TWELVE EXTRAORDINARY ASPIRATIONS FOR THE BENEFIT OF SENTIENT BEINGS
The first of the twelve aspirations made by the Medicine Buddha while
still a bodhisattva is, “In the future, when I attain perfect awakening and
become a buddha, may my utterly luminous body illuminate innumerable
worlds, and may all the beings who see it come to possess a body just like
that, adorned with the thirty-two marks and the eighty signs of the body of
a buddha.” The essential aspiration here is to have, upon awakening, the
extraordinarily luminous form of a buddha, and on the basis of that, to
bring about the liberation into buddhahood of any being who sees him.
This does not mean that, immediately upon seeing the Medicine Buddha’s
form, you become a buddha just like the Medicine Buddha. It means that
seeing the Medicine Buddha, even seeing a painted depiction of the Medicine Buddha, or even just hearing about the thirty-two marks and eighty
signs and so forth of the Medicine Buddha, instills a habit within your
mind. How much of a habit is instilled depends upon your attitude towards what you see or encounter. If you have great faith in and devotion to
the Medicine Buddha, then a very strong habit is instilled. If you have
some degree of devotion, then some degree of habit is instilled. If you have
a little devotion a little habit is instilled. And if you have only the slightest
amount of devotion only the slightest amount of habit is instilled. Regardless of how much or how little, eventually this habit will lead to your attainment of that same form as the Medicine Buddha, as well as to the perfect
accomplishment of what he has aspired to. If you have great faith in the
Medicine Buddha, this will happen much more quickly, and if you have no
faith whatsoever, it will happen very slowly. But it will definitely still happen. It is because of this first aspiration of the Medicine Buddha that there
is so much benefit in seeing any depiction of him, whether you see it all the
time, or whether you see it occasionally—it will do you great benefit.
The second aspiration of the Medicine Buddha, made as a bodhisattva,
is also connected primarily with his appearance. It is as follows: “In the
future, when I attain perfect awakening and become a buddha, may my
body be as brilliant and lustrous as the jewel of vaidhurya or lapis lazuli.
May it be stainless and luminous, vast, pleasing, glorious, majestic in every
way. And may all who see it be benefited by it.” The apparent and obvious
result of this aspiration is the form that the Medicine Buddha exhibits in
his pure realm, which form literally has the qualities of being luminous and
lustrous and majestic, and so on. But as an additional consequence of this
aspiration the Medicine Buddha exhibits his form indirectly even in the
midst of impure realms, such as our own, so that beings who are ignorant
of what is to be accepted and what is to be rejected, of what is to be done
and what is not to be done, can still be inspired by seeing an image of the
Medicine Buddha or by hearing his name. As a consequence, although they
may not be directly interested in hearing about what is to be done and what
is not to be done, a devotion to correct action will gradually grow in their
minds through having seen these things or having heard these things.
The third aspiration of the Medicine Buddha as a bodhisattva was that
upon his awakening (upon becoming a buddha) through prajna and upaya
(knowledge and method) he be able to bring about prosperity for all beings. This aspiration is particularly concerned with alleviating a type of
suffering that is very common in the human realm, which manifests in its
most extreme form as poverty. But even when we human beings are not
poor, we still think that we are poor. We have not only the suffering of
poverty, but the suffering of unceasing ambition—and also the suffering of
constant struggle to secure ourselves, and to secure greater and greater prosperity. The first two aspirations were connected with bringing beings to
ultimate liberation. This aspiration is more connected with benefiting beings, and especially human beings, in the short term. It is very important
because we may tend to think sometimes that the concerns and aspirations
of buddhas only do us good in the long run—that they are only concerned
with our liberation and do us no immediate good in this life. This aspiration indicates that this is not true. This aspiration is designed to bring
about immediate help. This means that, if you supplicate the Medicine
Buddha, it can affect your prosperity in this life. This will not work as
immediately as taking a pill, but it can actually make a difference.
The fourth aspiration of the Medicine Buddha is that he be able to
extricate beings who have taken incorrect paths and place them on paths
that lead to liberation. All of us want to be happy, and we select various
ways to lead our lives that we think will make our lives happy. For each of
us that is our path. Unfortunately, while some of us actually select ways to
make ourselves happy, many of us—thinking to make ourselves happy—
select ways that are in fact merely causes of more and more suffering. The
primary focus of this aspiration is to be able to lead beings away from those
counterproductive paths or lifestyles and into paths that lead to liberation.
This is done through exhibiting the forms of buddhas, through the presence of their speech in the form of sutras and so on, through the demon
strations of the activities of buddhas, and so on. These things have occurred
in our lives already. In one way or another, we have come into contact with
some form of depiction of the form of the Buddha, we have heard the
sutras or the teachings of the Buddha, or we have been inspired by places
connected with the Buddha’s life. In short, in whatever way, this activity of
the buddhas has already caused us to change our course of action.
The second part of this fourth aspiration is the wish also to establish
those beings concerned only with their own liberation* on a path that leads
to the full liberation of all beings—in short, on the mahayana path. This
refers in part to something that is stated very clearly in texts such as The
Jewel Ornament of Liberation, which states that, after someone attains the
state of an arhat or arhati—either as a shravaka or as a pratyekabuddha—
and has achieved full liberation for themselves from samsara, eventually—
sometimes after a very long time—a buddha will reveal his or her form to
the arhat or arhati, inspiring that being to enter the path of mahayana and
attain full buddhahood. The second part of this fourth aspiration is an
aspiration to do just that—to exhibit his form in order to cause beings who
are immersed in paths leading to personal liberation alone to engage in
paths that will lead to the liberation of all beings, and by doing so, to
inspire those beings to increase their love, compassion, and bodhicitta.
The fifth aspiration of the Medicine Buddha is that subsequent to his
awakening or buddhahood he be able to inspire morality in all beings. In
the words of the sutra, what he suggests is the moral discipline of a monk or
a nun. But by extension, this refers to the practice of morality in general,
which is to say, conducting yourself physically, verbally, and mentally in a
way that is beneficial to and not harmful to others. The idea here is that the
inspiration of a buddha inspires one to behave morally. Seeing the image of
a buddha or hearing the teachings of a buddha has caused us to enter the
door of the dharma to begin with, and to change our physical, verbal, and
mental conduct somewhat. Whether upon beginning the practice of dharma
you practice with extraordinary diligence, which is wonderful, or not, which
is still okay, there will still be some kind of improvement in your conduct.
The primary aspiration here of the Medicine Buddha is that, through his
blessing, practitioners be able to maintain morality without impairment.
The secondary aspiration is that—since ordinary beings will turn away from
moral conduct from time to time, and thereby become confused—the
Medicine Buddha be able to prevent those who turn away from morality
from remaining in a state of inappropriate conduct, so that they will return
to moral conduct and avoid lower rebirths.
Part of the fifth aspiration is that for beings who have mistaken the
path, who have turned away from moral conduct, the positive habits that
they created in the past when they first adopted moral conduct again become foremost in their minds, through the blessings of the buddhas, thereby
causing them to return to moral conduct.
The sixth aspiration concerns those who are born with congenital physical problems. It is an aspiration by the Medicine Buddha to be able by his
blessing to heal anyone who is born with any congenital physical problem
or defect, such as impaired senses, impaired limbs, or virulent disease. From
the point of view of ordinary thinking, you might think it impossible that
the condition of someone born with a congenital physical problem could
be alleviated. Yet it is quite possible that such a person could benefit through
intense supplication of the Medicine Buddha. And in the cases in which
they are unable to ameliorate their condition immediately, the supplication
and recollection of the name of the Medicine Buddha and the practice of
the sadhana would still generate great lasting benefit.
The seventh aspiration of the Medicine Buddha is that merely hearing
his name would alleviate the sufferings of sickness and poverty that afflict
those who find themselves seriously ill with no help, no friends, and no
resources; that merely by hearing or recollecting his name or by seeing an
image of him, beings in that type of situation would be freed from both the
sicknesses they suffer and the poverty that reinforces the sicknesses; and
that furthermore, those beings, once having heard the Medicine Buddha’s
name, would never again become ill throughout all of their lifetimes until
their attainment of buddhahood. This sounds like an extremely vast and
profound, even an extreme, aspiration. But it is by no means impossible
that it could be fulfilled, especially for someone who has intense devotion
to the Medicine Buddha, recollects his name, supplicates him, and so on.
This aspiration is an instance of one of the particular benefits of the recollection of the Medicine Buddha’s name.
Often we find ourselves witnessing the death of a small animal, an insect, a bird, or some other creature that is about to breathe its last breath. It
is gasping away its last few moments of life. Because we have buddha nature and because these beings also have buddha nature, of course we feel
empathy and compassion for them. But the compassion sometimes seems futile, because we simply do not know what to do. Because of the blessings
of buddhas and bodhisattvas, however, there are things that we can do.
One, for example, is to recite the name of the Medicine Buddha in the
hearing of that dying animal. This is probably not going to heal its sickness
immediately. Dying birds will not likely suddenly wake up and fly off. But
what it will do is ultimately in the long term better than that; it will establish the basis for that being’s future liberation.
