Medicine Buddha and the 35 Buddhas
Medicine Buddha and the 35 Buddhas
Part of a series of teachings given during the Winter Retreat in November 2007 and from January to March 2008 at Sravasti Abbey.
Explanation of the Medicine Buddha sadhana
- Practice and visualization
- How to incorporate the lamrim meditations into the practice
Medicine Buddha sadhana explained (download)
Prostration to the 35 Buddhas
- Oral transmission (lung) of this purification practice
35 Buddhas lung (download)
Let’s cultivate our motivation and feel really happy for having this opportunity for doing retreat. It’s kind of miraculous when you think about it how many people are there in this state, in this country, in the world who are able to take this month of November out and do retreat? So not so many; so it’s really important to appreciate our opportunity and make a strong determination to use it for the benefit of all beings; and so to do that, to hold dear to our heart the aim of full enlightenment so that we can be of the greatest benefit to all beings.
This session I wanted to talk a little bit about the sadhana, the Medicine Buddha sadhana and then also to give you the lung for the Prostrations to the 35 Buddhas.
Requirements for self-generation vs. front-generation
So just to clarify to people about the front-generation and the self-generation: if you have had a highest class tantra initiation and the Medicine Buddha jenang, or if you’ve had another kriya tantra initiation, meaning the two-day—like the Chenrezig initiation—plus the jenang or the permission for Medicine Buddha, then you can do the self-generation. If you don’t have those then you do the front-generation. When Khensur Rinpoche comes then we’ll ask him how he’s going to give it because sometimes they make different adjustments.
The sadhana structure and resources for learning
Many things, as I mentioned earlier today, that are in the Medicine Buddha sadhana are also in the 1000-Arm Chenrezig sadhana. If you look there are many similarities in the structure of the sadhanas. They all start out with refuge, and then bodhicitta, and then four immeasurables, and seven limbs, and mandala offering, and then request prayers, and then the chanting of mantra, and then doing a lamrim session after the mantra, and then the deity absorbs and you dedicate. Or sometimes you can do the deity absorbing before the lamrim meditation, either way’s okay. So the layout of both of those practices is similar. So if you read the book Cultivating a Compassionate Heart then you’ll get many ideas which apply equally to this one; also the section in that book about how to work with distractions and so on. Those things are quite similar in the sadhanas. Of course there’s a slightly different visualization here for Medicine Buddha but like I said there are many elements that are the same and so if you read that book it will help you a lot in understanding this. And so for that reason I won’t go in a lot of depth in all the different details of this one. Also because there are other times when I’ve taught the four immeasurables for example, or the seven limbs, or the mandala offering; and I’ve taught those more extensively and so we have those recordings either online or in the Abbey audio library and so you can take them and listen to them there.
When you’re doing the sadhana it can be very helpful to do some reading and to do some listening of other teachings because when you hear teachings of something that you are actually practicing, what you’re practicing becomes much more alive. And the teachings you’re hearing also become much more alive because you’re able to take them right into meditation sessions that you are doing on a daily basis.
Visualization and guru yoga
So let’s just look at the Medicine Buddha sadhana that we have here. We start out with the initial visualization of the Medicine Buddha above our head. There’s a lotus and on that a flat white moon disc, and then your root guru, the dharmakaya essence of all the buddhas in the form of the Medicine Buddha—okay, so it’s this which makes it guru yoga. Guru yoga involves seeing the mind of your spiritual mentor and the mind of the deity as being inseparable in terms of their nature. They are different people, but the nature, the realizations, are inseparable. And so what happens is then, so when you visualize the deity, in this case the Medicine Buddha, you think, “This is my root teacher appearing in this form.” And so that helps you to feel very close to the deity and to always bring into your life on a continuous basis the remembrance of your teacher. Because sometimes the deities seem very abstract, so it’s very helpful to think, “Oh, but this is just my spiritual mentor appearing in this aspect.” Then it helps us to feel closer to the deity. Or sometimes we think, “Oh, my teacher’s just a person but the deity is—wow—something special.” So then when we think this way, that they have the same nature, then we’re also realizing, “Oh, but my teacher isn’t just some kind of Joe Blow that I walk past on the sidewalk. There’s something more there.” And the idea is that, that view helps us a great deal when we listen to teachings because then we think, “Oh, this person has something important to say because they have the same nature as the Buddha, so I’d better listen to what they’re saying because they’re teaching me the Buddha’s teachings.” But it also helps us in times when we aren’t with our teacher; because we can’t always be physically in the same place as our teacher. I’m here, my teachers are all over the world right now. So this practice helps you to maintain that very close feeling of connection because it’s like: “I’m thinking of my teacher looking like this and I’m remembering all the teachings that I received and how those teachings inspired me. And now I’m having a chance to contemplate them and put them into practice as I’m so doing this Medicine Buddha practice.” So that helps us a lot.
