originate from actual events (what we would call case law) rather than from hypothetical possibilities of wrong-doing. "The spirit of the law suggests that the laws act more or less as sign-posts or 'danger zones' indicating that one should be careful here, keeping in mind the example or examples of individuals who fell into trouble by this or that strategem" (Ratnapala 42). Since not derived from God or any other absolute authority, these rules are always open to revision, except for the four parajikas (sexual intercourse, stealing, killing a human being, and lying about one's spiritual attainment) which constitute automatic self-expulsion. Following the rules well is not in itself the goal; the reason for rules is that they promote personal and spiritual development.
The vinaya approach is very practical in another way too: in its realistic attitude towards human weakness. It is the nature of unenlightened human beings to be afflicted by greed, ill-will and delusion; that is, all of us are somewhat mad. As long as human beings are unenlightened, then, there will be crime. The extent of crime can be reduced by improving social and economic conditions, but no human society will ever be able to eradicate crime completely. This is consistent with the Buddhist attitude towards self-perfection: we improve only gradually, step by step, which implies that offences should be evaluated with tolerance and compassion.
If we are all somewhat insane, the insanity defense is always somewhat applicable, for there can be no presumption of free will or simple self-determination. Freedom is not a matter of liberating individual self-will (often motivated by greed, etc.) but overcoming such willfulness; not gained by removing external restraints, but by self-control and spiritual awakening. This denies the distinction we are usually quick to make between an offender and the rest of us. The rehabilitative model of secular therapy denies the offender's dignity and responsibility, as Conrad Brunk points out, but Buddhism avoids this problem by emphasizing the continuity between offenders and us: the difference is only a matter of degree - at most. According to Buddhism, the issue is not punishment but correction, and the best antidote to crime is to help people realize the full consequences of their actions (Ratnapala12-13).
In determining the nature of an offence against the vinaya, everything about an offender's situation is taken into consideration in order to make the best possible judgement about what should be done: one's past, character and intelligence, the nature and conduct of one's associates, as well as whether or not one has confessed. This may be contrasted to our own judicial preoccupation with the black-or-white question of guilty/not guilty. "Degrees of severity of the offense may vary, but in the end there are no degrees of guilt", which teaches "the hidden message that people can be evaluated in simple dichotomies." From a perspective that takes the offender's self-reformation (and is there any other type?) seriously, such an approach is seriously flawed:
"Much evidence suggests that offenders often do not act freely or at least do not perceive themselves as capable of free action. . . . Ideas of human freedom and thus responsibility necessarily take on a different hue in such a context." (Zehr 70)
The vinaya supports the notion that our preoccupation with guilt is based on an erroneous understanding of human nature and how it changes. "Guilt says something about the quality of the person who did this and has a 'sticky,' indelible quality." (Zehr 69). Buddhist emphasis on the transience of everything means there is nothing indelible about our unwholesome mental tendencies; deep-rooted ones may be difficult to eradicate, but that is because they are an engrained result of past habits, not an "essential" part of us.
The main concern of the vinaya is not ruling on guilt but determining the intention, because one's intention decides the nature of the offence. If there is no consent to commit an act one is not guilty of it; and the lighter the intention, the less grave the offence (Ratnapala 5, 93, 192).
Intention is also the most important factor in the operation of the law of karma, which according to Buddhism is created by volitional action: "I am the result of my own deed . . . whatever deed I do, whether good or bad, I shall become heir to it." [6] A modern approach is to understand karma in terms of what Buddhism calls sankharas, our "mental formations" especially our habitual tendencies. These are very important for Buddhism because they are not tendencies we have but tendencies we are. Instead of being "my" habits, their interaction is what constructs my sense of "me". Then we are punished not for our sins but by them. People suffer or benefit not for what they have done but for what they have become, and what we intentionally do is what makes us what we are. My actions and my intentions build/rebuild my character just as food is assimilated to build/rebuild my physical body. If karma is this psychological truth about how we construct ourselves, or about how our selves are constructed by "our" greed, ill-will and delusion, then we can no longer accept the juridical presupposition of a self-determined subject wholly responsible for its own actions. Once we understand the mental tendencies that afflict all of us, desire for vengeance must be replaced with compassion that emphasizes reformation.
The system of punishments used within the sangha shows how these principles work in practice. The emphasis is on creating a situation that will help an offender to remember and reflect upon the offence, in order to overcome the mental tendencies that produced it. Most penalties involve what we now call probation. Probation is usually regarded as a modern method of treatment derived from English common law, but it has been widely used in Buddhism for 2500 years, because consistent with the Buddhist concern not to punish but to reform. Once the probation was successfully finished, the bhikkhu returned to his previous position and status, so "the social image of the offender was not harmed. After the penalty, he was received back and he enjoyed the identical position he had earlier without stigma or contempt. Human dignity thus was always regarded as important in the court and in the society, while under a penalty or after rehabilitation" (Ratnapala 77). This contrasts with the humiliation built into our present retributive approach. A major factor in many offences is low self-esteem, and a restorative system must address this explicitly by focusing on ways to help offenders build self-esteem in the act of accepting responsibility for their actions.
This does not contradict the Buddhist teaching that there is no separate self. "Reintegration requires that we view ourselves (and others) as a complex measure of good and evil, injuries and strengths, and that while we resist and disparage the evil and compensate for our weaknesses, we also recognize and welcome the good and utilize our strengths" (Van Ness and Strong on reintegrative shaming, 118). This is precisely the Buddhist view of human nature, which does not presuppose a unitary soul or self-determining subject, but understands the self to be a composite of unwholesome and wholesome tendencies.
To sum up, the vinaya approach suggests that, if we are serious in our desire for a judicial system that truly heals, we must find a way to shift our focus from punishing guilt to reforming intention.

