Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: Foundations of Healing
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.
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.
Benefits of Healing
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 impermanence—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.
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.
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
"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.
Mind, and Body
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."
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:
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.
Medicine's Approach to Spiritual Healing
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
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.
We Are Suffering
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
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."
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, te 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.
Buddhism, the law of causation is called
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.