(Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Guru Padmasambhava surrounded by his own mantra, and the mantra of Dependent Origination)
In an earlier post, I mentioned Dr Nida Chenagtsang’s new book on the subject of mantra healing, which was written with Yeshe Drolma and published in December of last year by the Beijing People’s Press. The book, whose full title is “The Science of Interdependent Connection Mantra Healing’ (rten ‘brel sngags bcos thabs kyi rig pa), is a significant achievement. While there is no small number of mantra collections (sngags ‘bum) and tantric grimoires (sngags kyi be’u bum) within Tibetan literary tradition, these are, by and large, books of mantras and magical rituals, and not books about them. Dr Nida’s 339 page volume is thus ground-breaking. It represents one of the first Tibetan language treatments of its kind, in which a native practitioner and scholar of Tibetan traditional medicine and tantric ritual provides a general overview of mantra healing in theory and practice, and supplies a fuller range of interpretive frameworks and historical context for Tibetan approaches to mantra use. In his book, Dr Nida brings together and organizes traditional, scriptural material and puts it into conversation with the oral traditions of Tibetan non-celibate tantric ritual specialist-yogis or ngakpa, which he has researched and practiced as a hereditary ngakpa himself. His book thus provides a unique introductory resource for understanding Tibetan healing traditions, and the ways that ritual forms of therapy interact with other kinds of treatments.
Previously, I shared a translation of the book’s contents page and of Professor Gojo Wangdu’s preface here and here. For this post, I’ve decided to share a translation of the entirety of Chapter Four of Dr Nyida’s book. This chapter provides a general overview of the view of mantra’s efficacy, that is to say, the way in which the practice of mantra healing can actually be said to ‘work’ or generate results. In the chapter, Dr Nida la runs through a range of factors and features relating to mantras and mantra healing, all of which are directly implicated in the ways that Tibetans understand mantras to exert influence on various levels of reality. Two key concepts here are that of rten ‘brel (pronounced tendrel) or ‘dependent arising’ which appears in the book’s title, and nus pa thon pa (nüba tönba) or ‘efficaciousness’ or ‘the production of results/effects’. Tendrel is the Tibetan translation for the core Buddhist tenet and Sanskrit term pratītyasamutpāda, dependent or inter-dependent origination, which refers to the Buddhist ontological principle that everything which exists, exists as a compounded, and conditioned phenomenon, as something which arises because of yet other compounded, and conditioned somethings. Dependent origination points to the fact that whatever exists is the result of multiple causes, factors, and conditions which conspire together to produce particular results. It also points to other key Buddhist ideas, such as karma – ‘action’ or causality – impermanence, and so-called ‘emptiness’, the inherent lack of an enduring, independent ‘self’ in all things.
Tendrel in Tibetan points to this overarching ontological given – as a basic fact of existence, it serves to explain how all and any conditioned phenomena work or function in general. It may thus seem like it could offer only limited insight into something like mantra healing, which to many non-Buddhists may seem like something distinctly ‘super-natural’ or beyond the ordinary laws of nature. But dependent origination is such a powerful concept precisely because of its applicability to all compounded phenomena, however subtle or gross, however internal or external. The reality of emptiness and inter-dependence is precisely what makes things that may seem like ‘magic’ – dramatic transformation and entanglement of, and the exerting of influence over phenomena- possible. In a more colloquial Tibetan register, ‘tendrel zangpo or yakpo’ is often used to mean a special or auspicious connection, fortuitous conditions, or a good omen such as arise between beings, between teachers and students and so on, through positive imprints and actions, and powerful aspirations and commitments laid down in previous lives. Tendrel, by its very nature IS magic, IS efficacy. As Dr Nida shows, tendrel is what guarantees that the skillful, focused, and coordinated application of body, speech, and mind cannot help but produce real results, results which are potent, which have transformative power, as the word nus pa implies. It should come as no surprise then that mantra rituals to bless substances for healing are sealed with the recitation of the mantra of dependent origination, which serves as a beautiful reminder of the web of forces, potentials and conditions in which we are all held and through which all transformation is executed.
