This particular Web page, "Sadhana of the Medicine Buddha," is primarily intended for people who want to get started with a Medicine Buddha meditation practice.
Dharma Haven offers several other Web pages about different aspects of the Medicine Buddha, as well as other pages about meditation, and several pages about Tibetan Medicine, which is considered by Tibetans to be an expression of the compassion of the Medicine Buddha. Links to many of these pages are given below:
For a general introduction to the topic of meditation for healing, or to explore other forms of Buddhist meditation that are also valued for healing, please look at our page titled Tibetan Healing Meditation.
Additional sources of information about the Medicine Buddha are given on the Medicine Buddha Resources page:
Buddha Sakyamuni taught that one can benefit greatly from learning about the Medicine Buddha, or just from hearing or remembering his name. There is no contradiction between practicing the Medicine Buddha meditation in order to improve our own health, and the motivation to help someone else or to benefit all beings. The Tibetan masters tell us that even if we are practicing the Medicine Buddha meditation with the aim of improving our mental and physical health in this life, we can deeply benefit ourselves and others and ultimately attain buddhahood. As Thrangu Rinpoche says "by doing these practices we actually bless the environment and all the beings in that environment." (Teachings on the Medicine Buddha)
In general, to begin working with the practice, you will need a copy of the text of the sadhana, or a recording of someone reading it as a guided meditation. (If the practice becomes important to you, you might want to memorize it.) You'll also need instructions on how to do that particular version of the practice, an image of Medicine Buddha Sangye Menla to show what the visualization should look like, and a way to learn how to say the mantra. Obtaining the Medicine Buddha empowerment from a qualified lama is also highly beneficial, though not required. Suggestions on where to find all these things on the Web and in print are given in the section titled Resources for Medicine Buddha Practice:
Sadhana Texts with InstructionsThe next section of this page, The Medicine Buddha Sadhana Practice, gives a brief introduction to the meditation.
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Both the 8th day and 23rd day of the lunar month are considered auspicious for health and healing (the first and last quarter-moon days). The 8th day, Medicine Buddha Day, occurs in the masculine half of the month. The 23rd day occurs in the feminine half of the month, and is considered especially appropriate for Tara practice. (Tara is the female Buddha aspect connected to health, long life, and healing in general.) Both these days are also auspicious for meditation on Amitayus, who is said to grant good health and long life.
Even if you do the meditation every day, you might use the longer version — or practice for a longer time — on these auspicious days.
Choosing a Version of the Meditation -- Now, to really get into the practice we obviously have to know what to do; and to derive full benefit, we have to understand why we are doing it. First we need a general understanding of the sadhana and its purpose, and then all through the sadhana there are various things to say or do, and it would be best if we had some idea of the meaning of the words we are saying and the images we are visualizing, and some understanding of why we are engaging in each of these actions.
Specifically, you will need a printed copy of the sadhana text or a recording of someone reading it (you don't really want to be limited to doing the practice sitting in front of a computer screen), plus instructions on how to do the practice.
Medicine Buddha practice comes in several forms, and the instructions should be written for the text one will be using. The many versions of the Medicine Buddha Sadhana differ not only in details of the translation, but in major aspects of how the practice is done — for example, whether you see the Medicine Buddha in front of you or visualize yourself as Medicine Buddha, or both. If the instructions are telling you about Sangye Menla's seven colleagues — the 'brother' Medicine Buddhas — and your sadhana text tells you that Menla is surrounded by four Medicine Goddesses, that's not going to work very well.
So how do you choose a version of the sadhana for your practice? If you have received a Medicine Buddha empowerment and were given a copy of the sadhana text, it might be best to use that one. Also, if you have a relationship with a Tibetan Buddhist meditation master, you might ask for a recommendation. However, if you don't already have a good reason for choosing a particular sadhana, the Resources section of this page describes three different versions, all of which include appropriate instructions.
Group Practice -- Often people find that the benefits of meditation practice are enhanced by practicing in a group, and many Tibetan Buddhist centers hold group sessions for Medicine Buddha practice.
Also, some communities are forming groups which meet weekly for Medicine Buddha practice. People interested in developing such a group might look at the Web page from the group in Victoria, BC.
Talk to your doctor — Although the the Medicine Buddha practice can certainly be highly beneficial to ones health, some people would like to use it to replace standard health care, and if that is done in an aggressive way it could be dangerous. Certainly if you are depending on some sort of life preserving medical treatment like hemodialysis or medications, you should continue your normal treatment until your doctor agrees that you no longer need it.
The fact that impermanence is a fundamental property of conditioned existence is one of the most basic Buddhist teachings. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche says "To say that Buddha discovered impermanence is like saying that Buddha discovered that water is wet." Tibetan Buddhists learn not to relate to illness as as enemy to be got rid of, but as part of ones life that one needs to understand.
Sometimes understanding how we are causing a problem is all that we need to do to resolve it — and the Medicine Buddha can help us to do that. Sometimes we need appropriate medical care — and the Medicine Buddha can help us to find the right doctor or the right medicine. Eventually, it will be time for us to let go of this life — and the Medicine Buddha can help us to accept our own death and the deaths of those who are dear to us.
In Christian Science one is supposed to simply stop believing in the reality of ones illness. As Buddhists, that is not our way. We don't believe our illness has any real existence, but we don't have any real existence either! We don't treat illness as an enemy. One can have compassion for oneself and for others without being attached to preconceived notions of what should happen.
