OFFERING THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE PRODUCES GREAT MERIT
Therefore it says in the text, “By making these offerings to the deities, may
we complete the two accumulations.” The two accumulations are the
conceptual accumulation of merit and the nonconceptual accumulation
of wisdom. The making of the offerings themselves gathers or completes
the conceptual accumulation of merit; when these offerings are made within
the recognition of the ultimate unreality of the offerings, the offerer, and
the act of offering—when there is recognition of the emptiness of the offerings, the emptiness of the offerer, and the emptiness of the act of offering—
then the nonconceptual accumulation of wisdom is also completed.
Finally the offerings are presented at the end of the stanza with the
offering mantras that denote them. The word vajra at the beginning of the
mantra indicates that the nature of the offering substances is emptiness.
Then the individual offerings are named in order, and finally tra ti tsa, or
pra ti cha, means individually to each. So to each of the deities the offerings
At this point in most vajrayana practices the outer offerings would be
followed by the inner, secret, and ultimate offerings. The inner offering is
generally the offering of some kind of torma. Torma is referred to in this
context as an inner offering because the offering of it is a way to increase
your samadhi, your meditative absorption, which is an internal phenomenon. The secret offering is the offering of the unity of bliss and emptiness,
which is made in order to induce or stabilize this recognition in the practitioner. In the same way, the ultimate offering, the offering of the recognition of the ultimate nature itself, is made in order to stabilize that recognition
in the practitioner. Here these offerings are not given because this practice,
while it is vajrayana in tradition, tends to follow the sutras in style. Therefore, the offerings that follow are those which are commonly presented in
the sutras themselves.
The next two sets of offerings presented are the eight auspicious substances and the eight auspicious signs or marks.
The eight for The eight foremost auspicious substances, emost auspicious substances,
The best r The best rThe best royal white mustar yal white mustard seed, and the others, d seed, and the others,
I offer to the deity.
May the two accumulations be perfected.
MANGALAM ARTHA SIDDHI HUNG
The eight auspicious substances are so called because they are eight
substances or things which are connected with the arising of dharma in this
world. They are considered auspicious because they were significant in bringing about the arising of the teachings. The eight auspicious signs or designs
appear on the body of a buddha and are therefore considered auspicious.
The eight auspicious substances include such things as the conch shell with
the swirl going clockwise, which the god Indra offered to the Buddha when
he requested him to turn the wheel of the dharma. Based on Indra’s offering, the Buddha first taught the dharma, as a consequence of which beings
have the opportunity to encounter the dharma and attain its results. For
that reason, the conch shell with its clockwise swirl, is considered auspicious. Another of the substances is durva grass, which a grass cutter and
seller, whose name was also auspicious, offered the Buddha when he encountered him just before the Buddha’s awakening. The Buddha used the
durva grass to make a seat, on which he sat while he attained awakening.
Therefore, because it is connected with the Buddha’s awakening, which is
the event that transformed this period of history from a period of darkness
into a period of illumination, durva grass is also considered an auspicious
Thus, you offer the eight auspicious substances to the Medicine Buddha and his retinue, making the aspiration to complete the two accumulations by offering them. The mantra at the end of that stanza is mangalam,
which means auspicious, and artha siddhi, which makes it the accomplishment of auspiciousness.
The next set of offerings are the eight auspicious signs or marks.
The eight for The eight foremost auspicious symbols, emost auspicious symbols,
The peerless r The peerless royal vase and all others, ase and all others,
I offer to the deity.
May sentient beings perfect the two accumulations.
MANGALAM KUMBHA HUNG
In general, every buddha is adorned with the thirty-two marks and the
eighty signs, but of all of these, eight are foremost. These eight are actually
the shapes of particular parts of his body, which are reminiscent of certain
emblems. For example, the shape of the top of the Buddha’s head is reminiscent of a parasol, so the precious parasol is one of these auspicious signs.
The shape of his eyes is like the shape of a certain golden fish, so the golden
fish is another one. The shape of his throat is like a certain kind of vase, so
the precious vase is yet another, and so on. Again, one offers these eight
shapes or signs to the deities in order to bring about the auspiciousness of
them, making the aspiration that by making these offerings all beings without exception will perfect the two accumulations: the conceptual accumulation of merit and the non-conceptual accumulation of wisdom. The mantra
at the end of this stanza is mangalam kumbha hum. Mangalam means auspicious; kumbaha means vase. The vase is used here to indicate all eight of
these signs or shapes. Because it represents the shape of the Buddha’s throat,
and because it was out of the Buddha’s throat originally that the dharma
issued forth, the vase is considered of foremost importance.
The next offering is the offering of the seven articles of royalty, which
are seven possessions unique to a certain type of monarch called a
HUNG The foremost desirable qualities, the seven precious articles,
The most excellent royal one, the jewel, and the others,
I offer to the deity.
May I perfect the two accumulations.
OM MANI RATNA HUNG
A chakravartin appears during the best or finest periods of history, during what is called a fortunate eon or period. These seven articles distinguish
a chakravartin from any other monarch; however the true internal meaning
of these seven articles is that they represent the seven aspects of the path to
awakening, which is traversed by all buddhas and bodhisattvas. So when
you make this offering to the deities, you think that externally you are
offering the seven articles of royalty as representations of the seven aspects
of the path to awakening.
You present these offerings to all the deities of the mandala visualized in
front, making the aspiration that by doing so you will complete the two
accumulations—the conceptual accumulation of merit and the
nonconceptual accumulation of wisdom. The mantra used to complete
this offering refers to the first of the seven articles, the precious jewel. Mani
means jewel and ratna means precious.
The next offering, which completes the main section of the offerings, is
the offering of a mandala.
HUNG The for The foremost of all, Mount Meru
With its four continents and subcontinents ith its four continents and subcontinents
I offer to the deity.
May the two accumulations be per ay the two accumulations be perfected. fected.
OM RATNA MANDALA HUNG A HUNG
In general, of course, we make these offerings in order to gather and
complete the accumulation of merit. We do not make them for the benefit
of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, who are their ostensible recipients. Buddhas and bodhisattvas are not particularly pleased by the presentation of
offerings or displeased by their absence. The only real reason for making
offerings is that the person making them gathers the accumulation of merit
by doing so. We make offerings for our own benefit, and it is how it
affects us that is important. Offerings are not limited to that which you can
actually physically assemble around you as offering substances. Offerings
can be of any of three types, which are called actually assembled, mentally
emanated, and produced through the power of aspiration. Actually assembled offerings are physically present and under your power to offer.
