I

HEALING THE
MIND AND BODY

T0 FIND TRUE WELL-BEING, the best place to look is close to home. We could travel around the globe a hundred times, turning over every stone on earth in the quest for happiness. Yet this would not necessarily give us what we seek. Money does not necessarily grant well-being either, nor does a youthful or healthy body. Health and money can help us, of course. But the real source of peace and joy is our minds.

The mind wants to be peaceful; this is really its natural state. But there are so many distractions and cravings that can obscure our peaceful nature. A characteristic of our time is the speed of our daily lives, especially in the West. Everything is a rush. Meditation can slow us down so that we touch our true nature. Any meditation can help us. The object of our contemplation could be a flower, a religious image, or a positive feeling. Or it could be our own bodies.

One especially rich way to develop a peaceful mind is to meditate upon the body. By doing this, we promote the welfare of our whole being.

Through meditation, we can learn how to encourage our minds to create a feeling of peace in the body. This can be as simple as relaxing and saying to ourselves, "Let my body be calm and peaceful now," and really feeling that this is happening. It is the beginning of meditation -- and of wisdom, too.

This approach is a kind of homecoming. We are reintroducing ourselves to our bodies and establishing a positive connection between mind and body. Quite often, we have a rather strained and distant relationship to our own bodies. We think of the body as unattractive or ugly, or maybe our health is poor. Or else we like the body, cherish it, and foster cravings around it. But even if we cherish the body, we worry that it could be better than it is or that it will get sick or grow old. So we are conflicted and ambivalent. The body is an object of anxiety.

The meditations in this book will help us approach the body with a realistic attitude, accepting it as it is. Then we will practice how to see the body as very peaceful, a body filled with light and warmth. So many mental and physical afflictions are associated with the body, and meditation can help to heat them.

Mind and body are intimately connected, and the relationship of mind to body in meditation is very interesting. When we see the body as peaceful and beautiful, who or what is creating these feelings? The mind is. By creating peaceful feelings in the body, the mind is absorbed in those feelings. So although the body is the object to be healed, it also becomes the means of healing the mind -- which is the ultimate goal of meditation.

When our minds are peaceful in meditation, there is no other mind. Even if the peaceful feeling goes away, we are developing the habit of a peaceful mind. Our minds are becoming accustomed to their true nature. Really, it all comes back to the mind. This is where our true happiness is. The Buddha said:

Mind is the main factor and forerunner of all actions:
Whoever acts or speaks
With a pure thought
Will enjoy happiness as the result.
Like a physician treating a patient, Buddhism deals with mental, emotional, and physical afflictions by diagnosing the cause and treating it.

In this world of ceaseless change, the mind tends to develop a grasping quality and gets attached to all kinds of illusory wants and desires. This is at the root of our suffering. We heal ourselves to the extent that we can release that grasping.

As it was first practiced in the ninth century, Tibetan medicine viewed the body as composed of four elements -- namely, earth, water, fire, and air -- and as having hot and cold temperatures. Western medicine has given us a wonderfully detailed and up-to-date knowledge of the body and how it works, and we can take advantage of this. Yet even today, the ancient Tibetan picture of the body is very useful, both as an aid to meditation and as a way to understand the various qualities of the mind.

According to this view, when the four elements are in balance, we are in our natural healthy state, but when there is disharmony, emotional or physical disease can take root and flourish. The third Dodrupchen writes:

The ancient masters said that if you do not foster dislike and unhappy thoughts, your mind will not be in turmoil. If your mind is not in turmoil, the air [or energy of your body] will not be disturbed. If the air is not disturbed, other physical elements of your body will not experience disharmony. Harmonious elements [in turn] will help the mind stay free from turmoil. Then the wheel of joy will keep revolving.
The mind is the source of true well-being. So before we get to the guided meditations upon the body later on, we would do well to consider the qualities of the mind and how we can improve our lives.

THE PEACEFUL MIND

When I was ten or eleven years old, my personal tutor, some friends, and I made a rare excursion from the monastery. I looked forward to visiting the great adept Kunzang Nyima Rinpoche in a valley two days away. Though I enjoyed my life in the monastery, it was so exciting to ride a horse across the spacious Ser Valley. For miles and miles, we rode through this untainted land, enjoying the sight of peaceful and beautiful animals. Butterflies dotted the air over the green carpet of grassland, and birds played and sang freely, in a timeless scene of natural beauty. It was the greatest feast for the senses of a little boy to enjoy, an unforgettable adventure for someone who had lived for years within the sanctuary of a monastic compound.

Arriving in the evening, we reached a small, peaceful gorge walled by gentle green hills. In the distance, the majestic mountain of Ser Dzong seemed to preside over all of existence.

