Medicine Buddha
Medicine Buddha

Teachings on the
Medicine Buddha Sadhana
Medicine Buddha Sutra
given by
Ven. Thrangu Rinpoche


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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."
—Lama Tashi Namgyal

This page was created to invite your attention to a set of very special teachings on the Medicine Buddha. The teachings, on the Medicine Buddha Sadhana and the Medicine Buddha Sutra, were given in 1999 by the Very Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche at a retreat in Washington State, and published in two special issues of the periodical Shenpen Ösel. The version published there includes not only an edited English translation of the entire teachings, but also the original Tibetan texts that were the basis of Rinpoche's commentary, and English translations of those texts.

Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche is widely revered as a scholarThrangu Rinpoche and  teacher. H.H. Karmapa, XVI, head of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, announced that Thrangu Rinpoche was the main scholar, the most learned person, of the Kagyu school. These particular teachings, on the Medicine Buddha, are beautifully clear and at the same time profound.

 Lama Tashi Namgyal, the editor, comments: "... Thrangu Rinpoche elucidates not only the details of this particular practice, but also many of the basic principles of tantric theory and practice in general.... For anyone engaged in any vajrayana practice, this teaching is very useful in understanding the foundations of tantric practice, and a garden of delights." The Editor's "Introduction" supports and extends that general usefulness of these teachings, and also the understanding of those who may wish to practice the Sadhana.

On this page, we present a few excerpts from these teachings so that readers can get a taste of their clarity, beauty and relevance -- and perhaps be inspired to go to the Shenpen Ösel Web site for the full document.

The first series, the teachings on the stages of practice of the Medicine Buddha Sadhana, were published in the June, 2000, issue of Shenpen Ösel (Volume 4, Number 1). The second part of  the series— Thrangu Rinpoche's teachings on the Medicine Buddha Sutra— will be published later in the year in Volume 4, Number 2.

Individual issues of Shenpen Ösel are available at cost in a Print Edition and also free in an Online Edition. The text of the Medicine Buddha sadhana is not yet available in the Online Edition.

At the end of this page, in the Resources section, you can find links to information about Thrangu Rinpoche, to Shenpen Ösel magazine, and to information about Tibetan Medicine.

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Teachings on the Medicine Buddha Sadhana
A Practice That Is Extremely Effective
In the Removal of Sickness
In his "Introduction," the Editor, Lama Tashi Namgyal, sets the these teachings on the Medicine Buddha Sadhana in the context of Buddhist meditation practice, in general, beginning with the statement "All of the Buddha's teachings can be subsumed under the two categories of shamatha and vipashyana— calm abiding and insight."

After expanding and clarifying this general insight, the Editor extends it to the particular case of the Medicine Buddha practice: 

"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. Whether or not we have a very strong motive to attain buddhahood, we all desire these sorts of relative objectives, so deity meditation provides tremendous incentive for the practice of dharma. And yet deity meditation is just another version of shamatha and vipashyana. When one meditates on the form, the attire and other attributes, the entourage and environment, and the internal mandala of a deity, and when one recites the deity’s mantra, one is practicing shamatha; and when one realizes that all that one is meditating on is mere empty appearance, one is practicing vipashyana. But because meditation on the deity and on the union of the deity and one’s own root lama instantly connects one with the empty clear light nature— which is the essence of the deity, the guru, and the lineage, as well as being one’s own essential nature— the power of this form of shamatha to purify the mind of the practitioner of the mental obscurations blocking his or her insight is immeasurably
greater than that of ordinary tranquillity meditation on mundane objects like the breath or a flower or a candle flame. And since the forms upon which one is meditating are mere mental fabrications, their emptiness is more immediately apparent than, say, the emptiness of something like the Jefferson Memorial or the Washington Monument.