Tibetan justice [7]
Traditional Tibet provides an opportunity to observe how well the above principles can operate in lay society. The presupposition of its legal system was that conflict is created by our incorrect vision of situations, itself caused by our mental afflictions. In Tibetan Buddhist teachings there are six root afflictions (desire, anger, pride, ignorance, doubt, and incorrect view) and twenty secondary ones (including belligerence, resentment, spite, jealousy, and deceit) that cause us to perceive the world in an illusory way and engage in disputes. Again, we notice a Socratic-like understanding of human conflict: our immoral behavior is ultimately due to our wrong understanding, which only a spiritual awakening can wholly purify.
As long as our minds are afflicted, there is no question of free will, and Tibet's judicial system did not presuppose it:
"The goal of a legal proceeding was to calm the minds and relieve the anger of the disputants and then - through catharsis, expiation, restitution, and appeasement - to rebalance the natural order. . . . A primary purpose of trial procedure was to uncover mental states if possible, and punishment was understood in terms of its effect upon the mind of the defendant" (French 74-76).
This included the disputants attempting to reharmonize their relations after a court settlement. For example, the law codes specified a "getting together payment" to finance a meeting where all the parties would drink and eat together, to promote a reconciliation. In general, coercion was considered ineffective, for no one could be forced to follow a moral path. The disputants had to work out their own difficulties to find a true solution. Therefore even a decision accepted by all parties would lose its finality whenever they no longer agreed to it, and cases could be reopened at any later date (French 138).
This emphasis on reharmonizing was embodied both in legal philosophy and in the different types of judicial process used to settle problems. Legal analysis employed two basic forms of causation, immediate and root, both derived from Buddhist scriptures; the root cause was usually considered more important, because the source of animosity had to be addressed to finally resolve the strife. The most common type of judicial process was internal settlement by the parties themselves. If that did not work, private and unofficial conciliators could be tried; this was usually preferred because it was informal, saved reputations, allowed flexible compromises, and was much less expensive. A third process involved visiting judges at home to get their informal opinion of the best way to proceed. Official court proceedings were a last resort.
This emphasis on consensus and calming the mind presupposed something generally accepted in Tibet but less acceptable to us: a belief that it is only the mind, not material possessions or status relations, that can bring us happiness; in more conventional Buddhist terms, it is my state of mind that determines whether I attain nirvana or burn in one of the hells. This helps us to see the more individualistic assumptions operative in our own judicial system, which emphasizes the personal pursuit of happiness, freedom of restraint by others, and the right to enjoy one's property without interference.
Tibetan officials were careful to distinguish religious beliefs from secular legal views when it came to settling a case. Nonetheless, Tibetan culture was permeated with a spiritual mentality, and the moral standards of the Buddha and his vinaya influenced every part of the legal system:
"Each Tibetan knew that the moral Buddhist cared more for the welfare of others than for his or her own welfare, gave to others rather than amasses a fortune, rigorously tried to prevent harm to others, never engaged in any of the nonvirtuous acts, had complete devotion to the Buddha and his path, worked to eliminate anger and desire for material goods, accepted problems with patience and endurance, and remained an enthusiastic perseverer in the quest for truth and enlightenment. As their was no confusion about this ideal, there was little ambiguity about how the moral actor would deal with a particular daily situation. Even though the average Tibetan may not have been any more likely to follow the moral path than a person in any other society, his or her understanding of that ideal path remained strong" (French 77).
Since all societies require norms as well as sanctions, we may ask what comparable standards prevail in Western cultures. Generally, ours are more competitive and atomistic. In U.S. law, for example, "the question becomes 'Would a reasonable person leave ice on the sidewalk and foresee harm to a passerby?' The court and the individuals are not expected to know or to ask the moral question 'What would a correctly acting moral human have done under the same circumstances?'" In Tibet the accepted standard was not "a reasonable man" but the moral person exercising self-control; the members of a Tibetan village or neighborhood recognized that they had responsibility for other members. Unless there are special circumstances, a U.S. adult has no legal duty or responsibility to help others. "Tibetans find such an attitude repulsive and inhuman" (French 77, 142).
This emphasis on ending strife and calming the mind implied different attitudes towards determining legal truth and using precedents. "Whereas the American view is that legal truth emerges from the clash of opposing forces asserting their interests, Tibetans saw little value in weathering such a process with all its extremity, anger, and passion. Truth was understood in one of two ways: as an ideal and separate standard [hence normally unattainable], or as consensus - that is, the result when disagreeing parties reach a similar view of what happened and what should be done" (French 137). The necessity of consent so permeated the decision-making process that if the disputants could not agree, truth could not be reached.
This also reduced reliance on previous legal decisions as precedents. The need to work out the best way to end conflict meant that emphasis was on decisions harmonizing the group, rather than on decisions harmonizing with abstract legal principles. As a result, Tibetan jurisprudence eventually formulated a core of five factors to be considered: the uniqueness of each case (requiring a sensitivity to its particular features); what is suitable for punishment (no statutory guidelines for sentencing); considerations of karma (punishment should be oriented towards improving the offender's future life); the correct purposes of punishment (to reharmonize with the community and make offenders mindful of the seriousness of their offenses); and the correct types of punishment (incarceration was rare because of lack of facilities). Economic sanctions such as fines and damages were the most common, followed by physical punishment and forced labor; others included ostracism, publishing the offence, and reduction of official rank or loss of occupational status; capital punishment was also used occasionally. In general, local and nongovernmental decisionmakers were believed to be more likely to find solutions that would actually rectify behavior and restore community harmony.
In summary, Tibet provides an example of a country whose judicial system was organized according to very different principles. However, any attempt we might make to incorporate those principles into Western criminal justice would seem to be vitiated by one obvious problem: Buddhist Tibet was not a secular society. Its judicial system was not autonomous, for its framework of "legal cosmology" was derived from the Tibetan worldview, itself imbedded in a Buddhist cultural base. For a Tibetan, then, there was no clear division betwen religion and the state (French 346, 100). Such a judicial system is difficult to harmonize with our Western legal systems, which have evolved to fit secular and pluralistic societies. For the West, a distinction between religious and civil authority is basic.
Or is it? Is our judicial system an Enlightened secular alternative to such a religiously-based legal cosmology, or is it merely unaware of its own religious origins and assumptions? There is nothing unique about Tibet's legal system being derived from its worldview; that is true of any legal system. Ours too is embedded in a worldview which we take for granted just as much as Tibetans took for granted a Buddhist cosmology. I conclude by suggesting that, for us, the role of the Buddha has been assumed, in large part, by the state. This implies a rather different understanding of what is wrong with our criminal justice systems.