Mentally emanated offerings are offerings that you imagine, that you do
not actually have physically present before you, but that you can imagine
clearly enough to offer in your mind. Offerings offered through the power
of aspiration are things that are so vast and limitless that you cannot even
encompass them in your mind or imagine them, but you can at least make
the aspiration to offer them to the buddhas and bodhisattvas. It is said that
any of these three types of offerings will all produce the accumulation of
merit. We use the offering of the entire universe as a mandala because the
vastness of it produces great merit.
Specifically mentioned are the central mountain, Mount Meru, together
with the continents surrounding it. These together, along with everything
that goes with them, make up the mandala, which is considered the principal among all offerings. In detail, the offering consists of Mount Meru,
which includes on top of Mount Meru the second of the desire god realms—
enumerated from the bottom up—called the heaven or god-realm of the
thirty-three. Surrounding Mount Meru are seven concentric rings of golden
mountains with lakes in between them. In these seven golden mountains
and on their lakes live the gods of the first realm of the desire god realms
and the four great kings—the same four kings who are guardians in the
mandala of the Medicine Buddha. When you offer Mount Meru, you also
think that you are offering all of the wealth of those god’s realms. Outside
those seven golden mountains are the four main continents with their eight
subcontinents, which are the habitation of humans—all of the wealth, possessions, splendor, and beauty of which you offer as well. In short, you offer
the world, indeed the whole universe, and all it contains to all of the deities,
and you make the aspiration that by so doing, you complete the two accumulations and that you and the whole world be free from sickness.
After the fundamental offerings—the eight traditional offerings of water, flowers, incense, and so forth, and the offering of everything that is
pleasing to the five senses—there have occurred four different sets of offerings: the eight auspicious substances, the eight auspicious signs, the seven
articles of royalty, and finally the offering of the mandala. The next offering
is the offering of ablution—of washing the bodies of the deities. This is
done in order to create the auspicious basis for the removal of your own
wrongdoing, your own defilements, and your own obscurations—the afflictive obscurations and the cognitive obscurations.
With scented water
I bathe the sugata’s body.
Although the deity is flawless, Although the deity is flawless,
This creates the auspicious connection for purifying all wrongs
OM SAR OM SARWA TATHAGATA ABIKEKATE SAMA TE SAMATE SAMAYA SHRIYE
Here you think that from the heart of yourself visualized as the Medicine Buddha rays of light are emanated. On the tips of each of these rays are
offering goddesses holding precious vases filled with ambrosia. With the
ambrosia from these vases, they bathe the bodies of the primary Medicine
Buddha, the seven other Medicine Buddhas, the sixteen bodhisattvas, and
all of the other deities in the mandala. The words of the text say, “With
scented water I bathe the sugatha’s body; although the deity is without
stain, this creates the auspicious basis for purifying all wrongdoing and
This offering of ablution is culminated with the mantra, Om Sarwa
Tathagata Abikekate Samaya Shriye Hung. Sarva means all. Tathagata means
tathagatas or buddhas. And abikekate refers to this process which in some
contexts means empowerment, but in this context means ablution. Through
this offering you increase the splendor and majesty of the deities; therefore,
there is the words shriye, which means splendid, majestic, or glorious.
The next offering, which goes along with ablution, is drying the bodies
of the deities, which is done by visualized offering goddesses holding fine
white cotton towels scented with perfume.
With a scented, soft white cloth
I dry the victor y the victory the victor’s body.
Though your body is flawless, our body is flawless,
This creates the auspicious connection for the auspicious connection for freedom
OM KAYA BISHODHANI HUNG
You state in these two stanzas that you are not washing and drying the
deities because they are dirty or have stains that need to be washed away,
and so on; you are drying the bodies of the deities after washing them
because it creates the interdependent cause of drying up or removing the
suffering of all beings. Therefore, you make the aspiration that the suffering of all beings—especially the sufferings of physical sickness and mental
affliction—be removed. Kaya vishodani means the purification of the body.
Next is the offering of clothes or robes to the deities of the mandala.
HUNG With these beautiful saffr ith these beautiful saffron robes
I clothe the victor I clothe the victor’s body.
Although your body is never cold,
This creates the auspicious connection for vitality to flourish.
OM BENZA vAsTRA AH HUNG
Having bathed and dried them, next we have to offer them appropriate
robes. The robes that are actually mentioned in the first line of this stanza
are those that are offered to the Medicine Buddha and to the seven buddhas
in his retinue, all of whom, since they are manifesting in supreme
nirmanakaya form, wear only the beautiful saffron red and yellow robes
which are worn by buddhas. As the visualized goddesses offer the robes,
you recite, “With these I clothe the Victor’s body.” As in the previous offerings, you are making this offering, not because the Medicine Buddha is in
any danger of becoming cold, but in order to create the auspicious basis for
benefitting yourself and others. Therefore, you say, “Although your body is
never cold, this creates the auspicious basis for the flourishing of vitality
and physical splendor.” As a result of this offering vitality and physical
splendor will arise in you and others through the power of your aspiration.
Although not mentioned specifically in the liturgy, the clothing offered to
the bodhisattvas is appropriate to their appearance [in sambhogakaya form]:
elegant garments of multicolored silk and jewelry made of gold and jewels,
and so on. The bodhisattvas are offered fine clothes and jewelry not because they are particularly attached to them, but because by offering them
you create the auspicious basis for the increase of vitality. The word vastra
in the mantra means robes or clothing or fabric.
Each of these sections—ablution, drying, and offering clothing—has
its own particular significance. The fundamental significance of all three of
them is indicated in connection with the second, where it says, “I make this
offering in order to establish the auspicious basis for the removal of suffering.” The point of making these offerings is to remove the suffering of
beings, which is primarily accomplished on the level of auspicious interdependence by the second offering, drying. But to remove the suffering of
beings you must first remove the causes of suffering, which are wrongdoing
and obscurations. So therefore, drying is preceded by ablution, the symbolic function of which is to purify the wrongdoing and obscurations of all
beings. Finally, once the suffering has been removed, what develops in its
place is a state of mental and physical well-being—including physical vitality, splendor and health—and a state of wisdom and peace within the mind,
the interdependent cause of the arising of which is established by the offering of robes and clothing, which is the third part.
Following the offerings come the praises. The praises are performed by
imagining that offering goddesses emanated from the light rays from your
heart sing the praises of the deities in the words of the liturgy with beautiful
melodies. Praised are the qualities of body, speech, and mind of the Medicine Buddha and his retinue. These praises are not done in order to please
the Medicine Buddha; buddhas and bodhisattvas are not pleased by praise
nor displeased by its absence. One performs the praises to remind oneself,
the practitioner, of the qualities of the deities. This increases one’s devotion
and one’s resolve or desire to attain the state of the deities, which increases
one’s diligence in practice.
