Medicine Buddha
Tibetan Healing

Spiritual Medicine 
for Mind and Body

overviewawarenessmantraprayer wheels

visualizationdistant healingtonglenresources

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Whatever problems come to us from beings or inanimate objects, if our mind gets used to perceiving only the suffering or the negative aspects of them, then even from a small negative incident great mental pain will ensue. For it is the nature of indulgence in any concept, whether suffering or happiness, that the experience [will be intensified by that indulgence. As] negative experience gradually becomes stronger, a time will come when most of what appears before us will become the cause of bringing us unhappiness, and happiness will never have a chance to arise. If we do not realize that the fault lies with our own mind's way of gaining experience, and if we blame all our problems on the external conditions alone, then the ceaseless flame of habitual negative deeds such as hatred and suffering will increase in us. That is called: "All appearances arising in the form of enemies." 
-- Dodrupchen 
(Quoted from The Healing Power of Mind, by Tulku Thondrup)

Traditional Tibetan culture nourished a deep and powerful integration of spiritual and practical understanding. The Tibetan healing tradition respects both of these aspects of human nature and their potential for supporting health and healing. All the activities of Tibetan herbal medicine -- asking for help, searching for herbs, preparing medicines, diagnosing illness, prescribing treatments, taking the medicine -- all of them are carried out with a devotion to spiritual practices and training shared by the patient and the physician, their families, and the entire community.

The near universal devotion to these spiritual practices stemmed from their practical effectiveness in fostering basic sanity, compassion, and understanding -- progress on the path toward enlightenment -- but over time certain meditation practices were recognized as especially appropriate for emphasis by people stricken with physical or psychological illness. This page focuses on those practices.

However, since the readers of this page are mostly going to be natives of Western countries, or countries that have been strongly influenced by Western culture, it is appropriate to point out that for people steeped in Western culture, just about any form of Tibetan Buddhist meditation, or indeed any form of Buddhist Meditation at all, could be considered a healing meditation, especially for stress-related illness. That's why sections on the mindfulness/awareness and tonglen practices are included on this page. 

In traditional Tibetan culture, people lived close to the earth. There were no alarm clocks and no pagers, and to talk to someone you had to actually go to where they were and have a conversation. Nearly everyone had some sort of spiritual practice, and most people were practicing meditation every day. In that context, it made sense to single out certain practices as healing meditations. For us, though, any meditation practice that we actually enjoy doing is likely to have a beneficial effect on our health and longevity.

For some of us, finding a meditation practice that is easy for Western people to connect to in a genuine and whole hearted way may be the best approach, even if it is not traditionally considered to be an especially healing meditation. Two approaches come to mind as having inspired very many Western students, both of them given especially to Western people by highly accomplished lamas. To learn more about them, take a look at these pages: 

Karmapa's Gift: Meditations for Western Students

The Ancient Wisdom of Shambhala

Returning our focus to traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture, we might also want to look into the various methods that one wouldn't particularly call 'meditation,' but which were considered beneficial for fostering health and well being, and for healing illness. Building stupas, raising prayer flags, setting up large prayer wheels, and going on pilgrimages are good examples of practices that heal bodies and minds as well as spirits. Even Tibetan herbal medicine combines spiritual and physical healing. Physicians constantly repeat mantras (prayers) while gathering and preparing ingredients for the medicines, and while working with their patients. Moreover, some types of Tibetan medicines contain substances that are considered sacred. These various types of spiritually empowered healing are the topic of another page:

Spiritual Healing in Buddhist Tibet

Just a couple of suggestions: First, spiritual shopping can be entertaining, but healing meditations won't really be much use until you settle on a method that seems promising to you, and stick with it for a while.  Second, with meditation, as with any skill involving coordination of mind and body, working with someone who has developed some mastery of the method and its application is highly recommended. On another page we give links for contacting a Tibetan Buddhist meditation center:

Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Centers

Among the various Tibetan schools and traditions of meditation, groups emphasize particular practices when working with beginners. Specifically, traditional Tibetan Buddhist centers tend to begin with visualization and mantra practices, while the Shambhala Centers, and non-Tibetan centers following the Zen and Theravadin traditions, emphasize mindfulness/awareness practice with beginning students. 

