Can Meditation Bring About a Process of Healing?

When we suffer we experience pain.  Whether it is mental, emotional, and/or physical, pain is a message that something is out of balance, that we are lacking harmony.  Healing is the restoration of harmony.

In Taoism, everything is energy.  Pain and stress arise when energies are off balance or when they clash.  Taoism teaches how to achieve harmony.  Balance or harmony is also important in Buddhism, which holds that the main disturber of harmony is the false concept of “self,” “I,” or “ego.”

Both philosophies prescribe the same cure:  meditation.

Can meditation really bring about a process of healing?  That was the precisely the question posed to the great   philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti during a 1969 talk.  He answered,

“Most of us have had pain of some kind – intense, superficial, or pain that cannot be cured.  What effect has pain on the psyche, the brain or the mind?  Can the mind meditate, disassociating itself from pain?  Can the mind look at the physical pain and observe it without identifying itself with that pain?  If it can observe without identifying itself then there is quite a different quality to that pain…  The more you are attached to the pain, the more intense it is.  So that may help to bring about this healing, which is an important question and which can only take place when there is no `me’, no ego or self-centered activity.  Some people have a gift for it.  Others come upon it because there is no ego functioning.”

Krishnamurti considered meditation “the natural act [that] brings about the harmonious movement of the whole.” Healing is about becoming whole.

The word ‘whole’ comes from the old English ‘hale’, which means to be in good health, to be whole and healthy.  The original meaning of ‘whole’ implied “keeping the original sense,” “that which has also survived,” and “to heal.”  The prehistoric German root of whole is also the origin of ‘heal’, ‘health’, and ‘holy’.

To heal means to be whole and to be whole means to heal.

I don’t think we should ever expect to achieve complete wholeness or perfect harmony.  Because we are human beings, we will always be incomplete, imperfect.  Completion is the journey of life, and perfection, an endless further.

But we can expect to heal.  And naturally I am going to tell you that meditation, or what in the T’ien-t’ai/Tendai tradition is called kuan-ksin (Jp.  kanjin), “observing the mind,” is a powerful healing tool on all levels – mental, physical, emotional, spiritual and social.

“Meditation develops your innate energies. With practice, you can take charge of your mind and body, preventing disease before it arises. Shouldn’t everyone make an effort to learn something like this?”
– Yin Shih Tzu, Tranquil Sitting

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My New Tumor

Two days after Senator John McCain announced he had a brain tumor, I underwent a biopsy to diagnose a new mass in my left leg and determine whether it is cancerous.

Medicine Buddha statues at Land of Medicine Buddha, Santa Cruz

It is.  It’s a big fat ugly tumor the size of a baseball.

I’m still in the dark about treatment.  My oncologist has mentioned something about an experimental drug.  Personally, I am leaning toward a drug that is non-experimental, one known to work.

When I know exactly what my options are, I will consider them with the knowledge that I am terminal.  Nothing is going to save my life.  That being the case, if my doctor’s plan is to subject me to an aggressive therapy that will make me sick and miserable, on top of the pain and misery I am already experiencing, further degrading the quality of my life, I am not sure that I am interested.  If the treatment might save my life, I would think differently.  But it’s just to keep me alive a while longer.  My feeling is that quality of life is more important than longevity.

Needless to say, I hate all this.  While it is tempting to bemoan my rotten fate, I have to look at this as an opportunity.   It’s as if the gods of destiny, fate, karma, whatever you want to call them, decided that I am just too lazy these days to practice on my own accord so they figured to give me something really serious to practice about.  They keep doing this and I wish they’d just leave me alone.

“With a good heart, compassion for others, whenever a problem arises, you experience it for others, on behalf of other sentient beings. If you experience happiness, you experience it for others. If you enjoy a luxury life, comfort, you dedicate it to others. And if you experience a problem, you experience it for others—for others to be free of problems and to have all happiness up to enlightenment, complete perfect peace and bliss. Wishing others to have all happiness, you experience problems on their behalf.”

– Lama Zopa Rinpoche, The Joy of Compassion

Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachings were very instructive and encouraging to me a few years ago when I was preparing for a liver transplant.  Based on Medicine Buddha practices, some of it steeped in Buddhist mysticism, much of it practical and empowering.  He makes clear that healing begins and ends with our hearts and minds.  He maintains that there is no healing without compassion, and indeed, compassion itself is an important source of healing.