The praises consist of three stanzas. The first is a praise of the Medicine
Buddha. The second is a praise of the other seven medicine buddhas and
the sixteen bodhisattvas. And the third is a praise of the remaining deities
of the mandala, including the ten protectors of the ten directions, the twelve
yaksha chieftains, and so forth.
The first stanza is addressed to the Medicine Buddha.
Your body is like a mountain, the color of lapis lazuli.
You dispel the suffering of illness in sentient beings.
Surrounded by a retinue of eight bodhisattvas,
Holder of Medicine, precious deity, I praise and prostrate to you.
The first line praises the appearance of his body or form: “The color of
your body is like a mountain of lapis or vaidurya,” which is to say that in
appearance his body is like the stainless mass of a blue jewel, like a lapis or
vaidurya, and radiant with rays of light. So that is a praise of the majesty of
his appearance. The second line is praise of his activity, and it says, “You
remove the sufferings of sickness of all beings.” Sufferings of sickness here
refer expressly to the literal suffering of physical illnesses, but also by implication ultimately to the sickness and the suffering of the sickness of samsara
itself, which the Medicine Buddha also dispels.
Having praised his appearance and activity, you then praise his retinue.
Here the retinue referred to in the liturgy is not the retinue of the mandala;
what is referred to here are the eight great bodhisattvas who exemplify the
mahayana sangha. These are not the same as the sixteen bodhisattvas in the
mandala; in fact, not all eight of these eight primary bodhisattvas are among
the sixteen, although some of them are. Generally speaking, when we talk
about the sangha, there is the ordinary sangha of the common vehicle and
the exalted sangha of the mahayana, which is made up of bodhisattvas.
These are exemplified by what are called the eight close offspring of the
Buddha, eight great bodhisattvas such as Manjusri, Avalokiteshvara,
OFFERING THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE PRODUCES GREAT MERIT
Vajrapani, and so on. Then in the last line you say, “I pay homage to and
praise that deity who holds the precious medicine,” which is another way
of referring to the Medicine Buddha himself.
The second stanza of praise praises the three jewels in general, exemplified by the buddhas, dharma, and sangha found in this mandala.
Excellent Name, Precious Moon, Fine Gold, Free of Misery,
Resounding Dharma Ocean, Dharma Mind, Shakyamuni,
The genuine dharma, the sixteen bodhisattvas and others, as and others,
To the pr o the pro the precious three jewels, I offer praise and pr els, I offer praise and prostrate.
First mentioned are the seven other medicine buddhas—Excellent Name,
Precious Moon, Fine Gold, Free of Misery, Resounding Dharma Ocean,
Dharma Mind, and Buddha Sakyamuni. Then, following that, is mentioned the dharma itself, visually represented in the mandala by the sutras
and commentaries but also understood as being the essence of the path.
Finally, for the sangha it mentions “the sixteen bodhisattvas, and so forth,”
which means all of the mahayana sangha, as exemplified by the sixteen
bodhisattvas found within this mandala. Then one completes the praise by
saying, “I pay homage to and praise the three precious jewels.”
The final stanza is a praise to the remaining deities of the mandala and
to all others who are associated with the mandala.
To Brahma, Indra, the Great Kings, the Protectors of the Ten
The twelve yaksha chiefs and all their assistants,
Vidyadharas and rishis of medicine, divine and human,
To the deities of ambrosial medicine, I offer praise and prostrate.
First mentioned are Brahma and Indra, who are two among the ten
protectors of the ten directions; and then the four great kings; the twelve
yaksha generals or chieftains, together with their retinues; and then finally
all of the holders of the knowledge of medicine and those who have mastered medicine, who here are referred to as vidyadaras and rishis of medicine, both those living in the realms of the gods and those living in the
realms of humans. In short, one pays homage to and praises all of the deities of this mandala of ambrosial medicine.
All of the stages of the practice we have gone through today—the visualization of the bodies of the deities, the dissolution of the wisdom deities
into them, the presentation of offerings and of praises to the deities—are
aspects of the practice of the generation stage. In general, generation stage
practice needs to have three characteristics: clear appearance or clarity of
appearance, stable pride, and recollection of purity. What is meant by clear
appearance is simply that there be a clear and distinct visualization of whatever it is you are visualizing. Whether you are visualizing the Medicine
Buddha alone, that is to say yourself as the Medicine Buddha and the Medicine Buddha in front of you, or in addition to that you are visualizing the
seven other medicine buddhas surrounding the front visualization, or in
addition to that you are visualizing the sixteen bodhisattvas, or in addition
to that you are visualizing the entire mandala with the ten protectors and
the twelve chieftains, and so on, in any case, whatever you are visualizing,
clear appearance means that the appearance of the deities—the color, the
shape, the ornaments and costumes and robes, the scepters and other things
that are held in the hands, and so on—should be visualized in a way that
allows your mind to remain stable and calm while nevertheless generating a
clear and vivid image.
The second characteristic of generation stage practice is stable pride.
Generally speaking, of course, pride is something we want to get rid of—it
is a klesha. But here the word pride means something that is very necessary
in vajrayana practices. Pride means being free of the misconception that, in
visualizing yourself as the Medicine Buddha or in visualizing the Medicine
Buddha in front of you, you are pretending that things are other than what
they are. Stable pride here means recognizing that, although you are meditating on the Medicine Buddha as a conscious act, nevertheless, that is
what you actually are. It is acknowledging that you actually are the Medicine Buddha. In the case of the front visualization it is acknowledging or
recognizing that the front visualization is the actual presence of the Medicine Buddha, right in front of you. So stable pride really refers to an attitude of confidence, trust and belief. It is important to recognize that when
you do the self visualization and the front visualization you are not merely
imagining something that is fictitious. You are not pretending that things
are other than they are. When you make these offerings—admittedly mentally emanated—to the deities, you should reflect upon the fact that these
offerings are actually occurring, they are actually taking their effect. By
making these offerings, you are actually gathering the accumulation of merit.
To the extent that you have this confidence in the validity and accuracy of
the practice, you will have that much delight in it, that much devotion, and
that much benefit.