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"Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most."
-- found on a cocktail napkin

The most basic way to train oneself to be more aware of what is actually going on in any situation, including ones health, is a certain type of meditation practice, called shi-né (she nay) in Tibetan (Sanskrit shamatha). This term has been translated into English as "mindfulness practice"; however, a more literal translation would be "abiding in peace of mind."

Shi-né is the most common form of meditation, not only in Tibet but in other Buddhist countries. It is the basis of Zen, of Theravadin meditation, and of the Tibetan meditation practices involving visualization. It is also the basic practice of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction approach, introduced at the University of Massachusetts Stress Reduction Program to help patients deal with illness.

A traditional analogy is sometimes used to give a student a quick glimpse of this practice and how it works. An image of a candle flame, flickering in the breeze, is compared to our mind, tossed around by conflicting emotions. Shi-né  practice is like putting a glass chimney around the candle, letting it burn steadily and clearly. The practice eventually leads to a relaxed awareness of every aspect of the situation, to what is called "panoramic awareness" (Tibetan lahtong; Sanskrit vipashyana).

Unbiased awareness automatically tends toward appropriate action. When ones mind and body are synchronized, when what is actually present is experienced on the spot, ones actions mesh with the situation as it truly is. Developing such basic sanity, such authentic presence in the actual situation, is possible for all of us.

Shi-né practice stress helps to reduce stress in two ways. First, as the translation "abiding in peace" implies, it directly affects the self induced stress that stems from our entanglement with our internal soap operas, by letting us have thoughts without identifying with them. Secondly, our actions will tend to be more appropriate, and thus more effective -- having fewer negative side effects -- so that external causes of stress will be reduced.

Doctors tell us that many of the most debilitating illnesses in our modern lives are stress induced. Stress not only makes us miserable, it can make us ill -- prolonged extreme stress is devastating to the immune system. Reducing stress not only helps us feel better, it can actually help in the healing of many physical ailments.

The Resources section provides links to simple instructions for  practicing meditation, available on the Web and in books, and links to Tibetan Buddhist meditation centers, where one can establish a relationship with a trained meditation instructor.

"Not too tight. Not too loose."

-- basic meditation instruction --

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Tonglen (Sending and Taking)
"The tonglen practice is a method for connecting with suffering – ours and that which is all around us – everywhere we go. It is a method for overcoming fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our heart. Primarily it is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or cold we might seem to be."

Efforts toward developing basic sanity, using mindfulness/awareness practice, can help us to improve our own health and other aspects of our personal situation. As we become more aware of what is really going on, we are more effective in working with it. However, when other people are involved, and especially if we are trying to help them, we might need something more.

When Buddha discovered sitting practice, he was living alone under a tree, and when he started teaching he had already discovered his true nature. Part of what he learned was that he was not separate from other living beings.

Meditators who continue interacting with other people, rather than living alone in a cave, may find them highly irritating at times. Ones hard-earned peace of mind scatters like autumn leaves before a stiff breeze and we find ourselves wallowing in neurotic upheavals of all sorts.

Tonglen practice -- exchanging oneself, in our imagination, for others who are suffering -- gives us a way to work with that, a way to dissolve our desperate clinging to separateness. Before we can really practice tonglen, however, we need to find a way to connect to our compassion.

Sogyal Rinpoche suggests that seeing someone in pain, in person or on the news, could inspire us to meditate on compassion. "Any one of these sights could open the eyes of your heart to the fact of vast suffering in the world. Let it. Don't waste the love and grief it arouses; 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. 

"Compassion is a far greater and nobler thing than pity. Pity has its roots in fear, and a sense of arrogance and condescension, sometimes even a smug feeling of "I'm glad it's not me." As Stephen Levine says: 'When your fear touches someone's pain it becomes pity; when your love touches someone's pain, it becomes compassion.' To train in compassion, then, is to know all beings are the same and suffer in similar ways, to honor all those who suffer, and to know you
are neither separate from nor superior to anyone."

