THE MEDICINE BUDDHA
A PRACTICE THAT IS EXTREMELY EFFECTIVE
IN THE REMOVAL OF SICKNESS
In the Cascade Mountains in Washington, the Very Venerable
Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche led an eight-day retreat to teach the Medicine
Buddha Sadhana and Medicine Buddha Sutra.
I WOULD LIKE TO BEGIN by welcoming all of you here today and thanking
you all for coming. I am delighted to have this opportunity to meet
with you, to study the Medicine Buddha practice together with you, and to
talk with you about dharma. As usual, we are going to begin by reciting the
lineage supplication. While doing so, please generate strong devotion for
the root guru and the other gurus of the lineage, such as Vajradhara, Tilopa,
Naropa, and so forth.
[Recitation of lineage supplication.]
First, in order to listen to the teachings properly, please generate the
attitude of bodhicitta, which is necessary for the practice of dharma in
general, and particularly for the practice of something like the Medicine
Buddha. While listening to the teachings, please think that you are listening to them and will practice them in order to be of the greatest possible
benefit to all beings.
We might think that there is something of a contradiction between the
motivation with which we might practice the Medicine Buddha and the
motivation of bodhicitta. We might think that fundamentally we are practicing the Medicine Buddha in order to benefit our own bodies, whereas
the motivation of bodhicitta is the wish to benefit all beings. But in fact
there is no contradiction, because, in order to be effective in benefiting
other beings, we need to accomplish an excellent samadhi or meditative
absorption; and in order to accomplish that, together with the insight and
realization that it brings, we need to have a stable practice. In order to have
a stable and profound practice, we need to be physically and mentally healthy
or comfortable, because by being comfortable in our body, and comfortable in our mind, we will be free of obstacles to diligence in practice and
free of obstacles to the cultivation of meditative absorption. So therefore,
we are practicing the Medicine Buddha in order to attain states of mental
and physical health or balance, not merely for our own benefit, but for the
benefit of others as well.
There is, therefore, no contradiction between the motivation you might
have for practicing the Medicine Buddha and your motivation for practicing dharma in general. We practice dharma in order to attain buddhahood,
and we practice the Medicine Buddha in order to attain that same goal. We
may be practicing it specifically in order to attain a state of mental and
physical health in this life, but when we practice the Medicine Buddha in
this way, we are not really limiting our motivation to our attainment of
mental and physical health, because by means of that practice we can accomplish great benefit for ourselves and others; and we can successfully
complete our practice of dharma in the sense of attaining buddhahood.
Furthermore, by practicing the Medicine Buddha, we not only achieve
health in this life but we cause ourselves to be blessed by the Medicine Buddha throughout all future lives as well. And through cultivating the stages of
the practice of the Medicine Buddha—the generation stage and the completion stage—we not only achieve benefit for ourselves, but we are actually
cultivating the potential to benefit others. And by doing these practices we
actually bless the environment and all the beings in that environment.
The practice of the Medicine Buddha is fundamentally a mental practice, a practice of meditation. Now, you might wonder how something you
are doing primarily with your mind could affect your body. How could
practicing the Medicine Buddha preserve your physical health or alleviate
physical sickness? You might think that the mind and body are fundamentally unrelated, and that therefore the practice of meditation cannot affect
our bodies. In fact, our bodies and minds are extremely interrelated. The
body supports or is the container for our mind, but the body is also based
upon or supported by the mind. Therefore, the practice of meditation does
affect your body and your physical state. Specifically, in the meditation
practice of the Medicine Buddha, in addition to visualizing the Medicine
Buddha in front of you, you are also visualizing your own body as the body
of the Medicine Buddha. These and other visualizations, and the recitation
of the mantra and so forth, which initially or primarily seem only to affect
the mind, do, therefore, eventually affect the body as well.
We practice fundamentally with our minds, but this practice does affect
and benefit both the mind and the body. As is generally taught, what we
identify as our mind consists of eight different consciousnesses, or functions of consciousness. These arise the way they do because of the connection between body and mind. For example, one of the eight consciousnesses
is the eye consciousness, the visual consciousness. This consciousness is a
function of three things: its object, which is visible forms; its organic support, which is the eye as an organ of vision; and the consciousness, which is
the mind functioning in connection with these two. Now, the point of this
is that the visual consciousness never arises in isolation from an object and
an organic support. It arises because the organic support is capable of detecting its appropriate object—in this case, visible form. Therefore, because the object, the organ, and the consciousness are so intimately
interrelated or interconnected, the transformation of any one of these will
necessarily affect the aspect or manner of the other two. Therefore, just as
when an object is changed, that affects the visual consciousness of that
object in dependence upon the organ; and when the organ is changed, that
affects the visual consciousness and therefore the perceived objects; in the
same way, when the consciousness is transformed, as it is through the practice of meditation, that affects the perception of objects and the organic
In the same way, our other senses arise as consciousnesses in connection
with their objects and their organic supports. Based upon the organ of the
ear, there arises what is called the ear consciousness or hearing, which experiences its object, audible sounds. In dependence upon the organic support
of the nose, there arises the nose consciousness, which detects smells. In
dependence upon the organ of the tongue, there arises the tongue consciousness, which detects tastes. And in dependence on the organic support
of the body and the nerves of the body, there arises the body consciousness,
which detects or experiences tactile sensations. All of these consciousnesses
arise or are generated by the presence of an object which is encountered by
its appropriate organ. Sometimes they arise based upon the organ itself
experiencing the sensation, but in any case, the sensations of the five senses
that we experience are functions of the organs and the objects experienced
by these organs, which generate appropriate consciousnesses. Because the
consciousness pervades the experience of its object and the experience of
the organ itself, if the consciousness is transformed, or one’s mode of experience of consciousness is transformed, into pure appearance, then the appearances of the objects, and also of the organs themselves, will become
pure or sacred. It is in this way that the practice of this form of meditation
can benefit not only your mind but also your body.
In addition to the five sense consciousnesses, the sixth consciousness,
which is the mental consciousness, also arises in connection with physical
experience. Now, according to the abhidharma, the mental consciousness
does not rely exclusively upon a specific physical organ support the way the
five sense consciousnesses do. The condition that leads to the arising of the
mental consciousness is the previous moment of that consciousness itself.
Generally speaking, this arises to some extent on the impressions produced
by the physical experience of the senses. So, indirectly, we could say that
the organ support for the mental consciousness is the momentum of all of
the consciousnesses connected with sense experience. But the mental consciousness itself is that which generates and experiences all of the varieties
of emotion and thought that we know—attachment, aversion, bewilderment, apathy, pride, jealousy, feelings of joy and delight, feelings of sadness, feelings of faith and compassion, etc.—all of these different emotional
states and all of the thoughts connected with them are varieties of experiences of the sixth or mental consciousness. Now, as these various thoughts
and emotions pass through our minds, they transform and influence that
consciousness itself. But not only that—they also affect the five sense
consciousnesses. For example, when you are very sad and you look at something, you will perceive it as sad, or as unpleasant. If you look at the identical object when you are happy, you will see the same thing as pleasant.
And if you look at it when you are angry, you will see, again, the same
object as entirely different. This is a very simple example of how the mental
consciousness in particular and our mind in general affects our experience
of sense objects and the sense consciousnesses and the sense organs themselves.
Of the eight consciousnesses, the most evident in our experience are
these six consciousnesses, or six functions: the five sense consciousnesses
and the mental consciousness. But there are, in addition to these, two other
functions of mind, which are called stable or underlying consciousnesses or
functions. These are the seventh consciousness, which is the subtle mental
affliction, and the eighth consciousness, which is called the all-basis. The
seventh consciousness, the consciousness which is the root of mental affliction, refers to the subtle, fundamental misapprehension of an existent self,
the fixation on a self. This fixation is itself the root of samsara. It is not,
however, regarded as an unvirtuous or negative thing in itself. It is morally
neutral. But because it is ignorance and the basis of further ignorance, it is
regarded as the most fundamental and important thing to be abandoned or
relinquished. In fact, we could say that the teachings of buddhadharma are
mainly about how to abandon this fixation on self. It is for that reason that
there is so much emphasis in buddhadharma on the meditations on selflessness, emptiness, and so forth. Through these meditations one can realize selflessness, through which one relinquishes the kleshas, through which
one attains liberation.