The eighth aspiration of the Medicine Buddha concerns freeing human
beings in particular from situations of discrimination. It refers to situations
like the caste system that was in place in India in the Buddha’s time. It often
happens in human society that a certain class or group of people will be
isolated from the rest and considered to be so far inferior that even their
humanity is disputed, as has happened at times to the class known as the
“untouchables” in India. The idea here is that, if one of these beings sees an
image of the Medicine Buddha or hears the name of the Medicine Buddha,
they will generate enough confidence in their humanity, enough recognition of and confidence in the fact that they are just as much a fully fledged
human being as whoever is discriminating against them, that they will be
able to escape that situation. And it has happened many times that people
born in the lowest caste in societies like India could escape their caste restrictions in various ways, which could be viewed as an instance of the
blessings of buddhas.
SO FAR WE HAVE DISCUSSED the first eight of the twelve aspirations of the
Medicine Buddha presented in the Medicine Buddha Sutra. All of these
vast aspirations are born of the Medicine Buddha’s particular generation of
bodhicitta at the beginning of his path. They are explained in the sutra so
that we may understand how the blessings of the body, speech, and mind of
the Medicine Buddha can enter into us and what the benefits of their doing
so will be. The Buddha Shakyamuni taught this sutra in order to inspire us
to practice. The idea being conveyed here is that meditation on the Medicine Buddha, supplication of the Medicine Buddha, and recollection of the
name of the Medicine Buddha bring extraordinary benefits. By understanding that, you will feel enthusiastic about the Medicine Buddha practice.
This enthusiasm will cause you to practice, which in turn will cause you to
attain the result of practice. So now we will go on from where we left off,
beginning with the ninth aspiration.
The ninth aspiration of the Medicine Buddha is to free all beings from
the noose or lasso of mara. The lasso of mara refers to that which obstructs
liberation. In this case it means any cultivated view that is sufficiently incorrect that it leads you down the wrong path, any view that is actually
leading you away from liberation rather than towards it. Now any kind of
view—which is to say, any kind of consciously cultivated or developed understanding of how things are—is produced through one’s own investigation and analysis of phenomena, using one’s own intellect or intelligence.
This analysis can either be correct, thereby producing a correct view, or it
can be incorrect or faulty, thereby producing an incorrect view. Given our
native intelligence, we all have the capacity to engage in these kinds of
analyses, and therefore we are capable of coming to either correct or incorrect conclusions. If the view you take of things is basically correct, then it
will be a strong cause of your liberation. And by causing your liberation it
will be an indirect cause of the liberation of others. In short, a correct view
of how things are produces all manner of happiness. On the other hand, if
your view is sufficiently incorrect and actually becomes a perverted or misguided use of your intelligence, then it will obstruct your path to liberation, thereby preventing you from liberating others and becoming an obstacle
There are two types of misguided or malfunctioning intelligence. One
is a strongly incorrect understanding of how things are, which actually leads
you on the wrong path, and the other is an analysis that causes you to
doubt what is actually true, and therefore causes you to be unable to accept
the truth. In either case, the aspiration of the Medicine Buddha here is to
free beings from those kinds of misconceptions or misunderstandings, and
to establish them on the correct path to liberation.
The other part of this ninth aspiration is connected with the conduct of
beings. If your view is correct, then that will cause you to engage in appropriate conduct, which is the conduct of a bodhisattva. And if your view is
incorrect, your conduct will follow suit; it will also be incorrect. What is
understood here by correct conduct is conduct that does not harm others
or yourself, but benefits others and yourself. This conduct naturally ensues
from having a correct understanding, a correct view, of how things are. The
aspiration of the Medicine Buddha here while still a bodhisattva is that the
blessing and the activity of his teaching that will ensue upon his attaining
buddhahood will lead beings to a correct understanding and, therefore, to
correct conduct that will cause them to attain liberation.
The tenth aspiration of the Medicine Buddha is to free beings from
persecution by their rulers. As literally stated, this means, through the Medicine Buddha’s blessing, to free and protect beings from imprisonment, execution, and all the other hardships and cruelties that absolute monarchs impose
upon their subjects. But by extension, this also refers to all analogous situations
in which something in the external world interferes with your well being—to
sickness, to any kind of abuse or persecution by others—regardless of who they
may be—and to all the other sorts of dangers and disasters that constantly
threaten us. Because the nature of our existence in the world is impermanence, we are constantly in some kind of danger and live in some kind of
fear of one thing or another happening to us. The point of this aspiration is
that through the blessing of the Medicine Buddha beings be protected from
these dangers, and from the fear of the arising of these dangers.
A very commonly displayed image of samsara called the Wheel of Existence shows at the center the three poisons and outside of that the six
realms. Outside the six realms, it shows that this [entire wheel of transmigratory existence], which represents samsara, is being held between the teeth
and the lap by a very wrathful figure. This wrathful figure represents the
basic danger and fear that characterizes samsaric existence. As is shown in
the painting, sometimes one is happy, and sometimes one is miserable. But
in either case, the basic nature of one’s existence is change. Because it is
change, it is uncertainty, and because it is uncertainty, it is danger. And
because it is danger, it is fear. And all of this uncertainty, danger, and fear is
represented by this wrathful figure. During the Buddha’s lifetime, his senior students and the shravakas were frequently asked by many different
people what his teachings were all about. They would be asked many different questions. And when they went to the Buddha and explained that
they were not always able to answer all of these questions, he came up with
the idea of painting this Wheel of Existence on the door of every Buddhist
temple to serve as a representation, in one image, of the buddhadharma.
The purpose of buddhadharma, of course, is to free one from fear and
danger. It is to that end that the Buddha taught the dharma, including this
sutra of the Medicine Buddha. We all have fears and anxieties. And these
fears and anxieties really stem from the fact that samsaric or cyclic existence
is fundamentally full of impermanence, and therefore full of suffering. If
you ask, is there no way to transcend these fears and anxieties, the answer
is, “Yes, there is a way. If you practice dharma, and if, by so doing, you
connect with the blessings, the compassion, and the aspirations of buddhas
such as the Medicine Buddha, fear and anxiety can be transcended,” which
is to say that, if you practice with great diligence, you can transcend all fear
once and for all. But even if you do not practice with that much diligence,
even if you only practice a little bit, or even if you merely have some contact with the dharma, there will be some benefit. It will help to some extent. And ultimately, you will be liberated into a state beyond all fear. So, in
this tenth aspiration, the expressly stated aspiration to free beings from the
persecution of unjust monarchs really refers to freeing beings from the sufferings of samsara altogether, which means freeing them from the grip of
impermanence. And the point of this is that it is possible to transcend the
fear and danger which impermanence otherwise imposes upon us.
The eleventh and twelfth aspirations have in common that they are
connected with freeing beings from the suffering of poverty. Specifically
the eleventh aspiration is to free beings from the suffering of lacking the
necessities of life—from the sufferings of hunger and thirst, and the related
suffering of constantly having to struggle to survive. This aspiration of the
Medicine Buddha is to free beings from lack of food and drink and from
the need to struggle to acquire them, and by extension, to extend to all
beings the experience of what is referred to by the Buddha as the delightful
taste of dharma. This means that the Medicine Buddha aspired not only to
give beings the physical means of survival, physical nutrition, but also the
spiritual nutrition of the dharma.
The delightful taste of dharma means hearing the dharma and tasting it
in that way, and then practicing it and, through practicing it, becoming
truly happy. When one has practiced dharma to the point where one has
attained a true and stable state of happiness, one no longer needs to experience the sufferings of samsara, which means that there will no longer be
physical suffering, nor will there be mental misery. The benefit of dharma,
and the way in which one tastes its delightful taste, can occur to various
degrees and in various ways. Sometimes one is benefited simply by hearing
the dharma. Sometimes one is benefited by reflecting upon its meaning;
sometimes, by meditating upon it. And in some cases the degree of benefit
is limited to having a slight contact with it. But in any case, all of these are
ways in which, through the aspiration of buddhas, dharma benefits beings
and frees them from suffering.
The twelfth aspiration of the Medicine Buddha focuses on actual poverty and specifically on the lack of things that give us comfort. First the
Medicine Buddha aspires to be able to provide clothing for all those beings
who lack sufficient clothing and are therefore subject to suffering from heat
or cold, the elements, and so on. Beyond that, he aspires to provide ornamentation, which means things like jewelry and so forth, for those who
lack them. In the same vein, he aspires to provide musical instruments and
the sound and presence of music in one’s life for those who lack them. This
aspiration centers around fulfilling the wishes of beings and giving beings
what they want and what will make them happy in the short run. From one
point of view, you might think that this means that simply by praying to
the Medicine Buddha you can produce a shower of designer clothing from
the sky or whatever musical instruments you might happen to want. So
you might actually try praying with those expectations, and you might be
very disappointed when they are not fulfilled. This does not mean, however, that the Medicine Buddha’s aspiration was pointless or ineffective.