We camped in a beautiful field at a distance from Rinpoche's big black tent. Early the next morning, we crossed the meadow to meet Rinpoche. He had a beautiful and powerful face with wide, smiling eyes, a brownish complexion, and long hair tied around his head and wrapped in a silk turban. He might have been in his fifties, and he had a strong, vital body. With a blossoming, flowerlike smile, he welcomed us as if he had just found his long-lost friends. He kept his treasure of writings close at hand, about forty volumes, most of which were his mystical revelation. I remember the feeling of unconditional and unpretentious love in his heart, which wasn't only for me but for all around. Although his voice was powerful and far-reaching, he spoke in a stream of gentle and soothing words. He was someone who enjoyed the simple gifts of life with deepest contentment. I was a guarded and shy boy, but in the sunny presence of Rinpoche, I became so natural. There was no place to harbor darkness or anxiety anymore.

Rinpoche's joy and calm seemed pervasive. Immediately upon meeting him and for all the time I was there, the world appeared to be a very peaceful place. As I looked around, I vividly felt that his presence had somehow transformed my surroundings, that nothing was separate from this wonderful peacefulness. The trees, the mountains, my companions, myself -- everything was united in calm and peace. It wasn't the mountains and people that changed, but my mind's way of seeing and feeling them. Because of the power of his presence, my mind was enjoying a greater degree of peace and joy, almost a state of boundlessness. That feeling enabled me to see all mental objects through those qualities. For a while, no attractions or disappointments mattered. Even today, when I remember that experience from more than four decades ago, I feel joy and completeness. The heat of that memory helps me to melt the ice of obstacles as they come up on life's journey.

The mind creates peacefulness. In this case, my mind had focused on an object outside itself -- this benevolent spiritual teacher -- and expanded the feeling of peace. We can benefit from such experiences, because they offer a taste of peace and show us how our mind would like to be. And we don't have to go to the Ser Valley to experience such peace. We can feel happier and more peaceful in our everyday lives and encourage this feeling of peace through meditation.

True healing and well-being come down to enjoying an awareness of peace, the ultimate peace of existence. The mind is not passive in the sense of being half-asleep. Instead, the mind is open to the thought and feeling of total peace. An unrestricted and uncontaminated awareness of peace is the ultimate joy and strength. When we are truly aware of peace, our nature blossoms with full vigor.

Some people are so fully open to the true nature of existence that they are peaceful no matter what the circumstances. For the enlightened mind, peace does not depend on any object or concept. Awareness of the absolute nature of things, the universal truth, is not limited or conditioned by concepts, feelings, or labels such as good and bad. A mind that is free can transcend dualistic categories such as peace versus conflict and joy versus suffering. The enlightened mind does not discriminate between a subjective or an objective reality or between liking and disliking. Time is timeless, and everything in existence is perfect as it is.

Before this begins to sound too theoretical, I should say that there are many people who are enlightened, to one degree or another. Some Tibetan lamas I know were imprisoned for many years, and they almost enjoyed the experience. I try to avoid talking about the political upheaval in Tibet, because it is too easy for blame to arise. This can lead to a cycle of resentment, which could embitter the mind and is neither helpful nor productive. Suffice it to say that prison is not necessarily a pleasant holiday. Yet I have a friend who got out of prison only after twenty-two years and had felt quite at home there because of a very peaceful mind. When I asked him how it was, he said, "It was nice there. I was treated very nice." When you ask one of these lamas to explain, he will say, "Alive or dead, it doesn't matter. I'm in Buddha pure land."

We can be inspired by tales of enlightenment, where peace is every-where and even turmoil is OK. But for most of us, the goal should be to work with our ordinary minds and just try to be a little more peaceful and relaxed in our approach to life. If we can become a little more peaceful, it will help us handle everyday problems better, even if big problems are still difficult.

Even so, it can be helpful to remember that the enlightened mind and the ordinary mind are two sides of the same coin. The mind is like the sea, which can be rough on the surface, with mountainous waves stirred up by ferocious wind, but calm and peaceful at the bottom. Sometimes we can catch sight of this peaceful mind even in times of trouble. These glimpses of peace show us that we may have more inner resources to draw upon than we had realized. With skill and patience, we can learn how to be in touch with our peaceful selves.

THE MIND AS A SOURCE OF NEGATIVITY

If we lack peace of mind, then what good does it do us to have youth, beauty, health, wealth, education, and worldly power?

We can find many reasons to be miserable. Somehow, even if we experience some happiness or excitement, we feel haunted by a void in our lives. We all know of people who appear to have everything but fall victim to darkness and pain and even end their lives by committing suicide. Shantideva, one of the great masters of Buddhism, writes about the snares of the mind that can entrap us:

[The Buddha], who tells the truth, says
That all fears
And all the immeasurable miseries
Are facilitated by the mind.
In India about twenty-five years ago, a Tibetan acquaintance of mine struggled to survive, as a lot of refugees do. After a few years, he made some money, enough so that he could live comfortably. But he never felt content with anything. From the time he woke to when he fell asleep, his mind was occupied with money. He constantly talked about money, lamenting that he did not make enough, worrying that he would lose what he had. He had no life. He was a slave of almighty money. He worried about getting sick, not for the sake of his health and well-being but because he would lose the opportunity to make a little more money. It sometimes seemed as if he were a grotesque apparition, for even his facial expression and body looked crimped, so tightly did he cling to the idea of money.