What stands out overwhelmingly in Dr Nida’s chapter is the way in which mantra healing is an integrated practice. While categories of body, speech, and mind, and inner, outer, secret, or subtle and gross can be separated and assessed for analytic purposes, in life and practice – in yet another example of inter-dependence – they inter-penetrate, innately and inevitably overlap with and influence each other. Dr Nida’s comments on the embodied dimensions of mantra healing practice – on sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing and so on – and how these contribute to mantras’ efficacy provides further rich insight into what Tibetan Studies scholar Holly Gayley and others have dubbed the Tibetan ‘soteriological of the senses’ (see here for Holly’s excellent reflections on the subject). Dr Nida’s descriptions and examples below about the different ways in which reverberations across categories and levels take place will be of interest to students and practitioners of Buddhist tantra as well as to students of other forms of esotericism. His talk about the innate efficacious power or ‘virtue’ in sounds, substances, and shapes, along with his descriptions of the resonances between subtle and gross phenomena and the importance of focused imagination and concentration will undoubtedly feel familiar to students of Hermeticism and Western ritual magic. Even this brief overview should make amply clear to scholars and practitioners of Western esotericism and magic that there are a lot of illuminating points of connection and divergence across traditions, which would reward further study (one of the few Tibetan/Buddhist studies scholars who has so far published any sort of extended treatment dealing with the similarities and differences between Indo-Tibetan and western ritual magic traditions that I know of is Stephan Beyer, who offers some preliminary reflections in his ‘The Cult of Tara: Magic and Ritual in Tibet’. It would be interesting to see someone do a thorough assessment of how Giordiano Bruno’s notion of vincula or ‘magical links’ or binds squares up with how the ‘dependent or supporting link’ of rten ‘brel has come to be conceived of in Tibetan tantric cosmology and ritual theory).
Across the course of his chapter Dr Nida draws on different sources of authority and differing expert vocabularies to contextualize and validate mantra healing’s power. At times he cites traditional religious authorities such as Ju Mipham Rinpoche, in other places he connects mantra-related phenomena with contemporary scientific and psychological research. Likewise, while discussing the power of sound, the Doctor invokes Dzogchen concepts and terminology to describe more precisely the cosmological building blocks through which mantra healing operates, and we learn how it is that phenomenal appearances emerge from primordial aspects of mind. While Dr Nida makes nods towards Western biomedical categories, scientific findings and various other ‘etic’ categories, his account is rooted within indigenous Tibetan cosmological understandings. Concepts like rlung (wind, vital-energy), subtle channels, and the five elements– all of which are central to Tibetan traditional medicine and tantric yoga’s theories of body and mind – appear as irreducible, ontological givens and are discussed unapologetically. Dr Nida’s explanations may thus not persuade dyed-in-the-wool materialists and sceptics of the reality of mantra healing, but they are a unique and precious resource all the same for gaining insight into Tibetan ontologies and indigenous knowledge systems today.
Anyway, here’s the translation.
“Chapter Four: A General Description of the View on how mantras produce results, or are efficacious
The learned authority Ju Mipham Namgyal Gyatso states: “Thus, since (the extent of) mantra’s magical efficacy is inconceivable, if one exerts oneself properly (in their use), manifold sicknesses will surely be pacified.” He explained with confidence that the power or efficacy (nus pa) of mantras is inconceivable and that if one authentically accomplishes their practice one will have the power to pacify any illness whatsoever. Great qualified physicians and powerful ngakpas of the past practiced mantras and achieved visible and tangible results, and were able too, to realize the successive stages of mantra healing training. For example: in the case of uttering the necessary recitations for the joining of broken bones – they would say mantras onto a piece of slate to see whether they could join the bones or not. If they could, their mantra-power being authentic, they would say mantras over patients. They would utter mantras over quicksilver and would drink it directly without any harm. They could lick red-hot burning metal with their tongues – having manifested results through mantras, they would (then) lick patients. At birth, mantra butter [i.e. blessed butter previously eaten by the mother] comes out stuck to the baby’s head in a directly visible way. And when saying mantras for poisoning, at first when the poison touches the liver, (the urine) goes black – if, through uttering mantras, it turns red, this is a sign that mantras will be efficacious and that one will be able to perform mantra healing. If one investigates these kinds of things, one will come to understand that mantras’ power is difficult to evaluate, but also has beneficial effects that are of a scientific nature. For this reason, mantra healing is more than just some mere mental (phenomenon), devoid of benefit, and there’s no way that anyone can say that it’s (just) fruitless superstition.