A Genealogy of Justice
Our understanding of justice, like every understanding of justice, is historically constructed. If we want to reconstruct justice, then, it is important to understand how we got where we are. But there is no perspectiveless perspective. It is our concern for restorative justice that enables us to see the history of jurisprudence in a new way.
In premodern Anglo-Saxon and Germanic law, the notion of a wrong to a person or his family was primary, that of an offense against the "common weal" secondary. Our distinction between civil and criminal law hardly existed, even for the most grave offenses. As monarchies grew more powerful, private settlements of crimes regarded as public wrongs were not permitted, because they were understood to undermine the Crown's authority.
This development intersected with another in the religious sphere. Initially, Christian practice had emphasized forgiving wrongdoing; like Buddhism, it was focused on reconciliation and spiritual salvation. Beginning in the eleventh century, however, theology and common law began to redefine crime as an offense against the metaphysical order, which causes a moral imbalance that needs to be righted. Crime became a sin against God, and it was the responsibility of the Church to purge such transgressions (Zehr 116).
These developments intersected in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the Reformation initiated a social crisis that culminated in the birth of the nation-state as we know it today. The religious schism increased the leverage of civil rulers and the balance of power between Church and state shifted to the latter. This allowed some rulers to appropriate the Church's mantle of spiritual charisma. Their power could become absolute because they filled the new vacuum of spiritual authority by becoming, in effect, "secular gods" accountable only to God. Thanks to reformers such as Luther and Calvin, who postulated a vast gap between corrupt humanity and God's righteousness, the deity was now too far away to supervise their power. Luther and Calvin endorsed the punitive role of the state, which took over God's role in administering punishment. The eventual overthrow of absolute rulers freed state institutions from responsibility to anything outside themselves, since now they "embodied the people".
This gives us a different perspective on the state's new role as the legal victim of all crimes, with a monopoly on justice. Instead of viewing the nation-state as a solely secular institution, we should understand that our historically-conditioned allegiance to it is due to the fact that it took over some of the authority of schismatic and therefore somewhat discredited Christianity. Yet the objectivity and impersonality of state justice led to an emphasis on formal law and due process, with little regard for the effects of this process on its participants (Wright 112). Such "law can be viewed as being inversely related to personal trust. With respect to trust, bureaucracy can be viewed as the antithesis of community" (Cordella 35).
The Anabaptists understood that such a state is inherently coercive and refused to engage in its civil affairs, because state authority was antithetical to their own mutualist vision of community. In short, they saw the basic problem that the rest of us are just beginning to understand: if the nation-state is a god, it is a false one -- an idol.
What does all this have to do with restorative justice? The all-important issue is the social context of justice. In a wonderful passage, Zehr discusses the relationship between Biblical justice and love:
"We tend to assume that love and mercy are different from or opposite to justice. A judge pronounces a sentence. Then as an act of mercy, she may mitigate the penalty. Biblical justice, however, grows out of love. Such justice is in fact an act of love which seeks to make things right. Love and justice are not opposites, nor are they in conflict. Instead, love provides for a justice which seeks first to make things right" (139).
I hope to have shown that the same is true for Buddhism: Buddhist justice grows out of a compassion for everyone involved when someone hurts another.
Logically, the opposite of love is hatred; but Jung and others have pointed out that the psychological opposite to love is fear. By no coincidence, Hobbes' theory of a social contract makes fear the origin of the state, for the absolute authority of the state is the only thing that can protect my self-interest from yours. True or not, that has become our myth: we legitimize the state's justice insofar as we accept that it is needed to protect us from each other.
This implies a sharp conflict between Biblical/Buddhist justice and state justice. The usual understanding of justice and mercy separates them; Zehr's Biblical understanding, and my Buddhist one, see justice growing out of mercy; but our myth about the social contract implies that the state's justice grows out of fear. If fear is indeed the opposite of love, we are faced with two contradictory paradigms about the origins and role of justice. Then the issue becomes which kind of society we want to live in.

