His Holiness the Karmapa Teaches on Medicine Buddha at KPL
(April 24, 2015 – Red Hook, New York) On a particularly cold day, with a smattering of snow still drifting through the air, His Holiness the Karmapa visited the Kunzang Palchen Ling center where he gave a mantra transmission and a short teaching on Medicine Buddha.
Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, the center’s founder and spiritual director, first welcomed His Holiness with a private tea and rice ceremony in the center’s Guru Rinpoche library. The Karmapa then entered the main shrine room where about 250 people had gathered and took his seat before a burnished golden buddha statue, flanked by 16 glinting bodhisattvas to either side. A further 200 people waited in front of a live screen downstairs, unable to all fit inside the shrine room yet eager even for the chance to simply be close to the Karmapa. When they heard the organizers explain to His Holiness at the opening of the event that there was an additional group seated below, they uttered calls and shouts loud enough to be heard in the main hall, drawing a smile from the Karmapa.
The Town Supervisor of Red Hook, Sue Crane, offered words of welcome to His Holiness the Karmapa and thanked him for once more gracing the town with his presence. “Thank you for your wisdom,” she said to the Karmapa, adding, “The world longs for wisdom.”
Many people think of the Medicine Buddha as a kind of doctor, His Holiness began. They believe that if they recite the Medicine Buddha mantra it will help them heal their own illnesses, or, if they are themselves healers, those of others. But what we really need to understand is the point behind why we call this Buddha the Medicine Buddha.
The Karmapa explained that the four medicinal tantras that form the basis of all Tibetan medicine describe an immediate (or proximate) cause of illness, as well as a fundamental (or distant) cause.
“The fundamental cause of illness is the three poisons, attachment, aversion and delusion,” he explained. “The reason we call the Medicine Buddha by this name is that while physical illnesses can be treated and cured by worldly physicians, the fundamental cause needs some kind of special or even supreme medicine.
“It is never said that dharma practice can cure all physical illness or solve all of one’s problems,” he continued. “But while many physical illnesses can be cured and others can not, we at least recognize physical illness as such. However, we usually fail to recognize our fundamental mental illness, the three poisons of aversion, attachment and delusion, as illnesses. So one function of the Buddha’s teachings is to point out that these are a form of disease.”
The Medicine Buddha practice serves two purposes, His Holiness explained. It helps us to recognize our own illness of mental afflictions and apply appropriate remedies, and it also helps us to recognize these things in others and thus have more love and empathy toward them.
“Our three poisons are not only like illnesses, they are also like demons,” he said. “If we understand our own three poisons and how they affect and afflict us, then when we see others who are heavily ill with the three poisons, making them very angry or very jealous, we will understand how it is they have become that way. They have no control over their three poisons, and this has made them, as it were, a little insane. So another benefit of this practice is that it will make it easier for us to have understanding and therefore to be more loving toward others who are afflicted.”
Concluding his comments, His Holiness added that he wasn’t going to say too much about the Medicine Buddha because he himself was feeling a little ill at the moment.
“Given that we usually think the Medicine Buddha magically cures all illness, we would expect a practitioner of the Medicine Buddha who is qualified to teach, to at least not be ill while they are teaching it,” he noted wryly.
Attentive to the wishes of all those who had made efforts to come to connect with him, His Holiness then took time to go downstairs and visit the crowd waiting in the overflow room below, much to their (once again) audible joy.