Lama Zopa Rinpoche is a scholar and teacher in the Tibetan Gelug tradition and the spiritual director of The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. I’ve gotten a lot out his teachings on Medicine Buddha and healing. However, with this teacher it is sometimes necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff. By that I mean he might suggest as a way to evoke protection from natural disasters, you should make offerings to the beings who control the weather. That’s a bit too mystical for me. But if you can get past that kind of stuff, he has much wisdom to share.
Here is an excerpt from Medicine Buddha Retreat in which Lama Zopa offers a grounded and insightful explanation of one of the biggest obstacles to healing, and awakening. The prayer he mentions is the standard “Going for Refuge” with an additional verse: “I will lead all beings into the heart of enlightenment.”
“The words you say in the bodhicitta prayer include your parents, your family and your enemy. It includes the person you call your enemy, the person who has abused you and toward whom you have built up hatred because of your projections. You put a negative label,” bad,” on that person and “abuse” on that person’s action. Your mind made up the label, believed in that label… and you then allowed your mind to believe in that label. That then made you generate hatred in your heart. I will say here… that when you analyze the situation, you find that the abuse actually came from you. Why? Because it came from your mind. If your mind hadn’t labeled and you hadn’t believed in your label, you wouldn’t see yourself as having been abused…
It’s difficult to heal. Because you never change your concept, your problem never changes; your hatred never changes. The hatred is always there, because you never change your mind, your concept.
This explanation is talking about only this life, about how this problem of abuse came from your present life, from your mind making up the label “abuse” and believing in it. Here we’re not talking in terms of reincarnation and past karma.”
Labeling is a problem. According to Lama Zopa, labeling not only gets in the way of healing, it actually helps to cause disease. Labeling leads to bias, seizing, clinging. For Nagarjuna, the tendency to label things (prapanca) is one of the major roots of suffering. Yet, we live by labels. If we did not label or name things, we could not communicate.
So we label labeling as “bad.” But it’s not all bad, there is a positive side:
Everything is created by the mind. Everything is labeled by the mind. The existence of a label does not mean there is an actual reality for something labeled, because all things and labels are empty (sunya). In Ultimate Healing: The Power of Compassion, Lama Zopa tells us that disease is a label. Death is just a label too.
“Death is a concept, something that comes from our mind… death itself is not the problem; it is our concept of death that is the problem. We have a concept of death as something that exists from its own side… that makes us frightened of death and does not allow us to relinquish our attachment to this life… Death is merely labeled by our mind in dependence upon its base, the consciousness leaving the body. This is all that death is. Therefore, there is no death that exists from its own side. There is no death in the sense of one that exists inherently. It is a hallucination.”
Disease and death are empty. From the view of ultimate truth, they are only thought constructions, concepts produced by the mind, created by us. We can learn to control our thoughts. We can transform them. Understanding this should by empowering. As Lama Zopa suggests, “Knowing how much freedom we have should inspire us and give us hope.”