Modern Buddhist Healing: A Spiritual Strategy for Transforming Pain, Dis-ease, and Death

Modern Buddhist Healing: A Spiritual Strategy for Transforming Pain, Dis-ease, and Death

by Charles Atkins

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In 1987 Charles Atkins was struck with Hodgkin's disease and underwent the ravages of chemotherapy. Throughout his illness he used his Buddhist training and the power of the mantra Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to carry him through the cancer treatments and allay his fears of death and doubts for recovery. During his stays in the hospital, he took every possible

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In 1987 Charles Atkins was struck with Hodgkin's disease and underwent the ravages of chemotherapy. Throughout his illness he used his Buddhist training and the power of the mantra Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to carry him through the cancer treatments and allay his fears of death and doubts for recovery. During his stays in the hospital, he took every possible opportunity to comfort other cancer patients. His survival inspired him to share the healing techniques he has learned with others.

In this book, Atkins introduces us to the Buddhist master Nichiren [1222-1281] and the healing teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha as laid out in the Lotus Sutra. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is an old mantra that has accumulated a great deal of power from centuries of countless individuals focusing their highest intents while chanting it. He explains how Nam-myoho-renge-kyo can be used to "undo" karma that has damaged our health. Methods for chanting while visualizing abound in this book. His example, along with that of many others struggling with diseases as diverse as fibromyalgia, diabetic ulcers, high blood pressure, and mental illness, provides a beacon of hope for those facing illness. Atkins's book shows that with hope, faith, and prayer nothing is impossible.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Healing is part of every major spiritual tradition, and no tradition has carried healing to greater heights than Buddhism. Regardless of your religious or spiritual path, this book will shed light on the role of meditation, imagery, and prayer in the healing process. In today's increasingly technological medical world, we need this wisdom more than ever." --Larry Dossey, MD, author of Reinventing Medicine and Healing Words
Publishers Weekly
In 1987, at age 36, Atkins was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin's disease, a life-threatening, virulent cancer. This book is his manual for how prayer, particularly meditation and chant, can ameliorate physical conditions such as fibromyalgia, cancer, diabetic ulcers and even coma. It is also a compelling chronicle of Atkins's own saga and near-death vision. Atkins, though, is no health renegade. He straightaway, repeatedly and responsibly advises "get the best medical treatment available. Proper diagnosis from a qualified physician is the first and foremost step." Atkins also quickly details, however, that individuals can use healing dimensions to complement traditional Western-style medicine. For him the Buddhist Lotus Sutra's mantra "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo," advanced by 13th-century Japanese master Nichiren Daishonin, is an extraordinarily powerful tool, especially when supplemented by healing visualizations. Simply, this mantra enables immediate access to our already enlightened nature and is directly applicable to specific regions of the body. To build a proper foundation for this approach, Atkins furnishes a clear explanation of karma with a reach broader than popular, simple notions. Making powerful links to other traditions by equating the Holy Spirit, prana, chi, kundalini and life force, Atkins also notes that such chanting does not conflict with other religious practices. By no means a book just for Buddhists, at best this work can empower anyone who is ill and suffering, for it champions chanting and meditation as forms of prayer. As Atkins observes, "All may enter with a prayer; no one is denied access." (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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Modern Buddhist Healing

A Spiritual Strategy for Transforming Pain, Dis-ease, and Death

By Charles Atkins


Copyright © 2002 Charles Atkins
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-89254-062-4



Empowerment of the human spirit is at the core of Buddhist healing. When judging the validity of a spiritual teaching, actual proof is superior to theoretical or documentary proof. If something works for your health and happiness, and isn't negative or harmful, you're likely to use it. Being fully informed on what you are doing is the wisest course of action. Therefore, the most important message I can convey to you is: get the best medical treatment available. Proper diagnosis from a qualified physician is the first and foremost step in recovery.

The human body is more than a machine and it is more than an energy center. There is always a fundamental reason why illness appears; it has a physical aspect and a spiritual root. How does one eradicate the cause of illness? Western medicine attributes illness to physical realities. Eastern medicine looks at life energy, conduct, diet, and the mind. Merging these two diverse approaches seems to be the future of medicine. But no "physical" medicine, neither Western nor Eastern, can transform the fundamental cause that produced the illness in the first place. For that cure, we must go into the realm of faith, prayer, consciousness, and karma.


