The simplicity of the mindfulness meditations
taught by Jon Kabat-Zinn makes them readily accessible to
non-Buddhists. But healing practices are also at the heart of the
more esoteric teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, and Tulku Thondup
Rinpoche, a lama now living in Cambridge, is committed to making
them available to a wider audience.
Tibetan tradition if you are sick, first you will go to the lama to
do prayers or meditations, then you will go to a doctor to get
medicine," says Tulku Thondup. "It is part of the culture and really
Tibetan healing meditations are
"mainly mindfulness of the body and mindfulness of the feeling," he
acknowledges, "but they are inspired by tantric meditations,
especially the Vajrasattva meditation of receiving blessings and
purification, and the practice of receiving the body, speech and
mind in guru yoga."
The problem is that most
tantric practices cannot be taught to non-practitioners, so Tulku
Thondup has developed a set of parallel healing practices built
around the core Buddhist concepts. The meditations are presented in
his book, The Healing Power of Mind, and he teaches them at seminars
around the world.
"If our mind is in peace,
then our energy will be in peace, and if our energy is in peace,
then the elements of our body will be balanced," he explains. "It’s
a very simple idea but that’s the most profound Buddhist approach to
meditation about healing."
There are twelve
stages to Tulku Thondup Rinpoche’s meditation technique, inspired in
part by the writings of the third Dodrupchen Rinpoche, a great
Dzogchen master. The technique is based on what he calls "the four
healing powers"—positive images, words, feelings, and trust. It
involves bringing the mind back to the body, generating peace and
calmness, expelling negative sensations with the breath, grounding
the floating mind, and uniting the body and
In one meditation, the student
visualizes each breath as a wave of healing energy, which fills
every cell. This is followed by a body scan.
"The body is made of billions of cells of light, like rainbow light.
We go into cells and see that each cell is a universe and then each
cell is filled with healing energy—heat and blissfulness," he
explains. "And because your body is an infinite and boundless body,
you make some movements and feel energy going to every part of the
body, waking the healing energy, and reconnect with every part of
your body as one team. You then share that light and healing energy
with the whole universe, and at the end go to oneness with the
experience of the healing meditation."
origin of the meditation will be readily apparent to tantric
practitioners. "In Buddhist meditations," says Tulku Thondup, "you
visualize and pray to the Buddha, and then blessing light purifies
and transforms your body into light body. Every cell is a cell of
light and every cell is a pureland, filled with Buddha surrounded by
an infinite number of enlightened beings and blessing energy, and
that’s shared with all sentient beings."
are those who criticize Tulku Thondup for transforming vajrayana
practices into generic healing exercises, claiming his approach is
New Age, not Buddhism at all.
"Eating food is
not Buddhism," he replies, "all human beings eat. But if you eat
with mindfulness, that’s one of the most important meditations in
Buddhism. If you look at a tree and see the tree as a source of
heat, source of joy, source of calmness, then looking at the tree
becomes Buddhist. The important thing is whatever brings the
awakening of peace, the awareness of peace, joy, whatever loosens
the tightness of the grasping in our minds, that is Buddhism."
Healing the self, he argues, is the very
ground of the bodhisattva ideal: "If you really want to help others,
you have to make yourself into a proper tool. If you are not healed
or pure or peaceful, you can’t help anybody, so we have to purify