The meditation upon selflessness, however, and specifically the meditation upon the lack of true existence of the personal self,
does not consist of
trying to imagine or convince yourself that you are nothing whatsoever. It
is done, especially in the visualization practices of the generation stage of
tantra, by replacing your solid sense of your own existence with something
else. In the case of the Medicine Buddha practice, you relinquish the thought,
“I am me, I am the person I think I am,” and replace it with the thought, “I
am the Medicine Buddha.” The primary technique in the meditation consists of imagining yourself to be the Medicine Buddha, conceiving of yourself as the Medicine Buddha. By replacing the thought of yourself as yourself
with the thought of yourself as the Medicine Buddha, you gradually counteract and remove the fixation on your personal self. And as that fixation is
removed, the power of the seventh consciousness is reduced. And as it is
reduced, the kleshas or mental afflictions are gradually weakened, which
causes you to experience greater and greater well-being in both body and
The eighth consciousness is the all-basis consciousness, so called because it is the ground on which habits, both good and bad, accrue. We
experience things the way we do because of the habits we have accumulated. As we accumulate good habits we have positive experiences, and as
we accumulate bad habits we have negative experiences. The fundamental
reason for our immersion in samsara is the accumulation of bad habits,
some more virulent than others. The process of getting ourselves out of
samsara consists of gradually weakening the bad habits and strengthening
the good habits. For example, when we begin to practice, we have no confidence whatsoever that we really are the Medicine Buddha. We have a
strong negative habit of regarding ourselves as whomever we regard ourselves to be. But through cultivating the technique and attitude of regarding ourselves as possessing the body, the speech, the mind, the qualities,
and the blessings of the Medicine Buddha, then these natural qualities within
us will increase.
The main practice in vajrayana consists of the generation stage, the
cultivation of the practice of regarding oneself as a deity. From an ordinary
point of view, we might regard this as useless. We would think, “Well, I am
not a deity. What use is there in my pretending to be a deity?” But in fact,
the root of samsara is the habit of impure perception. By regarding oneself
as a deity one gradually purifies, weakens, and removes that habit and replaces it with the positive habit of pure perception. It is for this reason that
the meditation upon oneself as a deity is considered so important.
In most religious traditions, the deities of that tradition, when they are
related to or imagined, are imagined in front of one. Then, visualizing the
deity or deities as being present in front of one, one prays to them, and by
doing so hopefully one receives their blessing, which benefits one in some
way. In the vajrayana tradition, however, we regard the blessing and the
power and the qualities of the deities as being innate, as being within one’s
own mind. This innate presence of the wisdom and blessings of the deities
in our own minds is called the unity of the expanse and wisdom, or the
unity of space and wisdom. Of course, it is true that when we look at our
minds, we have mental afflictions, we have thoughts, we have all kinds of
suffering and problems. But at the same time we always have the innate
potential to transcend these. And the reason why we have this innate potential is that the nature of the mind and the nature of everything that
arises in the mind is emptiness. Regardless of what is passing through your
mind, your mind is always a boundless space of emptiness.
The innate potential of our minds lies in the very fact that our minds
are empty. Because our minds are empty, all of the problems and sufferings
and defects that arise in our minds can be removed or purified, because
they too are empty. This emptiness of the mind is not absolute nothingness; it is not a static or dead or neutral emptiness, because, while emptiness is indeed the nature of the mind, the nature of that emptiness is
wisdom—it is the innate potential for the arising of all qualities. In Buddhist scriptures this innate potential is called buddha nature.
Now, the process of working with our life situation through practice in
tantric Buddhism consists first of acknowledging that one’s own basic nature is that potential, that buddha nature, and then of meditating upon its
presence within one by regarding oneself as a deity. The form of the deity is
the embodiment or expression of that potential, that unity of emptiness
and wisdom, within one. It is through regarding oneself as the deity that
defects are gradually eradicated and qualities gradually revealed. The primary technique of visualization is to visualize ourselves as the deity, because
the potential to transcend our problems is innate rather than external to us.
Therefore, our main practice in meditation upon deities is the self-generation of the deity, visualizing oneself as the deity.
If you ask is this the only way in which we work with deities, the answer
is no. We also visualize deities in front of us. Now, in the common tradition
of Buddhism, as is found in the scriptures of the Theravadin tradition
and so on—which I cannot read in the Pali but have read in Tibetan translation—we find an extensive presentation by the Buddha that there is no
external deity to be relied upon, that the path consists fundamentally of
eradicating one’s own kleshas, thereby eventually attaining the state of an
arhat or arhati without remainder. Thus in the sutras of the common vehicle, the state of liberation is presented as freedom from all kleshas, limitations, and attachment, but not particularly as an abiding wisdom.
However, in the sutras of the mahayana, and especially in the teachings
of the vajrayana, it is clearly taught that once someone attains full liberation and buddhahood, they do not become nothing. The process of purification finally reveals, and therefore there remains, an enduring wisdom
that is of the nature of nonconceptual compassion. The attainment of
buddhahood, the path through which it is attained, really begins with the
generation of bodhicitta, which is the intention to attain liberation so that
one can bring all beings to the same state. Because that is the motivation
with which the path is begun, when the result, which is buddhahood, is
attained, the result of that path is naturally spontaneous, impartial, and
nonconceptual compassion. Therefore, we regard buddhas as having an
awareness that is responsive to the needs of beings, and therefore as being
open and accessible to our prayers and supplication. For that reason, while
we primarily visualize ourselves as deities, we also visualize the deities as
present in front of us.
We supplement the visualization of ourselves as the deity with visualizations such as imagining the actual wisdom deities themselves dissolving
into ourselves again and again, by means of which we receive their blessing.
Sometimes we visualize the deity in front of us, separate from ourselves,
thinking that rays of light from the deity’s heart engulf and pervade us,
granting the blessing of the deity. And sometimes we visualize that rays of
light, which embody the blessing of that deity in front of us, strike all
beings, removing their obstacles, increasing their longevity, wisdom, and so
on. All of these visualizations are methods by which we arouse the compassion of all buddhas and cause their blessings to enter into ourselves and
All the yidams and deities used in meditation have the same fundamental nature and are utterly pure. Nevertheless they have different appearances, which reflect the different activities that they embody and engage in.
These different activities are primarily determined by the individual aspirations they made at the time of their initial generation of bodhicitta. For
example, in the case of the Medicine Buddha, there is a specific set of aspirations, as there is in the case of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara or the
bodhisattva Arya Tara. It is primarily for this reason that deities manifest in
their varied appearances— sometimes appearing as male, in which case
they primarily embody upaya or method; sometimes appearing as female,
in which case they primarily embody prajna or wisdom; sometimes appearing as peaceful, sometimes appearing as wrathful, and so on. In the case of
the Medicine Buddha, at the time of his initial generation of bodhicitta—
with which act he began the path that culminated in his attainment of
buddhahood—his primary motivation was to remove all suffering of beings in general, but especially to remove the physical and mental sufferings
of beings caused through the imbalance of the elements, which we know of
as mental and physical illness. This was his primary motivation or aspiration throughout the three periods of innumerable eons during which he
gathered the accumulations of merit and wisdom that culminated in his
attainment of buddhahood as the Medicine Buddha. Therefore, as the
Medicine Buddha, he possesses extraordinary ability and engages in ex-
traordinary activity to pacify sickness. Whether you access this activity
through visualizing yourself as the Medicine Buddha, or through arousing
the compassion and activity of the Medicine Buddha as conceived of as
external to yourself, in either case, the practice of the Medicine Buddha is
supremely effective in the removal of sickness.
The practice of the Medicine Buddha comes primarily from the uncommon tradition of the vajrayana, which means that the transmission of
the practice is done using three processes called the empowerment, which
ripens; the instruction, which frees; and the reading transmission, which
supports. The function of empowerment, the formal ceremony or ritual of
empowerment, is to introduce you to the practice and to the process of
visualization and so forth, which will make up the practice. The function
of the instruction, which frees, is to give you complete access to the practice
by means of telling you literally how to do it—what you do with your
body, what you say with your speech, and what you think with your mind.
The function of the reading transmission, which supports, is to transmit
the blessing of the lineage of the practice which serves to consecrate or bless
your practice in the form of sound. Because the lineage has been transmitted as the sound of the words of its transmission, when the reading transmission is given to you, you simply listen to the sound and think that by
doing so you receive the blessing of the lineage.
Today I will give the reading transmission, the lung, for the Medicine
Buddha practice. The empowerment for the practice, I will give on Sunday.
With regard to the empowerment, you should understand that the Medicine Buddha practice is not solely a vajrayana practice. Like the practice of
mahamudra, it is a combination of vajrayana [tantra] and sutra. For example, while we could say that mahamudra is primarily taught in the
vajrayana, it is also found in certain sutras, such as the Samadhiraja Sutra,
and so forth. In the same way, this practice of the Medicine Buddha is a
combination of what the Buddha taught about the Medicine Buddha in
the sutras of the Medicine Buddha and in various tantras. Because it is
connected with vajrayana, it is most appropriate to receive the empowerment to enhance the practice; but because it is also connected with the
sutras, it is acceptable to do the practice without the empowerment as well.
As you are receiving the reading transmission today, there is no particular
visualization you need to do. Maintain the motivation of bodhicitta for
receiving the transmission, and think that simply by hearing the sounds of
the words as I read them you receive the transmission or blessing of the
lineage of this practice.
[Rinpoche gives the reading transmission.]
