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