The third characteristic of the generation stage is the recollection of
purity. This has several meanings. Most obviously it means the recognition
that the forms of the deities are wondrous and splendid, that the deities are
not unpleasant in appearance, that they are not strange or of an inappropriate form; they are beautiful and pleasing in every way. But beyond that, it is
the recognition that the nature of the deity’s form is the embodiment of the
deity’s wisdom. The deities’ bodies are not flesh and blood—coarse bodies
like our own—nor are they inanimate solid objects, as though made of
earth and stone or wood. They are the pure embodiment of wisdom, which
means that they are the expression of emptiness in the form of a clear, vivid
appearance. Practically speaking, when visualizing them, you should see
them or imagine them as being a vivid appearance—with their distinct
colors, ornaments, scepters and so on—that is nevertheless without any
coarse substantiality. Their appearance is luminous and vivid but insubstantial, like that of a rainbow. The fundamental meaning of this third
point is that the deities are the embodiment in form of wisdom, and therefore their form is not samsaric in any way—it is not produced in any way
by samsaric causes and conditions.
We are going to stop here for this afternoon and conclude with the
dedication of merit. When performing the dedication of merit, think that
you dedicate the merit of this session to the awakening of all beings in
general and especially in the short term to the freedom of this world from
all forms of sickness.
ON THE ORIGIN OF AUSPICIOUSNESS
IN THE SUBSTANCES AND SYMBOLS
I WOULD LIKE TO BEGIN by wishing all of you a good morning. As you have
no doubt noticed, I usually begin teaching sessions with the short lineage supplication that begins with the words “Great Vajradhara.” We use
this supplication because it is the one most often practiced at the seats of
the Kagyu tradition and by Kagyu practitioners elsewhere. It was composed by Pengar Jampal Zangpo, the foremost disciple of the Sixth Gyalwang
Karmapa, Thongwa Dönden, and the root guru of the Seventh Gyalwang
Karmapa, Chödrak Gyamtso. After receiving instructions from the Sixth
Gyalwang Karmapa, Pengar Jampal Zangpo went to Sky Lake in the north
of Tibet to practice. In the middle of this lake, there was an island called
Semodo and on that island there was a mountain with a cave in it. In this
cave in utter isolation he practiced for eighteen years. The isolation there is
complete, because it is very difficult to get to that island except in the
middle of winter. He practiced, therefore, in total isolation for eighteen
years and developed extraordinary realization of mahamudra. This lineage
supplication, which he composed after that period of retreat, is regarded as
containing the essence and blessing of his realization, which is therefore
why we use it. So when you chant it, please do so with faith and devotion.
[Rinpoche and students recite supplication prayer.]
Before we discuss the recitation of the mantra, I would like to expand
upon what I said yesterday about the offerings. During our discussion of
the eight auspicious substances, we mentioned the conch shell and the durva
grass, but I would like to discuss the origin of the auspiciousness of each of
them in greater detail. The first of these is the conch shell. Immediately
after the Buddha’s awakening he realized that, although he himself had seen
perfectly and completely the nature of all things, the dharmata—which is
profound and tranquil and beyond all elaboration—he felt that were he to
try to explain this to anyone else, they would be unable to understand it. So
he resolved to remain in samadhi, alone in the forest. After he had remained in samadhi for forty-nine days, the god Indra, who was an emanation of a bodhisattva, appeared in front of the Buddha and offered him a
white conch shell with its spiral going clockwise as an offering to encourage
the Buddha to teach. It was in response to that first offering that the Buddha decided to turn the dharmachakra, or to teach the dharma.
The second auspicious substance is yogurt. This is connected with the
Buddha’s teaching that in order to practice dharma properly we need to
abandon or transcend two extremes in lifestyle or conduct. One of these
extremes is hedonism, in which your goal and your endeavor is to seek as
much pleasure as possible—including the acquisition of fine clothes, fine
food, and so on. The problem with this extreme is that, if it becomes your
goal or obsession, it leaves no time or energy for the practice of dharma.
But we also need to abandon the other extreme, which is mortification of
the body, because the attempt to attain something through tormenting or
depriving your physical body of what it needs does not lead to awakening,
and in fact can slow down your progress towards the development of profound wisdom. In order to show by example that it is necessary to abandon
the extreme of hedonism, the Buddha left the palace of his father, who was
a king, and lived for six years on the banks of the Naranjana River in conditions of utmost austerity. But in order to show that one must also abandon the extreme of mortification, he accepted immediately before his
awakening an offering of a mixture of yogurt and extremely condensed
milk, which was given to him by a Brahmin woman named Lekshe. Immediately upon his consuming this offering of yogurt, all of the marks and
signs of physical perfection which adorn the body of a buddha, which had
become somewhat indistinct during his years of austerity, immediately became distinct and resplendent.
The third auspicious substance is durva grass, which was offered to the
Buddha by the grass-cutter and seller Tashi—meaning auspicious—shortly
before his awakening, from which he made the mat-like seat on which he
sat at the time of his awakening.
The fourth auspicious substance is vermilion. The origin of the auspiciousness of vermilion is this: When the Buddha was in the process of
attaining awakening or just about to attain it, Mara appeared and, exhibiting various sorts of unpleasant magical displays in order to obstruct the
Buddha, finally challenged him, saying, “You cannot attain awakening; you
cannot do this.” In response to which the Buddha said, “Yes, I can, because
I have completed the two accumulations over three periods of innumerable
eons.” In response, Mara said, “Well, who is your witness? Who can you
bring to prove this?”—in response to which the Buddha extended his right
hand down past his right knee and touched the earth. The goddess of the
earth then appeared out of the earth and, offering the Buddha vermilion,
said, “I serve as witness that he has completed the two accumulations
throughout these three periods of innumerable eons.”
The fifth auspicious substance is bilva fruit. The origin of the auspiciousness of this fruit is that when the Buddha, while living in the palace
compound of his father, the king of the Shakyas, first observed the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death and resolved to attain freedom
from them, he initially went to the root of a tree and practiced meditation
there. During that time he developed a perfect state of shamatha, in acknowledgment of which the goddess or spirit of the tree offered him a bilva
The sixth auspicious substance is a mirror. The origin of the auspiciousness of the mirror is that when the Buddha had received and consumed the
yogurt which he was offered by the Brahmin woman Lekshe, his physical
form, which had become emaciated from his six years of austerity, was
restored to its full vigor and majesty, causing the thirty-two marks and
eighty signs of physical perfection to be vivid and apparent, in response to
which the goddess of form—which in this instance appears to be a goddess
of the desire realm gods—appeared in front of the Buddha and offered him
a mirror so that he could witness his own physical majesty and splendor.