1. Deirdre Golash, "Punishment", 11-12. This provocative paper presents the three main justifications for punishment, argues that each is flawed, and concludes that we should abolish our institutions of punishment.
2. There are many excellent works in English that provide an introduction of Buddhist teachings. For early Buddhism, see Rahula 1959; for Mahayana Buddhism, see Williams 1989.
3. Majjhima Nikaya ii, 98ff, in The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, 710-717.
4. Digha Nikaya iii, 65 ff, in The Long Discourses of the Buddha, 395-405.
5. This section draws heavily on Ratnapala's Crime and Punishment in the Buddhist Tradition.
6. Anguttara Nikaya iii, 59.
7. This section draws heavily on French's The Golden Yoke.

Camilleri, Joseph, "Human Rights, Cultural Diversity and Conflict Resolution", Pacifica Review, Vol. 6 no. 2 (1994).
Chakravarti, Uma, The Social Dimensions of Early Buddhism (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987).
Cordella, J. Peter, "Reconciliation and the Mutualist Model of Community", in Harold Pepinsky and Richard Quinney, Criminology as Peacemaking (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991).
French, Rebecca Redwood, The Golden Yoke: The Legal Cosmology of Buddhist Tibet (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995).
Golash, Deirdre, "Punishment: an insitutition in search of a moral grounding", in Christine Sistare, ed., Punishment: Social Control and Coercion (Center for Semiotic Research, 1994), pp. 11 - 28. Gombrich, Richard, Theravada Buddhism (London: Routledge, 1988).
Liechty, Daniel, Abstracts of the Complete Writings of Ernest Becker (unpublished, distributed privately).
The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya, trans. Maurice Walshe (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995).
The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, trans. Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi (Boston: Wisdom, 1995).
Pepinsky, Harold, "Peacemaking in Criminology and Criminal Justice", in Harold Pepinsky and Richard Quinney, Criminology as Peacemaking (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991).
Rahula, Walpola, What the Buddha Taught (New York: Grove Press, 1959).
Ratnapala, Nandasena, Crime and Punishment in the Buddhist Tradition (New Delhi: Mittal Publications, 1993).
Van Ness, Daniel, and Karen H. Strong, Restoring Justice (Cincinnati: Anderson Publishing Company, 1997).
Williams, Paul, Mahayana Buddhism (London: Routledge, 1989).
Wright, Martin, Justice for Victims and Offenders (Milton Keynes, Open University Press, 1991).
Zehr, Howard, Changing Lenses: a new focus for crime and justice (Scottsdale, Penn: Herald Press, 1990, 1996).


