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Buddhist Healing

by Steven Lane(more info)

listed in healing, originally published in issue 21 - August 1997

Of course, it is not for everyone! It requires time and effort, and the willingness to take responsibility for your own health. Buddhist healing, in common with other esoteric traditions, believes that the power of the mind can be employed to combat illness and restore health.

Modern research is beginning to support the idea that visualisation and imagery can have hugely beneficial effects for health, as can joy and relaxation – all aspects of Buddhist practice. So, whilst Buddhist healing methods are centuries old, modern science, as it begins to observe and understand the mind-body connection, is cautiously opening itself to its possibilities.

The Buddhist view is that all phenomena and experiences are manifestations of causes, gross and subtle, and ultimately linked to the individual experiencing them, and beginning in the mind.

What is the cause of disease? All of the alternative therapies have their own answers and because they achieve results, they probably all claim to be right.

Homeopathy attributes disease to a disturbance of the vital force and this in turn is caused by an array of factors: hereditary, environmental, life-style, diet, emotional, suppressive allopathic drugs, etc.

Nutritionally led disciplines say, “you are what you eat”. Extraordinary cures are obtained from special diets.

Hypnoanalysis and psychotherapy lay the blame at repressed memories, inner conflicts, unfulfilled needs etc.

Still others claim that unhealthy electro-magnetic waves, natural and man made are contributors.

Buddhism recognises all of these explanations of disease as valid, but would claim that such causes of disease were themselves manifestations of deeper causes.

The Buddhist concept of disease is a multitiered system of causes. The following analogy will explain: A man drinks a bottle of vodka, steps out of the pub, and blindly walks into the road, where he is at once knocked down and killed by an oncoming bus. What was the cause of the man’s death?

The apparent cause was being knocked down by a bus – analogous to dying of lung cancer. A deeper cause was being drunk – analogous to the cancer being caused by smoking. But why was he drunk? Because he was unhappy – analogous to the actual cause originating in the mind. And why was he unhappy? Because his wife had left him – analogous to the law of cause and effect (karma).

Hence Buddhists would ultimately say that the lung cancer was created by negative karma: the negative energy created in dependence upon a negative thought or its consequent actions (in this life or a past life), and therefore ultimately to remove somebody’s predisposition to disease one would need to remove the negative karma.

Karma makes sense of why two similar people can both spend their lives smoking 40 cigarettes a day and why one dies of lung cancer and the other lives to be a hundred and dies of natural causes. Unless the root cause of negative karma to experience a particular effect exists, the secondary causes cannot function.

Whilst karma is virtually impossible to prove to a skeptic, I suggest there is a link between the negative energy created by karma, and the vital force as perceived in homoeopathy, or even a disturbance of the libido as described by Freud. Experiments with Kirlian photography clearly show that the electro-magnetic field surrounding the body (aura) is affected by thought forms and that there is a definite correlation between the weakening of the aura and disease (this also supports the theory put forward by Dr Edward Bach, which has much in common with Buddhist thought).

Buddhist healing involves working with both the primary and the secondary causes. Many of the methods act upon both and one aim is to restore physical and emotional balance. In common with the system of Chinese medicine, Buddhism recognises that the mechanism of disease is to disturb and imbalance the inner elements, so many healing exercises are aimed at harmonising the elements.

The ultimate healing in Buddhism which acts upon primary and secondary causes and also re-establishes equilibrium is to destroy the innate concept we have of the self as being a real and solid entity. As a result of such ego identification we generate fearful, tight and negative minds: the ultimate cause of all disease, mental and physical. By learning to relax our grasping and see through the illusion like ego we gain a state of openness and ease, and physical afflictions can melt away. However, this is not an easy practice and requires considerable instruction.

Buddhism calls upon a great range of methods to alleviate pain and illness, some of which can be performed by oneself and others which require the assistance of another person. They include many different visualisations, breathing exercises, mantra recitation and rituals. Perhaps one of the most strange types of healing is the pacification of “malevolent spirits”.

For most Westerners (including Western Buddhists) this seems quite hard to believe and is almost always relegated to the realms of primitive beliefs. I have however had direct experience of spirits causing both physical and mental disturbances. Some years ago I entered a room in a Buddhist temple to discover a young man suffering from an epileptic fit. Conventional measures were applied without alleviating the horrendous convulsions. Remembering the possibility of spirit intervention, I began to recite the mantra of a wrathful deity very forcefully and within no more than a minute the fit stopped and the young man came back to his senses muttering something about having been possessed. A similar event happened some weeks later and consequently I gave the man an exercise to do daily to give him protection. During the 3 months that he performed the exercise he was free of epilepsy. Shortly after stopping the exercises the fits returned.