To give you a support for your visualization of the Medicine Buddha
when doing the practice, I am going to give each of you a small image of
the Medicine Buddha. So please, in order to receive it, come up.
[Rinpoche hands out cards.]
THE GREAT KING OF MEDICINE IS ACTIVE IN
PACIFYING THE SUFFERING OF BEINGS
WE ARE NOW GOING TO START going through the text itself, the liturgy for
the practice, so that you will understand how to do it. As you will
have noticed, the first part of the Medicine Buddha practice is the lineage
supplication, which consists of the supplication of the principal Medicine
Buddha, the seven accompanying Medicine Buddhas, the sixteen
bodhisattvas, and finally, the holders and propagators of the teachings of
the Medicine Buddha. The purpose of reciting this supplication at the beginning of the practice is to invoke and receive at the very beginning of the
practice the blessing of the Medicine Buddha through the power of your
faith in and devotion to the deity and to the lineage of this teaching.
The supplication begins with one line in the language of Sanskrit:
NAMO BEKENDZE MAHA RADZAYE
This means, “Homage to the great king of medicine.” The initial homage to the Medicine Buddha as the great king of medicine is done in Sanskrit because the source of the teachings of the vajrayana in particular, and
of the buddhadharma in general—the original sutra and tantra teachings
of the Buddha Shakyamuni—were given primarily in Sanskrit. Moreover,
the mahasiddhas, bodhisattvas, and shravakas of India also primarily used
Sanskrit as their dharma language. Therefore, in order to maintain a connection with the source of the tradition, and because the Sanskrit language
itself is held to bear great blessing, the initial supplication is made in Sanskrit, after which follows the main body of the supplication of the Medicine Buddha in Tibetan.
The first stanza of the supplication is addressed to the principal Medicine Buddha, and is based on the Buddha Shakyamuni’s presentation of the
Medicine Buddha’s initial motivation for his path and the aspirations he
made in connection therewith, as recorded in the sutras on the Medicine
You are endowed with an oceanic tr ed with an oceanic treasury of qualities and merit; y of qualities and merit;
By the blessing of your inconceivable compassion
You calm the suffering and torment of sentient beings. ou calm the suffering and torment of sentient beings.
I supplicate you, Light of Lapis Lazuli. ou, Light of Lapis Lazuli.
The meaning of the stanza is that, because of the quality and special
nature of his initial motivation and ensuing aspirations, the Medicine Buddha very quickly accumulated vast amounts of merit, as a result of which,
while on the path and finally at the time of fruition or buddhahood, he
came to embody a vast treasury of qualities associated with awakening.
Therefore, because of his initial compassionate motivation and because of
the qualities of his awakening, he possesses inconceivable blessing, by virtue of which, in accordance with his aspiration and motivation, he is active
in pacifying the sufferings of beings. So in chanting the beginning of the
supplication, you mention him by name, referring to him as the Light of
The second stanza is also addressed to the Medicine Buddha, and it
continues from the presentation in the first. In the first stanza you were
essentially praising the fact that he embodies extraordinary merit and qualities
as a result of his extraordinary motivation and aspirations. Upon his initial
generation of bodhicitta the Medicine Buddha made twelve particular aspirations. In connection with these, the benefits of recollecting the name of
the Medicine Buddha begin to be specified in the second stanza.
Those bound by very intense gr y intense gry intense greed
Are born in the hungr e born in the hungry ghost r y ghost ry ghost realm.
If they hear your name, they ar our name, they are born human and take delight in
I supplicate you, victorious Menla.
Recollection of the name means keeping the name of the Medicine
Buddha in mind by having an attitude of faith and devotion to the Medicine Buddha. The stanza says that even someone who, as a result of intense
greed, is destined to be reborn as a preta or hungry ghost, if such a person
hears the name of the Medicine Buddha, they will be reborn as a human
being and will delight in generosity. In that way, you supplicate the Medicine Buddha by referring to the power or blessing of his name.
The next stanza gives a second benefit of recollecting and hearing the
name of the Medicine Buddha.
Violating morality and abusing others, iolating morality and abusing others,
Beings ar eings areings are born in the hell r e born in the hell realms.
Hearing y earing yearing your name, they ar our name, they are said to be born in the higher r e said to be born in the higher realms.
I supplicate you, King of Medicine. edicine.edicine.
Those who violate moral commitments and who actively harm or abuse
others will be reborn in the hell realms. This refers to those who have no
interest in maintaining the dharma commitments they have undertaken,
who have no interest in benefiting others, and who are only interested in
harming them. But if even such a person hears the name of the Medicine
Buddha, they will be reborn in higher realms. By simply hearing the name
of the Medicine Buddha, their inherent capacity for virtue will be awakened and they will gradually become interested in acting appropriately and
benefiting others. Changing their course of action, they will not be reborn
in a lower realm.
The next stanza describes a third benefit of hearing or recollecting the
name of the Medicine Buddha.
Whoever by repeated dissension and slander epeated dissension and slander
Creates serious schisms and takes life, eates serious schisms and takes life,
Hearing y earing yearing your name, they cannot harm others. our name, they cannot harm others.
I supplicate you, King of Medicine. edicine.edicine.
Those who are naturally jealous, competitive, and arrogant, and as a
result, find themselves always trying to produce dissention; who, when seeing that others are friendly and harmonious, automatically try to create
discord; who create schisms where there is harmony and discord even to
the point where it leads to loss either of their own life or the lives of others;
even someone with this jealous, competitive, and arrogant nature—if they
hear the name of the Medicine Buddha, will be unable to cause harm.
Unable to cause harm means that their mindset and their attitudes will
change. They will cease to be jealous, cease to be arrogant, and will gradually find themselves unwilling and therefore unable to intentionally bring
this kind of harm to others.
There are two sutras principally concerned with the Medicine Buddha.
One is the Sutra of the Medicine Buddha, which is concerned with the principal Medicine Buddha, his twelve aspirations, and the benefits of recollecting his name. The second is the Sutra of the Eight Medicine Buddhas, or
the Sutra of the Eight Medicine Buddha Brothers. The medicine buddhas
referred to in this sutra are the previously mentioned principal one and
seven others who form his retinue. The next stanza in the supplication is
concerned with the other seven medicine buddhas. They each have their
own individual aspirations. Some of them have made eight aspirations;
some have made four. And the recollection of their names brings benefits
similar to those brought about by the recollection of the name of the principal Medicine Buddha.
Excellent N cellent Ncellent Name, Appearance of Stainless F tainless Ftainless Fine Gold,
Glorious S lorious Slorious Supreme One Free of M ee of Misery, Resounding Dharma M harma Melody,
King of D King of DKing of Direct Kno ect Knowledge, King of Melody,
And King of Shakyas, I supplicate you all. ou all.
These seven buddhas are named Tshen Lek, or Excellent Name; Ser Zang
Dri Me Nangwa, or Appearance of Stainless Fine Gold; Nya Ngen Me Chok
Pal, Glorious Supreme One Free of Misery; Chö Drak Yang, Resounding
Dharma Melody; Ngön Khyen Gyalpo, King of Direct Knowledge; Dra Yang
Gyalpo, King of Melody; and Shakya Gyalpo, King of the Shakyas.
The next stanza is a supplication to the other deities in the mandala of the
Medicine Buddha. These are not listed in their entirety, but each set of deities
is mentioned briefly and a few of the names of each set are mentioned.
Manjushri, Kanjushri, Kanjushri, Kyabdröl, Vajrapani,
Brahma, Irahma, Indra, the Four Kings of the Four Directions,
The twelve great Yaksha chiefs, and so for aksha chiefs, and so forth,
I supplicate you, entire and perfect mandala.
The first class of deities after the eight medicine buddhas are the sixteen
bodhisattvas. Here three of them are mentioned: Manjushri, Kyabdröl, and
Vajrapani. The next class are the ten protectors of the world, or of the
directions, of whom two are mentioned, Brahma and Indra. The next class
are the four great kings of the four directions, who are also protectors, not
mentioned here by their individual names. Finally there are the twelve yaksha
chieftains, or yaksha generals, and they too are just mentioned as a class.
The last line of the stanza indicates that this is the supplication of the entire
mandala of the Medicine Buddha.
Up to this point you have supplicated the principal Medicine Buddha
and his retinue, and in doing so have supplicated the body of the Medicine
Buddha and the mind or the emanations of the Medicine Buddha. What
remains is to supplicate the speech of the Medicine Buddha; having supplicated the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the mandala, you next supplicate
The Sutra of the Seven Tathagatas Aspirations,
And Sutra of the Medicine B edicine Bedicine Buddha,
The treatise by the great abbot Shantarakshita, and so forth,
I supplicate all the volumes of the genuine dharma.