Compiled by: Ven. Pende Hawter

What is healing?

What do we mean by healing? Do we mean healing of the physical body, healing of the psyche/soul/mind, or both of these. What is the connection between body and mind?
Many modern healing techniques regard successful healing as the cure of the presenting physical problem, whether this be symptoms of cancer, AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, or some other illness. If the person does not recover from the presenting physical problem, or if that problem recurs or another develops at a later time, this may be regarded as failure.
It is not uncommon in these situations for the therapist or organisation that has been helping the "sick" person to infer or state that the person must have done something wrong, that they haven't stuck strictly enough to the diet or meditated enough or done whatever else it was that they were supposed to do.
In these situations the person can become very guilty, depressed or angry. In many cases, they just give up hope. To avoid these problems, it is necessary to consider a more comprehensive view of healing that incorporates not only physical healing but mental healing.

Mind is the creator

To understand healing from the Buddhist perspective, a useful starting point is to consider the Buddhist concept of mind. The mind is non-physical. It is formless, shapeless, colourless, genderless and has the ability to cognize or know. The basic nature of mind is pure, limitless and pervasive, like the sun shining unobstructedly in a clear sky.
The problems or sickness we experience are like clouds in the sky obscuring the sun. Just as the clouds temporarily block the sun but are not of the same nature as the sun, our problems or sickness are temporary and the causes of them can be removed from the mind.
From the Buddhist perspective, the mind is the creator of sickness and health. In fact, the mind is believed to be the creator of all of our problems. That is, the cause of disease is internal, not external.

Unlimited potential

You are probably familiar with the concept of karma, which literally means action. All of our actions lay down imprints on our mindstream which have the potential to ripen at some time in the future. These actions can be positive, negative or neutral. These karmic seeds are never lost. The negative ones can ripen at any time in the form of problems or sickness; the positive ones in the form of happiness, health or success.
To heal present sickness, we have to engage in positive actions now. To prevent sickness occurring again in the future, we have to purify, or clear, the negative karmic imprints that remain on our mindstream.
Karma is the creator of all happiness and suffering. If we don't have negative karma we will not get sick or receive harm from others. Buddhism asserts that everything that happens to us now is the result of our previous actions, not only in this lifetime but in other lifetimes. What we do now determines what will happen to us in the future.
In terms of present and future healing, the main objective is to guard our own actions, or karma. This requires constant mindfulness and awareness of all the actions of our body, speech and mind. We should avoid carrying out any actions that are harmful to ourselves and to others.
Buddhism is therefore a philosophy of total personal responsibility. We have the ability to control our destiny, including the state of our body and mind. Each one of us has unlimited potential - what we have to do is develop that potential.

Healthy mind, healthy body

Why do some people get ill while others remain in the best of health? Consider skin cancer. Of all the people who spend many hours out in the sun, some will develop skin cancer and others will not. The external situation is the same for all of them, but only some will be affected. The secondary cause of the skin cancer - the sun - is external, but the primary cause - the imprints laid down on the mindstream by previous actions - is internal.
Also, people with similar types of cancer will often respond quite differently to the same treatment, whether this be orthodox or alternative. Some will make a complete recovery. Some will recover temporarily and then develop a recurrence. Others will rapidly become worse and die. Logically one has to look to the mind for the cause of these differences.
Buddhism asserts that for lasting healing to occur, it is necessary to heal not only the current disease with medicines and other forms of treatment, but also the cause of the disease, which originates from the mind. If we do not heal or purify the mind, the sickness and problems will recur again and again.
This introduces the notion of "ultimate healing". By ridding the mind of all its accumulated "garbage", all of the previously committed negative actions and thoughts, and their imprints, we can be free of problems and sickness permanently. We can achieve ultimate healing - a state of permanent health and happiness.
In order to heal the mind and hence the body, we have to eliminate negative thoughts and their imprints, and replace them with positive thoughts and imprints.

