The key to health
and happiness, says Tulku Thondup, is a mind that is peaceful and
positive. This respected Buddhist teacher and author offers insights
and meditations to help us access the natural healing power of
To find true well-being, the best place to look
is close to home. We could travel around the globe a hundred times,
turning over every stone on earth in the quest for happiness. Yet
this would not necessarily give us what we seek. Money does not
necessarily grant well-being either, nor does a youthful or healthy
body. Health and money can help us, of course. But the real source
of peace and joy is our mind.
The mind wants to be peaceful; this is really its natural
state. But there are so many distractions and cravings that can
obscure our peaceful nature. A characteristic of our time is the
speed of our living, especially in the West. Everything is a rush.
Meditation can slow us down so that we touch our true nature. Any
meditation can help us. The object of our contemplation could be a
flower, a religious image, or a positive feeling. Or it could be our
One especially rich way to develop a peaceful mind is to
meditate upon the body. By doing this we promote the welfare of our
Through meditation, we can learn how to encourage our mind to
create a feeling of peace in the body. This can be as simple as
relaxing and saying to ourselves, “Let my body be calm and peaceful
now,” and really feeling that this is happening. It is the beginning
of meditation—and of wisdom, too.
This approach is a kind of homecoming. We are reintroducing
ourselves to our bodies and establishing a positive connection
between mind and body. Quite often, people have a rather strained
and distant relationship to their own body. We think of the body as
unattractive or ugly, or maybe our health is not good. Or else we
like the body, cherish it, and foster cravings around it. But even
if we cherish the body, we worry that it could be better than it is,
or that it will get sick or grow old. So we are conflicted and
ambivalent. The body is an object of anxiety.
Mind and body are intimately connected, and the relationship
of mind to body in meditation is very interesting. When we see the
body as peaceful and beautiful, who or what is creating these
feelings? The mind is. By creating peaceful feelings in the body,
the mind is absorbed in those feelings. So, the body is the object
to be healed, but it also becomes the means of healing the mind. The
healing of the mind is the ultimate goal of meditation.
The Peaceful Mind
True healing and well-being come down to enjoying an
awareness of peace, the ultimate peace, the ultimate peace of
existence. The mind is not passive in the sense of being
half-asleep. Instead, the mind is open to the thought and feeling of
total peace. An unrestricted and uncontaminated awareness of peace
is the ultimate joy and strength. When we are truly aware of peace,
our nature blossoms with full vigor.
Some people are so fully open to the true nature of existence
that they are peaceful no matter what the circumstances. For the
enlightened mind, peace does not depend on any object or concept.
Awareness of the absolute nature of things, the universal truth, is
not limited or conditioned by concepts, feelings, or labels such as
good and bad. A mind that is free can transcend dualistic categories
such as peace versus conflict and joy versus suffering. The
enlightened mind does not discriminate between a subjective or
objective reality, or between liking and disliking. Time is
timeless, and everything in existence is perfect as it is.
Before this begins to sound too theoretical, I should say
that there are many people who are enlightened, to one degree or
another, and we can be inspired by tales of enlightenment, where
peace is everywhere and even turmoil is okay. But for most of us,
the goal should be to work with our ordinary minds and just try to
be a little more peaceful and relaxed in our approach to life. If
you are a little more peaceful, it will help you to better handle
problems, even if big problems are still difficult.
It can be helpful to remember that the enlightened mind and
the ordinary mind are two sides of the same coin. The mind is like
the sea, which can be rough on the surface, with mountainous waves
stirred up by ferocious wind. But at the bottom it is calm and
peaceful. Sometimes we can catch sight of this peaceful mind even in
times of trouble.
These glimpses of peace show us that we may have more inner
resources to draw upon than we realize. With skill and patience, we
can learn how to be in touch with our peaceful
Noticing the Peaceful
It can seem daring to open the door to healing. And yet
cultivating peace of mind is actually not so strange or alien. Peace
of mind is not something we save for meditation or for the
contemplation of past experiences, as if it was some special feeling
separate from everyday life. We can encourage the mind to be more
peaceful all the time; this is how to improve our outlook and assure
our well-being. In the ups and downs of life, the opportunity is
always there to cultivate an awareness of positive feeling.