The seventh auspicious substance is called givam, a medicinal substance
that is derived from some part of the body of the elephant—possibly from
the elephant’s gall bladder. It is auspicious because it commemorates an
occasion long after the Buddha’s awakening when the Buddha’s cousin,
Devadata—who was always attempting to kill or otherwise harm the Buddha and had been doing so for many lives because he was afflicted with
great jealousy of the Buddha—finally attempted to assassinate the Buddha
by sending a mad elephant running out into the path where the Buddha
was walking. The Buddha emanated ten lions from his ten fingers, which
slowed the elephant down. The elephant then bowed to the Buddha and
offered himself, including his body, to the Buddha. Since givam, which is
an effective medicine, comes from the body of an elephant, it commemorates that occasion in which the Buddha conquered the aggression of the
The eighth auspicious substance is white mustard seed, which was offered to the Buddha by Vajrapani on one of the fifteen days during the
Buddha’s period of exhibition of miracles. At one time during the Buddha’s
lifetime there were six prominent non-Buddhist religious teachers in India.
At one point they gathered together and, in order to attempt to discredit
the Buddha, they challenged him to a competition of miracles. The Buddha accepted, and the competition occurred at the beginning of what is
now the first month of the Tibetan and Asian calendars. The Buddha’s
exhibition of miracles occurred from the first to the fifteenth day of the
first lunar month. For the first eight days, the six other religious teachers
competing were still present, but on the eighth day the Buddha scared
them off in the following way: From the Buddha’s throne the bodhisattva
Vajrapani, accompanied by five fearsome rakshasas, emerged. Seeing that,
the six tirtika teachers ran off as fast as they could and did not come back.
For the remaining week the Buddha exhibited miracles alone without any
competition. When Vajrapani emerged from the Buddha’s throne, he offered the Buddha white mustard seed, which therefore commemorates this
These eight auspicious substances are seemingly common things, but
they have great auspicious significance because each of them commemorates a specific occasion connected with the arising of dharma in this world,
its teaching, its increase, and the demonstration of its power and benefit.
The second set of offerings are the eight auspicious signs or marks.
The marks or shapes of these items resemble the shapes of particular parts
of the Buddha’s body, and have therefore come to serve as emblems of the
buddhadharma. The first of these, which I mentioned yesterday, is the parasol. The round shape of the parasol is like the beautifully round shape of
the Buddha’s head.
The second sign or symbol is the auspicious fish; the shape of the fish
represents the shape of the Buddha’s eyes when his eyes were half-closed in
the posture of meditation. The third is the auspicious vase, which represents the Buddha’s throat, in part because of the shape of his neck, but also
because out of the throat of the Buddha emerges the sacred dharma which,
like the ambrosia from a precious vase, satisfies all the needs of beings,
assuages the thirst of samsara, removes suffering, brings happiness, and is
The fourth is the auspicious conch, which in this case represents the
speech of the Buddha. The conch is used as a musical instrument and as a
horn to call people from a great distance. It is famous as having a resounding and clear sound. In the same way, the Buddha’s speech is always of an
appropriate volume and melody. If you are sitting close to the Buddha, his
voice does not sound too loud, but if you are sitting very far away from him
you can still hear it.
The fifth is the precious victory banner. The precious victory banner
represents the fitting and beautiful quality of the Buddha’s form in general,
which is perfectly proportioned. All of his body parts are the right size for
the rest of his body; it is not as though he has a huge head and his arms are
too short or his legs are too short or anything like that. His body is perfectly
The sixth one is the glorious knot, which represents the Buddha’s heart
or mind. This doesn’t mean that he literally has the design of the glorious
knot on his chest. It means that his mind or his heart knows everything
completely and clearly, without limitation.
The seventh is the lotus, which represents the tongue of the Buddha,
which is supple, fine, and slender. With it he can speak clearly. In whatever
he wants to say his enunciation is perfect; also his tongue and saliva improve the taste of all food.
The eighth is the auspicious wheel, which is actually found as a design on
the souls of the Buddha’s feet—the image of a golden wheel. This represents his
turning of the wheel of the dharma, by means of which beings are liberated.
Because these eight marks or signs are images that naturally occur on a
buddha’s body or resemble certain qualities of the Buddha, then they have
become embodiments in and of themselves of auspiciousness and goodness. Therefore, it is believed that to keep them in your home, or to wear
them on your body, brings auspiciousness. In this sadhana, we offer them
and by offering them we accumulate great merit, through which inauspicious circumstances that inhibit the dharma practice of the practitioner,
and of beings in general, are averted.
The third set of offerings in this section of the practice are the seven
articles of royalty, which are, literally speaking, things [and types of animals
and people] that are always found in the entourage of a chakravartin, a
monarch who rules over an entire world or universe. As I mentioned yesterday, they correspond internally to the seven limbs of the path of awakening, which are seven qualities that all buddhas and bodhisattvas possess as
factors of their attaining awakening. The first of the seven articles of royalty is
the precious jewel, which corresponds to the virtue of faith. A bodhisattva
must possess abundant and excellent faith to serve as ground for the development of all good qualities. The meaning of this is that if one has faith, then all
other qualities, such as meditative stability, diligence, insight into the meaning of dharma and so on, will definitely arise, and on the basis of their arising,
one will be able to eradicate all that is to be transcended or abandoned.
The second branch of awakening is knowledge or insight, prajna. Of
the seven articles of royalty, this knowledge corresponds to the precious
wheel, which enables the chakravartin to be victorious against any kind of
invasion or warfare. In the same way, it is knowledge, or prajna, that enables one to conquer the kleshas and ignorance.
The third branch of awakening is samadhi or meditative absorption,
which serves as the necessary ground for knowledge or prajna. If prajna is
grounded in samadhi, then it will be stable, tranquil, effective, and appropriate or correct. If it is not grounded in samadhi then prajna goes off the
track, becomes incorrect and runs wild, so that it actually is more of a
problem than a benefit. The third article of royalty is the consort of the
monarch. The consort serves to keep the monarch on track, to pacify and
tame the monarch. So therefore, the consort corresponds to samadhi.
The fourth branch of awakening is joy, which arises from the correct
presence and application of both samadhi and prajna. Joy here refers, for
example, to the joy of the attainment of the first bodhisattva level, which is
called the Utterly Joyful. Of the seven articles of royalty, joy corresponds to
the precious minister. In most enumerations this is a minister who gives
wise council to the monarch and therefore promotes joy. Sometimes it is
also called the precious householder, which is the subject of the monarch
who also brings appropriate advice.
The fifth limb of awakening is diligence and this corresponds to the
precious excellent horse. Just as an excellent horse enables the monarch to
travel anywhere they wish to go with great speed, in the same way the
possession of diligence enables the bodhisattva to cultivate the qualities of
samadhi and prajna, and, through cultivating them, to eradicate the kleshas
and to increase all positive qualities.