The way this aspiration takes effect, and indeed the way they all take effect,
is that through the aspiration and power of the Medicine Buddha beings
come into contact with dharma. Beings meet images, representations, or
other expressions of the activity of the Medicine Buddha or of other buddhas.
As a result, they abandon the wrongdoing and wrong thinking that reinforce their obscurations, gradually weakening or getting rid of their
obscurations altogether, and gradually gathering the accumulations of merit
and wisdom through actions performed under the inspiration of the dharma
and the inspiration of buddhas. This changes their situation. Either in that
life, or in a future life, they start to acquire the things that they want and
have lacked to that point. So it is not the case that this twelfth aspiration
does not work simply because clothes do not rain down upon you immediately. It works, but it works in a less direct and more gradual way.
So in the Sutra of the Medicine Buddha, the Buddha Shakyamuni set
forth these twelve aspirations that were made by the Medicine Buddha
upon his initial generation of bodhicitta. Then, continuing to address
Manjushri, who had requested this explanation, the Buddha points out
that as a result of the Medicine Buddha’s aspirations, his qualities—both
the qualities of his form and being, and the qualities of his realm, which
have arisen from his aspirations—are unlimited. The Buddha Shakyamuni
also mentions that in his realm the Medicine Buddha has two main disciples in his retinue, bodhisattvas referred to by the names Luminous Like
The Sun and Luminous Like The Moon. And then, continuing to address
Manjushri, the Buddha says that a man or woman who possesses faith, and
therefore diligence and insight, should supplicate the Medicine Buddha,
should meditate upon the Medicine Buddha, and should recollect the name
of the Medicine Buddha.
Next the Buddha talks about further benefits of supplicating the Medicine Buddha. The Buddha mentions that there are people so avaricious
they cannot stand to give anything away. He points out that when people
cannot stand to give anything away, it is fundamentally because they do
not realize there are benefits in doing so. This lack of realization is what
keeps them so obsessed with holding onto their possessions. Such people
never think of generosity. If they are forced by circumstances to give something away, it makes them extremely unhappy, even if they have to give it
away to members of their own family. The problem with this is that if you
have that degree of avariciousness, you are likely to have a somewhat unpleasant rebirth. The Buddha says at this point that if even such an extremely avaricious person hears the name of the Medicine Buddha and
makes some kind of connection with him—which basically means knowing something about the Medicine Buddha’s qualities—then this will inspire in them an understanding of the value of generosity. And as they
come to understand the value of generosity, they will actually become generous. Becoming generous, they will not have an unpleasant rebirth. And
throughout all their future lives, this momentum of generosity will be
present, so that not only will they always be generous, but they will actually
become a source of encouragement to others to be generous as well.
That is the first benefit explained at this point in the sutra of recollecting the name of and supplicating the Medicine Buddha. As for the second
benefit, the Buddha again addresses Manjushri saying that, similarly, there
are some people who simply cannot behave themselves. They have no interest whatsoever in morality. They think morality is pointless. The reason
that they have no interest in morality is that they do not understand its
value. They do not understand the benefit of behaving morally, and they
do not understand the problems that behaving immorally leads to. At the
same time they have no interest in dharma or spirituality of any kind, because they do not understand its value. Not knowing its value, of course,
they have no interest in it. But when a person in even such an extreme state
of mind as that hears the name of the Medicine Buddha, they will come to
have respect for and gradual interest in both morality and the practice of
dharma. As a result they will behave appropriately and they will study and
practice dharma, which will cause them not only to be happy in this life,
but to come to have better and better and happier and happier lives, life
after life. The momentum of their conduct and of their study and practice
will be maintained, and will increase as time goes on. We see this development in our own experience. Many of us start out knowing nothing about
dharma and therefore not having much respect for or faith in it, simply
because we do not know what it is. And we may have had so many questions and doubts about the notions of morality that we had heard about
that we really did not respect that either. But at some point something
inspired us. We saw something, such as an image of the Buddha, or we
heard something, such as an explanation of dharma or the name of a buddha.
Something caught our attention, and caused us to entertain the idea of
dharma practice, which caused us to change our way of life to some extent
and to practice dharma. Whether you are new to the practice of dharma or
are completely immersed in it, in either case something has happened. This
something happening is exactly what is referred to in this benefit of the
hearing of the Medicine Buddha’s name. As it says in the sutras, a being
such as ourselves comes in contact with some form of the activity and blessing of a buddha—an image of a buddha, the name of a buddha, or teachings that come from a buddha—and being inspired by that, eventually we
develop some degree of faith and compassion for other beings [which leads
to the development of other good qualities].
Of course, our faith in dharma and our devotion to dharma are not
unfluctuating. There are times when we apparently have strong faith and
devotion, and other times when doubts arise that seem to obstruct or impede our faith and devotion. In either situation, what is necessary is the
same: to supplicate or pray with all available faith and devotion, based on a
fundamental confidence in the buddhas and in their teachings. If you supplicate in that way, when you have faith, your faith will increase. And if you
supplicate in that way when you have doubts, your faith will increase and
your doubts will lessen. So whether or not you are afflicted by hesitation or
doubt about dharma, you have to do the same thing. As the Buddha points
out at this point in the sutra, supplication of buddhas, with all the faith and
devotion one can muster, is always important.
The Buddha Shakyamuni states four benefits of recollecting or hearing
the name of the Medicine Buddha, the first two of which we have now
discussed: the alleviation of avarice and the alleviation of immorality. I would
like to stop here for this morning, because there were a number of people
who were lined up yesterday to ask questions and did not get a chance to
do so. If you would still like to ask your questions now, then please go
Question: Could you explain the visualization for the short or condensed practice of the Medicine Buddha?
Rinpoche: There are two ways you can do this. One way is to make the
supplication, paying homage the Medicine Buddha and thinking that he is
actually present in front of you and to visualize him by recollecting his
appearance, his color, what he is holding, what he is wearing, and so on.
Another equally valid way is to think that you are paying homage to him
wherever he is, in which case you do not specifically have to visualize him at
Question: Rinpoche, I have a problem that keeps recurring in my visualization. The deity—Dorje Chang or the Medicine Buddha—is in front
and I can see one side of it very clearly in detail and color, and the other side
is practically in the dark. It is muddy, in the shade; the color is very indistinct, and when I get tired I can hardly see anything at all on that side.
Rinpoche: Is it always the same side?
Question: It is : pretty much the same side. It is my left side, the deity’s
right side, that is clear; the other side is not. Also, if I’m sitting, facing
straight ahead, and visualizing the deity right in front of me, and if my eyes
are partially closed, it feels like the deity is off at an angle. I keep shifting
my body to get it in, but it is already straight, but it feels like I’m sitting
diagonally and looking over there.
Rinpoche: This is happening spontaneously to you; it is not something
you are causing, so if you just leave it alone, if you just continue with the
practice, it will take care of itself.
Question: Rinpoche, three questions. In the descent of the body, speech,
and mind blessings, do they enter respectively into the three centers specifically, or do they enter generally into the body? Secondly, could you give us
a little more detail about the sequence of the practice in terms of the small
Medicine Buddha in a certain part of your body, or in others’ bodies? And
can that be done outside the formal practice? And lastly, is there a connection between the Medicine Buddha and Jambhala? If there is, what is the
connection? And if there is a difference, what is the difference? Is there a
benefit to relating more to one or to the other?
Rinpoche: As to your first question, in the case of sadhana practice and
the recitation of mantra, when you have the blessings of the three gates of
the deity dissolving into yourself, you can think that they dissolve generally
into your whole body, throughout your whole body without specifying
that they dissolve into your head and so on. In the case of an abhisheka
[empowerment], then they would dissolve into the specific parts of your
body. As to your second question, you can do the application practice of
visualizing a small Medicine Buddha in a specific part of your body or
someone else’s body, either during the formal practice of the sadhana, while
reciting the mantra, or in post-meditation at anytime you want. As to the
third question, there is a connection between the Medicine Buddha and
Jambhala. The connection is basically that the twelve yaksha chieftains,
who are guardians of the Sutra of the Medicine Buddha and his teaching, are
of the same class or clan as the Jambhalas. Therefore, in a sense Jambhala is
also a guardian of the Medicine Buddha’s teaching. I had an indication of
this when I was practicing the Medicine Buddha sadhana extensively at a
Taiwanese monastery called Shi Lung Si. Monastics at the monastery and
the other participants were also engaged in practicing the Medicine Buddha intensively. One of the reasons they were doing so, they said, was that
whenever they engage in the Medicine Buddha practice communally, things
go well at the monastery, which they felt had something to do with the
activity of Jambhala coming along automatically with the supplication and
practice of the Medicine Buddha. Therefore, I would say that if you have to
choose just one of them to supplicate, the choice should be the Medicine
Buddha, since it seems that if you supplicate the Medicine Buddha you get
Jambhala’s assistance automatically.
Question: Rinpoche, this practice seems so wonderful and complete
that I’m having a hard time understanding why we haven’t heard much
about it until recently. I realize I haven’t been practicing that long, but I’m
wondering what the place of Medicine Buddha practice is. Is it something
that was done a lot in monasteries? Why has it been so long in coming?