When I talk about peace,
people sometimes mistakenly think that this means detaching yourself
from the stream of life. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The way to truly heal your life is to be awake to its simple joys,
and to develop an open, welcoming attitude toward all your
activities and encounters with other people. We should enjoy
ourselves and be fully engaged in what we do.
Notice when you feel open and peaceful. Be aware of any
feeling of freedom. Awareness is the key. If you are aware of peace,
it has a chance to become part of your life. When you feel peaceful,
enjoy it. Don’t force your feelings, or chase after them, or stir up
false excitement. There’s no need to grasp. Simply be aware, and let
the feeling blossom and open. Allow it to expand. Stay with any
positive feeling; allow your mind to relax in it. You may find your
body feeling peaceful too. If your breathing feels more relaxed, or
you feel a sensation of warmth, pause to notice that as well and
It is possible to feel calm and joyful for no reason at all,
or under challenging circumstances. The enlightened mind does not
need an object or sensation for peace to spontaneously arise. For
the ordinary mind, however, it is better to use positive feelings as
a starting place, as follows:
Be Aware of the Positive: At the beginning, we should focus
on positive situations and images, and rejoice in their healing
power. It could be the sight of a toddler proudly taking a few
awkward steps under the watchful eye of a parent. Maybe an
open-hearted person has said hello with a cheerful smile, or you
might have freely done someone a small act of kindness. The simple
acts of taking a walk or enjoying a cup of tea can grant us
contentment, and even joy, if our attitude is open and receptive.
Develop an attitude of appreciation.
See the Positive Side of the Negative: After gaining some
strength in our minds, we should focus not only on the positive
objects but also on the positive qualities of negative objects. Look
for the positive side of negative situations, the silver lining to
the dark cloud. One excellent common sense approach is humor, which
can shift our perspective and suddenly turn a supposedly negative
situation on its head!
Many people have overly sensitive minds and therefore feel
the negative more strongly. This allows anxieties to take root and
grow. The remedy is to develop a less sensitized mind. We can
actually decide “not to mind so much” when negative situations come
up, in which case they will be easier to handle. The Third
Dodrupchen writes, “If we are not sensitive, then because of our
mental strength, even great pain will feel easy to bear, light and
flimsy, like a piece of cotton.”
See All as Positive: See the positive in everything, and
everything as positive. Then it is possible to realize true peace
beyond positive and negative. Ultimately, everything can be a source
of healing, without discrimination between so-called positive and
The main support of healing for most people should be a focus
on the positive situations and images. However, if we immerse
ourselves in the positive, we can gradually but spontaneously embark
on the second and third ways, first indirectly and then
Pessimism can be so deadly. The habit of worrying about
problems or seeing only the negative aspect of a situation hardly
leaves any room for healing. When the mind becomes encrusted and
rigid with this attitude, then everything that happens appears
tainted by pain and negativity.
The mind can choose between positive and negative; it’s all
in the perception. A central practice in Tibetan Buddhism is
positive perception. It’s an approach that’s been proven over the
centuries to yield an amazing harvest of spiritual realization, as
well as happiness and health in everyday life.
Problems can become stepping stones on the path to freeing
our minds. Even if we are not a great spiritual master, we can start
by seeing small problems as acceptable. Try to see a difficulty as
an interesting challenge. Then if you can solve it, or learn how to
tolerate it, be sure to congratulate yourself on doing so. Feeling
the satisfaction can bring a surge of joy, which has a positive
ripple effect in the rest of your life.
A spark of peace and joy can be found in every situation, if
we care to find and apply it. Even if we are having a hellish life,
there will always be some moments of peace that we could certainly
use as the source of healing. So, even if our lives are painful, we
can find something to use as our focal point of healing, the best
out of the worst situations, if we care to look for it.
According to Buddhism, the nature of the mind is enlightened.
So our nature is good. The big problem is the negative habits of the
mind, how we look at everything. These mental patterns can get quite
built up and rigid, and they color and influence our perspective.
Everyone has the capacity to be happy, but you have to change the
habits of your mind and way of perceiving things.
Try to reduce the degree of resentment toward the so-called
unhappiness; that will be a big achievement. Change what you can to
improve your situation, and don’t worry about what you can’t change.