I was telling Alec at lunch that when you think like this then when you have a problem instead of going, “UUUUggghhhh, I have a problem, my mind is going nuts, I don’t know what to do.” You have all heard a lot of teachings, some teachings at least, then you just sit down, in this case you would imagine Medicine Buddha, Medicine Buddha and your teacher, the same nature. And you have a little talk with Medicine Buddha, “Medicine Buddha, my mind’s going bonkers: it’s overwhelmed by attachment, it’s overwhelmed by jealousy. I’m feeling totally discouraged, I’m so angry. What do I do?” Seeing the deity and your teacher as having one nature, then you know what your teacher would tell you to do. You’ve been in teachings and you’ve heard what some of the antidotes are, you’ve had private conversations and asked about specific difficulties and problems in your life or in your practice and you’ve heard the response. When you have this little conversation it helps you remember what you heard before. And then when you think, “That’s kind of like my teacher telling me that again. Right. And so I want to practice this.” And that gives you some inspiration to practice it. Are you getting what I’m meaning?
I remember one time, I do this a lot, this is kind of my MO when I have difficulties. I don’t always know where my teachers are or some of my teachers have passed way, or who knows what, they’re all over the world. But I remember one time some years ago I was having so many problems and all sorts of stuff was going on. And my head was really spinning. And I imagine different teachers at different times when I do this, but this one particular time I was thinking of Lama Yeshe and I just thought of Lama and just remembered how Lama used to say to us, “Keep it simple, dear.” And I thought, “That’s exactly what I need to do. My mind is just spinning at this and that and in confusion and how about this, what about that, and why did they do this.” My mind was not at all simple. Well I just thought, “That’s what I need to do, keep it simple.” What is important in this situation and drop everything else. So that’s kind of an example of thinking of my teacher. Lama didn’t need to give me a whole discourse on the Prajnaparamita at that point because, “Just keep it simple, dear” is the pith instruction, the abbreviation of the Prajnaparamita. Just keep it simple and drop the rest.
Sometimes that can be so helpful; it reminds us of that close feeling that we have for our teacher. Because sometime when our mind becomes troubled, “I’m all alone, nobody understands me, nobody has gone through this, and I can’t stand it anymore, I’m going down the hill.” We always joke about this every retreat: about how everybody at least once in the retreat says, “This is it. After this session I’m taking off. I’m running down the hill.” Nobody has ever done it yet. But sometimes we all have that feeling. “My knees hurt, my back hurts, and my mind is out of control, this is totally useless. I’m going to go to Newport and get a latte.” So you’re down the hill. It’s a long way to Newport: when your mind is not thinking clearly it doesn’t care if it’s a long way to Newport or not. So this is a good way to think before you put on your jacket or even leave your jacket behind because you’re so eager to leave.
Is that true those of you who have done past retreats? Yes? So for you newcomers, if there’s one day when you just feel like this is too much, just know that everybody else has had that too. So don’t take it too seriously.
So back to the visualization: you have Medicine Buddha on the top of your head. He’s blue. His right hand is in the mudra of giving realizations: the palm is out, and he’s holding the stem of an arura plant, a basic ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine and also Tibetan medicine. In his left hand, which is in the mudra of concentration, there’s the alms bowl with nectar in it; so it’s healing nectar. And he’s wearing three saffron robes of a monastic, and has the 32 signs and 80 marks of an enlightened being.