Rinpoche: As for the place that the Medicine Buddha practice is given
in the monastic tradition in Tibet, it varies quite a bit. In some monasteries
a great deal of it is done, and in other monasteries very little of it is done.
And just about everything in between. There is no hard and fast rule. As for
why you have not heard much about it until now, do not forget that vajrayana
is very new in the West. Basically we could say that vajrayana has only been
present in this country for thirty years. We have to look at how the Buddha
taught. When the Buddha taught dharma, he started with what we call the
common vehicle. And then he gradually, gradually deepened his presentation as people became prepared for it by their practice. In the same way,
teachers have had to introduce and teach the dharma gradually in this country, simply because, as your practice progresses, your confidence and faith
and understanding increase accordingly. For example, most of the teachers
who began teaching in the West started by teaching shamatha practice,
which was something that did not involve a great deal of faith, because you
were working directly with what you could immediately experience in your
own mind. The validity of it was obvious from the start. If they had begun
by saying this is the fundamental practice of our tradition, you are to visualize the Medicine Buddha and believe me he exists, he has tremendous
blessing, and if you pray to him, his blessing will enter you, you probably
would not have believed it.
Question: Is : this practice directly connected to Tibetan medical practice?
Rinpoche: Yes, it is connected. Medicine Buddha practices are used to
consecrate the medicines while they are being prepared. Also the lineage of
the medicine comes from a rishi called Rigpe Yeshe—“awareness wisdom”—
who was an emanation of the Medicine Buddha. And when we look at the
history of Tibetan medicine, we see that the foremost physicians of Tibet,
including the great siddha Yönten Gonpo and others, subsequent to having visions of the Medicine Buddha or receiving his blessing, were able to
discover new modes of diagnosis, new preparations of medicine, and would
compose medicinal textbooks.
Question: Thank you, Rinpoche, for your transmission and your teaching. I have been taught up to this point that there are basically three ways to
assist beings across the ocean of samsara to the shore of enlightenment: like
a king, who would lead everyone to liberation; like a ferryman, who would
put everyone in the same boat with him and cross over together with everyone, so to speak. Or like a shepherd, who would make sure everyone is
there safely before he goes himself. I have confusion about being a shepherd on the one hand and healing and enlightening myself first before
allowing everyone else to go in before me. Could you speak to that please?
Rinpoche: There are, as you indicated in your question, three ways
that bodhicitta can be generated, according to the sutra tradition. These
three different generations of bodhicitta, all of which are acceptable, correspond to how selfish you are. When someone is utterly unselfish, completely and absolutely altruistic, then when they generate bodhicitta, the
attitude they will have is, “I will not attain buddhahood, I refuse to attain
buddhahood, until each and every other being already has attained it.”
This is what is called shepherd-like bodhicitta, as you mentioned in your
question. And that is considered the best style of bodhicitta generation
from the point of view of the sutras; the best, because it is completely unselfish. The second best is the thought, “Well, I want to attain buddhahood,
they all want to attain buddhahood, I hope we all attain buddhahood together. I will bring myself and all beings to buddhahood at the same time.”
This style, called the boatman-like or ferryer-like bodhicitta, is a little more
selfish than the first, but it is still very unselfish. The third style, which
really does have a little bit of selfishness in it, is the thought, “I really want
to attain buddhahood. I really want to attain full awakening. But after I
have attained it, I will not abandon beings. I will also liberate all beings.
But first of all, I definitely want to attain buddhahood.” That is king-like
bodhicitta, which has some selfishness in it, but because it contains the
aspiration to liberate all beings, it is still authentic bodhicitta.
The style of generation of bodhicitta in the vajrayana sounds a lot like
the king-like bodhicitta, but is not meant to be the king-like bodhicitta.
The vajrayana attitude is simply realistic. If you do not attain buddhahood,
you cannot liberate other beings. This attitude is not selfish; it is realistic. It
could become selfish. You could turn it into king-like bodhicitta, or use it
as an excuse for king-like bodhicitta. But it is not really meant to be generated in that spirit. The basic reasoning of vajrayana bodhicitta is, “All I
want is to liberate all beings. I obviously cannot do that right now. If I
become a bodhisattva, with bodhisattva realization, I can do something,
but I cannot liberate them completely, as a buddha can. So, although what
I want is to liberate beings and not myself, in order to do that effectively, I
am going to have to attain buddhahood myself first.”
Question: Is : there a Medicine Buddha practice that involves the laying
on of hands?
Rinpoche: The laying on of hands could in some way be combined
with the practice of visualizing a small form of the Medicine Buddha at the
afflicted part of the ill person’s body.
Question: Rinpoche, I have another question about choosing between
practices. In considering tonglen practice, and Medicine Buddha, how would
we decide when to use either one, given that you have both transmissions?
Rinpoche: Do you mean for your own development, or in order to
benefit another person?
Question: Tonglen that we use for helping others, and it helps us as
well. Also, Pema Chödron has talked about a way to use tonglen to help
Rinpoche: Both are equally beneficial in every way, in and of themselves. What you should emphasize in your practice is based upon what you
have the greatest confidence in, what you have the greatest faith in, and
what you have the greatest natural inclination for. So if you have greater
confidence in tonglen, it will be more effective. If you have greater confidence in the Medicine Buddha practice, that will be more effective. Historically, we can see in the various lineages that some teachers have
emphasized tonglen as their primary practice; other teachers have emphasized the Medicine Buddha or similar practices as their primary practice. It
really depends upon your personal inclination.
MUDRAS, OR RITUAL GESTURES,
HELP TO CLARIFY THE VISUALIZATION
SOME OF YOU HAVE INQUIRED about the mudras, ritual gestures, for this
practice, so I will begin this morning’s session by explaining them. As
you know, the main element in our practice is meditation, including visualization, which is mental in nature. But we use our other faculties, body
and speech, to clarify and reinforce this mental process. We use speech, for
example, to clarify visualizations by reciting the liturgical descriptions and
so on, and we use the body to clarify visualizations through physical postures and gestures called mudras. The main point, of course, is the visualization practice itself. So it is acceptable, especially under certain conditions,
to do the practice entirely mentally, without the additional use of mudras.
The first place in this practice where a specific mudra is used is in the
invitation of the deity—when you have already visualized yourself as the
Medicine Buddha and have visualized the Medicine Buddha in front of
you, and are requesting the actual wisdom deity, the Medicine Buddha, to
approach and finally dissolve into you as the self-visualization and into the
This and other places in the practice are highlighted by the use of the
Sanskrit language as part of the liturgy. The culmination of the invitation,
the culmination of each section of offerings, as well as the essence mantra
repeated during the main body of the practice are all said in Sanskrit. This
is standard for all vajrayana practices. The reason for this is that the Buddha
taught in Sanskrit, and it is taught that all buddhas of the future, as well,
will teach in Sanskrit. So one uses Sanskrit for the highlights of the practice
in order to cultivate a habit or form a connection with that language.
At the conclusion of the invitation in the liturgy you say the Sanskrit
mantra, NAMO MAHA BEKENDZE SAPARIWARA BENZA
SAMAYADZA DZA. What you are saying is, “Medicine Buddha, together
with your retinue, please recollect your vajra samaya and approach.” At
that point you visualize that the Medicine Buddha and his retinue appear
in the sky in front of you before dissolving into you and into the front
visualization. The mudra that accompanies this mantra is called the mudra
of assembly, and is made by crossing your arms at the wrists facing inward
in front of your chest with the right one in front and the left one closer to
your body, and snapping your fingers.
The significance of crossing your arms at the wrists represents the cohesiveness of unimpaired samaya, which brings the wisdom deities. The snapping of your fingers signifies immediately, right now. This actually has the
specific meaning of referring to a unit of time called an instant. An instant
in this case refers to the smallest division of time measured in any given
system. For example, in the general system used in India at the time of the
Buddha, the day was divided into thirty periods, which in turn were divided into thirty periods, and so on, until you got down to a period of time
so small it is difficult even to describe, and that was designated as an instant
or a moment. In the Kalachakra Tantra, the day is divided into hours, which
are divided into subsections, which are divided further and further and
further until one gets a period of time so small that in our perception it has
no duration, and therefore is something like timelessness or emptiness. In
any case, an instant refers to the shortest possible unit of time imaginable.
The snapping of fingers in ritual use signifies or designates an instant. In
the case of the invitation here, what you are saying by snapping your fingers is, “Please appear here and dissolve into me right now, without any
delay whatsoever.” During the offerings, what you are saying when you
snap your fingers at the conclusion of the offering mudras is, “Please accept
these offerings right now. May they be available to you and may you enjoy
them right now, without having to wait.” In the case of an ordination ceremony, such as the refuge ceremony, the snapping of fingers serves to designate the exact instant or moment in time at which you receive the vow.
Next one recites VAJRA SAMAYA TIKTRA LEN, which means,
“Through the power of your recollection of your vajra samaya, please remain stable.” During the previous mantra, when you invited the wisdom
deities, you invited them and dissolved them into yourself. When you recite VAJRA SAMAYA TIKTRA LEN you dissolve them into the front visualization and request them to remain there stable as a field of offering for
the accumulation of merit. The gesture here is that your hands are turned
over so that they are palm up in front of your chest. It is very much like an
elaborate or polite way of requesting someone to be seated.
