For years now, I have studied and experimented with various Buddhist and Taoist healing modalities, to the extent that I became a certified chi energy healer/teacher.  But until recently, I was rather complacent about integrating them into my regular practice. Now I’ve reached a point where employing these methods seems imperative to me.

Doctors can treat the physical elements of a problem, but often it is up to the patient to tend to the spiritual and psychological aspects.  That is precisely the emphasis of Eastern healing practices.  If, in the process of using these techniques for healing self and others, one can also positively affect physical aspects, so much the better.

From the Buddhist perspective, all practice is a healing practice, aimed at cleaning the poisons of greed, anger and ignorance from our system, curing delusions, and dispelling the disease of suffering.  The historical Shakyamuni Buddha has often been called the “Great Physician” because his dharma is a medicine capable of healing all beings in both body and mind.

In the late Indian Mahayana period, the concepts of “inner” (dealing with the mind) and “outer” practices were formulated, incorporating concepts borrowed from traditional Indian spirituality, such as the chakras.  In China, Buddhism adopted many Taoist ideas, including theories on the flow of chi energy.  And when Buddhism was transmitted to Tibet, “outer” practice developed into the Four Tantras (Gyudzhi) which became the foundation of the Tibetan medical system.

It’s tempting for Westerners with our logical, rational modern minds to dismiss Eastern healing methods as ‘hocus-pocus’ or magical thinking.  I think it is simply a matter of a different approach.

I first learned about Tibetan Medicine in 1984 when I read John F. Avedon’s In Exile From The Land of Snows, which to this day remains the definitive account on the Chinese conquest of Tibet and its aftermath.  Over the course of the book, Avedon recounts a number of healing stories that seem utterly fantastic and unbelievable.  He also devotes a chapter of the book to Tibetan Medicine along with a detailed profile of Dr. Yeshi Donden, who served as the Dalai Lama’s personal physician for two decades and re-established the famed Tibetan Medical Center.  Since this book was published, Dr. Donlen (Dhonlen) has become well-known for his treatment of many renowned patients.

Because the approach of Tibetan Medicine is so dissimilar from the way medicine is practiced in the West, Dr. Donlen’s methods are still difficult for Western doctors to comprehend.  What appears to be almost entirely intuitive at first glance is actually based on the development of acute powers of observation.  In Exile, Avedon quotes Dr. Richard Selzer, who was an assistant professor of surgery at Yale University and had occasion to watch Dr. Donlen at work,

I went to observe Dr. Dhonden with some healthy skepticism.  I was surprised and elated by what I found.  It was as if he was a human electrocardiogram machine interpreting the component parts of the pulse. We have nothing like it in the West.  It’s a dimension of medicine that we have not yet realized.”

Avedon also quotes Dr. Herbert Benson, who led a team of Harvard researchers to the Tibetan Medical Center in India in 1982,

Western scientific documentation of Tibetan claims is nonexistent.  It would be nice, through, to discover the worth of what they have developed over thousands of years.  If their claims are only partly true they would be worthy of investigation.  Therefore, can we really afford to ignore this?”

This same question is relevant to the whole of Eastern healing philosophy and methods.  While the efficacy of these solutions have not been fully studied and documented in the West, they have been practiced for several thousand years, and since we cannot afford to ignore them, it is incumbent upon us to keep an open mind.

Many of my upcoming posts will deal with the subject of healing, and I will discuss some of the methods I’ve learned.  Today’s post serves as an introduction.

In this world, all breathing creatures, all beings – whether human beings, animals, whatever – are exposed to different forms of suffering.  In the Tibetan system we believe that whether we are physically healthy or not, basically all of us are sick.  Even though disease might not be manifest, it is present in dormant form.  This fact makes the scope of disease difficult to fathom.”

Dr. Yeshi Donden, Health Through Balance


Bang Bang

hardin-reward3John Wesley Hardin (1853-1895) was a real hard-guy. An American outlaw who claimed to have killed 42 men. Trigger happy? You bet. He once shot a man to death for snoring.

Yesterday in Florida, an ex-cop allegedly shot a man to death for texting.

I think we are soon approaching the day when you’ll have to go through a metal detector to enter a movie theater. When that happens, another precious piece of the America we once knew will have been shot to death, too.

Starting at about age 8 or 9, I used to go to movies by myself, at the wonderful, grand Orpheum Theater in Wichita, Kansas. If I had a kid that age these days, I wouldn’t let him or her out of the house. Hey, if they can’t go nowhere, they can’t get shot. Yesterday in New Mexico, a 12 year old boy opened fire on his fellow classmates with a shotgun .  .  .

As I, and others, have said before, our right to be safe trumps anyone’s right to own and carry a gun. People should feel safe in a movie theater. Young people should feel safe at school.

