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Verse 32-1: Being free from illness

Part of a series of talks on the 41 Prayers to Cultivate Bodhicitta from the Avatamsaka Sutra (the Flower Ornament Sutra).

  • The deeper meaning of being “free from illness”
  • The body by it’s very nature gets sick
  • Thinking in terms of the 12 links of depending arising

41 Prayers to cultivate bodhicitta: Verse 32-1 (download)

Verse 32:

“May all beings be free from illnesses.”
This is the prayer of the bodhisattva when seeing someone sick.

We have plenty of opportunity to practice that one because we have a body that by it’s nature get’s old and sick and dies, and it’s definitely going to get sick. That’s to be expected. Plenty of opportunity to practice this one.

This happens because the body is produced by ignorance and by tainted karma. When we say this—”May all beings be free of illness”—we may superficially think, “May everybody have the medicine that they want, may no germs ever go about, may whatever causes cancer cease.” We may think that that may be what it means to say, “May all beings be free from illness.” In other words, that the direct causes that make the body ill be vanquished. That’s not the deeper meaning. I mean it’s definitely good to wish that. I am not saying don’t. It’s definitely good that when people are ill we say, “May all beings be free from illness,” meaning, may the direct causes of illness not appear in this world. The thing is that that is impossible to be actualized as long as we take a body under the influence of ignorance, afflictions, and karma. That’s the point there. That we may cure illnesses by giving medicine or prevent illnesses by good public health systems—and definitely we should do that in this world—but we are not going to ever have a 100% success rate because the nature of the beast, this thing made out of flesh and blood, is to get ill because it’s produced by ignorance and karma.

Here is where we go in to thinking about the 12 links of dependent arising, and how through them a body is produced. Based on that body and mind of a new rebirth, when the mind is still ignorant, afflictions still arise, we still create more karma which produces the causes for more bodies that get sick. If we really want all illnesses to be cured and prevented, then what we need to do is cut the root of samsara, cut the self-grasping ignorance. In the meantime we should definitely try and keep our health well—we need a healthy body in order to practice—but we should know that we are always going to need to practice this verse on ourselves and others because our body will get sick. We should also learn the thought training practices on how to take adversity into the path, because as long as we are beings with this kind of body, the body will get sick and we need to know how to transform it.

We can talk some more about this in the coming days.

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.