Next, we come to the empowerment. The first five syllables of the empowerment mantra, OM HUM TRAM HRI AH ABHIKENTSA HUM,
refer to the five male buddhas of the five families. This is an empowerment
both of yourself and of the front visualization. OM represents Vairochana,
HUM Akshobhya, TRAM Ratnasambhava, HRI Amitabha, and AH
These five buddhas of the five families are sometimes taught as buddhas
in five different pure realms external to you. And sometimes they are taught
as the five aspects of your innate or intrinsic wisdom. In the case of their
being the five aspects of intrinsic wisdom, they correspond to the five wisdoms of a buddha. So, for example, Vairochana, who is of the buddha
family, is the wisdom of the dharmadhatu. The wisdom of the dharmadhatu
is the recognition of the unborn nature or emptiness of all things, which
also pervades the other wisdoms, which is why it has that particular name.
These wisdoms are not really separate things. They are enumerated separately in order to show the qualities of wisdom. Generally speaking, one
can say that the wisdom of a buddha includes two aspects, two types of
wisdom, which are also not really separate. One of them is the wisdom that
knows how things are, and that refers to the recognition of absolute truth
or the nature of things. This aspect of wisdom is equivalent to the wisdom
of the dharmadhatu. It is that wisdom that knows how things are, or
knows the nature of all things.
The other wisdom of a buddha is the wisdom that knows what there is.
The wisdom that knows how things are knows the nature of all things, or
absolute truth. But at the same time, a buddha also knows what there is,
which is to say, the distinct features of those relative truths or relative things,
of which the absolute truth is the nature. This means that, while buddhas
recognize the unborn nature of each and every thing, the emptiness of each
and every thing, they nevertheless see the manifestation or appearance of
that thing clearly, without that clear seeing producing any kind of reification
or illusion of solidity. Therefore, the way in which buddhas see relative
truth is like seeing something in a mirror. The image is seen extremely
clearly and vividly, but there is nothing really there in the mirror [other
than mere appearance], and that is also known. So the perception or wisdom of a buddha, the recognition of relative truth, is called the mirror-like
wisdom, which is seeing that, while things are unborn, they nevertheless
have their distinct appearances. Mirror-like wisdom is the Buddha
The third wisdom of a buddha is called the wisdom of equality. This
refers to the fact that, from the point of view of the mirror itself, regardless
of what appears in it, while it appears distinctly and while the mirror has
the capacity to display any image, there are no concepts on the part of the
mirror about what it displays. There is no division of the display into self
and other. There is no division of the display or image into good or bad, or
into any other conceptual framework. This fact that buddhas in their wisdom, which recognizes this display, are free of all of these deluded concepts, is the wisdom of equality, which is the Buddha Ratnasambhava.
The fourth buddha is Amitabha, who embodies the wisdom of discrimination. A buddha—we, when we have attained buddhahood, or any
other buddha—possesses the three wisdoms, which have been explained:
the dharmadhatu wisdom, the mirror-like wisdom, and the wisdom of equality. These being the characteristics of the wisdom of a buddha, it is clear
that they see or are aware without any kind of conceptualization. But because they are free of conceptualization, you might assume mistakenly that
they are unable to distinguish between the characteristics of things. In other
words, because buddhas are free of the concepts of good and bad, does that
mean that they are unable to distinguish good from bad in relative truth?
Because they are free of the concepts of red and white, does that mean that
they cannot distinguish a red thing from a white thing? In fact, it does not.
Buddhas are perfectly able to distinguish the distinct characteristics of relative things or relative phenomena. That wisdom is called the wisdom of
discrimination, which is an aspect of the wisdom that knows what there
is—from the standpoint of distinguishing the aspects of wisdom according
to that which knows how things are and that which knows what there is.
This corresponds to the Buddha Amitabha.
The fifth wisdom is the wisdom of accomplishment, which is embodied by the Buddha Amogasiddhi. This means that, because of the wisdom
of a buddha—because a buddha possesses, for example, the wisdom of
equality and the wisdom of discrimination—they are able spontaneously
to accomplish their activity without conceptualization or effort. Such activity is unceasing, and uninterrupted. The activity of a buddha never fails
to accomplish its aim in a timely way. This is what is meant by the wisdom
of accomplishment. So the empowerment that you receive at this point in
the practice, while repeating the syllables OM HUM TRAM HRI AH,
internally is the empowerment of the five wisdoms and externally is the
empowerment of the five male buddhas.
There is a mudra that goes with each of these syllables. The mudra of
Vairochana, which accompanies the saying of OM, is to clasp your hands,
intertwining the fingers tightly so that the two hands make a fist, and then
extending the two middle fingers joined together. The mudra of Akshobhya,
which accompanies the saying HUM, is to clasp your hands making a fist
with the two forefingers extended. The mudra of Ratnasambhava, which
accompanies the syllable TRAM, is to clasp your hands making a fist with
the two ring fingers extended and joined. The mudra of Amitabha, which
accompanies the syllable HRI, is to clasp your hands making a fist with the
two thumbs extended and joined. And finally, the mudra of Amogasiddhi,
which accompanies the syllable AH, is to clasp your hands making a fist
with the two little fingers extended and joined.
These mudras are connected with the way in which the five buddhas
are perceived—and this is common to all tantras—as being present in the
external world. The Buddha Vairochana of the buddha family is said to
inhabit a realm in the center, called “densely arrayed.” The Buddha
Akshobhya of the vajra family is said to inhabit a realm in the east, called
“manifestly joyous.” The Buddha Ratnasambhava of the ratna or jewel family
is said to inhabit a realm in the south, called “glorious.” The Buddha
Amitabha of the padma or lotus family is said to inhabit a realm in the
west, called “blissful” or sukhavati. And the Buddha Amogasiddhi of the
karma or action family is said to inhabit a realm in the north, called “perfect” or “perfectly complete activity.” The central buddha, Vairochana, is
seen as pervasive, pervading all of the other buddhas and pervading all of
their activity. Each of the other four buddhas is also connected with a specific style of activity, a specific way of benefiting beings. Akshobhya embodies pacification. Ratnasambhava embodies enrichment and expansion.
Amitabha embodies magnetizing. And Amogasiddhi embodies forceful or
When we talk of these five realms, we say that they are in the east, the
south, the west, the north, and the middle, but obviously these directions
are mere designations. They have no absolute reality or location. We cannot really say what east is, because a place that is east of one place is going
to be west of another. It will be south of one and north of one. Is that place
really east, or is it west? Maybe it is south, maybe it is north. You cannot
say. So, the directions, of course, are empty. They are valid in relative truth.
In a specific context that we have designated, we can meaningfully say that
some place is east or west of another place. So they are valid in relative
truth, but they are only valid relative to one another, and therefore have no
absolute validity and are empty. So, we cannot really say where an eastern
realm would be, except relative to our own body. Therefore, in the Buddhist tradition, we call wherever you are facing east.
So for that reason—and now these mudras are going to become a little
more complicated—because east is identified as wherever you are facing, it
is understood in invitation liturgies that a buddha invited from the east—
as, for example, Akshobhya—will approach you from the front. A buddha
invited from the south, like Ratnasambhava, will approach you from the
direction of your right ear. A buddha invited from the west, like Amitabha,
will approach behind you towards the back of your head. And a buddha
invited from the north, like Amogasiddhi, will approach you from your
left. So therefore, when you receive the empowerment from these five
buddhas and then visualize that they dissolve into you, they dissolve into
you from those directions. Therefore, the mudras that were previously demonstrated are touched to five points on your head. Because Vairochana,
represented by the middle finger, is in the middle, you touch your clasped
hands, making a fist with the middle finger extended, to the very center of
the top of your head. Because Akshobhya, represented by the forefingers, is
connected with the front, then you touch the clasped hands with the forefingers extended, to your forehead. Because Ratnasambhava, represented
by the extended ring fingers, comes from the south, you touch the clasped
hands with extended ring fingers, above your right ear. Because Amitabha,
represented by the extended thumbs, approaches from the west, you touch
your clasped hands with the thumbs extended to the back of your head or
as close as you can get. Finally, because Amogasiddhi, represented by the
extended little fingers, approaches from the north, you touch the clasped
hands with the extended little fingers, to the left side of your head above
your left ear. The making and touching of these mudras is all coordinated
with the recitation of the syllables.
When you are actually performing these mudras, the first three are obvious. But when you get to HRI, representing Amitabha, the thumbs at the
back of your head, you do not go over the head. You go around from the
right as far as you can get. Then you have AH on the left.
The performance of these five mudras while reciting OM HUM TRAM
HRIH AH accompanies the receiving of empowerment from these five
buddhas, who then dissolve into you. When you say the rest of the mantra,
ABHIKENTSA HUM, in order to acknowledge that the five buddhas have
dissolved into you, you extend your hands palm upward and then turn [or
rotate] them in towards yourself until they are more or less palm downward, to represent the dissolution of the Buddhas into yourself.
