When my father died a little more than three years ago, I translated the Medicine Buddha Sutra in order to dedicate the merit to him. He was a medical doctor and a professor at Chula and other universities and had devoted all his life for the benefits of others, especially his students. He started out as a neurologist but then after a while became really interested in medical education and medical humanities and ethics. So we had quite a lot in common and we usually discussed together how to improve the quality of education not only medical students but other students as well. I remember that he sometimes asked me all of a sudden: How to teach students so that they know how to think? Well, I was kind of having nothing to say to that. I answered something like — you have to let the students express themselves and not feeding information all the time. He seemed to like that.
When my family was preparing for the funeral, I thought the Medicine Buddha Sutra would be an appropriate gift for those who came to his funeral. This is Thai custom. When you come to a funeral, especially during the cremation, it is customary to give small presents, which are usually Dharma books. This is to remind those who are living that they will one day die too so they had better start studying and practicing the Dharma. Since my father was a professor of medicine, he was both a doctor and a teacher. So the Medicine Buddha Sutra was a very appropriate text to give as present. At that time Krisadawan and I had already established the Thousand Stars Foundation, and we agreed that the Foundation should publish this Sutra, translated into Thai, as a way of making merit for him and for all sentient beings.
The key message of the Medicine Buddha Sutra is that there is a Buddha who lives in a Buddha-field (Bob Thurman prefers to call this a “Buddhaverse” 🙂 ) in the east. His name is “Bhaisajyaguru Vaiduryaprabha.” This means “The Teacher of Medicine, Whose Light is that of Lapis Lazuli.” When he was still a bodhisattva, he made twelve vows that he was intent on realizing when he achieved Buddhahood. One of these vows is that he will heal all those who are suffering from all kinds of illnesses and establish them in the path to eventual Buddhahood.
This is why he is called the Medicine Buddha. He specializes in curing illnesses. These are not merely physical and mental illnesses, but he also cures “spiritual illness,” which is an illness that happens when one undergoes sufferings and wanders around in samsara as a result.
It is mentioned in the Sutra that one who recites the name of the Medicine Buddha intently and with devotion and single-pointedness of mind will never be reborn in the lower realm, he or she will achieve all the results and will eventually achieve Liberation and Buddhahood. An explanation of how this is possible is that when you recite the mantra, your mind will be automatically be focused and free from all distracting thoughts. So reciting the mantra is one way of doing meditation. And if you recite the mantra and visualize Medicine Buddha with the sincere intention to liberate all beings out of samsara, then the meditation will be really powerful. The Sutra mentions that doing this will result in better health and freedom from illnesses.
I just watched a video where Matthieu Ricard was talking about all these beneficial results of meditation and compassion. Here is it:
In the video (it is quite long, almost an hour), Ricard, who is a monk who has an extensive scientific background, talked about the beneficial aspects of meditation, especially meditation on compassion and loving kindness. He talks about the works being done, among others, by Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at University of Wisconsin who has achieved world wide fame through his groundbreaking work on the physiological effects on the brain of meditation. Basically the message is that meditation is very good to your health.
But that has been the message of the Medicine Buddha Sutra all along. The Sutra tells us that one who recites the name of Medicine Buddha or his mantra (see my earlier post) will achieve beneficial results one of which is better health and freedom from illnesses. Moreover, one who recites the mantra while visualizes that Medicine Buddha stays inside himself and send out rays of loving kindness and compassion to all sentient beings will achieve the results more effectively.
This is because the mind is meditating and is staying focused and single pointed when it is reciting the mantra and visualizing. The mind is not just wandering around aimlessly as it tends to do in our everyday’s life. According to the recent studies, meditation proves to be very beneficial to health, and the Medicine Buddha Sutra also tells us that the meditating mind focusing on Medicine Buddha will be free from illnesses too.
It is mentioned in the Sutra that Medicine Buddha, when he was a bodhisattva, made twelve vows that he was intent on realizing once he achieved the incomparable Buddhahood. One of the vows was that he would eliminate all kinds of illnesses and diseases from each and every sentient being. So we can imagine that the blessings flow from Medicine Buddha himself to us who are doing to the meditation. The most important thing is that we need to keep in mind that we are doing all this not for our own benefits alone, but so that we will achieve the status of a Buddha since only a Buddha is capable of helping all sentient beings in the world. But the irony is that the more we do things for others, the more benefits we get for ourselves 🙂
I hope that by producing another Thai version of the Medicine Buddha Sutra (in fact the text has been translated into Thai before) the work will inspire readers to come to realize what is actually there in the Buddha’s original teachings all along — the mind and the body are intimately interconnected, and it is indeed the mind who is the boss, the leader. So my father’s death kind of became an occasion for a contribution to this realization.