Medicine Buddha teaching at the Mahabodhi Temple Complex, December 26, 2007
HH Gyalwang Karmapa spent one session teaching on the Medicine Buddha sadhana, ‘A Sadhana of Menlha, Compiled from the Clear Expanse of Mind, A Mind Treasure Found Within the Sky of Dharma Texts called, “A Stream of Vaidurya”.’
He began by emphasizing that bodhicitta is the most important factor in one’s practice. Only through bodhicitta can one attain enlightenment, and whether one’s practice is a Mahayana practice or not is determined by one’s motivation of bodhicitta. Everything is connected with bodhicitta; there is nothing that is not. May the bodhicitta arise in those where it does not exist, and may it increase more and more in those where it does exist.
Then, Gyalwang Karmapa talked about the origins and history of the Medicine Buddha Sutra. Lord Buddha taught the Medicine Buddha Sutra in Vaishali to a gathering of 80,000 monks, 36,000 bodhisattvas, Chenrezig, Vajrapani, Manjushri, devas, humans and non-humans, and his teachings were good in the beginning, middle and end. It was Manjushri who stood up in the assembly and requested Shakyamuni Buddha to teach the Medicine Buddha practice to those beings who have inner and outer sufferings, and who live in the midst of degenerate times.
Gyalwang Karmapa went on to discuss Tibetan Buddhist history from the time of the first king, Nyatri Tsenpo, when the Bon religion existed in Tibet, and how Buddhism came to Tibet from India at the time of the great King Songtsen Gampo, and the pre-eminent translator Thonmi Sambhota, who began to render texts into Tibetan at that time.
Gyalwang Karmapa described the time of King Trisong Deutsen and the construction of Tibet’s first monastery of Samye. There was no monastic sangha in Tibet at that time, but Shantarakshita who came from Eastern India brought the Sarvastivadin lineage to Tibet and began to ordain a small number of virtuous people into the monastic tradition. He did so as a test to see whether they could uphold monastic discipline.
It was also Shantarakshita who first promulgated and practised Medicine Buddha in Tibet, to help the King. He offered the King the short, middle and long practices, and the King chose the middle length practice. After Shantarakshita, Atisha DIpankara, who founded the Kadampa tradition, spread the Medicine Buddha practice, and it was through him that the practices of the 16 Arhats and Medicine Buddha spread throughout Tibet and became very important.
Gyalwang Karmapa explained that generally such practices as Medicine Buddha belong to the Kriya Yoga class of Tantra, but some Kriya Yoga practices are related to Anuttarayoga Tantra. This Gong-ter or Mind Treasure Medicine Buddha sadhana, although based on Kriya Yoga, is an Anuttarayoga Tantra practice and more specifically belongs to the class of Ati Yoga practices. For this reason, an empowerment and transmission are needed to practice it.
Next, Gyalwang Karmapa discussed the benefits of the practice. He said that faith and trust in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is the seed of enlightenment or liberation, but he cautioned against blind faith and the faith that just prays for and expects desired results without having proper cause. Faith develops gradually, like making a clay image which begins as a rough shape only. It is important to understand the reasons why faith and trust can develop and become genuine.
Atisha made strong prayers that whomsoever would hear the name of Medicine Buddha would be rid of the sufferings of the lower realms. The name of Medicine Buddha is so powerful that it has the capacity to clear the sufferings of beings, especially in this degenerate age. The Medicine Buddha Sutra states that in the time when deadly new diseases appear and are hard to cure, the power of Medicine Buddha will become even stronger. It is said that the practice may even have the power to revive people who have already died. Although other mantras may lose their power in degenerate times, the Medicine Buddha mantra becomes more powerful, and it is especially important to recite it during these times.
Some diseases can benefit from medicine, but some cannot. In some places there are hundreds of sick beings and very few doctors, so there can be little treatment. In these cases, Medicine Buddha practice can be dedicated to those suffering beings.
Gyalwang Karmapa said that the Medicine Buddha practice can be included in either Sutra or Tantra, but Shantarakshita based the practice in the Sutra tradition. Many sadhanas are based in Tantra, and many Medicine Buddha practices are included in Kriya Yoga Tantra, so it is also not out of place if it is included in the Tantra. Gyalwang Karmapa also explained that, since the practice comes from the Nyingma tradition, recitation of the words and meditation upon the meaning should be done concurrently; meditation should not follow the recitation.
Then, Gyalwang Karmapa briefly went through the sadhana itself and described the sections beginning with refuge and the receiving of blessings. He explained that the self visualization and front visualization should be performed at the same time, but that as the practice is primarily included in the Sutra tradition, visualization does not need to be as precise and clear as in the Vajrayana. Then followed the invitation, bestowing of offerings and praise sections. During the mantra recitation, Gyalwang Karmapa said to focus the mind on the mantra rosary in the hearts of the self and front visualizations radiating light, and then to recite the mantra with good concentration.
Finally he gave the lung for the practice.