Refuge, bodhicitta, four immeasurables, special bodhicitta
Then we do refuge and bodhicitta, then the four immeasurables. I won’t explain it now because you’ve all been doing this kind of thing a lot. When you’re doing retreat you can go as quickly or as slowly through these various steps as you want to. Some sessions you may want to do the initial part very quickly and spend more time on the mantra or on the analytical meditation. Other times you may really want to, you could, spend a whole session on the refuge and the four immeasurables. The nice thing about doing retreat is that you have the time. You’re doing these five times a day. So you have the time to do it slowly if there’s some part of the sadhana that is really speaking to your heart, just stop and meditate on that. You don’t have to rush through the whole thing. If something is really calling out to you and speaking to you, stop and do that. Or sometimes what you might want to do, before you take refuge you might want to do some of the analytic meditation on refuge: its causes, its nature, the qualities of the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. You might want to do some meditation on that and then say the refuge prayer. Or before you do the bodhicitta prayer you may want to do a whole meditation on bodhicitta and generate it before you say the prayer. Other times you might just want to say the prayer and, “Boing!” You remember having that feeling and have it come into your mind quickly.
So what I’m saying is there’s room for your own process while you’re doing this in retreat. Don’t feel like you have to do it to the same rhythm as you do it every morning when someone’s leading it. But rather really take the time and go into the various aspects of it so that it becomes something quite rich for you. So similarly four immeasurables, you might spend almost the whole session on the four immeasurables. That’s okay. No problem because that can be very important you know; same thing with special bodhicitta, same thing with seven limbs.
Seven-limb prayer: offering
You can take the seven limbs, because by the way, the seven limbs if you look at the King of Prayers—the Extraordinary Aspiration of the Practice of Samantabhadra—the first two pages of that are a long seven-limb prayer. So someday you may say, “I don’t want to say these seven lines, I want to do the long one.” So you sit and do the long one, take your time visualizing all the bodies and bowing down. Sometimes with the second limb of offering there are more verses in the King of Prayers about offering; also in your blue prayer book there’s the Extensive Offering practice. Some days you may feel like, “Okay, get to the second limb; I’m going to sit and meditate on the Extensive Offering practice.” Just insert that there. And then really do that. And you’re imagining all these beautiful things: so many Medicine Buddhas and beautiful objects and you’re making offering. Go to it! Do that because this is the kind of luxury you have in retreat to really spend time doing things.
So if someday you’re feeling poor and inadequate, poor emotionally or poor financially, then do the offering practice and imagine all these beautiful things that you give with so much generosity to the Three Jewels.
Seven-limb prayer: confession
So you have prostrations, offering, and the third limb is confession. Some days you might want to get to this one and do the confession prayers, also from the blue book [Pearl of Wisdom I]. We have the General Confession, the 35 Buddhas; you can insert that all right here in that third limb of confession. Confession is quite important: it really frees our heart from different things.
Seven-limb prayer: rejoicing
And then the fourth limb is rejoicing. So Lama Zopa also teaches a whole meditation on rejoicing: you can just sit and rejoice on your own and others virtues for 45 minutes. It makes your mind really happy. I mean really, just sit and think about that, “How wonderful, this person is doing this practice, and these people are studying, and that one’s doing this, and that one’s doing that.” So instead of looking at the Dharma practice other people are doing and getting jealous, “Oh, I want to do that, but I can’t.” Or getting dissatisfied with what you’re doing now, “Oh, I’m just a baby beginner and I want to do like that but I can’t do it. And they’re more virtuous than I am and more people know that and I’m such a creep.” Instead of getting into all that rubbish, just sit and rejoice in yours and others virtue and let your mind be happy—it’s a wonderful practice. Just sit and take some time with that.