What I present here has its origins in the Lotus Sutra taught by Shakyamuni Buddha, more than 2,500 years ago in India. The essence of the Lotus Sutra was further advanced by the 13th-century Japanese Buddhist master, Nichiren Daishonin (1222–1282).

From the time of Shakyamuni Buddha to our modern era, healing by faith and spiritual practice has flourished throughout Asia and the world. Mahayana Buddhism teaches that all people are originally enlightened and fully-endowed with the latent potential to heal themselves. In many cases, Western medical science is now actively using Buddhist meditation techniques like visualization as part of cancer therapy. What is Buddhist healing? What are the principles that explain its reality? How can a person of any belief use Buddhist chanting and visualization to advance against their illness? The Buddha's Lotus Sutra contains powerful medicine for the illness of all people. That medicine is the mantra Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Pain, suffering, sickness, and death are the realities that we all must face at some point. We seek to extend our lives and overcome our fear of dying.


Shakyamuni, also known as Siddhartha or Gautama, was the historical first Buddha. According to the Pali Canon (the earliest of the Buddhist texts), he was born to the Shakya lineage of Nepal, about 2500 years ago, as Prince Siddhartha. When he became aware of the suffering outside his palace walls, he renounced his royal heritage and pursued the spiritual life. His goal was to solve the four dire obstacles, or "Four Sufferings," that all human beings face: birth, old age, sickness, and death. In spreading his teachings, or dharma, through a multitude of sutras over a period of fifty years, Buddha taught according to the capacity of the people, using expedient means of teaching such as similes, metaphors, parables, meditation, diet, and breath control. The Buddha's dharma includes rules of conduct to guide people to a correct way of living, a way in which people could improve their karma and reach a state of enlightenment, or nirvana.

In the final eight years of Buddha's life, he preached the Lotus Sutra, which he designated as his highest teaching and reason for his advent. He told his followers that all of his preceding teachings were expedient means, and not the entire truth of his message. He stipulated that there were not two or three vehicles to enlightenment, just One Great Vehicle known as the Lotus Sutra. He declared that all people had the Buddha nature within them, including women. Buddha's acknowledgment of women as equal to men and originally enlightened was more than two millennia ahead of its time.

In the more than twenty-five hundred years since Shakyamuni's death, various sects and schools of Buddhism have utilized pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, mantras, mudras, yoga postures, breath control practices, meditative disciplines, and various rituals to effectuate healing in the body, mind, and spirit of believers.


Buddhism is like a science of life that examines the causes of suffering and happiness. It categorizes and clearly identifies the causes of sickness, as well as provides various remedies for changing the problem. What we think, say, and do determine the consequences of our future, for better or worse. Our lot in life and the sum total of our thoughts, speech, and actions are known as karma, a Sanskrit word meaning "action."

When we are born into this world, there is a wide disparity of fortune from one child to the next. In the early 1950s, when polio was afflicting so many children, I happened to visit with a boy who was in an iron lung. I wondered why he suffered so much and I suffered so little. His situation troubled me very much, because I couldn't comprehend why God would have some children suffer while others did not. Where did that destiny come from? It wasn't until I discovered Eastern philosophy that I pieced together the puzzle of destiny.

When illness strikes, often there seems to be no continuity between a person's actions and what has happened. It seems as if they had been randomly chosen to suffer. When no reason for the unexpected suffering is apparent, the bad fortune is often ascribed to "God's Will." I clearly recall a case when I was a teen and our neighbor died of breast cancer, leaving behind five children and a devoted husband. When I asked my pastor about it, he said that God's Will is often difficult to understand. No doubt. But that was not the only time I was faced with the explanation that the misfortune of illness, accident, or tragedy was God's Will. It seems to me that the proper definition of God's Will is actually karma.


Mahayana Buddhism identifies nine levels of consciousness associated with all life. The first six are: the five senses of taste, touch, smell, sound, sight, and the conscious mind. On a basic level, the seventh realm is the manos-vijnana — the subconscious, where all bodily functions are managed, and from whence the impulses for survival emerge. The manos consciousness is the integrator and processor of all sensory input.