Be more accepting of things at this very moment. Find humor or a
spark of enjoyment wherever you can. That begins to move you toward
Don’t make happiness an obsession, like some object you
simply must get hold of and keep. If you can relax the obsession
about happiness just a bit, then spontaneously you might be
Finally, when we deal well with a problem, it’s important to
acknowledge this to ourselves. In daily life or meditation, any time
we heal some suffering we have felt, we must recognize this. By such
recognition, the powerful energy of joy can flare up. That could be
a great focal point for further healing. The Third Dodrupchen
writes, “You must recognize that the suffering has actually
transformed as the support of the path. Then you must feel a strong
and stable stream of joy that is brought about by that
A Meditative View of the
Our physical body is a precious treasure. It’s an amazing
machine: elegant, complex, and beautiful. It is also ours for a
limited time. Buddhism talks about the body as a guest house for the
mind, and takes a quite realistic view of the body’s aging and
decay. Mind and body are together only for a while; all the more
reason to treasure their true well-being while we can.
When we bring awareness to the body, doing so can call forth
powerful positive energies. There are three reasons to meditate upon
First, our own body is a very effective support in regaining
the healing energies of the mind, since the body is so intimately
connected to the mind.
Second, much of the time, the goal is to heal the ills of
body. So, choosing the body as the object to be healed is practical.
Meditation can be an effective remedy for these problems, depending
on the skill of the meditator and the particular illness. It is also
true that, compared to emotional problems, physical ills can be
difficult to heal through meditation, especially for a beginner. But
even if our physical ills don’t go away, they can often be eased. At
the very least, our minds can learn to better tolerate the woes of
the body and carry them more lightly.
Third, by bringing healing energy to the body, we can also
improve our lives. The mind, the main actor in healing meditation,
is absorbed in positive healing energies. This loosens the grasping
of the mind. It becomes easier to develop a more open and relaxed
attitude toward problems, including how to get along better with
others. Our focus here is to simply become more accepting of our
bodies as they are. In the West, the body tends to be worshipped
unrealistically. Even “perfect” supermodels seem to worry that their
bodies should be better than they are, ever more perfect, and never
changing. In the East, the body tends to be viewed more as something
filthy and unworthy. Asians are not friends with their bodies
either. East and West, so much negative energy is attached to the
body, and negative perception blocks the healing of body and mind.
It’s better to take a more balanced view, and by making a practice
of meditating upon the body, gradually and after many sessions, you
can go beyond attachment or resentment of the body.
Most of us are so attached to our bodies; we identify so
closely with them. It can help in meditation to see our bodies as
boundless, like the sky. We don’t necessarily get attached to the
sky. The sky is there, and when we think about it, we accept and
appreciate it. If we began to see the body with something like this
kind of relaxed appreciation, we could genuinely approach all of
life with more enjoyment.
The healing meditations I teach focus on the technique of
positive visualization. To that end, the mightiest weapons in our
arsenal are the four powers of seeing, recognizing, feeling and
The Four Healing Powers
The four healing powers are positive images, words, feeling
and belief. When we bring these qualities of mind to our meditation,
the power to heal our mental, emotional, and physical afflictions
Positive Images: When we visualize positive objects,
the exercise of our imagination engages and absorbs our mind. If we
can maintain the images in our mind for some duration, the healing
will be more intimate and effective. The mind tends to wander about,
especially if you are new to meditation. Practice staying with the
image as long as you comfortably can, and eventually your
concentration will improve.
Although visualization is a pillar of Tibetan meditation,
many Westerners find it rather strange at first. Forming mental
images is universal, even if we are not used to doing it as part of
meditation. With few exceptions, we all visualize constantly in
daily life. Most of the time, our minds are occupied with neutral
images or negative ones. Instead, if we build a habit of seeing
positive images, the peaceful nature of our mind begins to emerge
and we give joy a chance to flourish.
One of the practices of Tibetan Buddhism is to visualize
positive images at every opportunity throughout the day, except when
practical business is being conducted. In your own life, you can
bring meditation and its images and associated feelings into your
life, during a short break at work, for example. This encourages the
positive feelings to take hold.
Since many of us are predominantly visual, the focus is on
positive images. Yet we could also use sound, smell, taste and touch
as healing objects, if more appropriate. Some people are more
auditory, so they could emphasize chanting, or incorporate music as
part of their prayers and meditations.