But I understand the rage that certain annoyances provoke. Believe me, if I were a different sort of person and a gun-owner, there is a good possibility that the streets of Hollywood would be littered with the bodies of dead leaf-blower guys. Almost as annoying is the now wide-spread practice of conducting private telephone conversations in public, and when it’s done in a loud voice, it just makes you want to scream, “Shut the fuck up!” Texting, though, is a relatively quiet activity, and even if it wasn’t in yesterday’s incdent, hardly anything to shoot someone over. Ex-cop or not, no one needs to take a gun to the movies. There’s enough on the screen already.

The story about John Wesley Hardin is probably a tall tale. The fact is that in the Old West more people died from gun accidents than from gunfights. Sadly, that’s not true today. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, in the United States during 2010, only 606 people died accidentally from unintentional firearm injuries, whereas guns were used in 11,078 homicides.

Every time we have a school shooting, we hear the public outcry and we listen to our politicians (the good ones) promise to take action on gun control. But nothing ever changes. The complacency in all quarters is astounding and unacceptable. But having said that, I admit I am not sure about the answer. Threatening to restrict guns just drives sales up. There are actually few places where guns are not allowed (airports, courtrooms, and supposedly, schools), yet banning guns in more places would only cause those who are rabid about their 2nd Amendment rights to ignore the bans. In Los Angeles, it is unlawful to operate a leaf blower within 500 feet of a residence. In one of the most massive and successful, yet disappointing, acts of civil disobedience in the history of the world, gardeners in this town have paid absolutely no heed to that ordinance.

So, in lieu of a solution, here’s a cool song. To listen just click on the arrow. Lyrics below.

Guns – Flo and Eddie

flo and eddie
Flo and Eddie: A couple of peace-loving, dirty, commie hippies.

Ever fly a B-52?
Not a lot you gotta do
Never seeing nothing but little yellow lights
On a panel full of buttons
Ever see a face in the crowd?
Never hear the sound of the tears rollin’ down
But, it’s all right, tonight
While we’re cuddled up tight
In the name of victory
It’s a shame that you and me
Can’t stop them guns

Guns a’marching, guns a’shootin’
Gun’s a’firing, guns alarming me
They’re aimed at me
Gotta stop them guns
Guns deployin’, guns destroyin’,
Guns a’blazin’, guns amazing me

Ever see a young baby fawn
Learning how to drink from a pond?
Peeking through your rifle
Lining up those cross-hairs
Must be quite an eyeful
Ever see an old fashioned doe
Who just didn’t know
It was time to let go?
And tonight, the lights
On Broadway will shine
On the fur and ivory
In the name of victory
It’s a shame that you and me
Can’t stop them guns.

Can’t stop those guns,
Guns a’marching, guns a’shootin’
Gun’s a’firing, guns alarming me
They’re aimed at me
Gotta stop them guns
Guns deployin’, guns destroyin’,
Guns a’blazin’, guns amazing me

© 1976 Howard Kaylan / Jim Pons / Mark Volman


The Spring, The Source and The Root of The Path.

In his superb book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche describes bodhicitta, the thought of awakening, like this:

To awaken and develop the heart of the enlightened mind is to ripen steadily the seed of our buddha nature, that seed that in the end, when our practice of compassion has become perfect and all-embracing, will flower majestically into buddhahood. Bodhicitta, then, is the spring and source and root of the entire spiritual path.”

I’m not sure any other spiritual tradition than Buddhism has a concept such as bodhicitta, the aspirational wish to realize awakened mind for the benefit of all living beings. And for our path, as Sogyal Rinpoche says, it is the spring, source and root of the all spiritual development.

Shantideva, the eighth century Indian Buddhist poet and philosopher, understood the importance of bodhicitta well, and that is why in Chapter One of A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, he wrote,

A person who wants to overcome the sorrows of life, who wants to still the sufferings of sentient beings, who wants to experience happiness of the spirit, must never abandon the thought of awakening.

And in Chapter Three,

Once a person of wisdom has given rise to the the thought of awakening, that person shall exalt the same thought repeatedly in the following manner, in order to secure its subsequent growth:

“Today my life bears fruit, and this human state is well assumed; today I have been born in the family of Buddhas, now I become a child of the awakened.”

From today on, I must act according to the customs of my family, so that the legacy of this noble lineage may be fulfilled.

It as if a blind man found a gem in a pile of dung.  In the same manner, I know not how, this thought of awakening has arisen in me.

This elixir has arisen to vanquish death from the world. It is the inexhaustible treasure that will alleviate thirst in the world, the unsurpassed medicine that will allay the sufferings of the world . . .

The caravans of men, which travels through the roads of existence, hungering for pleasure and happiness, finds here the banquet of bliss, in which all those who come to it become satiated.

Today in the presence of all the Noble Ones, I invite the whole world to be guests at the festival of awakening, and at the same time, to happiness.  May all living beings rejoice.”


