Spiritual Healing: A Gift From Buddha

The sillouet of a woman against the sky.

The first of the Four Noble Truths taught by Buddha was the truth of suffering. According to Buddha, everybody suffers, even the ones among us who don’t realize it. For Buddhists, suffering is considered an important aspect of human life. According to them, in order for us to want to move beyond worldly concerns we need some degree of discomfort. 

Buddhist teachings about suffering and how to overcome it can be applied by anyone, regardless of dogma or religious beliefs. Although from the Buddhist perspective, faith in a spiritual friend who possesses the 10 qualifications of a teacher is the root of the path, not everyone has the aspiration to delve completely into Buddha’s teachings.

Buddha did not mean to convert people into becoming Buddhists, but to benefit as many people as possible. Just knowing that in the past and even now, many extraordinary people have succeeded in taming their emotions completely applying the path taught by Buddha is enough to get many benefits and blessings.

Since attaining the supreme state of enlightenment is the highest possible human aim, the tools applied on the path also serve to release our relatively small temporary sufferings.

Table of Contents

Finding Mind

When we suffer, we tend to be caught up in very narrow states of mind due to the intensity of our afflictions. If we think of our mental dimension as a house, it would be as if we walk into a corner of the house and get stuck there. This mental tendency is what increases our sense of suffering and makes it very concrete. 

According to a commonly used Buddhist metaphor, when we suffer our minds sink. Usually, when we think about the mind, the first body part that occurs to us is the head, because it is where our sense organs are located. However, the mind in Buddhism is located exactly in the middle of the chest, close to where our hearts are.

If you stop all that you are doing for a moment and just focus on your mind in the middle of your chest, you might feel various sensations. If you want to take a few moments to feel your mind, you should try and observe it as if you were observing the body of a person who you deeply care for, but isn’t you.

Working with Sensations

You can sit or lie down in a comfortable position and just witness the feelings and movements of your mind without getting involved, without increasing or trying to diminish them. When we observe our minds for the sake of healing there should be no interpretation whatsoever of what we feel, just unbiased and unengaged observation.

Sometimes as we open up to the sensations and feelings our emotions bring us, there can be unpredicted outbursts of physical pain which might seem unbearable at first. The ideal scenario would be to just feel whatever is arising, without attempting to block it in any way, just breathing through it. As you do this, don’t allow yourself to get stuck there feeling self-pity, or trying to see the situation from the perspective of others thinking “what would such and such person think of me like this”. However, be cautious if your pain is related to a heart condition or other serious health issues. In that case, call an ambulance immediately. 

Sometimes when we focus on our hearts it might happen that we don’t feel much, but rather find ourselves stuck with a sense of being closed and a bit numb. It can be difficult to get out of this state by oneself. If you are feeling like this, you should find someone to talk to even if you don’t know what to say. In any case, don’t isolate yourself. If this sensation persists, look for the professional help of a psychotherapist, psychologist, or whatever qualified professional you prefer. 

Recognizing Your Own Buddha-nature 

According to Shakyamuni Buddha, we all possess buddha-nature (tathāgatagarbha). This means that every sentient being, including animals, are potential buddhas. Yet, since we are stained by emotional and cognitive afflictions and obscurations respectively, we can’t really live according to our perfect true nature. 

Siddharta Gautama realized his tathāgatagarbha and became the Buddha of our time. In his realization, Buddha knew that it wouldn’t be possible to magically bestow buddhahood upon others. 

Our mental afflictions and ignorance are like the cocoon which we must overcome in order to manifest our own buddha-nature. Each one of us must do the inner work individually. In the Buddhist path, the highest motivation that has the power to fuel a human being to the task of going beyond all mental obscuration is that of truly becoming of benefit to others.

The Capable Ones do not wash away evil with water, they do not remove the suffering of beings by hand, they do not graft their realizations on others; they liberate, teaching the truth of reality’s nature.

Middle Length Lam-rim (LAM RIM ‘BRING BA) by Lama Tsongkhapa

Gaining Insight Into Buddhahood: Uplifting Your Mind

Even though you may not be thinking of becoming a buddha, understanding a little bit about buddhas and bodhisattvas is very useful for expanding one’s consciousness and getting inspired. Inspiration is extremely important in order to cultivate a heart/mind that is able to withstand the unpleasant aspects of life. 

A study by Wachholtz and Pargament (2005) has shown that religious practices increase pain threshold when compared to secular methods. From the Buddhist perspective, having the ability to bear a lot of pain is not the main point of practice. Yet, the result of this study delivers a powerful message about the power of directing the mind to a virtuous object.

You can use whichever object uplifts your mind and makes you feel inspired. The reference is Shakyamuni Buddha, but you can take Jesus Christ, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, or the Virgin Mary, for example. In reality, you can choose whatever person whose qualities exceed their faults. The more powerful the object you choose the better. Here are some great beings and bodhisattvas that you can look up to in order to uplift your mind:

Mata Amritanandamayi

 

Image: gaia.com

Mata Amritanandamayi is affectionately referred to as Amma, which means mother in Hindi. She is an Indian living saint who has since a very young age felt the need and capacity to help others. Amma travels the world hugging everyone who come to see her. People who are hugged by Amma report a deep feeling of healing and being blessed.