The Tibetan people had great confidence in the power of the Medicine Buddha, but they still used herbal medicine and other ordinary treatments like changes in the diet. It may be true that highly advanced meditators can live on sunlight, but most of the people reading this page should not expect the Medicine Buddha to free them from the need to go to the market, or to their doctor or dentist.
Tibetan doctors do the Medicine Buddha practice while they are making the herbal medicines, and while they are working with their patients. Dr. James Sacamano, author of the Meditation for Health course gave the following answer when asked if Medicine Buddha practice could replace ordinary health care: "Menla is peace, compassion, and wakefulness and is thus the basis for all health treatments. Whatever treatment we use, the spirit of Menla empowers it. Menla does not necessarily replace regular, individual health care. Menla brings the positive attitude of health and healing into our life which helps us achieve maximum benefit from whatever health approach we use.
"If we have an illness or problem that can be alleviated, Menla will help in some way. If it can not be cured, the suffering associated with that illness or problem can be lessened. By keeping our minds open to the spirit of Menla when we encounter negative situations in life we can release the negativity at its root so that we can avoid similar difficulties in the future.
"In any event, it is important to continue to work with your health care provider, who in her or his own way, is trying to bring the spirit of Menla to you."
By developing a regular Medicine Buddha practice, we can support and enhance the efforts of health care professionals, those working for us and those helping others. No longer passive consumers of diagnostic and therapeutic services, we can actively foster health and healing.
In addition to Medicine Buddha practice, one can also learn to use some of the health enhancing practices, inspired by the Medicine Buddha, which are discussed on our page titled Tibetan Self Care.
One can adopt a style of life that will support health
and healing. Diet, exercise, behavior, spiritual practice — each of us
can learn how to be more healthy in all these aspects of life.
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Texts with Instructions
A simple practice suitable for beginners
Recommended for Experienced Meditators --
These very clear and generous teachings are also available for free on the Web at Shenpen Ösel, where they were originally published. The following Web page gives an overview:
The teachings on the the Medicine Buddha Sadhana were published in the June 2000 issue of Shenpen Ösel (Volume 4, Number 1). The second part of the series, on the Medicine Buddha Sutra, were published in the September 2000 issue (Volume 4, Number 2).
The free version on the Web site gives only Thrangu Rinpoche's teachings. It does not include the sadhana text. However, you can purchase printed versions of either or both of these issues for $5 US each, including postage — or buy the book which includes both.
Audio Tapes with Instructions
Meditation for Health Tapes -- Featuring guided instruction on the Medicine Buddha meditation, sitting meditation, and body scan meditation, these crystal clear instructions for the healing practice of the Medicine Buddha, written and narrated by James Sacamano, MD, discuss the practice in the context of meditation as a whole and in relation to daily life.
Three cassettes, $30:
Tape 1, Side A: 25 minute guided body scan meditationSee the Heart of Healing Web site for more information.
These tapes can be used by Medicine
Buddha Practice Groups.
An audio cassette series by Khenpo Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche gives an oral commentary to the sadhana and guides practitioners through the meditation.
Buddha Teachings and Practice (tape series)
On one side of one of these tapes the Khenpo chants the Sadhana of the Medicine Buddha in Tibetan and Tibetanised Sanskrit. During the sadhana, Rinpoche chants the short form of the mantra for 13 minutes.
Printed Sadhana Texts (Various Lineages)
In some versions of the sadhana the mantra is visualized as spinning emerging from a seed syllable and spinning around and around in Sangye Menla's heart center. The card illustrated below shows the form of the seed syllable HUNG and of the syllables in the mantra garland. It's available from the artist.
In his notes on Thrangu Rinpoche's Teachings on the Medicine Buddha Sadhana, Lama Tashi Namgyal explains the visualization of the seed syllable HUM and the mantra garland that circles around it:
"The syllable HUM standing in the center of the deity's
heart in both the self and front visualization faces forward, in the same
direction as the deity. The mantra garland, visualized in Tibetan, faces
outward—which means that one could read it standing outside the Medicine
Buddha but not from the perspective of the HUM in the heart, beginning
with TAYATA directly in front of the central seed syllable HUM and arranged
in a circle surrounding the seed syllable."
Thrangu Rinpoche makes it clear in his Teachings on the Medicine Buddha Sadhana that in the visualization we should see Sangye Menla not as a solid person but as somewhat transparent and radiant.
"The deities’ bodies are not flesh
and blood — coarse bodies like our own — nor are they inanimate solid objects,
as though made of earth and stone or wood. They are the pure embodiment
of wisdom, which means that they are the expression of emptiness in the
form of a clear, vivid appearance. Practically speaking, when visualizing
them, you should see them or imagine them as being a vivid appearance —
with their distinct colors, ornaments, scepters and so on — that is nevertheless
without any coarse substantiality. Their appearance is luminous and vivid
but insubstantial, like that of a rainbow."
Medicine Buddha Empowerment
Obtaining the Vajrayana empowerment (Tibetan: lung) for the practice from a qualified lama (meditation master) is also highly beneficial, but not required. Thrangu Rinpoche says "Medicine Buddha [practice] 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." Tibetan Healing Meditation gives more details on this issue.
On Dharma Haven's Tibetan Medicine Resources page is a section where we post announcements of all the Medicine Buddha Empowerments we know about.
Also, you can check with nearby Tibetan Buddhist meditation centers to see if they are planning to offer a Medicine Buddha empowerment. If not, you can ask the lama to give the empowerment.
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Brief Teaching on the Medicine Buddha
on the Medicine Buddha
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Your Comments and Suggestions
Revised on May 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Dharma Haven
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