Those are the mudras for the empowerment. Next we come to the mudras
for the offerings. The first offering mudra here accompanies the mantra
word ARGHAM. ARGHAM refers to the offering of drinking water. So
the mudra is making the shape with your hands of a vessel or container that
could contain drinking water, and it is done in the way that Rinpoche just
demonstrated [by joining the fingers at their tips and the fingers and palms
along the outside edge of the little fingers and the inner edge of the palms
as they face upward, with the thumbs resting on the edge of the palms and
The second offering, PADYAM, represents water for washing the feet.
The custom during the time of the Buddha was that water would be poured
from a conch shell over your feet. So the mudra done at this point is to
grasp the end of your forefingers with the last joint of your thumbs and
extend the other fingers forward palms upward, which is the mudra of the
conch, as Rinpoche demonstrated.
The third offering, PUPE, is the offering of flowers. The mudra depicts
casting flower petals with your hands [the nails of the four fingers of both
hands, held palms upward in a light fist restrained by the thumbs, suddenly
released by the restraining thumbs and extended forward].
DHUPE is the offering of incense, and therefore the gesture or mudra
with the hands represents containers of finely scented incense powder [both
hands held in fists, fingers arranged on top of each other grasping the thumb,
which points downward].
The next offering, ALOKE, represents lamps or lights. The position of
the hands with the thumbs extended upward represents a lamp and its
burning wick [same mudra as for incense, except that the thumbs, now
pointing upward, are free of the fist-clenched fingers].
The next offering, GENDHE, represents the rubbing of perfumed water onto the body, and so the gesture with the hands is like the gesture of
anointing or rubbing perfumed water onto someone’s body [both hands
held, palms facing forward, perpendicular to the ground, fingers pointing
upward, moving slightly].
The next offering, NAIVEDYE , is food, which is represented by the NAIVEDYE torma, which is found in the appropriate bowl
on the shrine. The mudra here depicts that, with the hands held palms up
and the ring fingers extended upward to depict that torma which is on the
SHAPDA, which means “sound” the first time it appears in this offering, is the offering of music. The gesture here is like the way that the clay
drum would be beaten with the fingers [thumbs of each hand grasping the
ring and little fingers, the middle finger and the pointing finger extended
straight forward with the pointing finger on top, moving slightly up and
down with a beating motion].
Following those eight offering are the remaining five offerings of this
section, which as you will remember, are offerings of the objects of the five
senses. The first of these, RUPA, means form, and here refers to beautiful
form. The mudra that represents it is the mudra of the mirror, with your
right hand extended palm outward, and your left hand in a fist with the
thumb extended upward and touching the palm of the right hand at the
base as though it were the handle of a mirror. This represents the fact that
forms are perceived like images or reflections in a mirror.
The second mudra is SHAPDA, which here refers to all sounds. The
mudra, however, is always something representing a musical instrument. Some
people at this second SHAPDA do the lute mudra, or guitar mudra, however, my own tradition is simply to repeat the previous drumming mudra.
GENDHE, which represents beautiful scents, gets the same mudra as it
did before when it specifically represented perfume.
And RASA, which is the offering of tastes, gets the same mudra as
ARGHAM, except in this case it is a container of food rather than a container of water.
And SAPARSHE, which represents tactile sensations, gets the mudra of
holding aloft fine fabric, which is done by revolving the hands until the
palms are facing outward and thumb and ring finger are touching.
When you say TRATITSA, which means individually, then you turn
your hands so that the palms are up and snap your fingers.
During the next offering sections—offering the eight auspicious substances, the eight auspicious signs, and the seven articles of royalty—you
continue to hold your hands joined in angeli, the mudra of supplication or
prayer, as you do during all offerings sections. There is no specific mudra
for these and no snapping of the fingers.
When we offer the mandala with the mantra, OM RATNA MANDALA
HUM, there is the usual mandala mudra.
Translator: Put your hands more or less palm up. Interweave your fingers, with
both sets of fingers visible above the palms, not with the fingers behind the
backs of the hands. Then with your thumbs grab the ends of the little
fingers of the opposite hands. And then with your forefingers, hook around
the top joint of the middle fingers of the opposite hands. Then un-interweave your ring fingers so that they stick straight up back to back. That is
the simplest way I know to describe it. And there’s no finger snap.
Rinpoche: The remaining three sections of offering—ablution, drying, and dressing—have no mudras other than the palms being joined [in
angeli, the mudra of supplication or prayer].
However, the way in which your palms are joined in these practices is
quite specific. The hands are not pressed against one another so that the
palms are flat against each other. There is space left between your palms, so
that the shape of your hands is like a budding flower. It is therefore called the
lotus mudra, and represents a lotus flower that is about to open. The lotus is
a symbol of dharma in general. It is born in mud or in a swamp, but when the
flower emerges, it is stainless and beautiful. So the lotus—and by extension
the mudra—represents the practice of dharma, and therefore, in order to
remind yourself of that, your palms are joined in these practices in that way.
If you have questions, feel free to ask them.
Question: Rinpoche, you have said that in the future the dharma would
be taught in Sanskrit by other buddhas. Could you explain why that would
be? Is there something about the Sanskrit language that connects us more
closely with the enlightened state? Or will we in the future, as we practice
dharma, as we come closer, hopefully, to the enlightened state, be able to
understand and make these sounds more intelligibly? Or is this not a definitive teaching and thus to be interpreted from the standpoint of the time
of the Buddha when this teaching was given?
Rinpoche: First of all, as to whether or not the statement that all buddhas
of the future will teach in Sanskrit is a definitive statement or a statement
with a hidden intention—which is to say, one which does not mean what it
literally says, but means something that is indicated by what it literally
says—is something I cannot resolve. I cannot say to you, “It is a definitive
statement to be taken literally,” or, “It is a symbolic statement with a hidden meaning.” I cannot resolve this question because the source of this idea
is the Badhrakalpa Sutra, the Sutra of the Fortunate Eon, and in that sutra
the Buddha gives the names of the parents, the style of teaching, the length
of teaching, the number and qualities of the retinue attending the teachings, and so on, for each of the one thousand buddhas of this particular
kalpa. This includes the three buddhas who preceded him, and the others
who will succeed him. It is in this sutra that he states, for example, that
Maitreya will be the fifth buddha of this kalpa and the Lion’s Roar will be
the sixth buddha. He discusses all of the thousand buddhas up to the very
last one, called Rochana. In the same place where the Buddha predicts their
coming, he says that they will all teach in Sanskrit. It would be very difficult to try to ascertain exactly what his intention was in saying that.
The effect of using Sanskrit in liturgical practices is basically to establish the blessing [of the original words of the Buddha] in the most important places in the sadhana—in the mantras, which are repeated, and in
the areas of the practice that are highlighted, such as the culmination of the
invitation, the culmination individually of the various offerings, and so on.
For this reason, then, even when these practices were undertaken outside of
the Sanskrit-speaking world, these sections were left in the original language and remain untranslated. Whether or not as an implication of this
we can consider Sanskrit a fundamentally superior language depends not
so much on the idea of its being superior as its being sacred because we
believe the Buddha taught in Sanskrit. There are some Buddhist traditions
that maintain the view that the Buddha’s teachings were originally given in
Pali. But the vajrayana tradition maintains that his original teachings for
the most part were given in Sanskrit. Because of that, by using Sanskrit in
liturgical practice, we feel that we bring the Buddha’s blessing, the blessing
of the Buddha’s speech, into our practice.
Question: So, does this prediction then still fall under the teaching of
Rinpoche: What do you mean?
Question: What I mean is, is this set in stone or does this also fall
under the heading, as we’re always taught, that nothing is permanent?
Rinpoche: The impermanence aspect of this is a fluctuation in the use
of Sanskrit in the world. In the Buddha’s time, people in the society in
which the Buddha was living actually spoke Sanskrit. Now nobody speaks
Sanskrit; it is considered a dead language. But according to the sutra, it will
come back, and in that way Sanskrit will return to use, and then become a
dead language, and then return to use again, and then become a dead language again, and so on. That is an instance of impermanence.
Question: Rinpoche, I’d like to share the tapes of these teachings with
KTC sangha, and I’d like to know if that is an appropriate thing to do, and
also whether it would be appropriate to practice the Medicine Buddha in a
group including individuals who have not received the empowerment. And
would it be appropriate to do the short Mahakala practice in the chant
book alone at home?
Rinpoche: As for your first question, anyone can practice the Medicine
Buddha, whether they have the empowerment or not. As far as instituting
its practice in a group, if it were part of a KTC activity, you would need first
to receive permission from the appropriate teachers. Secondly, if you have
faith in the short Mahakala practice, it is certainly okay to do it at home.