Positive Words: Words can have great power, for good
or ill. As thinking creatures, words and inner dialogues are
constantly going on in our heads. We put labels on things and name
them. It is our way of recognizing and confirming the quality of
Meditating upon an image is made all the stronger when we
recognize it as positive, and even comment to ourselves on its
positive nature. For example, if we are visualizing a flower, you
might think about its positive qualities: “This beautiful flower is
blossoming,” or “Its color is spectacular, the whole atmosphere is
radiant with its brilliance,” or ‘‘The dew is dripping from its
healthy, fresh petals,” or “It is so pure, as if made of rainbow
light,” or “I wish everybody could enjoy such a feast for the
Sometimes just the conscious recognition of positive
qualities is enough, without a label. But a label can help open your
mind to an image, such as just simply saying to yourself: “It’s
beautiful,” or “It’s red.” The point is to confirm in your mind the
power of the positive. In this way, we begin to transform the
negative mindset we have built up. We can choose positive or
negative perceptions. Recognizing the positive can be a strong ally
in transforming our minds, both in meditation and daily
In addition to positive images, we can incorporate positive
sounds and scents, or use gestures or touch. By recognizing the
positive qualities of any of these means, we can expand their
Positive Feeling: The mind not only thinks and
recognizes, it feels. If we involve our awareness of the positive
qualities of an object through emotion, the healing of mind and body
is much stronger.
For example, in meditation if we imagine a beautiful flower,
we might just think in our heads, “How beautiful that flower is,”
but then the positive impression is a shadow of what it could be.
Instead, open up to the flower on the level of feeling. Feel the
enchanting beauty, the freshness of dew dripping from it, the
clarity of its colors like immaculate light. Feel the qualities of
the flower in your heart and body and celebrate it, instead of just
thinking of it intellectually.
You can bring this same open-hearted approach to appreciating
the beauty around you every day of your life. Opening yourself to
feelings in meditation can bring more zest and enjoyment to
everything you do.
Generally we need to feel our emotions; it’s healthy to do
so. But at times we may want or need to protect ourselves from
harmful emotions generated by negative situations and images. To do
this, try to deal with them at the level of thinking and intellect,
rather than getting overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment. You
don’t necessarily need to allow negative perceptions to be driven
deep into your heart at the level of feeling.
In meditation and all of life, we can bring the awareness of
feeling to the positive qualities as perceived through any of our
senses: seeing, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. We feel the
vastness of the sky, the refreshing power of the wind, the
comforting warmth of the sun, and so on.
Positive Belief: If you do not trust in the power of
your meditation to heal, its strength and energy will be weak.
Belief gives the meditation a firm foundation; it engages the mind
in a way that is effective and total.
This is not blind faith, but a faith and trust based upon
knowledge that the healing power of mind can be fully called forth
with the help of images, words, and feelings. We need to believe
that we actually can improve our lives in this way. Even if
meditation moves you one step forward, you can fall right back if
you are always harboring doubts in your mind.
Intellectual and material-minded people like ourselves can
find it hard to trust and believe in anything. We need to remember
that the mind is a powerful source of healing, and that the purpose
of healing meditation is to awaken our inner resources. We need to
rely on the help of mental objects, and believe in the power of the
By applying the four healing powers in a positive way, we can
help ourselves now and also reap the benefits later. According to
Buddhism, the seeds of all experiences are sown in us at the level
of unconsciousness, or universal ground. Our mental and physical
deeds, both positive and negative, accumulate in what Buddhists call
Karma is like seeds planted in our unconscious mind where it
can hibernate, hidden in us. Eventually, karma blossoms in its
consequences, for good or ill. Karma can take the form of physical
symptoms, emotions, or memories. Meditation with the four healing
powers is very effective as a remedy for a harvest of negative
The four healing powers are also applicable to daily life. We
can see the positive in ourselves and around us, confirm this
quality in our minds by recognizing it, rejoice in any positive or
peaceful feelings, and believe in the healing power of this way of
looking at the world. This approach to life can reap a great harvest
Reprinted by permission
of Shambhala Publications. ©Tulku Thondup 2000.
Tulku Thondup Rinpoche is a teacher of the Nyingma
(Dzogchen) school of vajrayana Buddhism. He lives in Cambridge,
Mass. Tulku Thondup is author of The Healing Power of Mind, Healing
Meditations and Masters of Meditation and Miracles. This article is
from his forthcoming book, Boundless Healing: Meditation Exercises
to Enlighten the Mind and Heal the Body, to be published in October,
2000 by Shambhala Publications.