Mentioned first are the two sutras taught by the Buddha Shakyamuni
about the Medicine Buddha: the Sutra of the Aspirations of the Seven
Tathagathas, which means the seven medicine buddhas in the retinue, and
the Sutra of the Medicine Buddha, which is the principal medicine buddha.
Mentioned in the same stanza are the shastras,
which also form part of the
scriptural source for the Medicine Buddha tradition. These are referred to
by mentioning as an example the treatise of the great abbot Shantarakshita,
which is one of the oldest or original sources of the Medicine Buddha practice. And then you chant, “I supplicate the genuine dharma in the form of
books.” The reason for this is that in general, of course, dharma exists in
the form of the written word. But it has a special significance in the case of
this mandala. The self-generation—the form of the Medicine Buddha with
which you identify your own body—is the Medicine Buddha alone, without retinue. But the front visualization is the Medicine Buddha surrounded
by all the rest of the mandala. The first circle of the mandala immediately
surrounding him consists of the other seven medicine buddhas and the
volumes of the dharma as the eighth member of the retinue. During this
supplication you visualize the Medicine Buddha seated in the sky in front
of you in the center of a fully opened eight-petaled lotus and surrounding
him, on each of the seven petals other than the one directly in front of him,
the seven other medicine buddhas. On the lotus petal directly in front of
the principal Medicine Buddha, you visualize the volumes of the dharma,
the sutras, and so forth, that present his practice.
The next stanza of the supplication supplicates the lineage of this practice.
Bodhisattva Shantarakshita, hantarakshita, Trisong D risong Drisong Deutsen, and others, eutsen, and others,
Translators, scholars, kings, ministers, bodhisattvas,
And all genuine lamas of the lineage, And all genuine lamas of the lineage,
Powerful One of the Dharma, and others, I supplicate you.
First mentioned are those who first brought this tradition of the Medicine Buddha from India to Tibet. Where it says bodhisattva, it means the
abbot Shantarakshita, who bestowed this teaching on many students, including the Tibetan dharma king Trisong Deutsen, who is mentioned next.
Then supplicated are all of the translators of Tibet and the panditas of
India who enabled this tradition to spread to Tibet through translating it,
teaching it, explaining it, and so on. Next are supplicated all of the other
inheritors of this tradition, bodhisattvas who took the form of dharma kings,
ministers and so on. Finally, all the gurus of the lineage of this practice are
supplicated, and in particular one’s own root guru. This supplication was
composed, and the practice in general was edited, by the learned and accomplished master Karma Chagmey Rinpoche, and so he supplicates his
own root guru, Chökyi Wangchuk, by name here.
The final stanza of the supplication dedicates the power of the supplication to the ends that you wish to achieve.
Through the blessing of this supplication, ough the blessing of this supplication,
May the diverse temporal diseases and dangers of this life be stilled. erse temporal diseases and dangers of this life be stilled.
At death, may all fear of the lower realms be calmed. ealms be calmed.
Grant your blessing that after our blessing that afterwards we are born in S e born in Se born in Sukhavati.
The stanza reads, “Through the blessing of supplicating in this way,”—
which means by the blessing of supplicating the Medicine Buddha, his
retinue of buddhas, bodhisattvas, and protectors, and all the teachers of the
lineage, with devotion—“in the short run may the various diseases, dangers, and fears be pacified, and at the time of death, after all fear of being
reborn in the lower realms has been pacified, grant your blessing that we
may be born in Sukhavati, the land of great happiness and great bliss.” You
are expressing your wish here to be protected from suffering both in the
short term and in the long term. In the short term you are asking to be
protected from sickness and various other dangers—from whatever can go
wrong—in this life. In the long term, you are asking that you not be reborn
in lower states or in lower realms, and that, once the danger and fear of
being reborn in the lower realms have been transcended, you may achieve
rebirth in Sukhavati, the realm of Amitabha. That completes the lineage
After the lineage supplication comes the taking of refuge and the generation of bodhicitta, which, as necessary preliminaries, are always recited
at the beginning of any vajrayana practice. Each has a specific function.
The function of taking refuge is to prevent your practice from becoming an
incorrect path. The function of generating bodhicitta is to prevent your
practice from becoming an inferior path. In the case of this practice, each
of these aspects—refuge and bodhicitta—occupies two lines of a four-line
NAMO to the sour to the sour to the sources of refuge, the three jewels
And the three roots, I go for refuge.
The first line of the refuge identifies the sources of refuge, and they are
two: the three jewels and the three roots. The three jewels, which are the
common sources of refuge,
are the Buddha, in whom one takes refuge by
accepting him as a teacher and an example; the dharma, in which one takes
refuge by accepting it as a path; and the sangha, in which one takes refuge
by accepting the sangha as companions and guides on that path. Identifying the three jewels as the initial source of refuge indicates that by taking
refuge in them you are freeing yourself from the possibility of an incorrect
Then there are the uncommon sources of refuge, which are unique to
vajrayana. They are known as the three roots: the gurus, who are the root of
blessing; the yidams or deities, who are the root of attainment; and the
dharmapalas, or dharma protectors, who are the root of activity. First of
these are the gurus, who are the root of blessing. Blessing refers to the
power of dharma—that which in dharma is actually effective, that actually
brings the result of dharma. Obviously in practicing we need that effectiveness—that power or blessing of dharma—to enter into us. The original
source of this blessing, of course, is the Buddha, who first taught the dharma
in this particular historical period. Unfortunately, we do not have the ability in this life to meet the Buddha or hear the Buddha’s speech directly. But
we do have the opportunity to practice his teachings and to attain the same
result we could have attained had we met the Buddha, because the essence
of his teachings—and therefore the blessing or effectiveness of his teachings—has been passed down through the lineage, beginning with the Buddha himself and culminating with our own personal teacher or root guru.
Therefore, the first source of refuge in the vajrayana are root and lineage
gurus—and, especially the root guru—who are the source of the blessing of
The second source of refuge in the vajrayana, the second root, are the
yidams, the deities, who are the sources of attainment or siddhi. While the
guru is the source of the blessing and effectiveness of dharma, the guru
cannot simply hand you the result or attainment of dharma practice. The
source or root of that attainment is your practice. And your practice is
embodied by the yidam or deity which is the basis of that practice. This
means that you attain the result of dharma practice through engaging in
the techniques of visualizing the body of the deity and engaging in the
generation and completion stage practices which are associated with that
deity. In this specific instance, the yidam is the Medicine Buddha. By identifying with the body of the Medicine Buddha, you attain the result, the
attainments or siddhis, associated with the Medicine Buddha, which include the pacification of sickness and other sufferings.
The reason why
these deities are referred to as yidams, which literally means mental commitment, is that in order to practice dharma you have to have a clear direction and strong focus in the technique and method of practice. The idea of
yidam is that a certain practice and, in the case of vajrayana a certain deity,
is identified by you as that practice to which you commit yourself, that
direction in practice which you will take. A yidam is the deity about which
you think, “I will practice this. I will come to attain this result.”
The third vajrayana source of refuge, the third root, are the dharmapalas,
the protectors, who are the root of activity. Activity here means the protec-
tion of your practice from obstacles, so that you can successfully complete
it and bring it to the appropriate result, so that you will be able to benefit
others effectively in a way that is in accordance with the practice. In order
to achieve these ends you need this blessing of activity or protection. This is
gained chiefly from specific bodhisattvas who take the form of protectors,
and, in certain cases, dakinis. In the specific case of the Medicine Buddha,
when the Buddha taught the Medicine Buddha sutras, there were certain
deities who committed themselves to protecting these teachings and all
practitioners of these teachings, including even those who merely recollect
the name of the Medicine Buddha. These protector deities are represented
in the mandala, and they include the twelve Yaksha chieftains, the four
great kings, the ten protectors of the world, and so on. In this way, you are
taking refuge by accepting the Buddha as a teacher; his teachings, the dharma,
as a path; the sangha as companions and guides on that path; and you are
taking refuge by requesting the blessings of the gurus, attainment through
the yidam, and the protection of the dharmapalas and dakinis. That is the
taking of refuge, which serves to protect your practice from becoming an
Next comes the generation of bodhicitta, which serves to protect your
practice from becoming an inferior path.
To establish all beings in buddhahood, o establish all beings in buddhahood,
I awaken a mind of supr I awaken a mind of supreme enlightenment. eme enlightenment.