A Big Tree

It’s been a while since we checked in with our old friend, Chuang Tzu, the Taoist philosopher of ancient China. Chuang Tzu’s writings are collected in a book called Chuang Tzu, one of the classics of Chinese literature. He espoused a holistic approach to life, and lived in the fourth century BCE, the same time as Plato and Aristotle. To read some of the other stories and mentions of this sage I’ve posted, click on ‘Chuang Tzu’ in the tag cloud on the right sidebar.

Today, an antidotes from Chuang Tzu, in which he advises us not to sweat the small stuff:

One day Hui said to Chuang Tzu, “I have a large tree, but its trunk is too big and knotty to be measured out for planks, and its branches are too bent for use with a compass or a square. If you put it in the middle of the road, no carpenter would look at it twice. Now your words are just as big and useless and everyone is unanimous in rejecting them.”

Chuang Tzu replied, “Have you ever watched a wildcat? It crouches down and waits for something to come along, ready to pounce east or west, high or low, only to fall into a trap and die in the net. Then there is the yak, as big as a cloud floating in the sky. It knows how to be big, but it does not know how to catch a rat. So you have a big tree but are troubled over its uselessness. Why not plant it in Nothing Town or in Emptiness Field? Then you could walk around doing nothing by its side or go to sleep beneath it. Axes will never shorten its life, indeed, nothing will ever harm it. If the tree is of no use, then how can it trouble you?”




I meant to post this piece before or on January 1st, but some things came up and I forgot about it. Not too late, though. The Chinese New Year is still ahead, and actually, any day can be the beginning of a new year, just as any day can be the first day of the rest of your life.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Vietnamese Zen teacher, suggests a practice of loving-kindness (metta) mediation for the first three days of the New Year. On the first day, we practice for ourselves. On the second day, we practice for people we love. On the third day, we practice for those who make us suffer.

Loving-kindness meditation originated in the Theravada tradition but is practiced in almost all Buddhist schools. It’s considered a very effective tool for calming the mind and dispelling anger and hatred.

The Dalai Lama offers a rather nice summary of the practice:

Just as compassion is the wish that all sentient beings be free of suffering, loving-kindness is the wish that all may enjoy happiness. As with compassion, when cultivating loving-kindness it is important to start by taking a specific individual as a focus of our meditation, and we then extend the scope of our concern further and further, to eventually encompass and embrace all sentient beings. Again, we begin by taking a neutral person, a person who inspires no strong feelings in us, as our object of meditation. We then extend this meditation to individual friends and family members and, ultimately, our particular enemies.

We must use a real individual as the focus of our meditation, and then enhance our compassion and loving-kindness toward that person so that we can really experience compassion and loving-kindness toward others. We work on one person at a time.”

I first learned loving-kindness meditation in a group setting and the format went like this:

You start by generating acceptance of yourself, removing all feelings of unworthiness. Then you send warm thoughts of loving-kindness to the person next to you. Then, to everyone in the room. Next, you send warm thoughts of loving-kindness to a friend or mentor, and next to an especially beloved friend and to the members of your family. After this, you send warm thoughts of loving-kindness to a neutral person, and then a hostile person, someone you have difficulty with. Lastly, you generate warm thoughts of loving-kindness to each living being in the world.

Acceptance of oneself can be difficult. Feelings of unworthiness or self-loathing are just as much a hindrance to our development of compassion as self-cherishing. When we cannot love ourselves, then how can we love others? Everyone at some time or another finds it difficult to love themselves. And it is especially hard, for obvious reasons, to feel loving-kindness toward a person whom we believe has harmed us and consider hostile. If we can master these two most difficult aspects of loving-kindness practice, then we have scored a major victory over anger and hatred.

This meditation is a very early Buddhist practice, formally known as Metta Bhavana. Metta, of course, is loving-kindness, or simply, love. Bhavana means ‘development’ or ‘cultivation.’ So this meditation is called “The Development of Loving-Kindness.”

Metta Bhavana also has a nice little Pali paritta or chant that accompanies it, which goes like this in English:

Seeing that all beings like myself
Have a desire for happiness
One should develop for all of them
Warm thoughts of Loving-Kindness

May I be every happy
And free from suffering
May all friends and enemies
Be ever happy too

May all beings in this city,
In this state, in other countries
And in all the universe
Be ever happy

May I be free from hatred
May I be free from suffering
May I be free from worry
May I live happily

May all beings in the universe
Be happy and free from suffering
May they always find good fortune
All beings have karma of their own

I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say about loving-kindness today. I just wanted to pass along Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggestion because I though it is a good one. So I will end with this thought from Nagarjuna:

Even offering three hundred bowls of food three times a day does not match the spiritual merit gained in one moment of love.”

‘Nuff said.