The sixth article of royalty is the precious elephant. The significance of
this elephant is that it is extremely peaceful and tame, so it represents, from
among the seven limbs of awakening, the faculty of mindfulness, which is
a mind kept tranquil and always consciously aware of what is going on in
the mind and what one’s actions are.
The seventh and last limb of awakening is equanimity, a state of mind
in which the bodhisattva is free from the afflictions of attachment to some
things and aversion to other things. Through the faculty of equanimity, the
bodhisattva overcomes the warfare of the kleshas. Of the seven articles of
royalty, it is represented by the precious general, because the precious general
overcomes all warfare and aggression. So these are the seven articles of royalty,
which are offered as symbols of the seven limbs or factors of awakening.
Externally one is symbolically offering the seven articles of royalty, but
internally one is offering the seven limbs of awakening. Offering the seven
limbs of awakening means cultivating these virtues within oneself. By cultivating them within oneself, one enters the true and genuine path leading
to awakening, which is the most pleasing of all things to all buddhas and
bodhisattvas. The cultivation of these and other virtues is the ultimate or
true offering to buddhas and bodhisattvas, which is why they are offered at
Next we come to the visualization that accompanies the repetition of
the mantra. In the text it says to visualize in the center of the heart of
oneself as the Medicine Buddha, and in the heart of the front visualization
of the Medicine Buddha, the seed syllable HUM surrounded by the garland of the mantra. In detail, one visualizes a moon disc—a disc of white
light that represents the moon—lying flat in the very center of one’s body
at the level of the heart. Standing upright upon this disk is visualized the
seed syllable of the deity, a blue HUM, which represents the deity’s mind or
wisdom. Surrounding the HUM is visualized the garland of the mantra
from which rays of light will emanate and so forth.
The HUNG in the heart of the self and front visualizations is
surrounded bounded by the mantra garland.
TAYATA OM BEKENDZE BEKENDZE MAHA BEKENDZE
RADZA SAMUDGATE SO HA
Having visualized the moon disc, the HUM syllable, and the mantra
garland in the heart of both the self and front visualizations, you then think
that from the syllable HUM and the mantra garland in the heart of the selfvisualization rays of multicolored light shoot out towards the front visualization. These rays of light strike the heart of the front visualization, arousing
its nonconceptual compassion and causing rays of multicolored light to
emerge from the mantra garland and syllable HUM in its heart, which
proceed to the eastern pure realm of the Medicine Buddha, called the Light
of Vaidurya. On the tips of each of these multicolored rays of light are
offering goddesses who make innumerable offerings to the Medicine Buddha, the seven other medicine buddhas, the sixteen bodhisattvas, and so
on. These offerings serve to arouse their compassion; to remind them of
their promises, vows, and aspirations to benefit beings; and to cause them
to release their blessings.
The blessings of their body take the form of innumerable forms of the
Medicine Buddha and his retinue—huge ones, tiny ones, and every size in
between. These innumerable forms of the principal Medicine Buddha, the
other medicine buddhas, and the bodhisattvas, rain down and dissolve into
you as the self-visualization and into the front visualization, granting you
the blessings of the body of the Medicine Buddha and his retinue.
At the same time, the blessing of their speech is emitted in the form of
the mantra garlands, which in this case are multicolored. Mantra garlands
of various colors rain down from the pure realms of the Medicine Buddha
and dissolve into you as the Medicine Buddha and into the front visualization, granting you the blessings of their speech.
Finally, the blessing of their mind, which strictly speaking has no form,
is for the purpose of this visualization embodied in the form of what is held
in the Medicine Buddha’s hands—the arura and the begging bowls filled
with ambrosia. These are emitted and rain down and dissolve into you as
the Medicine Buddha and into the front visualization, granting you the
blessing of their mind.
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.
When you receive the blessing of the Medicine Buddha, and of buddhas
and bodhisattvas in general, various unpleasant things—obstacles, sickness,
demonic disturbances—will be pacified, and compassion, faith, devotion,
insight, and so on will flourish and increase. In order to practice the descent of blessing most effectively, it is a good idea to focus the blessings on
whatever is afflicting you most at that time. For example, if you are having
a particular physical problem—an illness or some other physical problem—
or a particular mental problem—a particular klesha, a particular type of
stress, or particular worries—you can focus the absorption of the blessings
of the buddhas and bodhisattvas on that. You can focus it on the removal of
wrongdoing and obscurations in general, but focus it especially on what
you regard as your greatest concern at the moment. For example, you may
feel that you lack a specific quality: If you feel that you lack insight or you
lack compassion or you lack faith, then think that the blessing serves to promote that quality that you feel you are most lacking. And feel that through
the absorption of these blessings you actually become filled with that quality
as though it were a substance that were actually filling your whole body.
Those visualizations are for the usual, formal practice of the Medicine
Buddha. In his book Mountain Dharma: Instructions for Retreat, Karma
Chakme Rinpoche recommends the following visualization for 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 the head; if it is in the hand,
visualize a small Medicine Buddha in the hand; if it is in the foot, then
visualize a small Medicine Buddha in the foot. 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.
Following the repetition of the mantra comes the conclusion of the
I confess all wrongs and downfalls and dedicate all virtue to
May there be the auspiciousness of fr e be the auspiciousness of freedom from sickness, harmful spirits, and suffering.
First is the admission of defects. With an attitude of regret for anything
that you have done that is wrong or inappropriate, you simply say, “I confess
all wrongs and downfalls.” Immediately after that you dedicate the merit or
virtue of the practice to the awakening of all beings saying, “And dedicate all
virtue to awakening.” Then you make an auspicious aspiration which focuses
your dedication, saying, “Through this dedication of merit, may there be
freedom from sickness, harmful spirits, and suffering for all beings.”
Next comes the dissolution of the mandala:
The wordly ones return to their own places. BENZA MU.
The jnana and samaya sattvas s dissolve into me, e into me,e into me,
And I dissolve into the expanse of all goodness, primordial
purity. E MA HO.
First a request to depart is addressed to the mundane deities, which is
followed by the dissolution of the front and self-visualizations of the wisdom deities. When you say, “Worldly ones return to your own places,
vajramu,” you think that the ten protectors of the ten directions, the twelve
yaksha chieftains, and the four great kings—all mundane deities visualized
in the entourage of the front visualization—return to where they would
normally reside. That leaves the eight Medicine Buddhas and the sixteen
bodhisattvas in the front visualization. These deities, who are the wisdom
deities embodying the visualized images of them, dissolve into your heart
as the self visualization. Then the self-visualization gradually dissolves into
light and then into the expanse of emptiness, at which point you say, “And
I dissolve into the expanse of the all-good primordial purity.” At that point
you rest your mind in the experience of emptiness.