It is true, of course, that our basic motivation for practicing is that we
all wish to be free from suffering. This wish to be free from suffering is
good. But it is often somewhat limited, which is to say that it is somewhat
selfish, and it is often somewhat petty or small-minded in scope. The idea
behind generating bodhicitta is to recollect that all beings without exception wish to be happy in exactly the same way and to exactly the same
degree as we do. If you bring that to mind fully, then your aspiration to
attain freedom for yourself will expand and become an aspiration to bring
all beings to that same freedom. This aspiration has to be a long-term aspiration. It is not enough simply to aspire to free beings from a certain type of
suffering, or to free them from the suffering they are undergoing now, or to
free them from this year’s suffering. For it to be the aspiration of bodhicitta,
which is the fullest and most extensive motivation, you must have the attitude of wishing to establish beings in a state that will permanently free
them from all suffering. Now, the only way that you can actually make
beings permanently happy is to bring them to a state of full awakening, to
buddhahood. So ultimately, the only way to protect beings from suffering
is to establish them all in awakening, because they simply will not be happy
until they have attained it. If you understand this—that all beings wish to
be happy just as much as we do and that none of us can be happy until we
attain awakening—then you will naturally give rise to bodhicitta, which
is the intention to bring each and every being to a state of full and perfect
awakening. Bodhicitta also includes within it, of course, the aspiration to
be of any other assistance you can to beings along the way to accomplishing that ultimate goal. So it is not limited to any specific form of assistance.
If bodhicitta has been genuinely generated, then your motivation for
practice will be reflected in your thinking, “I am practicing in order to
bring all beings to awakening; I am not practicing merely because I am
afraid of my own suffering or because I wish to protect a few others from
suffering or because I wish to protect all others from a few types of suffering.” In that way your motivation for the practice of the Medicine Buddha
becomes bodhicitta, which is the attitude: “In order to bring all beings to a
state of buddhahood I must first attain the state of the Medicine Buddha in
order to be able to do so effectively, because in my present state I cannot
effectively protect or benefit others.”
The refuge and the generation of bodhicitta are followed by the blessing or consecration of the place and the materials of practice.
From the expanse of primordial purity ome forth
Clouds of offerings filling the earth and sky
With mandalas, articles of royalty, and goddesses.
May hey never be exhausted. PUD DZA HO.
The reason for this stage of the practice is that at any given moment we
have an impure perception
of and an impure attitude towards ourselves,
towards others, and towards the environment as a whole. The more we
invest in that impure perception or attitude—in the perception of things as
impure—the worse our situation will become, and the more attachment
and aversion and apathy we will find ourselves generating. The remedy for
this is simply to change our attitude and to regard things as pure. Initially,
of course, this takes some conscious effort. But by regarding things as pure,
you will gradually start to perceive things as pure, which will purify the
habitual tendency to perceive them as impure.
At this point the liturgy reads, “Clouds of offerings emanated from the
primordially pure expanse fill the sky and the earth.” You imagine that the
place in which you are practicing is a completely pure realm filled with
every imaginable type of pleasant offering substance. This realm and these
offerings, although you are imaging them, are not imaginary. They have
been there from the very beginning, which is why it says in the liturgy
“emanated from the primordially pure expanse.” From the very beginning,
this is how things actually are, how things actually have been. You are not
creating them by imagining them, nor are you fooling yourselves by imagining them. It is rather that our present mode of perception is like being in
the midst of a nightmare from which we hope to wake up; and when we
wake up from it, we will see things as they are. It is important to understand that you are imagining things to be what in fact they really are.
The offering substances contained in this pure realm include such things
as offering mandalas, the seven articles of royalty, and various other kinds
of offerings that are specified in the liturgy, together with gods and goddesses who present them, and so on. All of these offerings are inexhaustible;
they are unlimited in amount, they are perfect in quality, they do not just
disappear, and they never get used up. This section is both the consecration
of the offerings and the consecration of the place of practice. And the attitude with which this is done is that you are starting to purify your otherwise impure perception of your environment—of your body, of your mind,
and of all the other materials and implements in your environment.
Following the consecration of the offerings is meditation on the four
immeasurables. The four immeasurables are four attitudes that are to be
cultivated without limit, which is why they are known as immeasurable, or
unlimited. Unlimited means no limit on “how much” and no limit on “for
whom.” The first immeasurable, in the usual enumeration, is love. Immeasurable love means no limit on how much love and how much compassion
you generate, and especially no limit on for whom you generate it.
May all beings be happy and free of suffering.
May their happiness not diminish. May they abide in equanimity.
Intrinsic to all four of these attitudes is impartiality. When enumerated
separately, impartiality is the fourth of the four immeasurables—love, compassion, empathetic joy, and impartiality. However, when you actually practice them, you need to begin with the cultivation of impartiality. We all
have some degree of love, some degree of compassion, and some degree of
empathetic joy. But in order to make these genuine and to make them
immeasurable we need to cultivate impartiality, which is why it is to be
cultivated first. When we say that we all have some degree of love, we mean
that we all wish that some beings be happy and possess causes of happiness.
We all also have some degree of compassion—we all wish that some beings
be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. The problem is that we
generally wish these things only for certain beings and do not particularly
care about what happens to other beings. Although our love and compassion are indeed love and compassion, they are partial; and because they are
partial, they are impure and incomplete. If you cultivate impartiality, they
become unlimited—which means that they become perfect. So the first
stage in the cultivation of the four immeasurables is to cultivate impartiality towards beings, which means cultivating the attitude that you have the
same amount of love and the same amount of compassion for all beings.
And then, on that basis, you can strengthen the attitude of love—the desire
that beings be happy and possess causes of happiness—and by strengthening it you will strengthen that attitude towards all beings in general. If you
do not cultivate impartiality in the beginning, by strengthening your love
for some you may generate aggression for others. Therefore, you need first
to cultivate impartiality, and then, on the basis of impartiality, to cultivate
the other three—love, compassion, and empathetic joy. However, in the
text they are listed in the usual order, which places impartiality—here referred to as equanimity—at the end.
Essentially love consists of wanting others to be happy, and compassion
consists of wanting others not to suffer. These two attitudes, of course, are
excellent. But if they are present without any way to bring about what you
wish—if your love is without any way to bring about the happiness of
beings and your compassion is devoid of any way to remove the sufferings
of beings—then they will actually become a cause of greater suffering and
sadness for you. You will be more sensitive to the sufferings of others because of your attitude, but will feel unable to help. And so, instead of just
the other being suffering, two beings will suffer—you will suffer as well. If,
however, the attitudes of love and compassion include the understanding
of how you can actually bring about happiness and freedom from suffering, then these attitudes do not become sources of depression. Therefore
we expand the attitude of love from “may all beings be happy” to “may all
beings be happy and possess causes of happiness,” and expand the attitude
of compassion from “may all beings be free from suffering” to “may all
beings be free from suffering and free from causes of suffering.” While you
cannot confidently expect to be able to make all beings happy on the spot,
you can gradually cause beings to accomplish or accumulate causes of happiness and to avoid and get rid of causes of suffering. And because you
understand that in the long term you will be able to make beings happy
and free beings from suffering, then these attitudes of love and compassion
become not only confident but actually joyous. In this way, the effect of
love and compassion is no longer sadness and depression but empathetic joy,
which is the third immeasurable. In this way, you train or cultivate the four
immeasurables as a preliminary for meditation on the Medicine Buddha.
Now to apply the four immeasurables to the specific context of the
Medicine Buddha practice: Since the primary cause of suffering in this case
is the physical affliction of sickness, and since that is the initial focus of this
practice, you can focus on that in your meditation on the four
immeasurables. Thinking that it is in order to remove the sickness of beings
that you are praying to the Medicine Buddha, meditating upon the Medicine Buddha, reciting the Medicine Buddha’s mantra, and so on, you could
formulate the four immeasurables in the following way: Immeasurable love
would be the attitude, “May all beings possess the happiness of well-being
and the causes of that.” Immeasurable compassion would be, “May all beings be free from sickness and the causes of sickness.” Immeasurable
empathetic joy would be rejoicing in the well-being of others and in their
freedom from illness. And immeasurable impartiality would be generating
these aspirations and attitudes not merely for those you know, such as your
own friends and family, but for all beings without exception.
When you do the Medicine Buddha practice with the intention and
aspiration to benefit yourself and others in this way, sometimes you will
perceive an evident benefit: Either you or someone else will be freed from
sickness in a way that you identify as a result of your practice. This will give
you greater confidence in the practice. At other times, no matter how much
you practice and how hard you pray and how many mantras you say, you
will not perceive any evident benefit. And this will cause you to doubt the
practice, and you will think, “Well maybe it doesn’t really work.” But you
need to remember that the benefit of this practice is not like the direct
physical effect of the function of a machine, such as something that emits a
laser beam. There is always a result from doing this practice, but the way in
which the result will manifest is not absolutely definite. So in your attitude
towards the results of practice, you need to have a long-term focus. In that
way you can keep the practice focused on the four immeasurables.
That completes the preliminaries to the Medicine Buddha practice. I
am going to stop there for this afternoon, and we will conclude with the
dedication of the merit of this teaching to the liberation of all beings.
[Dedication of merit.]