When it comes to putting mantra healing into practice, one needs to understand the essential points about how mantras produce results in a definitive and rational way. However, from ancient times up until the present, explanations about how mantras function have rarely appeared in any of the books of the New and Old translation schools [i.e. of Tibetan Buddhism], and it’s also not easy to express the many subtle key-points of dependent origination in a way that accords with either our vocabulary or people’s understanding, is it? Still, I think that, if one is someone who uses mantras, it’s important that one should at least understand a little about how mantras work, or should at least do some investigation into the subject. If one fails to conduct research into the way that mantras are efficacious one will never be able to become someone who grasps the essential meaning of the tradition of this system of healing. Since it’s difficult to master any healing system without a genuine tradition, I shall offer some discussion here on how mantra healing works in a simple and clear fashion. Generally speaking, mantras’ efficacy depends solely on the efficacy and power of ‘stable support’ and ‘interconnected arising’ [i.e. rten cing ‘brel byung, ‘(inter)dependent-origination]. Every action and phenomenon that exists in this world arises solely on account of dependent origination. We can see then that to describe the power of mantras as dependent origination accords with basic reality, and given that effects arise in dependence on causes and conditions, if one has gained mastery in the gross and subtle meaning of dependent origination one will without a doubt be able to realize the ultimate meaning of the power of mantras with little trouble at all. However, since I myself have no confidence to explain the ultimate meaning of dependent origination, as befits the circumstances, I will explain the way in which mantras work and are effective only generally, using easy to understand language. The way that rlung or winds move, the way that benefit arises from the sending out and taking in of breath, the way that vocal utterances and (words of) truth come to be efficacious, the way in which subtle and gross elemental constituents are efficacious, the way that the mantras of the mind-bound meditational deities work – these heal both oneself and others. Mantras most definitely benefit the healing of both one’s own and others’ illnesses.
One: How benefits arise through the movement of winds in the body
The manner in which the breath and vital-energy or ‘winds’ of one’s body flow generates benefits, and is the primary (factor) for balancing one’s elemental constituents and healing one’s illnesses. The flow of winds, that is, the flow of the five channel-winds, has already been described above. The way in which wind flows from the nose on the gross level of one’s bodily constituents is (as follows): it flows through the pharynx and trachea via the cavities of both the mother and son channels of the left and right lungs, which is to say that, external air or breath is inhaled and the vital-essence (dwangs) of the wind (travels) through the hollow spaces of the lungs and enters into the blood, and the stale or impure, residual wind (rlung snyigs) extracted from the blood vessels is expelled through the lung cavities. This expelling from the lungs refers to the successive stages of the exhalation and inhalation of breath. In general, this takes place about 15 times per minute. This breathing is an indispensable element of the body. In the context of emergency or first aid medical treatment, when one checks to see if there’s any danger to a person’s life, of the three principal things that one must check – whether the person is breathing, whether there’s a heart-beat, whether there’s brain-function – the breath can be understood as the most precious support for life. The scope and beneficial power of respiration doesn’t merely extend to the lungs, but also to the brain and the heart, and so on, and the functioning of the most important parts of the body depends upon the efficacious elements of the breath. Because of this, it’s obvious then that the exhaling and inhaling of breath as taught in the context of mantra healing is a method capable of (generating) distinctive results, both curative and preventative in nature.
On the subtle level of the giving and taking of breath and elemental constituents, how the (rlung) flows is that the karmic winds flowing from the nose (go) from the ‘emanation’ chakra at the navel and are inhaled and exhaled through the (right) ro ma channel and the (left) rkyang ma channel. Together with this, the subtle rlung of earth, water, fire, air and space also flow in connection with each of the channels and chakras. On the level of the vital-essence of the rlung, the various colours of the elements – white, yellow, red, green, and dark blue – are also manifested. In this instance, (if we) distinguish the left and right nostril, from the left nostril there’s the flow of solar rlung which has the nature of means, and there’s the flow of lunar rlung from the left nostril which is of the nature of wisdom. According to the day, each of these (exhibits) 10 462.5 movements or fluctuations. For each of the elemental winds of earth, water, fire, air, and space there are said to be 360 lesser transference movements, and if you add up the simultaneous fluctuations of the rlung of the body elements, there are said to be 1800 greater transferences or movements. The wind that flows from the middle of the two nostrils or in the central channel is primordial wisdom rlung. This moves 675 times a day. This being so, in one hour the karmic winds or breath have 900 fluctuations and in 24 hours the wisdom winds have 2100 – counting 32 (ordinary) breaths as (equivalent to) one (movement of) karmic wind, in 24 hours the wisdom wind has 675 fluctuations. This is from the perspective of an ordinary, non-diseased (body). For those with illnesses breath doesn’t flow perfectly, or else since breathing doesn’t happen as it should, this leads to illness. Reciting the three Vajra seed-syllables (OM AH HUNG) balances the breath and resolves sickness. In this way, seeing as (reciting) multiple mantras in the style of a ‘Vajra-song’ is connected to how rlung flows and how the channels and subtle constitution operate, such recitations have the greatest power to balance the elements and constituents of the body and mind.