Seven-limb prayer: requesting to remain, to teach, and dedication
“Please remain as our guide until cyclic existence ends.” Again asking the Buddha to remain and not abandon us in samsara. Or the sixth one, to turn the wheel of Dharma: spend sometimes with those limbs and really contemplate them and generate the feeling, asking the Buddha to remain and guide us, asking our teacher for teachings. Those are very important. And the dedication you can also spend a long time doing. And with all of these you can meditate on emptiness while you’re doing them, thinking that they all exist conventionally, dependently, but none of them have their own inherent essence.
Mandala and inner mandala offering
Mandala offering, same way. Especially with the mandala offering, imagine everything is this gorgeous, wonderful, beautiful universe and offer it. And remember the inner mandala? I described that one day, where your skin becomes the land, and your intestines are the rings of the mountains, your blood is the beautiful water, and your trunk is Mount Meru, your head is the jewel on top on Indra’s palace, your ears are the victory banner and the parasol, your eyes the sun and moon, your internal organs are all these beautiful things filing the sky. Really do that, it’s called the inner mandala, where we imagine this yucky, gooey body and your transform it into some thing really beautiful. Then offer that. This is very good if you’re having trouble with your body—in your meditation, just do that; completely disassemble your body and transform it into this beautiful universe, and offer it. It’s no longer your body; it’s no longer this painful, uncomfortable thing: you have taken it and done something valuable with it instead of letting it control life. That meditation is quite good to do.
If you’re missing someone, put them in the mandala offering and imagine 10,000 of them and offer them to the Buddha; because someone that we attached to, isn’t it better that they are under the care of the Buddha instead of our attachment. If you’re sitting there and thinking, “Oh, the girl who got away,” the one that got away—we all have so many of them, don’t we? One of the inmates that I correspond with sent me an article that was all about, “What If?” He says when you’re in prison you have a lot of time to do all your daydreams about, “What if?” Don’t spend too much time in your meditation doing the What If meditation. “What if I had done this, then they wouldn’t have gotten away? What if I had done that, a better one would have come? What if this and what if that?”
If a lot of attachment is coming into your mind, day dreaming and stuff, then just put the person or the object in the mandala, multiple them by thousands and millions, and then offer them to the Buddha. It’s a great way; they’re much better under the Buddha’s care than under our care. I think it’s very good to do that when sexual attachment arises. I remember one time sitting in teachings in Dharamsala, public teachings, and there was this very nice looking young man who came and sat down in front. And I went “Oh, he’s nice looking.” Then I thought, “This is not appropriate to thinking this here.” So I thought, “I’ll offer him to Tara.” Then I looked at him and decided he wasn’t good looking enough to offer to Tar—he just had a regular body made of flesh and blood, he pooed and burped and everything else, “He’s not good enough to offer to Tara.” I had to transform him quite a bit to make him good enough as an offering. You can do that and it helps you to see what the nature is of what you’re hanging on to, what you think is beautiful. When you really think about it, would you offer a pile of horse manure (we were shoveling horse manure in the garden) to the Buddha. A human body isn’t much else, except that it has a nice skin package on it. But outside that, nothing special to get that jazzed about. Better to transform and offer it.
Requesting, further visualization and the request prayer
Then we do the request to the Medicine Buddha. When we’re requesting we’re really putting our heart into the request, thinking about the traits of the Medicine Buddha that are being expressed in the request prayer. Then we go back to the visualization. So you still have Guru Medicine Buddha on your head and on top is the wish granting jewel that you think of as the essence of your guru. Then on top of that is the Buddha the King of Clear Knowing. So they’re all sitting one on top of the other. Remember that their bodies are all made of light, so don’t get a headache thinking that now you have seven 250-lb Medicine Buddhas on top of your head. Also, you visualize them small. Some times people envision them as a bit of a cubit. Just whatever feels good and don’t worry about, “Did I get all of them,” “How high do I have to stretch my mind.” Don’t worry about that kind of stuff. It really doesn’t matter. The purpose is to get the sense that you’re in the presence of these holy beings.