“The best healer is someone with the realization of bodhicitta, the altruistic thought to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all living beings…  Every single breath of someone with great compassion is medicine…”

What the immediate future holds I don’t know – but I have made a decision on the end.  I do not want to die in a hospital, or here at home, I want to die in a Buddhist setting, in fellowship with other Buddhists.  My thought is to conduct the end of my life as though it were a personal retreat.  I’ve been looking into Buddhist hospices.  Unfortunately, there are not many.  I’ve only found three:  Zen Hospice in San Francisco, Tara House at Land of Medicine Buddha, and Enso House in Washington state.  If you know of any or if you are a Buddhist caregiver, please contact me.

In the meantime, may you be happy and at ease, and free from suffering.

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Everything will be changed

Those of us who watched the news this weekend were bombarded with images from Paris, where Friday terrorists launched an extremely deadly attack. One image, or video, that affected me deeply was the one below of a man playing John Lennon’s “Imagine” on a piano just a few meters away from the Bataclan theater, one of the scenes of the attack.

The song’s message of non-duality and universal compassion is, I believe, the right message, the right response, in the wake of this horrific incident. It matches the spirit of non-violence that permeates Buddhism. The spirit of ahimsa (“do no harm”) is summarized in the famous admonition attributed to the Buddha, that with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings.”

Victor Hugo, the French Romantic author known for his poetry and his novels, including Les Misérables and Notre-Dame de Paris (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”), lived much of his life in the city of Paris. In 1882, he made a speech to the “Workingmen’s Congress.”  You may say Hugo was a dreamer, but he, too, was not the only one . . .

Have faith, then; and let us realize our equality as citizens, our fraternity as men, our liberty in intellectual power. Let us love not only those who love us, but those who love us not. Let us learn to wish to benefit all men. Then everything will be changed; truth will reveal itself, the beautiful will arise, the supreme law will be fulfilled, and the world shall enter upon a perpetual fete day. I say, therefore, have faith.”

I don’t feel that the faith Hugo speaks of is a religious faith, but a faith in humanity, a belief that the goodness in human beings will win out over the evil, faith in the power of compassion and reason.

As requested by the Mayor of Paris, the Eiffel Tower will be lit in the colors of the French flag (red white blue) and the motto of the City “Fluctuat nec Mergitur” will be projected onto the deck of the 1st floor (Trocadero side) from night fall Monday November 16 to 1:00 am and for three days (until Wednesday, November 18 included).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynsq5ms9lvI

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Protection against Ghosts and Demons

I meant to post this around Halloween . . .

The quote is from Dr. Terry Clifford’s Tibetan Buddhist Medicine and Psychiatry, a book that many think is one of the best on the subject of Tibetan Medicine:

Compassion is also understood to be a supreme medicine and protection against ghosts and demons. For according to Dharma psychology, when we try to reject something, we actually become more vulnerable to it. We come to realize this through the practice of meditation and watching the mind. We let unconscious material surface without rejecting or identifying with it. And thus it begins to lose its power over us.”

gb-1Clifford says that to the Tibetans, demons are symbolic.  They can represent negative emotions, mental afflictions.

I’ve wrestled with a few demons. Haven’t you? Ghosts, though, not so much.

When Clifford writes about trying to reject something, this can be the reverse side to attachment. In Buddhism, we normally use the word aversion in the context of anger and hatred, but aversion can also mean “rejection,” a strong dislike, a prejudice against someone or something – as detrimental to our well-being as seizing and clinging.

How does this attitude link to compassion? The Diamond Sutra tells us to cultivate a “non-discriminating mind.” The Buddha says that compassion requires one to free the mind of concepts, give to others with no thought of self or gain, cease making distinctions between beings who are worthy or unworthy, and ultimately, to consider that “when vast and immeasurable numbers of beings have been liberated, actually there is not any being liberated.”

Why is this? The Buddha in the Diamond Sutra tell us it is because “no compassionate person who is truly compassionate holds to the idea of a self, a being, or a separate individual.”

That explanation is teaching compassion from the ultimate truth. From the relative view, because there are others, there can be compassion. And compassion is good medicine, an antidote to self-cherishing, negative emotions and mental afflictions.

Keep in mind this from Lama Zopa Rinpoche, found in Ultimate Healing:

A loving, compassionate person heals others simply by existing. Wherever they are, compassionate people are healing, because they do everything they can to help others with their body, speech and mind. Merely being near a compassionate person heals us because it brings us peace and happiness.”

– – – – – – – – – –

Photo from The Ghost Breakers (1940): Bob Hope & Paulette Goddard

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Musical Interlude: October First Quarter Moon Edition

A break today from Buddhism and serious stuff.

I wrote and recorded this song years ago and occupied myself last week by putting some images to it. It ain’t much, just sort of a little pop song, but hopefully it won’t hurt your ears.

By the way, I have a YouTube channel with other videos I’ve made, a eclectic mix of covers, originals, and ambient music.

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