The inner enemy

The basic root of our problems and sickness is selfishness, what we can call the inner enemy. Selfishness causes us to engage in negative actions, which place negative imprints on the mindstream. These negative actions can be of body, speech or mind, such as thoughts of jealousy, anger and greed.
Selfish thoughts also increase pride, which results in feelings of jealousy towards those higher than us, superiority towards those lower than us and competitiveness towards equals. These feelings in turn result in an unhappy mind, a mind that is without peace. On the other hand, thoughts and actions directed to the well-being of others bring happiness and peace to the mind.
Conscious living, conscious dying
It is important to consider what happens to us when we die. The Buddhist view is that at the time of death the subtle consciousness, which carries with it all the karmic imprints from previous lives, separates from the body. After spending up to forty-nine days in an intermediate state between lives, the consciousness enters the fertilised egg of its future mother at or near the moment of conception. New life then begins. We bring into our new life a long history of previous actions with the potential to ripen at any time or in any of a myriad ways.
The state of mind at the time of death is vitally important and can have a considerable effect on the situation into which we are reborn. Hence the need to prepare well for death and to be able to approach our death with a peaceful, calm and controlled mind.
Death itself can be natural, due to exhaustion of the lifespan, or untimely, due to certain obstacles. These obstacles arise from the mind and can be counteracted in different ways. One method commonly employed in Tibetan Buddhism to remove life obstacles is to save the lives of animals that would otherwise have been killed. For example, animals can be rescued from being slaughtered or live bait can be purchased and released.
For those with a life threatening illness, it is important to understand that being free of that illness doesn't mean that you will have a long life. There are many causes of death and death can happen to anybody at any time.

Not just pills and potions

Tibetan medicine is popular and effective. It is mostly herbal medicine, but its uniqueness lies in the fact that in the course of its preparation it is blessed extensively with prayers and mantras, giving it more power.
It is said that taking such medicine will either result in recovery, or, if the person is close to death, they will die quickly and painlessly. (Another theory, based on personal experience, is that it tastes so bad you want to recover quickly so that you can stop taking the medicine!)
Blessed pills and blessed water are also used extensively. The more spiritually developed the person carrying out the blessings or the healing practices, the more powerful is the healing result or potential. These pills often contain the relics of previous great meditators and saints, bestowing much power on the pills.
Many Tibetan lamas actually blow on the affected part of the body to effect healing or pain relief. I have seen a person with AIDS with intense leg pain have his pain disappear after a lama meditated intensely and blew on his leg for twenty minutes. Compassion is the power that heals.
Visualisation can also be very powerful healing. One method is to visualise a ball of white light above your head, with the light spreading in all directions. Imagine the light spreading through your body, completely dissolving away all sickness and problems. Concentrate on the image of your body as completely healed and in the nature of light.
This type of meditation is even more powerful when combined with visualising holy images and reciting mantras. I often tell my Christian patients to visualise the light as Jesus, with the light emanating from him.
In the Tibetan tradition, there are many Buddha figures (deities) which can be visualised while reciting their mantra. The Medicine Buddha; Chenrezig, or Avalokiteshvara (the Buddha of Compassion); or one of the long-life deities such as Amitabha are commonly used. Deities can be in peaceful or wrathful aspects. The wrathful ones are often used to cure heavy disease such as AIDS.
If you are not comfortable with these images, you can use other objects such as crystals, or simply visualise all the universal healing energy absorbing into you, transforming your body into light, and imagine yourself as totally healed.
Over the centuries many people have used these methods and have recovered from their illnesses, even from conditions such as leprosy, paralysis and cancer. The aim of these practises is to heal the mind as well as the body, so that the diseases or problems will not recur in the future.
Also, many diseases are associated with spirit harm. Lamas and other practitioners will often recite certain prayers and mantras or engage in ceremonies to stop the spirit harm and allow the person to recover.
A seven year old girl I knew had petit-mal epilepsy as the result of spirit harm; the epilepsy disappeared after various rituals and prayers had been performed. Whenever she had an epileptic attack, the girl would see a frightening apparition coming towards her. After the initial prayers had been performed, however, her attacks lessened and she would see a brick wall between her and the frightening figure. This wall was the colour of a monk's robes. Eventually the attacks and visions disappeared altogether.
In summary, we can say that the essential ingredients in the healing process, for both the person doing the healing and the person being healed, are compassion, faith, and pure morality.