The projects run by the organization founded by Mata Amritanandamayi include dozens of retreat centers in India and North America, where meditation courses are offered free of charge. In addition, Amma actively supports global charities in more than 40 countries worldwide, helping to bring food, education, shelter, livelihood, and healthcare to the poor. 

"Love is the most natural thing for humans."

"We should perform all our actions, remaining focused on love."

"Where there is true love, anything is effortless."

“If it is one man’s karma to suffer, isn’t it our dharma (duty) to help ease his suffering and pain?”

“A continuous stream of love flows from me to all of creation. This is my inborn nature. The duty of a doctor is to treat patients. In the same way, my duty is to console those who are suffering.”

"Once we develop the attitude that "I am love, the embodiment of love" then we need not wander in search of peace for peace will come in search of us."

Mata Amritanandamayi

Rumi

Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī was a Sufi mystic, teacher, and writer who composed many poems reflecting his high realizations and spiritual depth. Although Rumi lived between 1207 and 1273, his teachings and poetry contain a powerful heart-opening message that transcends time. 

“If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
and say,
      Like this.

When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the night sky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,
      Like this?

If anyone wants to know what “spirit” is,
or what “God’s fragrance” means,
lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your face close.
      Like this.

When someone quotes the old poetic image
about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,
slowly loosen knot by knot the strings
of your robe.
      Like this?

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don’t try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.
      Like this. Like this.

When someone asks what it means
to “die for love,” point
      here.

If someone asks how tall I am, frown
and measure with your fingers the space
between the creases on your forehead.
      This tall.

The soul sometimes leaves the body, then returns.
When someone doesn’t believe that,
walk back into my house.
      Like this.

When lovers moan,
they’re telling our story.
      Like this.

I am a sky where spirits live.
Stare into this deepening blue,
while the breeze says a secret.
      Like this.

When someone asks what there is to do,
light the candle in his hand.
      Like this.

How did Joseph’s scent come to Jacob?
      Huuuu.

How did Jacob’s sight return?
      Huuuuu.

A little wind cleans the eyes.
      Like this.

When Shams comes back from Tabriz,
he’ll put just his head around the edge
of the door to surprise us.
      Like this.”

― Rumi

 Translation by Coleman Barks

St. John of the Cross

Jesus from above” by SJC

Doctor of the Church and Spanish mystical poet, St. John of the Cross was a distinguished monk whose wits led him into friction with the religious order to which he belonged, causing his imprisonment. During his time in prison, St. John spent a considerable amount of time in a stone cell that had formerly been a latrine and was barely big enough to fit his body. In this period, St. John of the Cross conceived some of his most profound poems.

“I came into the unknown
and stayed there unknowing
rising beyond all science.

I did not know the door
but when I found the way,
unknowing where I was,
I learned enormous things,
but what I felt I cannot say,
for I remained unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

It was the perfect realm
of holiness and peace.
In deepest solitude
I found the narrow way:
a secret giving such release
that I was stunned and stammering,
rising beyond all science.

I was so far inside,
so dazed and far away
my senses were released
from feelings of my own.
My mind had found a surer way:
a knowledge of unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

And he who does arrive
collapses as in sleep,
for all he knew before
now seems a lowly thing,
and so his knowledge grows so deep
that he remains unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

The higher he ascends
the darker is the wood;
it is the shadowy cloud
that clarified the night,
and so the one who understood
remains always unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

This knowledge by unknowing
is such a soaring force
that scholars argue long
but never leave the ground.
Their knowledge always fails the source:
to understand unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

This knowledge is supreme
crossing a blazing height;
though formal reason tries
it crumbles in the dark,
but one who would control the night
by knowledge of unknowing
will rise beyond all science.

And if you wish to hear:
the highest science leads
to an ecstatic feeling
of the most holy Being;
and from his mercy comes his deed:
to let us stay unknowing,
rising beyond all science.”

 

 

― St. John of the Cross

Mahatma Gandhi

 

Mahatma Gandhi with during his 21-day fast protest.

Mahatma Gandhi was the most prominent leader of the Indian Independence Movement against the British Crown colonial rule. Mahatma Gandhi’s approach to the attainment of political sovereignty was to practice non-violent civil disobedience (ahimsa). He was an Indian Hindu pacifist, politician, thinker, and lawyer. 

Gandhi received the honorary name of Mahatma (composition in Sanskrit and Hindi of mahā: “great” and ātmā: “soul”). He dedicated the entirety of his adult life to elevating the awareness of Indian people through various means. Gandhi sought to involve laymen and women in social affairs and encouraged them to strive for their rights in a peaceful and organized manner.

Beyond the considerable moral influence on the development of debates that prepared the independence of India, Mahatma Gandhi has touched the lives of millions of people with his example of determination and true commitment to peace. 