Buddhist masters cite spirits as the cause of more than half of all illnesses and claim that many serious illnesses can be cured with the help of certain rituals. Immediately one thinks of Western style exorcists and indeed the rituals do have much in common, the fundamental difference being that the foundation of Buddhism is compassion and therefore it is not permissible to harm the spirits when encouraging them to leave. Perhaps the belief in spirits does not seem so impossible if we consider Western beliefs in positive forms of spirit like entities such as fairies and devas. Is it not the case that huge vegetables have been grown with the help of devas? Of course, there are many interpretations, and many a Western psychotherapist writes off malevolent spirits as negative thought forms, or claim that the healing rituals work via a trance-induced suggestion.

Buddhism talks about the life force and this may be the same force as talked about in homoeopathy: the vital force. For example, Buddhism attributes 3 main causes to death: the karmically determined lifespan ends, the positive energy (karma) becomes exhausted or the life force becomes depleted. The life force is a subtle energy which sustains life and all of the functions of the body. It can be depleted through any excess use of energy – for example sexual activity or even jogging etc., as well as sleeping too much or too little, eating unwholesome food, emotional disturbances etc. Other Eastern forms of thought and medicine aim to cure life force disturbances with exercise methods such as Chi Kung and emphasise that Western forms of aerobic exercise are seriously harmful to the life force if practised in excess.

One method described by many Buddhist teachers to increase the life force is extracted from the tantric teachings and presented in a simplified form which can be learnt in a few minutes (Yoga teaches a similar method).

The technique is performed either in a traditional meditation posture or sitting on a chair, with an erect but relaxed spine. One begins inhaling deeply with abdominal breathing, whilst mentally hearing the sound Om (Aum). The breath is then held and imagined at the spiritual heart (midway between the breast towards the spine) whilst mentally hearing the sound Ah. After holding the breath for 3—5 seconds, or until it becomes uncomfortable, the breath is exhaled whilst mentally hearing the sound Hum (Hung). The whole process is then repeated for between 5 and 20 minutes. It is not necessary to take exaggerated breaths and it is essential to perform the exercise whilst remaining physically and mentally relaxed. Many people engage in meditation to overcome stress and illness and finish up worse than before because they push and strain in meditation. There are a number of variations on this meditation linked to colour. One is to think of the colour white whilst inhaling the Om, to think of red whilst holding the Ah at the heart and to think of blue whilst exhaling the Hum. Those who practice this exercise, diligently, every day for a few weeks will soon start to notice the benefits.

Mantras are very powerful healing aids. They are not simply sounds in the conventional sense but are the resonance of subtle primordial energies which we have within ourselves, the vibrations of which distribute gentle healing energies throughout our being.

Most healers have their fair share of failures. Often it is said that when a patient doesn’t get better it is because he does not wish to get better. Of course, sometimes this is the case: when the illness provides the patient with a significant benefit; but sometimes the cause of failure is deep rooted negative karma going back to a previous life. Such a case is difficult to heal and sometimes not possible at all. The Buddhist solution is to purify the negative karma and Buddhism teaches many methods of purification.

One powerful method taught initially centuries ago in India is the practice of Taking. Some years ago I was approached by a man who had been diagnosed as having AIDS, and was estimated by his doctor to live only 3—6 months more (in itself a dangerous negative suggestion). I instructed him in the practice of Taking, as well as another Buddhist purification practice and suggested that he enter a retreat for a few weeks. He was very skeptical, but nevertheless agreed to try. After the retreat he continued to practice and a few months later he told me that the doctor had noticed a considerable improvement and could not understand it – at the same time the doctor ridiculed the practice he was doing. Three months later the man returned to say that the doctors were now saying there was no trace left of AIDS and that they must have mis-diagnosed him. Interestingly the man himself arrived at the same conclusion some months later and dismissed the practice he had done as wishful thinking. Most healers will be familiar with such occurrences of post recovery denial.

The practice of Taking generally depends upon two things: compassion and faith. Compassion is like the power which heals and faith is like the fuel which sustains the power.

Love and compassion are great healers and are two sides of the same coin. One definition of love is a universal wish for others to experience happiness. Compassion is a universal wish for others to be free of suffering. They are not to be confused with our usual self-centred emotional responses which we attach similar names to. To generate compassion it is necessary first to reduce our own sense of self importance: most of us feel as if the world revolves around ourselves. However, we are just one of many beings seeking happiness. We then need to empathise with others and to contemplate their suffering.

