It is no coincidence that the words “medication” and “meditation” are only one letter different. They both come from the same Latin root word, medeor, meaning “to heal or to make whole.”
Medicine Buddha meditation is a healing practice treasured by many in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. We can practice it for ourselves, or for someone we care about who is ill. The oldest Medicine Buddha sutra we know about dates from the seventh century. In that sutra, we are told the story of a bodhisattva, Medicine Buddha, who made twelve vows about how he would help living beings after attaining enlightenment. The holistic healing of mind and body was an important focus of his vows: he promised to help eradicate pain, disease, and disabilities of all kinds, as well as promote good health and optimal flourishing.
When we practice Medicine Buddha meditation, we do not do so to replace mainstream medical treatment, but to complement it. The practice purifies and removes the underlying, karmic causes of disease and cultivates the causes for holistic well-being. Such may be the power of our practice that we experience significant improvements in the symptoms, too. But we need to be clear about what we are doing.
Medicine Buddha is as much about mind as it is body. Empirical evidence shows that when we meditate, it triggers a self-repair mechanism in our own bodies. We stop producing cortisol and adrenalin, and instead enhance the production of immune-boosting endorphins and serotonin, arming our body against invasive bacteria, viruses, and other imbalances. These changes also promote positive mental states.
An element of confidence in the practice is helpful. The placebo effect is said to account for more than a third of all healing. Medicine Buddha meditation has been practised for thousands of years. If we have confidence that it can work for us, then we’re off to a very good start.
Resonance may also account for the powerful impact of Medicine Buddha practice. On one level, we may be sitting alone in a room meditating, but in a different way we are resonating with the many hundreds of thousands of people who have done exactly the same thing before us. We’re benefiting from their experience and contributing to the experience of those who follow.
When doing this practice, it’s important to retain an awareness that you are not an inherently existent person asking an inherently existent Buddha to get rid of an inherently existent illness. This would be little different from a theistic or shamanistic approach. It is precisely because nothing has any true, separate, or independent existence—including illness—that practices like this have power.
We invoke Medicine Buddha through the use of specific imagery and sound, reaching out to the consciousness of those numberless beings who have already attained enlightenment and who have chosen to manifest Medicine Buddha’s qualities.
The minds of buddhas are understood to be all-seeing and all-knowing. Buddhas react to their mantra in the same way we react when we hear our name mentioned, so we pretty much have a buddha on speed dial when we use their mantra. To borrow a metaphor from the late Tibetan teacher Gelek Rinpoche, when we recite a buddha’s mantra we are providing a hoop through which they can hook us into their energetic influence.
Note that Medicine Buddha is a Kriya tantra practice. As such, it is helpful that you first have some familiarity with the sutra tradition, as well as receive proper initiations and teachings from a properly qualified teacher, if you wish to fully embody the precious Medicine Buddha lineage.
How to Practice Medicine Buddha Meditation
Find a quiet place to meditate and assume the optimal meditation posture for you. Take refuge in the Buddha, dharma, and sangha, and then spend a short time establishing your motivation in a heartfelt way. You may think or say: “By this practice of Medicine Buddha, may I (or the being for whom I am practising) be purified of all disease, pain, and suffering, and enjoy robust good health, and attain complete and perfect enlightenment to lead all other beings to this same state.”
Invite Medicine Buddha to Your Presence
Visualise Medicine Buddha sitting, looking at you. He is depicted as having a dark blue (lapis lazuli) body, this being an archetypal color of healing. With his left hand he holds a bowl of healing nectars, and with his right a medicine plant. In your visualisation, he is at about the height of your forehead, a few feet in front of you, gazing at you with as much love as a mother for her only child. He is everything beautiful gathered into one.
I recommend having an image of Medicine Buddha in a place where you’ll see it frequently throughout the day. That will make it easier for you to “see” Medicine Buddha when your eyes are shut. After all, the more familiar you are with anything, the easier it is for you to picture it in your mind. (You can easily picture your front door, right?) Even if your visualisation is not great initially, just picturing a blob of blue light is sufficient.
What’s really important is to have a very real sense that Medicine Buddha is actually there. That if you looked up, or opened your eyes, you would see him. Try and cultivate the feeling that you are in the presence of a truly amazing being. If you’ve ever had the privilege of being in an audience with someone such as the Dalai Lama, you will know that there is a palpable sensation to his being there. Try to imagine this same energetic presence with Medicine Buddha.
Make Your Request
Ask Medicine Buddha to eliminate pain, purify disease, and/or rebalance or restore your health (or that of the being for whom you are practising). You don’t need precise knowledge of the anatomical changes required. What matters here is intention.
Visualise that Medicine Buddha willingly responds to your request. Instantly, healing blue lights and nectars emanate from the bowl in his lap, come to the crown of your head, and flow down, filling your body, or that of the being for whom you are practising. You can direct the lights and nectars to specific parts of the body, but there is such an abundance of them, that they will fill your whole being anyway.
Imagine that this process instantly, completely, and permanently eliminates and purifies all disease, pain, and suffering and—importantly—the causes of disease, pain, and suffering. In addition, the causes of holistic well-being of mind and body stream in with limitless abundance.
While visualising this process, recite Medicine Buddha’s mantra. There are a few variants of the mantra, depending on lineage. This is one version of the mantra, which is in Sanskrit:
TAYATA, OM BEKADZE BEKADZE
MAHA BEKADZE BEKADZE,
This is pronounced:
Tie-ya-tar, om beck-and-zay beck-and-zay
ma-ha beck-and-zay beck-and-zay
Continue the visualisation and mantra recitation for at least ten minutes if you are new to the practice. If you are a seasoned meditator, you will probably wish to go on for longer.
Conclude your session with a dedication, such as, “By this practice of Medicine Buddha, may I (or the being for whom I am practicing), and all beings, be free from pain, disease, and suffering, and quickly achieve complete and perfect enlightenment.”
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