Preparing the Mind 

Overcoming afflicted states of mind can take a long time. When our afflictions are very strong and we don’t do anything about it, they become a concrete trace of our character. It can be almost as if we wouldn’t know who we are if every now and then we don’t allow ourselves to get blindly angry, or exceedingly proud, or whatever negative emotion we strongly identify ourselves with. 

When suffering reaches us as a consequence of our strong attachment, anger, and so on, we have a precious opportunity to review our mental behavior in slow motion. While we have this opportunity we should look into our wounds and start the painstaking work of cleaning them up, instead of being consumed by the sensations that they bring. This process is arduous and requires a lot of inspiration as well as discipline in order to keep on the right track. 

The fundamental problem we are dealing with is that we are so conditioned by external circumstances that we give them full permission to influence and harm us. In this case, what we should do is cultivate the right qualities within our minds that are conducive to the expression of our own innate goodness, since we can’t really control what others do. When we are firmly tuned with the needs of our hearts, what happens outside doesn’t have as much power over us anymore, and life is much easier. 

The Eightfold Path

In order to cultivate the qualities in our minds that will help us to deal with each other and with the world in a healthy manner we can rely on the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is based on the Three Higher Trainings in ethical discipline, concentration, and discrimination.

To cultivate ethical discipline in our lives, we apply three practices:

Right speech for communication; to avoid laying, engaging in speech that divides people, speaking harshly and meaningless talk.

Right boundaries of action for proper conduct; not taking the life of others, not taking what has not been offered, and not engaging in sexual misconduct.

Right livelihood at work; refraining from making money in a way that is harmful to ourselves and others.

If we happen to exceed our own limitations, Buddhism offers an action plan: the Four Opponent Powers. Firstly, we acknowledge to ourselves that what we did was bad by reflecting on it. Next step is to genuinely regret what we have done and the harm we have caused. When we regret it is important not to let the remorse turn into guilt. Next, we take proactive steps to remedy the harm we have created. For example, if you have yelled at someone, you can talk to that person when you are both in a calm state and apologize.

The final step is to make a resolution not to do it again, and remember why transgressing should be avoided. Regarding the resolve not to engage in what we regret anymore, Lama Yeshe has stated: “For the ones that are difficult to keep, the subtle ones, we vow to abstain from committing them for a certain time, for a day, an hour, a minute, or even for just a few seconds. If we make a commitment like this, it becomes more sincere; it protects us from telling a lie. This is what the lineage lamas of the past advised.”

Achieving concentration requires:

    • Right effort to remove negative contemplations;
    • Right mindfulness to not waiver attention;
    • Right concentration to aim our focus on constructive things.

Finally, when cultivating discriminative awareness, one should possess:

    • Right view determined by a disciplined discernment between our conceptions of wrong and right;
    • Right Intention (right motivation), triggered by the right view.

This is a brief outline of the Eightfold Path that anyone can use. When correctly applied, the Eightfold Path can greatly improve our relationship with ourselves and with others.

Cultivating Our Innate Goodness

According to the Buddhist law of karma, everything we are exposed to remains in the mind. This doesn’t mean that things remain inside our minds the way our senses perceive them. Our minds have an operation mode that runs by itself, regardless of our awareness. Understanding the way our minds work playing games by itself, is the only way to overcome suffering.

Although there exist many methods nowadays that help us to lead a comfortable and successful life in the world, they have relative importance when placed into the perspective of our human nature. At the same time that we all can, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t pursue conventional success, we should be constantly checking our motivation in doing so because it might not be in the best interest of our hearts. 

Even if you are not a person looking for spirituality if you surround yourself with people who are capable of understanding the importance of enlightened beings in the world, your life will become more interesting and joyful. That way you will surely enrich your own path regardless of your religious beliefs. 

Healing Spiritually vs. Healing Psychologically

According to the American Psychological Association:

Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.

 

While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help them find constructive ways of managing their emotions.

In case you are suffering from psychological trauma, then you should look for a qualified professional who can offer you the appropriate treatment if this is possible. It is important to highlight that Buddhist teachings are not meant to replace medical advice or treatment with a trained psychologist or psychiatrist.

Because suffering is so subjective, it is often difficult to determine whether our situation requires professional attention or not. That is why it is so important to have a community on whom to rely, and don’t just isolate ourselves from everybody else.

Nowadays, with the internet it is easier to find the right type of help even for people who don’t have many friends, or with limited resources. One good option when it comes to emotional counseling online is the Peer Collective platform founded by the Zen psychotherapist Tim Desmond.

Spiritual Healing Bullet Points

    • Buddhism teaches the truth of suffering and how to overcome it.
    • The path of spiritual healing involves embracing our emotions without judgment.
    • All sentient beings possess buddha-nature.
    • There exist in the world numberless enlightened beings working for the benefit of others.
    • The Eightfold Path can be used as a guide to improving our relationship with ourselves and with others.
    • Opening our hearts takes a lot of inspiration and active engagement, and it is always possible (and necessary).
    • We should connect to others and develop an interest in their well-being in the same way we are interested in our own well-being.
    • Spiritual teachings do not replace medical treatment.

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