THE VISUALIZATION UNCOVERS THE
INHERENT PURITY OF PHENOMENA
YESTERDAY WE DISCUSSED the lineage supplication of this practice, the refuge and bodhicitta, the consecration of the practice place and the materials, and the meditation on the four immeasurables. Today we are going
to begin with the actual visualization of oneself as the Medicine Buddha,
which causes the blessing of the Medicine Buddha to enter into one, and
the simultaneous visualization of the mandala of the Medicine Buddha in
front of one, which serves as an object of one’s supplication and a field for
the accumulation of merit through making offerings.
The visualization is begun by purifying your perception of the entire
world, including your own body and mind. This is done initially through
the single recitation of the mantra of the pure nature or the mantra of the
purity of dharmata:
OM SOBHAWA SHUDDHA SARWA DHARMA SOBHAWA
The meaning of the mantra reflects its significance. Following the initial syllable Om, the next word is swabava, which means the nature, and
then shuddha, which means pure. Ordinarily the things that appear to us—
the world of external appearances and our internal perceiving mind—appear to us as being impure because of the presence of the kleshas and other
obscurations in our minds. What is meant here by the pure nature is that,
although we perceive appearances and our minds in this impure way, this is
not their actual nature. While they seem to be impure, in fact, in their
nature, in and of themselves, they are pure. Following the statement “pure
by nature,” are the words sarwa, which means all, and dharma, which means
things. So the mantra states that “all things are pure in their nature.”
The term dharma usually has one of two meanings. One meaning is
sadharma or the genuine dharma, the teachings of the Buddha, and the
other meaning is thing, things in general, anything that can be known.
Here it refers to things.
The mantra continues with the words swabava shuddha a second time
and then A Hum. Because of the way that Sanskrit links words, the second
shuddha and A Hum are joined together to become shuddho ham. Again
swabava shuddha means pure in its nature or their nature; A Hum can mean
self or the very embodiment of something. Here it is understood to mean
that not only are all things pure in their nature, but that they are in and of
themselves the very embodiment of that purity. So this mantra is essentially
a statement of why the path can lead to the result. Because things are pure
in their nature, because this purity is present within the nature of things,
then it can manifest as experience and as a result—through taking that
inherent purity as a path. For example, because sesame oil is present within
sesame seeds, then by pressing the seeds you can extract the oil. If there
were no oil present within the sesame seeds, you could not get oil, no matter how hard you pressed the seeds. Because the hidden nature of things is
their purity, then by regarding things as pure, you can directly experience
them as pure; you can directly experience their purity. The swabawa mantra
is used here to point this out, and also to introduce or begin the samadhi
which will culminate in the visualization of yourself as the Medicine Buddha.
Following the recitation of the swabava mantra, you say the Tibetan
words, tong pa nyi du jur, which means that everything becomes empty or
Everything turns into emptiness.
This describes the beginning of the visualization. At this point you imagine that everything disappears, that everything becomes emptiness—not
only in how it is but in how it manifests. However, it is important to remember that you are not pretending here that things are other than they
are. You are using the imaginary dissolution of things into emptiness as an
acknowledgment of the fact that things have been, from the very beginning,
empty in their nature.
The dissolution of ordinary impure appearances into emptiness is the
first part of a two-step process that serves to counteract our usual superimposition of impurity onto appearances. The second step is the emergence
from or within that expanse of emptiness of the pure appearances which
are the realm and palace of the Medicine Buddha.
From the depth of emptiness, this triple universe becomes
The exquisite palace, where
The first step is to think that all of the impure appearances dissolve into
emptiness, and the second is that from within that emptiness the realm and
palace of the Medicine Buddha emerge. Now when you imagine that the
place in which you are practicing has become the realm and palace of the
Medicine Buddha, you do not limit this consideration to this world or to
this planet alone. As it says in the liturgy, it is the entire billion worlds of
this larger world system, or galaxy.
There are two ways that you can do this practice. The simplest way is to
visualize yourself as the Medicine Buddha. The more elaborate way, which
is indicated in the liturgy, is also to visualize the Medicine Buddha, surrounded by his retinue, present in front of you as well. It is easier for beginners to do the self-visualization alone; on the other hand, doing the front
visualization as well gives one the opportunity to gather the accumulation
of merit. In either case, in the midst of the realm of the Medicine Buddha,
which you have visualized as emerging from the expanse of emptiness, there
is a palace. This palace is square, and quite symmetrical. In the center of
each of the four sides is a large gateway, each forming an entry into the
palace. If you are doing the practice with both self and front visualizations,
you need to visualize two palaces: one in the center of which you will sit as
the self visualization; and one in front of you and somewhat elevated, which
will serve as the residence for the front visualization.
On lion thrones, each with a lotus and moon disk on top
Appear deep blue HUNGs, the seed syllable of myself and the
main figure visualize visualized in the front,
In the center of the self-visualization’s palace is a throne made of gold and
jewels and other precious substances that is upheld by eight snow lions. The
significance of the lion throne is primarily the sense of utter fearlessness—
indicating the deity’s freedom from fear and danger of any kind. On top of
the throne is a fully opened lotus flower, on top of the center of which, lying
flat, is a moon disc, on top of which you will be visualizing yourself seated in
the form of the Medicine Buddha. In the center of the palace in the front
visualization, you visualize a sixteen-petaled lotus, in the center of which you
visual an eight-petaled lotus. In the center of the eight-petaled lotus, you
visualize another lion throne, lotus, and moon disc seat, as in the self-visualization. There are eight- and sixteen-petaled lotuses in the front visualization
because there will be additional buddhas and bodhisattvas in those places.
Next, on top of the moon discs in both the front and self visualizations,
you visualize a blue syllable HUM. The HUM syllable on top of the
moon disc in the self-visualization palace represents the essence of the mind
or wisdom of the self-visualization deity, and the blue HUM on top of the
moon disc in the front-visualization palace represents the essence of the
mind or wisdom of the front-visualization deity. This particular syllable
HUM is used because HUM is the sound of dharmata, the expression as
sound of the nature itself. It is blue because that is the color of the deity
who will emerge from the syllable—the Medicine Buddha is blue, as is
Vajradhara—but also because blue represents that which is unchanging
and unfabricated. Having visualized the syllables, you then visualize innumerable rays of light radiating from each of these syllables simultaneously.
On the end of each ray of light are innumerable offering goddesses holding
various offering substances which they present to all the buddhas and
bodhisattvas in all the directions throughout space. This vast array of buddhas
and bodhisattvas receives these offerings with pleasure, and as a consequence
their nonconceptual compassion is aroused, which manifests as their blessings’ coming back in the form of rays of blue light which dissolve into the
HUM. Rays of light which went out bearing offerings are reabsorbed bearing blessings back into the two HUM syllables. Once again rays of light
radiate outward from both HUM’s simultaneously, this time purifying the
entire external world, the entire universe, of everything in it that could
possibly cause harm or suffering of any kind, and also purifying the mental
continuums of all beings without exception of any kind of suffering or
misery or cause of suffering. Then the rays of light are reabsorbed again
into their respective HUM’s. At that moment the syllables are instantly and
simultaneously transformed into the Medicine Buddha.
From which, arises Menla, his body the color of lapis lazuli and
radiating light. radiating light.
After this transformation, the self-visualized Medicine Buddha that you
are identifying with is now considered your own body, and the front visualization is in front of you. The Medicine Buddha is a brilliant blue in
color—the color of a precious stone called vaidurya, generally considered
to be lapis lazuli. In appearance the Medicine Buddha is luminous and
majestic and radiates innumerable rays of light primarily the color of his
own body. Yidams can appear in a number of different ways—peaceful or
wrathful and frightening; nirmanakaya or sambhogakaya in form, and so
on. The Medicine Buddha is peaceful and in the nirmanakaya form.
He is clothed in the thr e is clothed in the three dharma r ee dharma ree dharma robes.
Saying that he appears in nirmanakaya form means that, though some
yidams appearing in sambhogakaya form wear lots of jewelry and silken
robes and so on, the Medicine Buddha manifests in what is called the passionless appearance of a nirmanakaya buddha, wearing only the three dharma
robes commonly worn by the monastic sangha: the inner and outer upper
robes and the lower skirt.
The Medicine Buddha has two arms.
His right hand in the mudra of supreme generosity holds an arura.
His left hand in meditation mudra holds a begging bowl.
His right hand is extended, palm outward, over his right knee in the
gesture called supreme generosity. In it he holds the arura, or myrobalan,
fruit. This plant represents all the best medicines. The position of his right
hand and the arura which he holds represent the eradication of suffering,
especially the suffering of sickness, using the means of relative truth. Sickness can be alleviated by adjusting the functioning of interdependent causes
and conditions by the use of relative means within the realm of relative
truth, such as medical treatment and so on. The giving of these methods is
represented by the gesture of the Medicine Buddha’s right hand.
His left hand rests in his lap, palm upward, in the gesture of meditative
stability or meditation, which represents the eradication of sickness and
suffering—and, indeed, the very roots of samsara—through the realization
of absolute truth. From the point of view of either relative truth or absolute
truth, the fundamental cause of sickness and suffering is a lack of content
ment and the addictive quality of samsara. Therefore, to indicate the need
for contentment, in his left hand he holds a begging bowl.