Pema Chödrön, in Start Where You Are, gives instructions for the tonglen practice itself. Here is a brief excerpt about the main practice:

"You breathe in the pain of a specific person or animal that you wish to help. You breathe out to that person spaciousness or kindness or a good meal or a cup of coffee - whatever you feel would lighten their load. You can do this for anyone: the homeless mother that you pass on the street, your suicidal uncle, or yourself and the pain you are feeling at that very moment. The main point is that the suffering should be real, totally untheoretical. It should be heartfelt, tangible, honest, and vivid."

You after a while you expand the exchange: "You use specific instances of misery and pain as a stepping stone for understanding the universal suffering of people and animals everywhere. .... What you feel for one person, you can extend to all people."

"You need to work with ... both the immediate suffering of one person and the universal suffering of all. .... Working with both situations together makes the practice real and heartfelt; at the same time, it provides vision and a way for you to work with everyone else in the world."

Tonglen practice is part of the Seven Points of Mind Training, a widely cherished set of guidelines for bringing adverse situations onto the path of meditation, and developing bodhichitta -- the unconditional compassion which waters the seed of Buddhahood.

To learn more about the tonglen practice or the Seven Points of Mind Training, look in the Resources section at the end of this page for links to instructions on the Web, and for more detailed information in books.

"Use what seems like poison as medicine. Use your personal  suffering as the path to compassion for all beings."

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"If one meditates on the Medicine Buddha, one will eventually attain enlightenment, but in the meantime one will experience an increase in healing powers both for oneself and others and a decrease in physical and mental illness and suffering."

Buddhism offers many different types of mental and physical and spiritual exercises to help individuals move toward the goal of awakening. One form of practice, highly respected by Tibetan Buddhists, is connecting with the qualities of an enlightened being, one who is already awake, as an example and inspiration. 

Although all the enlightened beings used in these practices are fully awake and in complete possession of all the superlative qualities of a Buddha, various awakened beings are seen as manifesting especially vividly different superlative qualities of awakened mind. For example, as the passage quoted above suggests, the Medicine Buddha is especially useful in connecting with the healing power of awakened mind. Other enlightened beings commonly used as the focus of healing practices are Amitayus, the Buddha of Long Life, Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and Tara, Mother of the Buddhas.

In addition to fostering in a general way ones ability to heal oneself and others, these practices can be specifically focused on the healing of a particular problem, again in oneself or in someone else, or in a group of people. For example, a meditation on the Medicine Buddha could be focused on benefiting people with a particular disease, and helping people to avoid contracting that particular illness.

Information on The Medicine Buddha, Chenrezig and Tara, and the practices associated with them, can be found on the following pages:

Medicine Buddha Sangye Menla

Chenrezig: Embodiment of Compassion

Who is Arya Tara?

The basic forms of all these practices are open to anyone who wishes to use them:

"Most tantrayana or vajrayana visualization and mantra practices require that an initiation and subsequent authorization and instruction be given by a qualified lama before the sadhana, or ritual practice, can begin. However, a few practices, those that were given publicly by Lord Buddha Shakyamuni, do not fall under such restrictions. Very definitely, all the practices given in the Sutras have the full blessing of the Buddha and therefore can be practiced if one has the aspiration to do so. Such practices include those of the noble Chenrezig and of the mother of the buddhas, Green Tara. Naturally, whenever it is possible for you to take the vajrayana initiation of Chenrezig or Green Tara, you are encouraged to do so."
--Kalu Rinpoche

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"Compared to any medical treatment or cure, the Six Syllables [Om Mani Padme Hum] are the strongest remedy against sickness and evil."
-- Guru Rinpoche

A Tibetan Buddhist mantra can be thought of as a particular form of prayer: Phrases in the ancient Sanskrit language are used to connect with the energy of a particular enlightened being. 