So they’re there on top of your head and then with your hands together in prostration, you recite the verses starting with the Buddha at the very top, you recite the request prayer to that one. After you’ve recited to that one, then that Medicine Buddha dissolves into the Medicine Buddha below him.
Then you can do each request prayer. Lama Zopa had us do it seven times each. I put in three in the written one. My philosophy is that if saying it over and over and over begins to feel like a chore to you and your heart’s not in it, then it’s better to do it one time and do it really clearly and nicely one time for each one. So I’ll leave it to you to decide how many times you recite each verse. Sometimes you might prefer to do it three, or seven times and recite it very, very fast because sometimes when you recite things fast it helps you to concentrate more. Other times you might want to just say it once and say it very slowly. Or you might want to say it once slowly and two times quickly. Let’s leave it a little bit flexible because according to you and how you might be feeling at that particular session. You know which part is going to speak more to you and what you need to do at that time.
Changing it up to help you concentrate
Each one dissolves on into the other, then you’re left with the Medicine Buddha, the King of Lapis Light on your head. Now, if you find all of that too long, or too difficult, or too something or another and you feel like you want to do a simpler visualization, then just imagine the Medicine Buddha, the King of Lapis Light above your head. Make that simple request and then continue with the visualizations that go with the mantra. You can do it differently at different times.
If you haven’t had the initiation, in response to your request infinite light rays stream down from the heart and mind of the Medicine Guru Buddha. They fill your body, purifying all disease, spirit harm, and the negative karma and mental afflictions that cause these. Your body becomes the nature of light, clean and clear like crystal. That is emphasizing the purifying aspect of it. Then the light comes down a second time and the third time and really fills you with great bliss. If you feel like, “What’s the difference between the first time and the second time, and the third time? If the first time is good enough, then how come I have to stop it and start it again a second time?” Just relax. Don’t worry about it. Let the light and nectar come down continuously and leave it like that, okay?
Purifying and inspiring
Although it doesn’t say it here specifically you can think that the light and nectar do two things. One, it does the purifying. The mental afflictions, the negative karma, the disease, the pain, any kind of spirit afflictions, whatever is bugging you, your bad mood, it’s all being purified. It’s all coming and filling you and it’s all going out and if here you want to use the visualizations, like in the Vajrasattva meditation, you can add those in here when you’re concentrating on the purifying part. Other times you can concentrate more on the inspiring part which means at that point the light and nectar, you think that it’s the nature of all the realizations of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas; and as that light and nectar is filling you you’re being filled with the qualities of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. At that time you think, “Oh, my love and compassion are increasing and what would it feel like to have the love and compassion of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas.” Or, “My generosity is increasing, my ethical conduct is increasing.” You can go one by one through the six far reaching attitudes and really think, “Oh, that one’s really increasing, what would it feel like to have it increased” or, “What would it feel like to have it be the same as the Medicine Buddha’s qualities.” So, sometimes you focus on the purifying aspect of the light and nectars and sometimes you focus on the inspiring aspect of them, gaining the realizations. Sometimes you can focus on it just being the nature of bliss, and you know it’s filling you and you are filled with bliss. Just kind of let your mind be peaceful and tranquil and don’t worry about anything. This kind of bliss is a wisdom bliss. It’s the Buddhas’ and bodhisattvas’ bliss. It’s not some kind of selfish bliss or anything like that. Just think of it as being the joy that the holy beings experience and that’s coming into you and let your mind abide in that. Let your mind be joyful. Don’t worry about it. Don’t sit there, “Ah, I’m experiencing joy. What’s wrong with me, I don’t usually feel like this. I don’t feel like me anymore. I’d better feel miserable, then I’ll feel like me. This bliss stuff is very uncomfortable.” Don’t get into all of that. It sounds funny, but when you meditate our mind thinks some very funny things sometimes, doesn’t it?