Question: Rinpoche, this question is not directly related to the topic at
hand, but since it involves issues of faith and devotion, I thought it might
be relevant and beneficial. This has to do with the nature and appearance of
the Gyalwang Karmapas in general. As you know I have been praying to
Karmapa as part of my practice, and it is said in the Kagyu tradition that
Karmapa is a tenth-level bodhisattva. I’ve definitely come to believe that,
even though I’ve never had any direct contact with Karmapa. But once,
when I was having difficulty in my practice, I went to read the songs in the
Kagyu Gurtso of the Eighth Gyalwang Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje. And there
Mikyo Dorje refers to himself as an ordinary individual. My small mind
cannot encompass how such a high-level bodhisattva can think of himself
as an ordinary individual. Rinpoche, would you please dispel my confusion?
Translator: ranslator: ranslator: Can I abbreviate that a little bit?
Question: Oh, : please.
Rinpoche: This type of statement, like the one you mentioned by
Gyalwang Mikyo Dorje in the Kagyu Gurtso, is typical of great teachers,
because their primary responsibility is to serve as a good example for their
students, which means that they have to display a manner that is free of
arrogance. So, although it is not literally true that they are ordinary beings,
they will nevertheless say things like, “I am a completely ordinary person,
full of kleshas, with no qualities whatsoever.” By saying that, they display
the importance of being free of arrogance. You should not take such statements literally.
Question: Rinpoche, is it still appropriate and beneficial to practice
the Medicine Buddha sadhana if I have not practiced any ngöndro?
Rinpoche: It makes no difference.
Question: I attend births and help women during their labor, and I
was wondering if there is something that I could do after the baby has
arrived to honor the new being and the mother.
Rinpoche: Something will come in this afternoon’s teaching on the
Medicine Buddha sutra that will answer that question.
Question: May I ask another question? I was wondering if you could
talk about what would be a proper mode of conduct if you found yourself
being attacked by a sexual predator. If you were able to defend yourself,
what would be the right thing to do?
Translator: You mean, how?
Translator: What to do to them?
Question: would it be okay to hurt them?
Translator: How to hurt them or how not to hurt them?
Question: What would be the right thing to do?
Translator: How to get out of it?
Rinpoche: I have to think about that one.
Question: Rinpoche, when I am here, it becomes very clear to me that
the best thing to do would be to go home and organize my life so that I am
practicing many hours per day. What happens when I actually go back
home is that the connection to the teachings seems more distant, and what
seems more immediate and real are the needs around me. I begin to have
the thought that it is actually selfish or self-absorbed to practice a lot, and
that it is more beneficial to help other people. I think this is a fault. Could
you comment on that?
Rinpoche: Well actually both are correct. Neither is a fault. To wish to
practice a great deal is correct, and to be attentive to the needs of those
around you, and to put them first, is also correct. So you have to gauge the
exact balance according to your particular situation, using your own insight. The only rule of thumb is not to be too extreme in either way. Not to
be so extreme in the amount of practice that you pay no attention to those
around you and their needs, or so extreme in limiting your practice for
their benefit that you do not practice very much at all.
Question: Rinpoche, I have some confusion about the visualization. I
think I understood you to say that the Medicine Buddha visualization is a
mirror of my own innate Medicine Buddha. If he is a mirror, why do you
say that he is bigger than mine? Doesn’t that create some confusion?
Translator: Do you mean that where your right hand is, is going to be
his left hand? Do you mean it literally, or do you mean just that he is the
Question: He portrayed the front visualization as larger than the one
that I am visualizing as myself. And I thought that somewhere it was also
being said that we are the same. So why am I portraying the front one as
larger? That would create some insecurity in me that I am never quite good
Translator: Larger, do you mean that his body is bigger? You are not
just talking about the retinue?
Question: No. It kind of makes me feel like he has got more power
than I do.
Translator: He never said that the front visualization was larger.
Question: It is in the text, maybe.
Translator: Oh, that is where it is.
Rinpoche: Well, the author of the text must have had a specific reason
for saying it at that time.
Question: I imagined it was to give me more confidence, but at some
point I guess I could visualize him to be the same size as the self-visualization.
Rinpoche: You can visualize them as the same size.
Question: Rinpoche, is samaya primarily fulfilled by faith and devotion, overriding possibly completing a practice? Say, for instance, you are
doing some practices and then you encounter a practice like this one and
decide you want to do this one. Is it primarily the faith and devotion as
opposed to the actual steps of completing any particular practice?
Rinpoche: Yes, basically samaya is maintained by your faith and devotion.
THE BENEFITS OF HEARING AND RECOLLECTING
THE MEDICINE BUDDHA’S NAME
The Sutra of the Medicine Buddha first explains the twelve aspirations of
the Medicine Buddha, after which the Buddha begins to talk about
the benefits of recollecting or even hearing the Medicine Buddha’s name.
The first is that, if even those who are most avaricious hear the name of the
Medicine Buddha, they will be freed from avarice and from its results. The
second is that, if those who behave immorally hear the name of the Medicine Buddha, they will come to behave morally and therefore will be freed
from the karmic result of immorality. The third benefit is for those who are
so intensely jealous and competitive that they always praise themselves and
try to maximize in appearance their own qualities and prestige and always
deride others. Such persons devote themselves to defeating and deriding
others, and to making others look bad. If they continue in this course of
action, they will be reborn in one of the three lower states—the animal
realm, the preta realm, or the hell realm—and will experience a great deal
of suffering. But if they hear the name of the Medicine Buddha, through
the blessing and inspiration of that hearing, they will become much less
competitive, will cease deriding others, and will thereby be freed from the
karmic results of such actions.
What will happen as a result of such persons’ hearing the Medicine
Buddha’s name is that their attitude will change. They will become more
insightful, and through the development of that insight, they will become
more skillful and appropriate in their choices of actions. At the same time,
their minds will start to calm down and become tranquil. They will eventually become diligent in virtue and will find themselves surrounded by virtuous friends—friends that have virtuous intentions and who also behave
appropriately. Without the intervening blessing of the Medicine Buddha
attendant upon hearing his name, given their previous course of action,
they would be most unlikely to be surrounded by virtuous friends. The
virtuous friends by whom they find themselves surrounded—including
teachers, but also just friends in general—are one of the conditions that
influence them and cause them to change their ways. When someone is
intensely and ruthlessly competitive and jealous, they harm others and accumulate a great deal of negative karma. This intense competitiveness and
its attendant lifestyle is referred to as the lasso or noose of mara [Tibetan:
shakpa]. This noose is cut when the person hears the name of the Medicine
Buddha. Up to that point, the limitation in their outlook, which reinforces
their active and aggressive competitiveness, is an obscuration or ignorance
that is like being stuck inside an eggshell. Unable to break out of the eggshell, they are unable to grow. Their innate capacity for insight and wisdom
is prevented from developing. When they hear the name of the Medicine
Buddha, they break out of the eggshell, and this causes their innate capacity for insight and wisdom to develop. This insight dries up their kleshas,
especially the klesha of jealousy, which is like a wild river. This river gradually dries up. Of course, this does not happen automatically or without
effort. Through the blessing of hearing the name of the Medicine Buddha,
such people encounter teachers and other people who influence them in a
virtuous direction, while at the same time their own insight is developing.
As a result, they engage actively in methods that will eradicate or dry up the
That is the short term benefit. In the long term, the person who hears
the name of the Medicine Buddha will be freed from the sufferings of birth,
aging, and death. Birth, of course, is the beginning of aging, which always
culminates in death, so birth and death are all considered one process. While
the sufferings of birth, aging, and death are normal events in our lives,
through hearing the name of the Medicine Buddha, one is freed eventually
or ultimately from the suffering associated with them. That is the third
The fourth benefit of hearing the name of the Medicine Buddha is that
it pacifies the disputatious. There are some people who just like to fight.
They dispute at any opportunity. They like to cause discord. They like to
slander and harm other people any way they can. They harm people physically, verbally, and sometimes by cursing them magically. They are malevolent and can actually harm people. In this case, if either the malevolent
person or the victim of that person’s malevolence hears the name of the
Medicine Buddha, the whole situation will calm down. If the malevolent
person, the curser, hears the name of the Medicine Buddha, then their
malevolence will decrease. They will lose their wish to go around fighting
with people and cursing them. If the victim of their malevolence hears the
name of the Medicine Buddha, the malevolent person will be unable to
harm them. And if they have enlisted local [demonic] spirits in the service
of their malevolent aims and ambitions, the spirits will be powerless to
harm the intended object of their curse. This does not mean that through
the power of the Medicine Buddha these spirits will be violently repelled. It
means that the spirits will become benevolent, and eventually the person
who hears the name of the Medicine Buddha and is the proposed object of
the malevolence and the person acting malevolently—the magician or whatever—will also become benevolent.
To this point we have explained the alleviation of the defects, the negative conduct, and the negative results of avarice, immorality, jealousy, and
malevolence. Next, the sutra states the direct benefits of the name itself, the
qualities and various other benefits that the hearing and recollection of the
name will bring. It says that any man or woman with faith who recollects
the name of the Medicine Buddha, engages in the moral conduct of the
eightfold renewal and purification commitments or vows for a month or a
week or a few days—or otherwise behaves themselves properly with body
and speech, and aspires to rebirth in the realm of Sukavhati, the realm of
Amitabha, will be reborn there miraculously immediately after their death.