The eighth level is what the psychologist Carl Jung termed "the collective unconscious." In Mahayana Buddhism, it is called the alaya-vijnana, or karma repository. Alaya consciousness is the limitless storehouse of perceptions, conceptions, words, and actions that we experience or create in life. At the same time, the eighth level is an ethereal seed bank of our latent karma, which we experience in life as we interact with our environment. Alaya-vijnana has its counterparts in countless other modern and ancient traditions: Deepak Chopra's quantum consciousness; Larry Dossey's concept of non-local consciousness; the Akashic Record; the bardo states of intermediate existence after manifest life. They are all the same thing — a sort of "on-ramp" to the ultimate reality, the actual source of healing and the ninth level of consciousness known as amala-vijnana in Mahayana Buddhism.

Amala-vijnana, or cosmic consciousness, is the true entity of life, fundamentally pure, and impervious to time, space, suffering, or death. The karmic seed bank of alaya-vijnana and the cosmic consciousness amala-vijnana fuse with the universe at death, to be reborn, reassembling themselves as a living being comprised of the five components of form, perception, conception, volition, and consciousness.

Buddhism teaches that there is no such thing as pure matter or pure spirit; there is only the ultimate reality of life itself, which invariably manifests both a physical and spiritual aspect, no matter how coarse or fine the actual manifestation. This ultimate, unchanging reality flows through both the physical and spiritual, in an ever-changing cycle of actualization and dormancy. For this reason, the Western idea of an individual soul does not exist in Buddhism. The Buddhist view sees our individual incarnations as ephemeral unions of form, perception, conception, volition, and consciousness, all of which merges into pure consciousness when we die, like moisture returning to the sea. In Christianity the idea of an individual soul is central to the idea of life after death in heaven. If there is no soul, as Buddhism asserts, then what is that spiritual essence of ours that journeys into the afterlife? If there is no eternal soul or self, what is there? The thought of annihilation of personal consciousness is troubling indeed, unless you understand that the true entity of your life is life, as vast as the universe, indestructible, and eternal.

At the root of karma is the eternity of life. Virtually every religion teaches that life is eternal, although they differ on the conditions. I was taught that life begins as an original soul that, after death, lives forever. In Buddhism, there is no discontinuity between the past, present, and future. If the fundamental cause for illness is not apparent or the illness is inherited, we might consider the eternity of life and the causes we brought forward to this existence. We often think that "the eternity of life" means that after we die, we each live forever as a soul in heaven. That's what I was taught. Actually, eternity means without beginning or end.

Contemplating eternity staggers the mind, especially when we consider the idea that each life has no beginning; it has always existed, repeating the two states of life and death in an unbroken pattern. If we have lived before, not once or twice, but countless times, it would help explain why there is so much suffering in the world and the seemingly inexplicable randomness of it all.

Even acknowledging that we may have lived before still does not answer the question of what kind of karmic causes we made for us to experience life as we do, because we can't see back into our previous lives. Many of us can't even remember the details of our childhood or the faces of friends we haven't seen in twenty years. Even if we could know with certainty what we did in our previous lives, what could we actually do about it that would solve our problems today? Changing karma in the alaya-vijnana is a function of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and is the means by which even diseases such as advanced cancer can possibly be overcome.


Karma has often been associated with guilt and negativity. Karma is actually regarded as neutral in that free will can change something negative into something positive or vice-versa; it depends what we do with the circumstance. Many of the famous advocates of self-healing seem to have distanced themselves from the pre-Buddhist principle of karma and individual accountability as if it were some baseless holdover of medieval superstition. Regarding illness and the judgment of God(s), or what Buddhists might term "negative" karma, John Camp described this conundrum in his book, Magic, Myth and Medicine: "The idea that illness and disease were brought about by the displeasure of the gods has meant that the art of healing has always been closely linked with religious beliefs. Such beliefs did not always help medical progress, for as religious thought became more organized, and a single God displaced the many gods of ancient times, the rights and wrongs of man-made healing became a major issue.

Buddha taught that negative karma can and does manifest as illness of the body, mind, and spirit. The seemingly incomprehensible, interdependent cause and effect relationship of thoughts, words, and deeds carried over from one lifetime to the next, manifesting as affliction and circumstance, has not been embraced by many of the popular advocates of self-healing. Nichiren addressed the subject of karma and illness in his Gosho("honored writings," used to refer to the body or an individual piece of Nichiren's writing), "On Curing Karmic Illness":

The Nirvana Sutra reads: "There are three types of people whose illness is extremely difficult to cure. The first is those who slander the great vehicle; the second, those who commit the five cardinal sins; and the third, icchantikas, or persons of incorrigible disbelief. These three categories of illness are the gravest in the world."