This is all possible because of the special quality of the vajrayana, which takes enlightenment as the path, rather than seeing it merely as a goal. Through the three processes of abhisheka, which ripens the mental continuum; oral transmission, which supports one’s practice; and the teachings, which liberate, one is connected directly to the enlightened state transmitted by the guru and the lineage. Thereafter, when one practices or merely brings to mind those teachings, one is instantly reconnected with that compassionate primordial awareness, and this constant reconnecting then becomes one’s path, bringing with it the rapid purification of mental defilements and the rapid accumulation of merit and wisdom. The recognition of this connection is the uncovering of one’s own wisdom. If it goes unrecognized, it still exists in the practitioner’s mental continuum as a seed, which will gradually ripen according to conditions."

Then the teachings by Thrangu Rinpoche begin with an introduction which discusses why someone might chose to do this practice— what the point is of doing the practice at all— and how it is possible for this practice to have the very wonderful results that it has.

Excerpts from Thrangu Rinpoche's Introduction

"We might think that fundamentally we are practicing the Medicine Buddha in order to benefit our own bodies, whereas the motivation of bodhicitta is the wish to benefit all beings. But in fact there is no contradiction, because, in order to be effective in benefiting other beings, we need to accomplish an excellent samadhi or meditative absorption; and in order to accomplish that, together with the insight and realization that it brings, we need to have a stable practice. In order to have a stable and profound practice, we need to be physically and mentally healthy or comfortable, because by being comfortable in our body, and comfortable in our mind, we will be free of obstacles to diligence in practice and free of obstacles to the cultivation of meditative absorption. So therefore, we are practicing the Medicine Buddha in order to attain states of mental and physical health or balance, not merely for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others as well."

* * *
"The primary technique in the meditation consists of imagining ourself to be the Medicine Buddha, conceiving of yourself as the Medicine Buddha. By replacing the thought of yourself as yourself with the thought of yourself as the Medicine Buddha, you gradually counteract and remove the fixation on your personal self. And as that fixation is removed, the power of the seventh consciousness is reduced. And as it is reduced, the kleshas or mental afflictions are gradually weakened, which causes you to experience greater and greater well-being in both body and mind."
* * *
"In most religious traditions, the deities of that tradition, when they are related to or imagined, are imagined in front of one. Then, visualizing
the deity or deities as being present in front of one, one prays to them, and by doing so hopefully one receives their blessing, which benefits one in some way. In the vajrayana tradition, however, we regard the blessing and the power and the qualities of the deities as being innate, as being within one’s own mind."
* * *
"It is through regarding oneself as the deity that defects are gradually eradicated and qualities gradually revealed. The primary technique of visualization is to visualize ourselves as the deity, because the potential to transcend our problems is innate rather than external to us."
* * *
"We supplement the visualization of ourselves as the deity with visualizations such as imagining the actual wisdom deities themselves dissolving into ourselves again and again, by means of which we receive their blessing. Sometimes we visualize the deity in front of us, separate from ourselves, think-ing that rays of light from the deity’s heart engulf and pervade us, granting the blessing of the deity. And sometimes we visualize that rays of light, which embody the blessing of that deity in front of us, strike all beings, removing their obstacles,
increasing their longevity, wisdom, and so on."
* * *
"The practice of the Medicine Buddha comes primarily from the uncommon tradition of the vajrayana, which means that the transmission of the practice is done using three processes called the empowerment, which ripens; the instruction, which frees; and the reading transmission, which supports. The function of empowerment, the formal ceremony or ritual of empowerment, is to introduce you to the practice and to the process of visualization and so forth, which will make up the practice. The function of the instruction, which frees, is to give you complete access to the practice by means of telling you literally how to do it— what you do with your body, what you say with your speech, and what you think with your mind. The function of the reading transmission, which supports, is to transmit the blessing of the lineage of the practice which serves to consecrate or bless your practice in the form of sound. Because the lineage has been transmitted as the sound of the words of its transmission, when the reading transmission is given to you, you simply listen to the sound and think that by doing so you receive the blessing of the lineage."
* * *
"With regard to the empowerment, you should understand that the Medicine Buddha practice is not solely a vajrayana practice. Like
the practice of mahamudra, it is a combination of vajrayana [tantra] and sutra. For example, while we could say that mahamudra is primarily taught in the vajrayana, it is also found in certain sutras, such as the Samadhiraja Sutra, and so forth. In the same way, this practice of the Medicine Buddha is a combination of what the Buddha taught about the Medicine Buddha in the sutras of the Medicine Buddha and in various tantras. Because it is connected with vajrayana, it is most appropriate to receive the empowerment to enhance the practice; but because it is also connected with the sutras, it is acceptable to do the practice without the empowerment as