If you had the initiation and want to do the self-generation then you do the purifying part. You can also do the inspiring part. Then Medicine Buddha dissolves into you and your mind becomes non-dual with the dharmakaya, the essence of all the Buddhas, and here’s where you meditate on emptiness, where your mind and the Medicine Buddha’s mind become undifferentiated in the realization of emptiness. Then within that state of emptiness, in other words you don’t let go of your meditation of emptiness, but you see that things are empty and yet also they appear, and so you appear as the Medicine Buddha. At your heart is a horizontal lotus and a flat moon disk. In the center of that is the blue syllable, OM. Then starting in the front going clockwise and standing upright are the syllables om bekandze, bekandze maha bekandze randza samungate soha going around. So, as you’re sitting there, the OM is in the center and the rest of the mantra is going clockwise like that.
Visualization of Medicine Buddha using the Chenrezig meditation
Another way to do it, for those of you who last year did the Chenrezig meditation with the six deities, remember it, the six deities how you generate Chenrezig. You can do the six deity self-generation here with Medicine Buddha too. Because that’s such a beautiful practice, isn’t it, doing that slowly. (See Pearl of Wisdom II page 77.) Here what you do is, remember the “Ultimate Nature of the Deity”, that’s going to be the same: emptiness is emptiness. Then the “Deity of Sound,” here you just substitute Medicine Buddha wherever it says Chenrezig. The sound of the mantra, om bekandze, bekandze, maha bekandze randza samungate soha, that’s what’s reverberating through the universe. Then the “Deity of Letter,” that coagulates or solidifies slightly into light. And so you have the letters of the mantra around the moon disk: om bekandze, bekandze maha bekandze randza samungate soha. They are bright blue. And then that transforms into the thousand petaled lotus and around it you have the letters going around the moon disk, teyata om bekandze, bekandze, maha bedandze randza samungate soha. And then you radiate out and you do the two purposes: enlightening sentient beings and making offerings. And they transform into Medicine Buddha, they dissolve back into you. Then you arise as the Medicine Buddha. You have a moon at your heart and an upright blue letter, OM. So instead of the HRIH like you have with Chenrezig, you have the blue OM at your heart because you’re Medicine Buddha. “Deity of Mudra,” I don’t know how that one goes. That one’s going to be different here. Maybe leave that one. I’m not sure how that one goes. Then the “Deity of Sign” you can do in the same way. Except for HRIH, there’s an OM. Yes, you just substitute. So that’s a very nice way to do the self-generation. Take your time and do that. It’s quite a wonderful meditation. Really focus there on the union of appearance and emptiness. After you’ve done all that and you’re the deity, then you do the mantra.
Front-generation and mantra
If you’re doing the front-generation, you’re not becoming the deity, so you have Medicine Buddha on your head. You do all of that purification and receiving the inspiration, you do that whole visualization while you’re saying the mantra.
There’s this wonderful energy with the mantra being said out loud. I don’t know about you, but I love leading this retreat because when everybody really puts their heart into saying that mantra out loud, it’s like there’s so much energy in it. Sometimes when you’re doing your group practice you might do that, do it out loud and really feel what it’s like to have everybody: when you’re doing it out loud put your heart into it. [Venerable whispering the mantra followed by laughter] No, I know what you guys are probably like: [Venerable in a very slow and tired sounding voice, teasingly] “tayyyyaaaaataaaa oooommmm beeekkkaaannnndddzzzzeeeee.” [laughter] You always slow everything down so much. Do it with some energy!
Meaning of the mantra
[In response to the audience requesting the translation of the mantra] “I honor the Buddha Master of Healing, the King of Lapis Lazuli Light, Tathagata, Arhat, (those are epithet for a fully enlightened one) Perfectly Enlightened Buddha, saying: To the healing, to the healing, to the supreme healing, hail!” You could say I pay homage, or I pay refuge, I bow down. So it’s saying the name of the Buddha. It has a meaning, but it’s also calling out to the Medicine Buddha by name. He’s the healing Buddha and you’re requesting healing. When you’re requesting healing, it’s not like you’re waiting for the Medicine Buddha to heal you. You realize you have to do something too in this healing process and learn how to heal your own mind. Learn how to heal, or deal with what’s happening in your body; because if you can have a peaceful mind, then whatever is happening in your body is not going to flip you out.