It also states: "One who creates evil karma in this life ... will surely suffer in hell. ... But by making offerings to the three treasures [Samgha], one can avoid falling in hell and instead receives retribution in this life, in the form of afflictions of the head, eye, or back." Great Concentration and Insight [the Maka Shikan] states, "Even if one has committed grave offenses ... their retribution can be lessened in this life. Thus, illness occurs when evil karma is about to be dissipated."

Buddhism reveals that the reality of life is shaped by karmic cause and effect in an unbroken pattern from the infinite past. In relationship to illness and healing, the Chinese Buddhist master Chih-i, founder of the Tendai School of Buddhism, delineated six causes of illness.

The first cause of illness is disorders of the five elements of the human body: earth, wind, fire, water, and ku. Earth is the flesh, wind is our respiration, fire is our metabolism, water is the blood and fluids of our body, and ku (or shunyata) is the spiritual potential of life and consciousness that transcends existence and non-existence. The second cause is immoderate eating and drinking. The third cause is improper practice of seated meditation, but has also been designated as a life out of rhythm with itself and the world. The fourth is an attack by external forces that the ancients called demons, but in modern terms we callpathogens, disease germs, or environmental poisons. The fifth cause is termed the "work of devils." These are latent, internal conditions that emerge when the time or circumstances are right. The fifth type of illness might include a genetic predisposition or emergence of chemical imbalances, or diseases such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. The sixth cause is the effects of karma that often appear without a direct causal link to any misconduct in one's present life. The first four causes manifest as physical illness, and the fifth and sixth causes of illness manifest as both physical and mental illness. When we understand that karma is the law of cause and effect operating on the physical and spiritual levels, we can see all illness as actually being the result of karma. To change karma that is unresponsive to any treatment requires the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. But if we are to avoid making the causes that create illness, we must first understand what to avoid.

What creates bad karma has been spelled out by the major religions of the world. Buddhism has laid down "ten evil acts" that result in negative karma and cause one to be reborn into the Four Evil Paths — Hell, Hunger, Animality, and Anger. There are three physical acts of killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. The four verbal acts are lying, flattery or irresponsible speech, defamation, and duplicity. The three mental evils arise from holding mistaken views and are known as greed, anger, and stupidity. Those basic ten evil acts have numerous shadings that include betrayal, cheating, intentionally harming others, and so on. These actions create karmic debt that must be paid back later; some effects appear immediately and others show up in later rebirths. With karma, nothing is ever missed, no virtuous act unrewarded, or evil deed unreturned.

From a modern perspective, contributing factors to creating our own future health problems might include such attitudes and behaviors as: complaint, cynicism, criticism, rage, cruelty, vanity, vindictiveness, perversity, ruthlessness, addiction, sorrow, apathy, and having no passionate life work.

Slander is an extremely negative cause that results in the most severe effects, including incurable illness manifesting in a single lifetime or appearing in an indeterminate number of subsequent existences. Slander arises in fourteen different ways, through: arrogance; negligence; arbitrary, egotistical judgment; shallow, self-satisfied understanding; attachment to earthly desires; lack of a seeking spirit; not believing; aversion; deluded doubt; vilification; contempt; hatred; jealousy; and holding grudges.

Obviously, we humans are in many ways products of our environment and upbringing. The events of life often hammer us down like protruding nails. It is hard to live up to the examples of moral conduct, attitude, and conviction that the past masters have shown us. Yet it is our thoughts, words, and deeds that constitute our current state and will determine our future. For this reason, having the intent to improve our ways is the most important step of all.


Excerpted from Modern Buddhist Healing by Charles Atkins. Copyright © 2002 Charles Atkins. Excerpted by permission of NICOLAS-HAYS, INC..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Charles Atkins is the author of Modern Buddhist Healing. He studied and practiced magick, divination, and Eastern religions in the 60s and 70s, then began practicing Nichiren Buddhism in 1974 with the Soka Gakkai. He has been a professional freelance writer on mysticism, healing, and business since 1970.

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