Those who do not wish to be reborn in Sukavhati will be reborn in the
realms of the gods and enjoy the splendors and enjoyments of those realms.
And—although normally when one is born in a god realm, after the merit
that has produced that rebirth is exhausted, one is then reborn in a more
unpleasant form of samsara—[those who recollect the name of the Medicine Buddha and conduct themselves appropriately] will not suffer a lower
rebirth. Their lifetimes will continue to be pleasant. If they wish in particular to be reborn human again, they will be reborn in the most fortunate and
pleasant circumstances within the human realm. They will be healthy, courageous, intelligent, and benevolent, and because of their characteristics,
they will continue to behave in a positive way and inspire others to do so as
To this point in the sutra the Buddha has stated five benefits of the
recollection of the name—the alleviation of four defects and the direct
benefits. Next, Manjushri addresses the Buddha and the assembly who are
listening to the teaching and describes the importance of the sutra. He says
that it is important to recollect this sutra, to read the sutra, to write the
sutra, to keep a copy of the sutra around you, to venerate the sutra by
offering flowers and incense and other offerings to it, and to proclaim the
meaning of the sutra to others. If these things are done, he says, many
benefits will accrue. The entire region in which these activities are occurring will be blessed and will be protected by the four great kings and other
deities who are present in the mandala.
In response to what Manjushri has said, the Buddha adds that whoever
venerates the Medicine Buddha should construct or acquire an image of
the Medicine Buddha—a statue, a painting, or a depiction of some type—
or should visualize the Medicine Buddha. Venerating that for a week or for
whatever period, they should intensely supplicate the Medicine Buddha,
eating pure food—which means food that is not gained through harming
others—washing frequently, wearing clean clothes, and so on, and in that
way venerate the sutra and the image by making physical offerings to them,
including all sorts of things such as parasols and victory banners and so on.
For this veneration to be effective, the one who is venerating has to have
a good intention. A good intention here is defined as having four characteristics. The first is that the venerating mind be stainless. Stainless here
means free of the stain of selfishness or competitiveness. Your intention in
doing the practice must be not merely to benefit yourself, but to benefit all
beings, and your intention must be free of competitiveness. The second
quality of a good intention is that it be unsullied. Unsullied here means
that you have unsullied faith, faith without reservation, faith that is without a feeling of antipathy towards the object of the faith, faith that is without such crippling doubt that it does not function.
The third characteristic of a good intention is the absence of malevolence. Malevolence can take many different forms. There is manifest anger,
anger that is evident and will be acted on right away. There is resentment.
Resentment is still malevolence, but it is something that you carry under
the surface and that waits for a future time to emerge. There is spitefulness,
which makes you want to say or do something nasty. And then there is
wanting to harm people in a more organized way than merely being spiteful. The absence of all of these forms of malevolence is an attitude that
sincerely wishes that others be happy and that they be free from suffering,
which means that if you see a being that is happy, you delight in that and
want that being to be even more happy and to be free from whatever suffering they are still afflicted by. If you see a being that is suffering, you want
that being to be free from all the suffering that they are undergoing and to
be completely happy.
The fourth characteristic of a good intention is impartiality, an attitude
that directs benevolence equally to all beings without exception. There is
no preference for some beings, and less concern for others. The attitude is
that all beings are more or less fellow travelers on the same road.
With this kind of good intention, if the practitioner physically
circumambulates the image of the Medicine Buddha, mentally recollects
the twelve aspirations of the Medicine Buddha, and either recites the sutra
of the Medicine Buddha or at least recollects the benefits of the name of the
Medicine Buddha as stated in the sutra, then they will accomplish their wishes.
The reason that it says that they will accomplish their wishes is that
people have different wishes. Some people wish for longevity, and they can
accomplish longevity through engaging in these activities—through supplicating the Medicine Buddha, through circumambulating the image,
through having faith in and devotion for the Medicine Buddha, and so on.
Some people do not care much how long they live; they are more interested
in wealth, and so such a person would wish to achieve wealth and could do
so by this method. Some people are not concerned about wealth either, but
want to have children. And they can have children through this method,
although obviously not through this method exclusively. Some people
wish for success in the secular world, in business and so on, and they can
achieve such success through this method. The significance of this is that
you can achieve what you wish through doing the same secular or business
things, but with much less effort.
In the same way, if someone is afflicted with nightmares or bad dreams,
experiences inauspicious signs, sees things that they think are unlucky, or
experiences things that disturb them and produce anxiety, if they make
offerings to the Medicine Buddha, pray to the Medicine Buddha, recollect
the sutra and the Medicine Buddha’s twelve aspirations, and so forth, then
the inauspicious signs and bad dreams and so on will gradually disappear.
And not only will inauspicious signs disappear, but if you are in a situation where you are endangered by such things as fire, water, poison, or
weapons, by falling off a cliff, or falling victim to any other sort of accident,
or by elephants, lions, tigers, bears, poisonous snakes, scorpions, or centipedes—if you are endangered by any of those things—then if you supplicate the Medicine Buddha, those dangers will disappear.
And also supplication to the Medicine Buddha will protect you from
the dangers of war—being caught in the middle of a war—of robbery, and
If someone who has faith in the buddhadharma, and especially in the
Medicine Buddha, whether man or woman, takes some form of ordination—such as the refuge vow, the vow of an upasaka or upasika [the vows
of a lay disciple], the bodhisattva vow, or monastic ordination—through
the blessing of the Medicine Buddha they will be able in most cases to
maintain them. But if such a person does not maintain them, then they
will become depressed. They will think, “I undertook such and such a commitment and I was unable to keep it. I am obviously someone who cannot
accomplish anything I set out to do. Things are not going very well, terrible
things are going to happen to me in this life, and after I die I am definitely
going to be reborn in the lower realms.” If this happens to you, then if you
supplicate the Medicine Buddha, make offerings to the Medicine Buddha,
and have devotion to the Medicine Buddha, you will be freed from the
danger of those disasters and inferior rebirths.
The next thing mentioned in the sutra is actually the answer to a question that was asked earlier. It says in the sutra, when a women is giving
birth to a child, if she expects great difficulty—great agony and suffering in
doing so—if she supplicates the Medicine Buddha with devotion, then the
birth will occur free from extreme difficulty. The child will be born easily,
without harm to the mother or the child, and the child will be healthy,
intelligent, and will be strong from birth.
At this point the Buddha has stated a number of extraordinary benefits
of supplicating and making offerings to the Medicine Buddha. Next the
Buddha addresses not Manjushri, but Ananda. He addresses Ananda because Ananda is not at this point a great bodhisattva. He is a shravaka, a
practitioner of the hinayana path. The Buddha has taught the sutra and
explained its benefits. He has talked about the extraordinary qualities of
the Medicine Buddha, his twelve aspirations and their effects, the effects of
the recollection of the name of the Medicine Buddha, and so on. So addressing Ananda, the Buddha says, “Ananda, do you believe what I have
said? Do you have faith in this, or do you have doubt about it?”
In response to the Buddha’s question, Ananda says, “I have no doubt of
the truth of what you have said. I believe everything you have said. In fact,
I believe everything you have ever said, because I have witnessed the qualities of your body, speech, and mind. I have witnessed your miracles, and I
have witnessed your immersion in samadhi. So I know it is impossible for
you to mislead beings, and I have no doubt of the validity of anything you
say. But, there are some beings who will not believe this. There are some
beings who, when they hear this, will want to think that all of this is impossible or untrue. Will they not incur tremendously negative karma through
hearing about this buddha and this sutra and having antipathy for them, or
disbelief?” So he ends by asking the Buddha a question.
The reason that Ananda asks this question is that in theory there could
be a problem in this situation. Theoretically, if someone thinks untrue what
a buddha has said about another buddha and their benefits and blessings,
that could become an obstacle to that being’s progress towards awakening.
But the Buddha answers as follows: “Ananda, there is in fact no such danger in this case. It is possible that a being might initially disbelieve these
things, but since they have heard the name of the Medicine Buddha, then
through the blessing of having heard that name, it will be impossible for
their disbelief and antipathy to last very long, which is an instance of the
qualities and power of this buddha. This is something that is so profound
only bodhisattvas can understand it.” But ultimately it means that one’s
initial disbelief will not become an obstacle to one’s liberation, and will not
cause one to accumulate such negative karma that one will be reborn in the
lower realms and so on. If someone has doubts, disbelief, or even antipathy
towards this sutra, it is not going to be a big problem because of the blessing imparted by the Buddha in the way he taught the sutra and because of
the aspirations of the Medicine Buddha himself.
This is important to know, because from time to time, of course, we do
have doubts. We read something in a sutra such as this and we think, “But
that is just impossible.” And then we think, “Oh no, I have wrong views
about the sutra; something terrible is going to happen to me.” In any case,
this is not going to be a problem here.
I am going to stop here for this afternoon. It has occurred to me that
over the last few days I have been talking quite a lot, and I have not practiced with you or sat with you at all. As people often ask me to meditate
with them, we are going to meditate now for a few minutes.