It’s also a very interesting meditation when you do this, if you’re doing it also for physical healing. Think of the negative karma you’ve created that’s caused the physical illness or the injury, or whatever you’re going through. If you have depression, think of the negative karma, whatever it is. Then imagine purifying all of that. It goes out of you and you’re filled with this brilliant light. That’s just one way to concentrate on purifying the karma that’s causing it. But then also, send that light all throughout your body and let that light go everywhere in your body. And sometimes if your knees are hurting, let that light go into your knees. If your back’s hurting, let it go into your back. And sometimes when you’re doing it you might find that you skip one area of your body. It’s like, the light comes in and it gets to the middle of your chest and then all of a sudden it goes to your waist. Somehow you’ve left something out here in the middle. Or somehow the light just doesn’t seem to be able to get into your right hip. So it can be very interesting to watch where in your body you don’t feel comfortable, or where you might be holding stress or tension.
Little atoms of Medicine Buddhas
Try and just imagine that light going into those places in your body. Sometimes it can be very helpful to think that each little atom of the light is a little Medicine Buddha. Your elbow hurts and now all this light’s coming into your arm and into your elbow and your whole elbow now becomes all these little atoms of Medicine Buddhas. As that light comes in it fills that whole area. Don’t think, “Oh, there’s this bone and there’s that bone and there’s these muscles and tendons,” and you go and look at your anatomy book, “Where’s the Buddha going to get in? I have to squeeze him in between those muscle fibers.” Just forget about your anatomy and just let the light go all in there, so that it’s all completely filled in there and each little atom is a Medicine Buddha. Let that go throughout your body. It’s a different way of being mindful of your body. Now your body is becoming a body of radiant blue light where each atom is a Medicine Buddha.
Okay, so you do that if you’re doing the front-generation. If you’re doing the self-generation than you can do as you do with Chenrezig, sending the light out to others and it purifies them and it inspires them. Then you make offerings to them and then they all dissolve back into you. You can do that same visualization or you can do the shorter version which is described right here. After you do that then you do some lamrim meditation.
If you’re doing the front-generation, the light and nectar purifies you. Then you also still have the Medicine Buddha on your head and the light radiates out from the Medicine Buddha going to all the other sentient beings around you. It touches them and it heals them. Then at the end of the sadhana before you dedicate, if you’re doing the front-generation, Medicine Buddha dissolves into blue light and comes and dissolves into you, into your heart and you feel that you and the Medicine Buddha have become inseparable; the same way that you do like at the end of the Chenrezig meditation.
[In response to audience] Oh, yes, so it [Medicine Buddha] dissolves in between your eyebrows or you can also think it goes into your heart.
Then you dedicate and rejoice. As you’re walking around all day, try and say the mantra as much as you can. Just walk around, say the mantra and send out light from Medicine Buddha and enlighten all the turkeys, all the stink bugs and all the deer, and the neighbors and the sentient beings all around and everywhere. So just do that, focus on that.
Before we go on to the 35 Buddhas [sadhana], I just wanted to read some of the comments. We have almost 70 inmates doing the retreat from afar with us. I hope their pictures will be up soon. Some of them have written comments to Jack, because Jack is taking care of sending out all the sadhanas and materials to them. He copied a few of the comments:
- Charles said that he’s, “honored to do the retreat and can’t wait to start.”
- Jeremy said, “The retreat will be great for me.”
- Don said, “I am honored for this opportunity and I will be grateful to you for the chance to strengthen my practice.”
- Robert said, “Please thank Venerable Chodron (9 prostrations) [laughter] for thinking of me and asking me to go on retreat. I accept the offer respectfully and humbly.”
- Jorge said, “I look forward to working diligently in this practice each day. Also please send my salutations to Venerable Chodron.”
- James said that he is, “looking forward to the retreat and that he has continued the Chenrezig practice daily since the last retreat.