The Reading Transmission

Thrangu Rinpoche then gave the reading transmission, or lung, for this Medicine Buddha practice, going through the text and explaining for each of the various sections what it's purpose is, what the practitioner should actually be doing at that point in the liturgy, and what the various symbols and symbolic actions mean.

The liturgy begins with a supplication of the Medicine Buddha and his retinue, including the holders of the lineage of this teaching, in order to invite the awareness of and to receive the blessings of the deity and the lineage.

The invocation of the principle Medicine Buddha begins with these lines:

You are endowed with an oceanic treasury of qualities and merit;
By the blessing of your inconceivable compassion
You calm the suffering and torment of sentient beings.
I supplicate you, Light of Lapis Lazuli.

Before Rinpoche's reading of, and commentary on, the Sadhana, each participant was given a card with an image of the Medicine Buddha. (The image at the top of this page is a different image of the Medicine Buddha.)

The section of the liturgy on the details of the visualization sketches out the main features of the image of the Medicine Buddha, and Thrangu Rinpoche explains the meaning of each of the important symbols. For example, the description and commentary on the arms and hands points out  how they symbolize the Medicine Buddha's mastery of both physical and spiritual aspects of healing:

"The Medicine Buddha has two arms.

His right hand in the mudra of supreme generosity holds an arura. His left hand in meditation mudra holds a begging bowl.

His right hand is extended, palm outward, over his right knee in the gesture called supreme generosity. In it he holds the arura, or myrobalan, fruit. This plant represents all the best medicines. The position of his right hand and the arura which he holds represent the eradication of suffering, especially the suffering of sickness, using the means of relative truth. Sickness can be alleviated by adjusting the functioning of interdependent causes and conditions by the use of relative means within the realm of relative truth, such as medical treatment and so on. The giving of these methods is represented by the gesture of the Medicine Buddha’s right hand. 

His left hand rests in his lap, palm upward, in the gesture of meditative stability or meditation, which represents the eradication of sickness and suffering— and, indeed, the very roots of samsara— through the realization of absolute truth. From the point of view of either relative truth or absolute truth, the fundamental cause of sickness and suffering is a lack of contentment and the addictive quality of samsara. Therefore, to indicate the need for contentment, in his left hand he holds a begging bowl."

Rinpoche points out that the visualization is much more than merely wishful fantasy:

"More important than how many deities you visualize is to understand what you are doing. And most important is to understand that by visualizing yourself as the Medicine Buddha you are not pretending to be something that you are not, and that by visualizing the Medicine Buddha and his retinue in front of you, you are not pretending that they are in a place where they are not. By definition, buddhas are omniscient. Whenever someone thinks of them, brings them to mind, or supplicates them, they are aware of it and respond with their compassion and blessing. In the final analysis, the situation is identical to their actually being present anywhere they are thought of. Therefor,
it is always appropriate to regard a buddha that is present in one’s mind as actually being present in front of one. When you think that the Medicine Buddha, together with his retinue, is present in front of you, it is really true that they are.

Visualizing yourself as the Medicine Buddha is also appropriate, because your fundamental nature— what you truly are— is buddha nature. Buddha nature is essentially the potential to attain awakening. At some point in the future you will attain the same awakening or buddhahood as the Medicine Buddha himself. By visualizing yourself as the Medicine Buddha, you are assuming the appearance of what fundamentally you are even now and what manifestly you will be upon your awakening. It is to acknowledge this truth that you assume the aspect of the body, speech, and mind of the Medicine Buddha, which is, therefore, entirely appropriate."