Because the mind of the Medicine Buddha is stainless and pure, his
form reflects this in its excellence and physical perfection.
With the major and minor mar ith the major and minor marks complete, he sits in the vajra
He is adorned by what are called the marks and signs, the primary and
secondary indications of the awakening of a buddha. In all aspects of his
physical form—the crown protuberance, or ushnisha, the image of wheels ,
on the soles of his feet, and so forth—the Medicine Buddha is identical to
the Buddha Sakyamuni, with the single difference that the Buddha
Sakyamuni’s skin is golden in color, while the Medicine Buddha is blue.
Because the Medicine Buddha is immersed in an unwavering samadhi of
absorption within the realization of the nature of all things, and because
this samadhi is utterly stable, he is seated with his legs fully crossed in the
vajra posture. You visualize yourself in this form, and you visualize the
front visualization in the same form as well.
Everything described up to this point—the palace, the throne, and the
Medicine Buddha—pertains to both the self and the front visualizations.
In the case of the front visualization, however, you will remember that the
lion throne sits in the center of an eight-petaled lotus, which in turn sits in
the center of a sixteen-petaled lotus. Now on seven of the eight petals of the
eight petaled lotus, which surround the Medicine Buddha in the front visualization—on the seven petals other than the one directly in front of the
Medicine Buddha—are the seven other medicine buddhas, the Buddha
Shakyamuni and six others. As is the principal Medicine Buddha, they are
all adorned by the thirty-two marks and the eighty signs of physical perfection which grace the body of a buddha.
In particular on the lotus petals of the front visualization
Are the seven Buddhas Shakyamuni and the others, and
dharma texts. dharma texts.
On the eighth petal, directly in front of the principal Medicine Buddha, is a volume of the dharma. The reason for this is that in the end it is
the dharma that liberates us from samsara and from sickness. When we talk
about the sadharma, or the genuine dharma, we are referring fundamentally to the third and fourth of the four noble truths: the truth of the cessation of suffering and the truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering.
The truth of cessation is the result of practice, which is the abandonment
or transcendence of everything that is to be abandoned or transcended.
The truth of the path is the dharma we practice that leads to that transcendence. The dharma in essence is the experience and realization of the
meaning of dharma that is present within the minds of those who practice it and achieve its result. By extension, the dharma also refers to the
tradition of passing on that meaning, and therefore one visualizes that meaning passed on from the Buddha down to the present day in the form of
books on the petal directly in front of the Medicine Buddha visualized in
Around them ar ound them are the sixteen bodhisattvas,
Around them ar ound them are the ten pr e the ten pre the ten protectors of the world, otectors of the world,
And the twelve great chiefs with their respective retinues.
The Four Great Kings are at the four gates.
Surrounding the seven Medicine Buddhas and the volumes of dharma,
are sixteen bodhisattvas on the petals of the sixteen-petaled lotus. These are
the sixteen bodhisattvas who were the main recipients of the teachings of
the Medicine Buddha sutras given by the Buddha. They all manifest in the
sambhogakaya form, wearing ornate jewelry and so forth. Beyond the perimeter of that lotus, but still within the palace of the front visualization,
are twenty-two other main deities, each of whom has a retinue. On the
Medicine Buddha’s right, forming a semicircle to the right of the principal deities, are the ten protectors of the directions—otherwise known as
the ten protectors of the world. These are deities such as Brahma, Indra,
and so forth. Likewise, forming a semicircle on the left side of the palace
are the twelve yaksha chieftains or generals. Each of these figures is surrounded by a vast retinue of their own. Finally, in the four gates or gateways of the palace visualized in front are the four kings of the gods. They
are visualized here because they are protectors of the buddhadharma in
general. Specifically whenever the Buddha taught, and especially whenever he exhibited miracles, he would emanate a magnificent magical palace like this one, and, to signify their function as protectors of his teachings, these four kings of the gods would guard each of the four gates as
When you are practicing, if you can, visualize all of these deities. But if
you cannot, do not be discouraged. Do not feel that somehow the practice
has become ineffective or invalid because you cannot visualize each and
every one of them. It is sufficient to generate as clear a visualization as you
can of yourself as the Medicine Buddha and of the Medicine Buddha in
front of you. If, in addition to that, you can visualize the seven additional
medicine buddhas and the volumes of dharma, good. If, in addition to
that, you can visualize the sixteen bodhisattvas, that is also good. But you
should gauge the extent of the visualization to what you actually can do. In
any case, the practice will be effective and will cause the blessing of dharma
in general and the blessing of the Medicine Buddha in particular to enter
you. It will serve its function and be effective, regardless of how you do the
visualization. More important than how many deities you visualize is to
understand what you are doing. And most important is to understand that
by visualizing yourself as the Medicine Buddha you are not pretending to
be something that you are not, and that by visualizing the Medicine Buddha and his retinue in front of you, you are not pretending that they are in
a place where they are not. By definition, buddhas are omniscient. Whenever someone thinks of them, brings them to mind, or supplicates them,
they are aware of it and respond with their compassion and blessing. In the
final analysis, the situation is identical to their actually being present anywhere they are thought of. Therefore, it is always appropriate to regard a
buddha that is present in one’s mind as actually being present in front of
one. When you think that the Medicine Buddha, together with his retinue,
is present in front of you, it is really true that they are.
Visualizing yourself as the Medicine Buddha is also appropriate, because your fundamental nature—what you truly are—is buddha nature.
Buddha nature is essentially the potential to attain awakening. At some
point in the future you will attain the same awakening or buddhahood as
the Medicine Buddha himself. By visualizing yourself as the Medicine Buddha, you are assuming the appearance of what fundamentally you are even
now and what manifestly you will be upon your awakening. It is to acknowledge this truth that you assume the aspect of the body, speech, and
mind of the Medicine Buddha, which is, therefore, entirely appropriate.
While it is entirely appropriate to visualize yourself as the Medicine
Buddha and to visualize the Medicine Buddha and retinue in front of you,
you may still have some hesitation or doubt that the visualization is anything more than just a visualization. This is understood, and therefore the
next phase of the practice is designed to counteract that doubt. In order to
alleviate any residual doubts you may have, you next invite the actual wisdom deities and dissolve them into the visualization.
From the three syllables in their three places and the HUNG in their hearts,
Lights radiate, invoking from their own eastern buddha realms,
Wisdom deities which dissolve into myself and the one visualized
The first step in inviting the wisdom deities is to visualize in the three
places of the self-visualized Medicine Buddha, in the three places of the
Medicine Buddha visualized in front, and, if possible, in the three places of
the rest of the deities in the retinue, the three syllables, OM AH HUNG.
Inside your head you visualize a white OM, which is the essence of the
body of the Medicine Buddha; in your throat a red AH, which is the essence of his speech; and in your heart a blue HUM, which is the essence of
his mind. Visualizing these in the body of the self-visualized Medicine Buddha and in the bodies of the deities visualized in front, you then think that
from these syllables rays of light of the corresponding colors—and most
particularly rays of blue light from the HUM syllables in the heart centers
of the deities—radiate. This radiation of light invites, from their individual
buddha realms, the deities of the mandala. Each of the eight Medicine
buddhas—the principle one and the seven buddhas of the retinue—has his
own realm, all of which are understood to be in the eastern direction.
From these different pure realms the eight Medicine Buddhas and their
retinues of deities are invited and they all dissolve into you as the Medicine
Buddha and into the front visualization. In practice you do not think that
they immediately dissolve into you, but that they present themselves and
are present in the sky in front of you, between the two palaces of the self
and front visualizations.
Having described the visualization, you then recite a stanza that is an
actual invitation to the deities to approach.
The eight Menla companions and all deities without exception
I invite here to this place. Kindly rain upon us your great blessings.
Bestow the supreme empowerment on those who are worthy and thy and
Dispel false guides and obstacles to long life.
NAMO MAHA BEKENDZE SAPARIWARA BENZA
SAMAYADZA DZA BENZA SAMAYA TIKTRA LEN
First you invite the eight Medicine Buddhas together with their retinues, saying, “Please come to this place and rain down your great blessing
upon me, the practitioner, and upon others.” Then you ask that they, “Bestow the supreme empowerment upon me, the fortunate one, who has faith,”
and that, by so doing, they, “Please dispel obstacles, such as obstacles to life
and longevity and other obstacles in general.”
The mantra that follows seals and reinforces this act of invitation. The
mantra means, “Great King of Medicine, together with your retinue, vajra
samaya jaja.” Vajra samaya means unchanging commitment or samaya.