[In response to audience] Can you do the lamrim at another place in the sadhana? My feeling is that it’s fine. I go with the feeling that if something comes into your mind really strongly, and you want to contemplate that point, do it! If you do the lamrim before you do the visualization, let’s say you meditate on karma before you do the visualization; then your feeling of purifying is going to be much stronger. So if you’ve just meditated on karma or refuge or whatever it is. You might meditate on bodhicitta at the beginning of the sadhana, when you’re creating bodhicitta. Or you might do it just before you do the mantra and then focus when the light’s coming into you thinking, “Okay now the realization of bodhicitta’s coming into me” because you just did lamrim meditation.
Focusing mind with lamrim during mantra
When you’re doing the mantra recitation do the visualization like it says. Sometimes if your mind just can’t stick with the visualization: there are sometimes when the mind just won’t stick there, then do a lamrim meditation when you’re doing the mantra in the background, but contemplate lamrim. If that’s too hard for you, just stop the mantra, do some lamrim until your mind calms down and you get rid of whatever. If there’s some strong disturbing attitude in your mind do the lamrim, calm your mind down and then come back to the mantra and the visualization.
Sometimes when you’re doing it your visualization’s going to be the strongest part of it and it’s like the mantra is just kind of softly in the background. That’s fine. Other times the visualization will be in the background and it’s the sound of the mantra that’s the strong thing. Sometimes what we try and do, we want to do everything all at once perfectly! It doesn’t work. It’s fine if just one time the mantra takes predominance, the visualization is the quieter one. Another time the visualization’s stronger, the mantra’s quieter. That’s fine.
Focus on different processes/points of the sadhana
[In response to audience] So when we’re doing 35 Buddhas [sadhana], because you’re trying to make it a complete practice of body, speech and mind: body with your body, speech you’re saying the name of the Buddha, and mind thinking of the light coming and purifying you and also having a feeling of regret. So that’s fine if sometimes you might do it and you’re not paying so much attention to the names of the buddhas but you’re focusing more on the feeling of regret or the light coming and purifying you. Sometimes you might really be focusing more on imagining the buddhas and saying their names. With your body, I wouldn’t just focus on your body and leave out the visualization and the names, because if you do that then you might as well go to the gym and work out. If you’re just doing the physical prostrations but your mind isn’t focused on anything. And the names are: “I prostrate to my girlfriend, oh I mean the metta, the Buddha and the glorious transcendence destroyer.” No. Okay, [laughing] you never did that? Our mind prostrates to who knows what. I prostrate to the half-gallon of chocolate ice cream [laughter]. Your body’s going up and down, but your mind’s not there; that’s not so good. Try and keep something of the other part going. It’s not like everything has to be, you know, all the different directions have to be complete and perfect each time you do it. You focus on different points and different processes each time you do it.
Changing the pace to help concentration
It’s interesting, sometimes when you do something fast it helps you to concentrate. Other times if you do something slow it helps you to concentrate. You’ve got to see.
[In response to a question about the mantra] You don’t always need to put the “tayata om” in there, sometimes you can just go, “bekandze bekandze maha bekandze randza samungate soha.” That’s fine also. And then sometimes if you want to you can do the long mantra; just do the long one instead of the short one. That’s fine too. Actually the translation I read is the translation of the long one.
Benefit of 100,000 recitations
Often, if you could do 100,000 then you add on an additional 10% so it’s 111,111, then that’s very good to do. I don’t know how long it would take to do this retreat with 100,000 mantra. It doesn’t matter. If you like counting, then what I do is, I have two little bowls filled with beans, a certain number of beans and every mala I move one from [one bowl to] the other. If you’re saying the mantra quickly and it’s becoming distracting because you keep on having to move beans, because you finish a mala quickly, then do three mantras for every bead. And then move one. If you can do 100,000, great, if you can’t that’s okay too. If you really have in your mind that you’d like to do 100,000 and you don’t get done by the end of the month, then just keep doing the practice after the retreat until you do.
The second audio file continues with the explanation and oral transmission of the 35 Buddhas practice.
Venerable Thubten Chodron
Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.