The most familiar example is Om Mani Padme Hum,Om Mani Padme Hum in Tibetan Scriptthe most widely used mantra in Tibet and in many other Buddhist communities. Here it is written in Tibetan script. Tibetan Buddhists believe that saying this mantra, out loud or silently to oneself, invokes the powerful benevolent attention of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Om Mani Padme Hum: The Meaning of the Mantra

Mantras are an important part of Tibetan medicine. Tibetan physicians repeat certain mantras over and over as they search for herbal ingredients of the medicines, as they prepare the medicines, and as they work with their patients.

There are many special mantras for various purposed, including healing. However, the mantras most often used for healing are those associated with the enlightened beings mentioned in the Visualization section: The Medicine Buddha, Green Tara, and Chenrezig. The mantras can be used without doing the visualization, although it would be helpful to read about the visualization and have in mind some understanding of who the enlightened being is that is being supplicated with the mantra.

om mani padme hum
Medicine Buddha
tadyatha om bheshajye beshajye maha beshajye beshajye rajaya samungate svaha
Green Tara
om tare tu tare ture soha

Anyone can begin the practice of repeating these mantras. However, it is said that for these practices to be fully effective, one should obtain refuge, the empowerment and oral instructions for the practice from a qualified lama. The lamas have already been introduced to the energy of these enlightened beings by their own teachers, and they can pass that introduction along to you -- but you can begin practicing the mantra immediately, before you obtain the empowerment. In fact, beginning the practice may help to clear up any obstacles to finding a lama arranging to receive the transmission.

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Prayer Wheels
"Just touching and turning a prayer wheel brings incredible purification and accumulates unbelievable merit."

Spinning the written form of the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum around in a Mani wheel (prayer wheel) is believed to give the same benefit as saying the mantra, and Mani wheels, small hand wheels and large wheels with millions of copies of the mantra inside, are found everywhere in the lands influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. 

A short teaching by Lama Zopa, Rinpoche  specifically discusses the value of prayer wheel practice for healing:

The Benefits of Prayer Wheels

"One idea I have is to use them for healing. Anyone with a disease such as AIDS or cancer, whether or not they have any understanding of Dharma, can use the prayer wheel for meditation and healing."

You can learn much more about them, including how to purchase one, on our page about Mani wheels:

Prayer Wheels: Spiritual Technology from Tibet

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, has said that having the mantra on your computer works the same as a traditional Mani wheel, as the digital form of the mantra spins around on your hard drive. You can learn more on our page devoted to digital Mani wheels:

Digital Prayer Wheels

Turn your hard drive into a prayer wheel

Animated prayer wheels for Web Pages

Download a prayer-wheel screen saver

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Distant Healing
Many Tibetan lamas of all traditions will perform special spiritual practices (pujas) for the benefit of individuals who are ill or recently deceased. A donation is appropriate to cover the cost of the materials (incense, etc.) used in the practice. Additional funds to support the work of the lamas are always welcome; Tibetans believe that such gifts add to the effectiveness of the blessing ceremony.

Tibetan Buddhist Centers

Healing Buddha Foundation is a very good example of this type of practice. On their Web site they have a page devoted to offering "special pujas and distant healing for Buddhists and non Buddhists alike who are experiencing all types of difficulties - physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual."

Special Pujas and Distant Healing

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booksweb sites

Web Resources
Related Pages from Dharma Haven

Karmapa's Gift: Meditations for Western Students

The Ancient Wisdom of Shambhala

Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Centers

Tibetan Buddhism Resources

Spiritual Healing in Buddhist Tibet

Chenrezig: Embodiment of Compassion

Medicine Buddha Sangye Menla

Who is Arya Tara?