All yidam practices include two stages: the generation stage and the
completion stage. Everything up to this point—the visualization of the
forms of the deities, the presentation of offerings and so on, the repetition
of the mantra with the accompanying visualizations—are all aspects of the
practice of the generation stage. When, subsequent to the dissolution of
the visualization, you rest your mind in emptiness, this is the practice of the
completion stage. It is through the practice of these two stages that you
actually come to realize dharmata, the nature of things. Visualization and
other generation stage practices function to weaken the kleshas, while
completion stage practices, which include the practices of shamata and
vipashyana, serve to eradicate them.
I mentioned yesterday that there are three Medicine Buddha practices
that are used in our tradition—a long one, a medium one, and a short
one—and that this is the short one. While this is the shortest, it is nevertheless considered the most effective. The long and medium forms of the
Medicine Buddha are entirely sutra-oriented in style and content. This practice is a blend of the sutra tradition and the tantric or vajrayana tradition.
So while it is the shortest liturgically, it is the most complete because it has
the most elaborate visualizations.
In the long and intermediate forms of the Medicine Buddha practice,
because they are entirely sutric in approach, there is a preliminary meditation on emptiness, after which you imagine a palace as a residence for the
front visualization and then you invite the deities to abide within that.
There is not the precise development of the form of the deities, as in this
case, nor is there any self-visualization, because it is entirely sutric. This
practice which we are using includes the vajrayana practice of self-visualization and the precise details of the visualization. Therefore, it is considered
to be more effective, to have more power.
Question: Rinpoche, I was interested in hearing your different elaborations on the “seven articles” of the mandala offering. I have done the
mandala offering in my ngöndro practice and there the offerings seem so
much more concrete than the descriptions of the same articles we heard
from you earlier today. Your descriptions of the “seven articles” of the
chakravartin presented them much more as symbolic representations. Are
they more concrete in some practices? Are there different practices? Are
these different views? Do they come from the sutras, from the commentaries, from the vajrayana? Or do they vary for certain people?
And then I have a particular question about the person of the
chakravartin, the universal monarch. We in the West, wrongly or rightly,
have the notion that democracy is the best way. I’m just wondering—this
chakravartin seems like a wonderful being, yet he or she—you didn’t mention any gender—this person seems to need help with faith, stability, exertion, with many different qualities. We in the West have found that a
universal sort of monarch or ruler usually eventually goes wrong. Could
you tell me what is different about this chakravartin that is going to make
their rule so very successful, because we haven’t had that experience?
Rinpoche: With regard to your first question, the correspondence between the “seven articles” of royalty, which are the characteristic possessions of a chakravartin, and the “seven limbs of awakening”—which are
necessary resources on the path for bodhisattvas—is a standard one. In
cases where the symbolic meaning of offering the “seven articles” of royalty
is not explained, it simply means that it is a briefer explanation of the significance of that offering. This correspondence definitely does function in
all uses of those things as offering substances or items.
With regard to your second question, the chakravartin only arises in
certain periods of history, which are called the best times or the best ages.
What distinguishes a chakravartin from some kind of cosmic dictator is the
arising of the chakravartin in human society at that point as a solution to
problems rather than the beginning of them. A chakravartin arises at a time
when there is disputation as to who should lead the society. The chakravartin
him or herself, is not particularly [eager or] anxious to do so, but is altruistic, capable, and acclaimed by the society at large, which places them in
their position of authority. Now, it is entirely possible that after the reign of
a chakravartin, if a dynasty is established, things could degenerate, as your
question indicates. But then they would no longer be chakravartins.
Question: So, are you saying there could be a female universal monarch, a chakravartini?
Rinpoche: Of course.
Question: What is the Sanskrit name of Sangye Menla?
Translator: The most common name found in the sutras is Bhaishajyai
Guru, which means the teacher of medicine. That is translated into Tibetan
as Mengyi Lama, or Menla for short. That’s why we call it Sangye Menla or
the Medicine Buddha. Menla literally means Medicine Guru.
Question: Rinpoche, over and over again you talk about how in a way
almost all of these practices are a backdrop for what the real practice is,
which is faith and devotion that the practice will actually work. It seems
that all practices in a way should be aimed at intensifying that. You say,
“intense supplication,” and there have been times in my practice when
that just came, and I felt a fervor of faith. Then other times I really wished
I had it, because I really felt like I needed it. You talk about generating
bodhicitta or generating faith. What is the process of generating? I can
put the thought in my mind, but if there is also pervasive doubt and
pervasive cynicism . . . I come from a kind of culture of doubt and of
questioning and of philosophical b.s., so it’s very difficult to talk about
these concepts with absolute faith. What is the method of generating intense faith?
Rinpoche: The approach is to try to develop informed faith. Informed
faith comes about through investigation. Through investigating the meaning of dharma you discover valid reasons why it is appropriate to have faith
in it. That will naturally make faith a matter of common sense.
Question: Rinpoche, what is the translation of the mantra? And when
does the visualization of the blessings’ coming down in the form of small
Medicine Buddhas and the begging bowl and the fruit and the mantra
stop? And when it stops, it’s not yet the dissolution, is it? What are we
resting in at that point?
Translator: You mean after the descent of blessings ends, and before
you dissolve the visualization?
Rinpoche: The mantra that you recite is basically an elaboration of the
name of the Medicine Buddha. It is more or less reciting the name of the
Medicine Buddha in Sanskrit. The point at which you stop visualizing the
blessings of body, speech, and mind being absorbed into you again and
again is up to you. You can continue that visualization for the entire duration of your recitation of the mantra, in which case there is not much in between that and the dissolution of the mandala. Or from time to time,
you can stop visualizing and just rest in devotion. It is not the case that you
need to spend absolutely every instant of your mantra recitation dissolving
these things into you. As long as there is faith and devotion, then it does
not have to be constant.
Question: Is this mantra best used for animals that are dying, and what
about animals that might have just recently died, perhaps quickly?
Rinpoche: It will also benefit an animal that has recently died; it is
going to be most effective, of course, if it is used just before the animal dies.
But it will still benefit them afterwards.
Question: Rinpoche, thank you for the teaching. Given the aspirations
of the Medicine Buddha, would it be appropriate to have a representation
of the Medicine Buddha in the heart of the house, the family room, and
particularly if the rest of one’s family thinks the mother is completely strange.