Changing our minds

Another powerful method of healing in Tibetan Buddhism is to meditate on the teachings known as thought transformation. These methods allow a person to see the problem or sickness as something positive rather than negative. A problem is only a problem if we label it a problem. If we look at a problem differently, we can see it as an opportunity to grow or to practice, and regard it as something positive. We can think that having this problem now ripens our previous karma, which does not then have to be experienced in the future.
If someone gets angry at us, we can choose to be angry in return or to be thankful to them for giving us the chance to practice patience and purify this particular karma. It takes a lot of practice to master these methods, but it can be done.
It is our concepts which often bring the greatest suffering and fear. For example, due to a set of signs and symptoms, the doctor gives the label 'AIDS' or 'cancer'. This can cause great distress in a person's mind, because they forget that it is only a label, that there is no truly existent, permanent AIDS or cancer. 'Death' is another label that can generate a lot of fear. But in reality 'death' is only a label for what happens when the consciousness separates from the body, and there is no real death from its own side. This also relates to our concept of 'I' and of all other phenomena. They are all just labels and have no true, independent existence.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche, a highly realised Tibetan Lama, says that the most powerful healing methods of all are those based on compassion, the wish to free other beings from their suffering. The compassionate mind - calm, peaceful, joyful and stress-free - is the ideal mental environment for healing. A mind of compassion stops our being totally wrapped up in our own suffering situations. By reaching out to others we become aware of not just my pain but the pain (that is, the pain of all beings).
Many people find the following technique powerful and effective: think "By me experiencing this disease or pain or problem, may all the other beings in the world be free of this disease, pain or problem" or "I am experiencing this pain/sickness/problem on behalf of all living beings."
One voluntarily takes on suffering in order for others to be free of it. This is similar to the Christian concept of regarding one's suffering as sharing the suffering of Jesus on the cross. Even death can be used in this way: "By me experiencing death, may all other beings be freed from the fears and difficulties of the death process."
We have to ask ourselves "What is the purpose of my life? Why do I want to have good health and a long life?". The ultimate purpose of our life is to be of benefit to others. If we live longer and just create more negative karma, it is a waste of time.
Giving and taking is another powerful meditation. As you breathe in, visualise taking the suffering and the causes of suffering from all living beings, in the form of black smoke. When breathing in the black smoke, visualise smashing the black rock of selfishness at your heart, allowing compassion to manifest freely. As you breathe out, visualise breathing out white light that brings them happiness, enjoyment and wisdom.
Developing compassion is more important than having friends, wealth, education. Why? Because it is only compassion that guarantees a happy and peaceful mind, and it is the best thing to help us at the time of death
We can use our sickness and problems in a very powerful way for spiritual growth, resulting in the development of compassion and wisdom. The highest development of these qualities is the full realisation of our potential, the state of full enlightenment. Enlightenment brings great benefit to ourselves and allows us to work extensively for others. This is the state of ultimate healing.
I have outlined some of the concepts that are the basis of the Buddhist philosophy on healing. Many of these methods were taught by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Tara Institute in Melbourne in August 1991 during the first course given by Lama Zopa specifically for people with life-threatening illnesses.
Some of these ideas may appear unusual at first, but please keep an open mind about them. If some of the ideas appear useful to you, please use them; if not, leave them aside.
May you achieve health and happiness.
(revised January 1995)

Levine, Steven Healing Into Life and Death, Anchor Press/Doubleday, New York, 1987
Geshe Rabten and Geshe Dhargyey Advice From a Spiritual Friend, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 1986
Sogyal Rinpoche The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Rider, London, 1992
Lama Zopa Rinpoche Transforming Problems Into Happiness, Wisdom Publications, Boston 1993
Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche The Door to Satisfaction, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 1994


Here, from Sogyal Rinpoche's Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, we learn of Tonglen: a pathway to Ascension that enables us to bypass the bardos and awaken after death in the Pure Lands of the Amitabha Buddha.

In this article, we simply wish to give you an idea of what the practice of Tonglen entails. All quotes are from the book.

Awakening Compassion
Sogyal Rinpoche tells us that the practice of Tonglen depends upon our ability to awaken within ourselves the reality of compassion. Just as we cannot perform the Unity Breath until we can feel Love, we cannot practice Tonglen until we truly can feel compassion.

Compassion is not the same as pity. With compassion, while we are aware of what another is going through, we also honor that other and their path. We are there not to rescue, but rather to understand and to love. Instead of joining the other in his or her pain, we absorb the pain into ourselves and return peace, joy, and love.

And so compassion, Sogyal Rinpoche warns, is much more difficult to achieve than we might think. But he suggests several ways of overcoming this difficulty.

Unsealing the spring of loving kindness

This method consists of imagining one person who we know loved us. If it is not our mother, than it could be a grandmother, grandfather, or anyone else who ever gave us the feeling of being deeply loved.

''Go back in your mind,'' Sogyal Rinpoche advises, ''and recreate, almost visualize'' this love that you felt. And as you feel it come into your heart, feel gratitude, and let this love return to that person who helped you to feel that you were worthy of being loved.

Then, extend this love to all other beings, beginning with family and loved ones, then friends, acquaintances, and neighbors, then strangers, and even to people you dislike or who represent problems in your life - ''even those whom you might consider as your 'enemies.' '' Then, extend this love to the entire universe.

Sogyal Rinpoche says that this practice ''unseals a spring of love,'' and thus inspires the birth of compassion.

Considering that we are the same as others

''A powerful way to evoke compassion,'' says Sogyal Rinpoche, ''is to think of others as exactly the same as you.''

If, for example, you are having difficulties with someone, this process involves imagining that you are them - that you are the same, they are ''another you.'' This, Sogyal Rinpoche says, ''will open your heart to him or her and give you more insight into how to help.''