Om Mani Padme Hum: The Meaning of the Mantra

The Prayer Wheel: Spiritual Technology from Tibet

On the Benefits of Using Prayer Wheels

Digital Prayer Wheels

Index of Dharma Haven's Tibetan Pages

Basic Instruction on Mindfulness Practice

KTD - Pema Chödrön - Sawang Mipham
Sogyal Rinpoche - Thrangu Rinpoche

Tonglen (Sending and Taking) Practice

Pema Chödrön - Pema Chödrön (2) - Pema Chödrön (3)
Khenpo Karthar - Sogyal Rinpoche - Thrangu Rinpoche

Lojong (Mind Training) Practice

The Seven Points of Mind Training
Pema Chödrön - When the Going Gets Rough

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

Information on the Medicine Buddha Mantra

Sound of the Mantra of the Medicine Buddha
from Healing Jewel

Men Chhos Reiki

Healing Meditation CD

The original soundtrack from the film The Knowledge of Healing. The CD is filled with mantras, prayers, pujas and traditional instruments of Tibetan Doctors, Nuns and Monks.

Amitayus Buddha Long-Life Empowerment (incomplete)


The Path Is the Goal: A Basic 
Handbook of Buddhist Meditation
Chögyam Trungpa

Teachings on basic meditation, shamatha and vipashyana, mindfulness and awareness. Chögyam Trungpa was renowned for his unique gift for teaching the Dharma to Westerners. 

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Sogyal Rinpoche's classic text on death and dying from the perspective of Tibetan Buddhism, including various meditation practices.

PaperbackHard boundAudio Cassette

Excerpts and Reviews at the Author's Web Site

The Wisdom of No Escape and 
the Path of Loving-Kindness
Pema Chödrön

A book about making friends with ourselves and our world, inviting us to use the details of everyday life as our primary spiritual guide. Includes the powerful "stages of resting the mind" instructions.

Start Where You Are
Pema Chödrön
Overcoming our own suffering and the suffering of others is only possible if we "start where we are," embracing rather than pushing away the painful aspects of our lives. Based on the source teachings for the tonglen practice of "taking and sending," Atisha's Seven Points of Mind Training."

Good Medicine: How to Turn Pain into Compassion With Tonglen Meditation (Audiocassette)
Pema Chödrön (Read by the Author)

Through tonglen, we can use the difficulties in life - those that cause the most suffering - as a way to befriend ourselves, accept the past we have rejected, and widen our circle of compassion.

How to be a Help Instead of a Nuisance: Practical Approaches to Giving Support, Service and Encouragement to Others
Karen Kissel Wegela

Practical advice on how to become one of those amazing people whose efforts to help really work. How to listen, how to be a mindful companion to the ill or dying, when to offer advice. 

Heal Thy Self: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine
Saki Santorelli

Director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the UMass Medical Center in Worcester, Santorelli
invites us to take more responsibility for our own health and well-being by including mindfulness in the relationship between patients and healers.

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Meditations that can help anyone deal with stress and gain a calmer outlook on life. "Out of this shift in perspective comes an ability to act with greater balance and inner security in the world."

The Healing Power of Mind
Tulku Thondup

The mind is the key to health, and mental grasping is often the cause of our physical undoing. This healing method centers on visualization, beginning with emotions and moving on to the body. 

Boundless Healing: Meditation Exercises to Enlighten the Mind and Heal the Body
Tulku Thondup

A guidebook on healing the mind, body, and spirit through meditation. "As your breath is moving through your body, think and feel that all the cells of your body are also breathing. All the trillions of cells of light and blissful heat are breathing from the top of your head to the soles of your feet."

Healing Meditations: Simple Exercises 
for Health, Peace, and Well-Being
Tulku Thondup

This abridged pocket-sized version of The Healing Power of Mind introduces the essentials of meditation, how to get started, and how one can use meditation to bring inner peace and to heal various mental afflictions and physical ailments. 

Hidden Spring: A Buddhist Woman Confronts Cancer
Sandy Boucher

A Buddhist and feminist writer describes her year-long encounter with cancer, and reveals how meditation techniques and her understanding of Buddhist principles prepared her to meet the mental and physical challenges of her illness.

Wheel of Great Compassion: The Practice of 
the Prayer Wheel in Tibetan Buddhism

Compiled, Edited & Introduced by Lorne Ladner
Foreword by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

The first book to provide Western readers with a complete understanding of the prayer wheel.

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Revised on December 19, 2000
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