Faith can refer to many things. It can mean to have confidence. Without faith most mental healing practices won’t work. On the other hand, with faith miracles can be achieved. One way to understand faith is to perceive it as a focuser or magnifier. By focusing our healing efforts through the mind of faith the power of healing is magnified and concentrated. Faith can also mean acknowledging our innate perfect nature variously described as Buddha nature, the Inner Guru, the Inner Wisdom or the Higher Self, or perhaps from a Christian point of view as God. Faith in such an Inner Wisdom would mean to rely upon the ability we have to perfectly heal ourselves and provide whatever is necessary for that process. It can help greatly to imagine our Inner Wisdom as an external source of power and to receive its healing energy.

Faith can also be understood from a Western psychotherapy point of view. Faith is to programme the unconscious mind with a certain idea or image, which then needs to find expression in our everyday life. Therefore faith would seem to have much in common with the power of suggestion and many hypnotherapists would say that all ancient healing methods, including rituals, exorcisms and visualisations are all forms of hypnosis and positive suggestion.

To perform the practice of Taking one starts by contemplating others suffering from the same illness or problem (if emotional) as yourself. So for example if you suffer from cancer, you think about all of the people suffering from cancer. Many of them are suffering more than you. You think about their pain, about how they fear death, about the sadness they have thinking about leaving their family behind, or how they fear and suffer from any conventional treatment they are due to receive. Essentially you identify your own pain and then empathise with others who suffer a similar pain. It is important to think that these people are just like you. They share a common wish of wanting to be happy and free from suffering.

By thinking like this, in time a warm feeling, a feeling of compassion will arise in the heart. This is the beginning of real healing. Just thinking like this already reduces your suffering. Why? Because suffering depends upon your awareness of it and if your awareness is turned towards others instead of towards yourself your pain diminishes! The power of the compassion should not be underestimated! It is said in the Buddhist scriptures that true strength comes from compassion.

The next step requires a radical thought! Having generated compassion and the wish for others to be free from suffering, one courageously thinks, “if I could take on the suffering of all these people and therewith free them from their pain, I would do.”

It is quite a thought, isn’t it? Supposing it really were possible that one person could choose to suffer instead of a million people suffering! We try to imagine we have the courage to think like that and to identify with that thought. It is like a man who is taken prisoner and tortured. If he gives in to the pain and gives his torturer the information he wants, maybe a thousand people die. He has to choose. Of course, such a choice takes great courage. So, one tries to think like that. At first, our compassion is so weak that we cannot genuinely generate that thought. At first we have to imagine. Imagination is a very powerful tool and since reality depends upon the mind, imagination can be used to shape reality.

You imagine their suffering and illness dissolving into thick black smoke and you absorb this smoke into your spiritual heart. As it dissolves into your heart you think of it destroying your ego grasping; your selfishness.
You imagine their suffering and illness dissolving into thick black smoke and
you absorb this smoke into your spiritual heart. As it dissolves into your heart you think
of it destroying your ego grasping; your selfishness.


Having generated that thought you then think, “right now I will take on their suffering”. You imagine their suffering and illness dissolving into thick black smoke and you absorb this smoke into your spiritual heart. As it dissolves into your heart you think of it destroying your ego grasping; your selfishness.

Then you imagine all the other people free from their suffering and such a thought makes you very happy; very joyful. And so you become very still and bask in that sunshine-like happiness and let it pervade your whole being. Joy is another powerful healing agent. When joy flows through our bodies and minds it generates a powerful positive energy which heals, nurtures, relaxes and regenerates. The practice is repeated several times in a session if desired, and performed daily. Tibetans are very familiar with this practice and many people have been cured from seemingly incurable diseases.

These are just a few of the many techniques which Buddhism has to offer. Fundamental to all healing, of course, is the power of relaxation. Half an hour of quality meditation a day can do much to rebalance our minds, bodies, energies and emotions. When we gain deep awareness of these factors and learn to harmonise them, healing can be achieved without recourse to outside influences.

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About Steven Lane

Steven Lane has spent 10 years studying Buddhism, the latter 5 as a Buddhist monk and senior teacher. He is currently in the process of opening a healing clinic using hypnosis, guided imagery and flower essences, as well as working as a freelance writer covering holistic health and Eastern philosophy. Steven Lane lives in Cumbria and can be contacted on 01539 567953.

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