"If you can visualize clearly, it is best to do all of this very slowly and gradually. While you continue to say the mantra, you think that rays of light emerge from the self-visualization, go to the front visualization, and then from the front visualization outwards to the pure realms, proceeding gradually and slowly. Especially when the blessings of body, speech, and mind rain down upon and dissolve into you, you can do the visualizations in sequence: first, visualizing the blessings of body raining down, without being in any kind of a hurry and so quite distinctly; and then visualizing the blessings of speech and then the blessings of mind. If you find that the visualization is extremely unclear, if you wish, you can do it all at once. But if you do it gradually and slowly, you will find that you will get a much stronger sense of the blessings actually entering into you. By taking your time with the visualization, you will develop real confidence, a real feeling of the blessings entering into you."

Rinpoche describes a special type of visualization when the main point is the actual alleviation of sickness:

"You can visualize yourself as the Medicine Buddha, if you wish, but the main focus is to actually visualize a small form of the Medicine Buddha, no larger than four finger-widths in height, in the actual part of your body that is afflicted. So if it is an illness or pain in the head, visualize a small Medicine Buddha in he head; .... Visualize the Medicine Buddha in that place, and think that from this small but vivid form of the Medicine Buddha rays of light are emitted. These rays of light are not simply light, which is dry, but liquid light having a quality of ambrosia. This luminous ambrosia or liquid light actually cleanses and removes the sickness and pain— whatever it is. You can do this not only for yourself, by visualizing the Medicine Buddha in the appropriate part of your own body, but you can do it for others as well by visualizing the Medicine Buddha in the appropriate part of their body or bodies. The radiation of rays of light of ambrosia and so
on is the same.

This can be applied not only to physical sickness but to mental problems as well. If you want to get rid of a particular type of anxiety or stress or depression or fear or any other kind of unpleasant mental experience, you can visualize the Medicine Buddha seated above the top of your head and think in the same way as before that luminous ambrosia or liquid light emerges from his body, filling your body and cleansing you of any problem, whatever it is. 

You might think that all of this sounds a bit childish, but in fact it actually works, and you will find that out if you try it."

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Teachings on the Medicine Buddha Sutra
The second part of  the series -- Thrangu Rinpoche's teachings on the Medicine Buddha Sutra -- were published in th September, 2000 issue, Volume 4, Number 2, of Shenpen Ösel magazine.

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Thrangu Rinpoche

Home Page of The Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

The Life of Thrangu Rinpoche

Shenpen Ösel
Shenpen Ösel

"Shenpen Ösel is a tri-annual publication of Kagyu Shenpen Ösel Chöling, a center for the study and practice of Tibetan vajrayana Buddhism located in Seattle, Washington. The magazine seeks to present the teachings of recognized and fully qualified lamas and teachers, with an emphasis on the Karma Kagyu and the Shangpa Kagyu lineages." The publication is edited by Lama Tashi Namgyal.

The magazine is available in print and online editions: Subscriptions for the Print Edition are $15 per year and back issues are available for $5 US per issue. The prices include postage.

Thrangu Rinpoche's teachings on the the Medicine Buddha Sadhana were published in the June, 2000, issue (Volume 4, Number 1)

The second part of  the series -- on the Medicine Buddha Sutra -- were published in the September, 2000, issue (Volume 4, Number 2).

The free Online Edition of the magazine is not a Web page -- it requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader (a 2 mb download). The June, 2000, issue of Shenpen Ösel, containing Thrangu Rinpoche's teachings on the Medicine Buddha Sadhana, is about 1600 kilobytes. You have to download all of it before you can see any of it.

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Revised on November 11, 2000

Copyright © 2000 Dharma Haven

Excerpts from Shenpen Ösel

Copyright © 2000 Thrangu Rinpoche

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