Unfortunately, he is not the only person who functions as a mere shadow cast by material goods. Many of us are more or less sucked into the same kind of existence. We take no time to cultivate true happiness and may not even be sure what that is. Many writers are occupied with mere word games and theories. Many politicians promote their ideas only to gain power. Many rich people are trapped by the drive to amass more wealth or the fear of losing what they have. Many intellectuals are blinded by arrogance or intolerance. Many spiritual teachers run a business show or go on an ego trip to gain power over others. Many poor people, in their hard struggle for survival, are unable to take any pleasure from life. The wonderful skills and achievements of the modern age often end up as fuel for greed, obsession, bondage, pressure, worry, and pain.

All these miseries could be healed by our minds, but without practice in cultivating the peaceful mind, we are too vulnerable and weak. The fault lies not with the wonderful material objects but with our own attitudes. Many of us are spellbound by our wild emotions and cravings, slave masters created by our minds. Caught up in these attachments, many of us even find it painful to be alone or experience silence.

According to Buddhism and many of the world's other wisdom traditions, the root of all our problems is the grasping of the mind. The Buddhist term for this is grasping at "self." This can be somewhat tricky for Westerners to comprehend. For one thing, the common understanding of "self" is an "I" or an "ego." In the Buddhist view, "self" includes "me" and "mine" but is also very much broader and encompasses all phenomena arising in our consciousness. However, according to the highest understanding of Buddhism, there is no "self" that truly exists as a solid, fixed, unchanging entity.

We normally think that a person is a subject who perceives and is separate from objects, and we tend to treat objects as if they were solid and dependable in some kind of absolute way. Yet mental objects -- wealth, power, a house, a television show, an idea, a feeling, whatever phenomenon you can think of -- are really not so absolute but instead are relative, arising and passing away, and seen only in relation to other phenomena.

But how can this be, you may ask? Surely as "I" read a "book," they both exist, since there seems to be an "I" who holds the book in my hand. The answer is that all things exist in relation to one another, and existence is marked by change. Perhaps the best way to clarify this a bit would be to use the example of the body. The body is changing all the time. In babies, we can see this more vividly because they grow so quickly. But we all know that every body changes, even from day to day -- for example, according to what we eat or how much we weigh. Even our moods can affect the body and be reflected in how we look, perhaps crestfallen or haggard or else bright and vital. Above all, we know that the body ages and eventually passes away. The body is a vivid illustration of the transitory nature of existence. If we think of the body as solid, fixed, and unchanging, and cling to this notion, that is grasping at the body as "self."

To the extent that grasping at self becomes tighter, all the mental and emotional afflictions -- such as craving, stress, anxiety, confusion, greed, and aggression -- will be intensified, and physical and social problems will be magnified. Shantideva writes:

All the violence, fear, and suffering
That exist in the world
Come from grasping at "self."
What use is this great evil monster to you?
If you do not let go of the "self "
There, will never be an end to your suffering.
Just as, if you do not let go of a flame with your hand, You can't stop it from burning your hand.

The Buddha himself said:

When you see with your wisdom
That all the compounded phenomena are without a "self,"
Then no suffering will ever afflict your mind.
This is the right approach, the approach that cuts off all the pains of craving.

According to Buddhism, grasping at self can be the source of physical disease as well as mental anguish. Many Western scholars agree that negative emotions, anger, and anxiety can cause many diseases. Daniel Goleman writes:

Both anger and anxiety, when chronic, can make people more susceptible to a range of disease.

People who are chronically distressed -- whether anxious and worried, depressed and pessimistic, or angry and hostile -- have double the average risk of getting a major disease in the ensuing years. Smoking increases the risk of serious disease by 60 percent; chronic emotional distress by I00 percent. This makes distressing emotion almost double the health risk compared with smoking.
Loosening the grip on "self" is our best remedy for all problems, and to the extent that we can do this, that much happier we will be. This is healing in its truest sense. A common Buddhist scripture, or sutra, puts it this way:
"What is healing from sickness?
It is the freedom from grasping at "I" and "my" [egoism and possessiveness]."
In Buddhist scripture and commentary, sickness often refers to the ills of both mind and body. Vimalakirti said, "As long as there is ignorance and craving for the existents, there will be sickness in me."

So much of our troubles are created by not realizing who we are and what our true place is in the ever-changing universe. The physicist Albert Einstein, pioneer of the theory of relativity, knew something about the place of the human being in the universe. While the self in the following quote probably was intended to mean "ego," Einstein clearly was aware of the merit in loosening the grip upon narrow-mindedness and cherished concepts when he wrote, "The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self."

If common sense and religious tradition tell us to loosen our grasping attitudes, how can we do this? One way is meditation. In the guided meditations that come later, a primary technique is to visualize the body as filled with light, which shines outward to the universe. It can be very positive to imagine the body as boundless. This can help ease the grasping of the mind.

However, sometimes we are so mired in our suffering that it's hard to see a way out. We need to find a focus point, any positive feeling, image, or idea that can light the path before us and give us a glimpse of peace.

*Endnotes have been omitted.

Copyright © 2000 Tulku Thondup Rinpoche


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