This practice may be used not only to improve relationships, but also to prefigure ''peace on earth'' - by imagining that societies and nations could also begin to see each other as though they were the same.

A variation on this is to put yourself in another's place when you seek to help them. For example if another person is in pain, you would imagine that you were that other person, going through the same pain. Ask yourself, Sogyal Rinpoche says, '''How would I feel? How would I want my friends to treat me? What would I most want from them?.'

''When you exchange yourself for others in this way, you are directly transferring your cherishing from its usual object, yourself, to other beings. [This] ... is a very powerful way of loosening the hold on you of the self-cherishing and the self-grasping of ego, and so of releasing the heart of your compassion.''

Use a friend to help yourself access compassion

Another technique Sogyal Rinpoche suggests is that we put a friend or loved one in the place of someone who is suffering. For example, if you lacked compassion for a child, you might imagine that it was your own. This, he says, will open your heart ''and compassion will awaken in you.''

Meditating on Compassion

To begin with, Sogyal Rinpoche advises us, when we are met with sights that make us aware of the world's suffering, instead of avoiding our feelings we should allow ourselves to participate in them fully. ''Switch on a television,'' he writes, ''and there on the news perhaps is a mother in Beirut kneeling above the body of her murdered son; or an old grandmother in Moscow pointing to the soup that is her food for today, not knowing if she'll have even that tomorrow...''

''Don't waste the love and grief it arouses,'' he tells us. ''In the moment you feel compassion welling up in you, don't brush it aside, don't shrug it off and try quickly to return to 'normal,' don't be afraid of your feeling or embarrassed by it, or allow yourself to be distracted from it or let it run aground in apathy. Be vulnerable; use that quick, bright uprush of compassion; focus on it, go deep in your heart and meditate on it, develop it, enhance, and deepen it. By doing this you will realize how blind you have been to suffering, how the pain that you are experiencing or seeing now is only a tiny fraction of the pain of the world.

''All beings, everywhere, suffer; let your heart go out to them all in spontaneous and immeasurable compassion, and direct that compassion, along with the blessing of all the Buddhas, to the alleviation of suffering everywhere.''

Directing Our Compassion

When we are open to compassion, we then will want to do something about the suffering we see. There are two pathways, Sogyal Rinpoche tells us, from which to choose in directing our compassion.

One is to pray to the buddhas and other enlightened beings that in thought, word, and deed, we will bring benefit and happiness to the world - that we will be useful.

The second way is to dedicate ourselves to attaining our own personal enlightenment. For, he says, ''the only way for you to be of complete help to other beings is for you to gain enlightenment.'' When we feel true compassion, then we know that we must attain enlightenment not for ourselves but for the benefit of all mankind.

Once we have awakened our compassion, we are now ready for the practice of Tonglen.

Here is just a taste of how how we might begin this practice.
Beginning Tonglen
''The best way to do this practice, and any practice of Tonglen,'' according to Sogyal Rinpoche, ''is to begin by evoking and resting in the nature of mind,'' imagining that the world around you is '''empty,' illusory, and dream-like.''

We are to allow our mind to ''settle,'' allowing our thoughts to come and go, not following them. Then, when we are feeling ''calm and centered,'' we bring our consciousness up slightly from it's dreamlike state and begin.

1. Environmental Tonglen

This consists of sitting and feeling the ''mood and atmosphere'' of our mind. Let's say that the mood we are feeling is unease, and the atmosphere seems dark. We would breathe in this unease and darkness, absorbing it into ourselves. Then, we would breathe out peace and joy, thereby clearing and cleaning the atmosphere and environment of our mind.

2. Self Esteem

The self-esteem exercise begins by imagining ourselves as two people. One is ''whole, compassionate, warm, and loving, like a true friend, really willing to be there for you, responsive and open to you, without ever judging you, whatever your faults or shortcomings.'' The second is the aspect of ourselves that has negative emotions and ideas, the ''victim.'' This is the part that says ''Nobody understands me,'' or feels wronged by people or society.

Again, breathe in, but in this process you are the first person, the whole, compassionate one, breathing in and absorbing all of the other's pain and negativity. And as you breathe out, let the compassionate self send ''healing love, warmth, trust, comfort, confidence, happiness, and joy'' to the other part.
Sogyal Rinpoche's Tibetan Book of Living and Dying has been translated into 26 languages is 36 countries. It has sold one and one-half million copies, and is considered a ''groundbreaking'' work. He seeks to make Tibetan Buddhism accessible to as many people as possible, and to provide assistance to those who are drawn to it.

If the practice of Tonglen attracts you, you may wish to visit Sogyal Rinpoche's website at rigpa.org. Rigpa, the name of his organization, is a Tibetan word that means ''the innermost nature of the mind.''