Here you are reminding these buddhas of their commitment to liberate
beings. From their initial generation of bodhicitta, up to and including the
moment of their attainment of full buddhahood, the motivation for their
entire path was the wish to liberate beings. They therefore have an unchanging commitment—a vajra-like or indestructible samaya—to the liberation of beings. So when you say these words, vajra samaya jaja, you are
saying to these buddhas, “You must come here and bless me because you
have committed yourself to do so.” At that point, then, think with confidence that all of the wisdom deities of the mandala have actually come and
are present in the sky in front of you.
The mantra that follows is vajra samaya tiktralen. Vajra samaya means
unchanging commitment, and tiktra means to remain stable. With this
mantra you are saying, “Through the power of your unchanging commitment to the welfare and liberation of beings, please dissolve inseparably
into me and remain within me stably or permanently.” At that point you
think that all of the invited deities, reminded of their commitment and
with their compassion aroused in that way, dissolve both into the self
visualization and into the deities of the front visualization. And at that
point think that your body, speech, and mind visualized as the Medicine
Buddha and the body, speech, and mind of the Medicine Buddha have become indivisible.
We are going to stop there for this morning, but if you have any questions, you are welcome to ask them.
Question: Does the Medicine Buddha ever have a consort and, if so,
what is her name?
Rinpoche: In this case, because he is visualized in the form of a supreme nirmanakaya, he does not. There could be cases in which he is visualized in a sambhogakaya form with a consort in order to indicate the unity
of upaya and prajna—it is possible, but I cannot think of an instance, and
so I cannot say his consort’s name is this or that.
Question: Rinpoche, in the visualization, there are eight petals and
then sixteen petals around that. Petals aren’t really that large and so it is
difficult for me to visualize each of them containing a bodhisattva and his
retinue. Is it like a window to their world or what is the best way to visualize this realistically?
Rinpoche: In pure realms flow ers can get really big. But if it makes it
easier to relate to, these are basically thrones that are somewhat connected
with one another and that have the basic shape or style of flower petals.
Question: Rinpoche talked about the front visualization as being a field
for the accumulation of merit. Why does the front visualization have something to do with accumulating merit?
Rinpoche: In this practice, as the liturgy indicates, merit is accumulated through paying homage and making various offerings—the mandala
offering and the offering of praises and so forth—primarily to the front
visualization. You accumulate merit by performing offerings to that in which
you have absolute confidence, which is the actual Buddha. Therefore, it is
easier to accumulate merit by making offerings to the front visualization,
which you are perceiving as different from and possibly superior to yourself.
Question: When doing the mantra towards the end of the practice, do
we focus our attention primarily on ourself and the mantra in our heart or
do we alternate attention between the Buddha in front and ourselves?
Rinpoche: You apply it to both. You visualize the seed syllable and the
mantra garland within the heart of both the self and front visualizations,
and in both cases, you identify it as the embodiment of the wisdom or
mind of the deity. Then normally you would think that rays of light radiate
from the seed syllable and mantra garland in the heart of the self visualization. These rays of light strike and enter the hearts of the deities of the front
visualization, arousing their compassion, causing rays of light to come from
the front visualization and to dispel the sickness and suffering of all beings
and so forth.
Question: I can’t manage to visualize the front visualization and myself
as the Medicine Buddha simultaneously. Should I alternate between them?
Should I spend a chunk of time doing the front visualization and then
come back to the self visualization for an amount of time?
Rinpoche: That’s fine. You can go back and forth.
Question: Q uickly or slowly or what?
Rinpoche: The best thing is to go back and forth as frequently as is
Question: Rinpoche, does this particular sadhana have any special significance for you? Is this of special significance to the Thrangu lineage?
Rinpoche: This does not have any particular significance for me or my
monastery, except that it is one of the three Medicine Buddha practices
which is normally done in the Kagyu tradition as a whole. There is a long
one, a medium one, and this one, which is the short one. We are practicing
this one because it is the short one.
Question: What Tibetan word is being translating as “pure?” And do
you translate this word in any other way?
Question: Is it always translated as “pure”?
Translator: By me, yes. A lot of people do a lot of different things; I
cannot guarantee that they always call it “pure.”
Question: Maybe Rinpoche could say what the word means.
Rinpoche: You can think of synonyms for pure as being “free of impu-
rity,” which by extension would mean “free of defect or imperfection.” It would
indicate that which is stainless, that which is perfect, flawless, and so on.
Question: Rinpoche, is there a particular significance for the light radiating from the eastern Buddha realms?
Rinpoche: In the sutras of the Medicine Buddha, the Buddha described
their realms—the principal realm of the principal Medicine Buddha and
the other realms of the attendant buddhas—as all being in the east.
Question: When we visualize light going out to the universe, does that
include everything? Rocks and trees and chairs and buildings?
Translator: At which point? During the creation of the deity or during
the recitation of the mantra?
Question: During the recitation of the mantra.
Rinpoche: Y es. Initially, before the generation of the deity, you purify
your perception of the entire universe by visualizing that it all dissolves into
emptiness. Theoretically, from that point onward all impurity has ceased.
But when you get to the repetition of the main mantra you can renew that
purification by once again bringing to mind impure appearances and purifying them with the rays of light which emerge from the heart of the deity.
Question: Rinpoche, in other visualization practices, sometimes there’s
a sense of seeing one’s own root teacher in the form of that deity. Is there
anything like that in this practice?
Rinpoche: Yes, it is appropriate to identify the front visualization with
your root guru. People relate to the front visualization in slightly different
ways. If they feel particularly devoted to the Medicine Buddha, then they
will primarily think of the front visualization as the actual Medicine Buddha. But they can also think of the front visualization as in essence their
So we will conclude by dedicating the merit.
BECAUSE OF ITS VASTNESS,
OFFERING THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE
PRODUCES GREAT MERIT
THIS MORNING WE WENT OVER the visualization of oneself as the Medicine
Buddha, the visualization of the Medicine Buddha in front, and finally the dissolving of the actual wisdom deity into both the self and front
visualizations as a remedy for one’s habitual perception of things as impure
Having just dissolved the wisdom beings into oneself and into the front
visualization—as a remedy for one’s obscurations, one’s wrongdoing, and
one’s conceptualization, we then receive empowerment. This phase of the
practice is represented in the liturgy simply by the mantra:
OM HUM TRAM HRI AH ABHIKENTZA HUM
The visualization which accompanies the mantra is as follows: Once
again you visualize the three syllables—OM AH HUM—in the three places
of oneself as the Medicine Buddha and of the deities of the front visualization, and once again rays of light radiate from them—especially from the
HUM in your heart—inviting this time the five male buddhas of the five
families with their retinues from their pure realms. The buddhas are holding in their hands precious vases filled with the ambrosia of wisdom, which
they pour into you as the self-visualized Medicine Buddha through the
aperture at the very center of the top of your head. The first part of this
mantra—OM HUM TRAM HRI AH—represents this empowerment being administered by the five buddhas simultaneously. OM represents
Vairocana; HUM, Akshobya; TRAM, Ratnasambhava; HRI, Amitabha;
and AH, Amogasiddhi. Visualizing that this pure ambrosia fills your entire body, you think that it purifies all the wrongdoing, obscurations, and
defilements of any kind whatsoever of your body, speech, and mind. The
words Abhikentsa mean empowerment.
The next section of the practice is the accumulation of merit through
making offerings. As indicated earlier, the self visualization presents offerings to the front visualization. Rays of light emerge from the heart of the
self visualization. On the ends of these rays of light are offerings goddesses
holding various offering substances, which they present to all the deities of
the front visualization.
Flowers, incense, lights, scents, ers, incense, lights, scents,
Food, music and so for ood, music and so forth;
Forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and all dharmas, forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and all dharmas,
I offer to the deities. I offer to the deities.
May we perfect the two accumulations. fect the two accumulations.
OM BENZA ARGHAM P GHAM PADYAM PUP YAM PUPYAM PUPE DHUP E DHUPE ALOKE
GENDHE NEWIDYE SHABDA RUPA SHABDA
GENDHE RASA SAPARSHE TRATITSA HUNG SA HUNGSA HUNG
First they present a set of eight related offerings. First is drinking water,
which is offered to the mouths of the deities. Second is water for washing
or rinsing the feet, which is offered to the feet of the deities. Third is flowers, which are offered to the eyes of the deities. Fourth is incense, the scent
of which is offered to the nose of the deities. Fifth is lamps, which are
offered again to the eyes of the deities. Sixth is perfume, which is offered to
the whole body of the deities. Seventh is food, offered to the mouths of the
deities. And eighth is musical instruments symbolizing the sound of music,
offered to the ears of the deities.
Offered with these eight offerings are the five offerings of pleasant things
which are perceived by the five senses. These are beautiful forms, pleasant
sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations.
In general, offerings can be categorized into four types: outer, inner,
secret, and ultimate. Outer offerings are essentially the offering of whatever
is beautiful and pleasant in the external world. What is being presented to
the deity here are all things in the external world that are appropriate and
beautiful. By making these offerings, you gather the accumulation of merit.