[laughter] And I’ve been told to recite om mani peme hung around dying
and dead animals. Would it be more appropriate to recite the Medicine
Rinpoche: Reciting om mani peme hung or the Medicine Buddha’s name
or mantra to a dying animal will have pretty much equal benefit, so it is up
to you. Both Avalokiteshvara and the Medicine Buddha have made specific
aspirations to be of benefit to beings in that way. It does not matter, either
one. With regard to your first question: While placing a large and prominent image of the Medicine Buddha in the very center of your home would
ultimately have long-term benefits for the members of your family, it might,
as your question indicates, create more problems in the short-term. Specifi-
cally, it might create more resistance. It would probably be better to allow
your family to encounter the Medicine Buddha sort of incidentally, rather
than having it thrust in their face.
Question: A small thangka on the wall, would that be better?
Rinpoche: If it does not cause disharmony within the home, then of
course that would be fine. If it does, then it would be better that they
encounter it somewhere outside the home.
We’re going to stop here for this morning and conclude with the dedication of merit.
WE HAVE FINISHED GOING THROUGH the practice of the Medicine Buddha
—how to do it, what to meditate on, and what its meaning is. If
you can do this full form of the practice regularly, that will be extremely
beneficial, because it bears great blessing. But even if you can do it only
occasionally, there will still be great benefit from your involvement in it.
There is also a shorter form of the practice that you can use when you do
not have time to do the long form. It is found on the last page in your chant
book. It is a short supplication of the Medicine Buddha by name, which
serves as a vehicle for cultivating faith in and devotion to the Medicine
Buddha. As is taught in the sutra of Amitabha and in the sutra of the Medicine Buddha, recollecting and reciting the name of the Medicine Buddha is
of incalculable benefit. Most of the benefits associated with the Medicine
Buddha are connected with the twelve aspirations he made at the time of
his initial generation of bodhicitta, and most of these aspirations are connected in one way or another with his name. Therefore, most of the benefits connected with the Medicine Buddha can be gained by recollecting
and reciting his name.
There are three sutras primarily concerned with the Medicine Buddha.
One sets forth the twelve aspirations of the Medicine Buddha. Another sets
forth the aspirations of the seven other medicine buddhas. The third, an
extremely short sutra, sets forth the darani or mantras of the various medicine buddhas. I am now going to explain the main one, the sutra that sets
forth the twelve aspirations of the Medicine Buddha. Before I begin, you
should know something about the difference between sutras and shastras.
Sutras are the Buddha’s teachings, and shastras are commentaries on them.
Shastras are constructed in order to give a summary of the meaning; therefore, they get right to the point—whereas sutras always begin with an introduction that gives the setting for any particular teaching of the Buddha.
A sutra will tell you where the Buddha was living when he gave that particular teaching, why he happened to give it, who asked him to give it, who
and how many were there when he gave it, and exactly what he said and
what others said that caused him to say what he said. The Buddha went just
about everywhere in India. The setting for this particular sutra was Vaisali,
one of the six major cities in India at that time. The retinue in the midst of
which the Buddha taught this sutra was extremely large. It consisted of a
great many monks and nuns and a great many bodhisattvas, both male and
female; it consisted of monarchs, the ministers of these monarchs, and the
common people from the kingdoms of these monarchs. There were also
innumerable spirits and local divinities in attendance, all of whom had
assembled in order to hear this teaching.
The foremost disciple in this gathering—in fact, the person who specifically asked the Buddha to give this explanation, which later came to be
known as the Sutra of the Medicine Buddha—was the bodhisattva
Manjushri. The sutra begins with Manjushri taking a certain physical posture and making the request. The posture that Manjushri takes is the same
physical posture we take when we formally take the vow of refuge, when we
take other forms of pratimoksha ordination, and when we take the
bodhisattva vow. Manjushri’s left knee is raised, his right knee is on the
ground, and his palms are joined in a gesture of devotion in front of his
heart. Manjushri takes this posture because it is the posture that the Buddha’s
disciples always took whenever they addressed him. And the reason we take
this posture in formal ceremonies today is that they did it then. We do it in
order to recollect the Buddha when we take refuge or any other ordination.
Facing the Buddha and taking that posture, Manjushri addresses the
Buddha, asking him to teach about those buddhas who had made extraordinary aspirations for the benefit of beings—what their aspirations were,
and what the benefits of recollecting their names would be. He asks him to
explain these things for the benefit of beings in the future.
The Buddha’s first response to Manjushri’s request is to praise him for
making the request in the first place. Addressing Manjushri, the Buddha
says, “It is excellent and fitting that you have made this request, because
your motivation in doing so is compassion and a wish to bring about the
means of purification of obscurations in general, and especially the means
of eradicating the sickness of beings in the future.”
While praising Manjushri for making this request, the Buddha enjoins
him to listen well to the detailed explanation he was about to give. Commentators have explained that this injunction has three specific meanings.
The Buddha says, “Manjushri, for that reason, listen well, listen fully, and
hold this in your mind.” Each of these three points—listen well, listen
fully, and hold this in your mind—has a particular meaning with respect to
how to listen to the teachings. The first injunction—“Listen well”—means,
listen with an appropriate motivation. If you have a good motivation for
listening, then the dharma you hear will be contained in a pure form in
your mind. On the other hand, if you listen with an impure motivation—
with attachment or aversion or the like—then your mind will become like
a container or cup that holds poison, which then turns whatever is poured
into it into poison.
The second injunction of the Buddha—“Listen fully”—means, listen
attentively. You may have a good motivation for listening to the teachings,
but if you are distracted—if you do not direct your mind to what is being
said—then listening is of no use. Your mind will become like a cup that is
turned upside-down; nothing can be poured into it.
The Buddha’s third injunction is, “Hold it in your mind.” Even if you
have a good motivation and listen well, if you forget what is being taught,
then it is lost from your mind. Your mind is then like a broken cup, which,
no matter how much is poured into it, will allow it all to leak back out
Then the Buddha tells Manjushri that in the eastern direction, innumerable realms away—which means that if you pass beyond this particular
realm, the realm of the Buddha Shakyamuni, and go in the eastern direction past a truly large number of other realms—you will reach the buddha
realm called the Light of Vaidhurya or the Light of Lapis Lazuli. In that
realm there abides the Buddha Bhaishajyai Guru, the Medicine Buddha,
also known as the Light of Lapis Lazuli or the Light of Vaidhurya, who
teaches the dharma there. The Buddha tells Manjushri that because of the
twelve extraordinary aspirations made by the Buddha Bhaishajyai Guru
before he attained enlightenment, while he was still engaged in the practice
or conduct of a bodhisattva, there is tremendous benefit in recollecting his
name and tremendous blessing in supplicating him. In fact, the benefits
that accrue from devotion to the Medicine Buddha are based primarily
upon the aspirations he made while still a bodhisattva.