As an example of how the way in which breath flows generates results, if, taking the mantra-syllables OM AH HUNG, one intones OM when one inhales, AH as one abides (or holds the breath), and HUNG as one exhales, the three-fold arising, entering and abiding of the rlung flows in the proper way, and as a result this is greatly beneficial for the body. Through the good qualities of the proper movement of the constitutive elements, five winds, as well as life-bearing and upward-flowing (winds), bodily illness is cured (and) the constitutive elements are balanced. It (also) endows one with the good quality of mental happiness. These are the reasons that what are called the three Vajra seed-syllables are extolled by all mantra-holders or ngakpa as the highest of mantras. Moreover, intoning ‘HA’ and expelling HA! with a strong sigh for diseases of the vital and heart-winds, for mental discomfort, memory loss, mental agitation or anxiety directly expels stale rlung in the life-force channel(s) from out the body and thereby cures disease. Conversely, the benefits for fever of saying HAAAA slowly and softly with a short, long breath, of intoning it together with the vapour of one’s breath, are such that whatever is inside is expelled with the aid of the breath. Likewise, if one intones “AH AH AH” – the single syllable AH – seeing as this is the root sound or vibration of the channels and chakras of the throat, by means of this sound, and through the ‘sound abode’ channel/root syllables, the constituents of the body are balanced, the channels, winds and drops are relaxed together with the syllables, and manifestations of bliss naturally arise in the body and mind, and so on. Since the many mantras taught in the context of mantra healing are connected with the movement of the breath and wind beneficial effects are quickly produced for the body and mind.
Two: How results are effected through the way the voice is produced
Regarding the way in which the voice arises, the conditions through which the voice is produced are the head, the tongue, the palate, the throat, the teeth, the lips, the nose and the breath. As a result of these, speech, and further, the ‘root syllables’ or basic phonemes, and the interdependent action-words of the assembled winds are produced. The location from which the phonemes arise is shown below:
- Throat 2. Nose 3. Head 4. Chest 5. Palate 6. Tongue 7. Teeth 8. Lips
When words are produced from the voice, the channels and syllables are induced or activated through the rlung or vital-energy, as a result of which the body is benefitted by the production of the sounds of the mantras. For example, if one pronounces the syllable ‘KA’, the sound of this ‘KA’ arises from within the head and its sound-wave or vibration flows into the brain via the subtle channels or nerves and acts in such a way as to counter disturbances originating in the head. The other Tibetan consonants follow a similar pattern.
Since the body, speech, and mind remain indivisible, they are able to both help and harm one another. The speech and mind is both helped and harmed by the body – for example, if there is a disease of the body’s nervous system or ‘white channel system’ (lus kyi rtsa dkar), this can make one mute. Or else, if one is afflicted by a bodily illness, one’s mental state is uncomfortable and disturbed. The power of the mind can provide both help and harm to the body and speech as well. For example, when the mind is heroic or proud, one’s tone of voice becomes higher and one’s body straightens up. When one feels defeated or in anguish, one’s voice breaks and one exhibits various other skin or body tones. Actions of the voice also influence the body and mind. If one expresses oneself verbally too much, one’s rlung increases and as a result of this rlung diseases arise and one’s body and mind become unwell. Through harsh words, one’s own and other’s minds can become sick, and conversely, expressing pleasant words can gladden others’ hearts. Mental illnesses are treated with recourse to communication through language and as such, distinct treatments for both physical and mental diseases are taught in the Tibetan tradition of Sowa Rigpa. Since mantra healing is predominantly based on the power and activities of the speech, rlung. and mind, we can recognize that as a form of medical treatment, mantra healing accords with both these aspects, (body and mind).
Three: How mantras effect results through the power of the subtle and gross elements
The psycho-physical aggregates of the human body are the singular web, the interconnected mesh composed of the gross and subtle elements. Worldly phenomena are endless, yet all of them derive from the foundation of the elements. The elements emanate magically/miraculously from the mind of the ‘All-Creating King’ (i.e. a poetic term in Dzogchen for the universal creative principle that makes everything possible). Through the force of the inter-dependent origination of the five elements that shine forth from the expanse of non-awareness, both objects and subjects are made manifest. Given that these arise in connection with the five outer sensory qualities and five inner sensory ‘doors’, and through the power of the five elements, the forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations of objects are capable of providing any manner of harm or benefit to the sensory faculties of subjects. Thus, the power of mantras is able to benefit subjects through objects – this works through the subtle elemental constituents, (which in turn operate) through the five sensory doors. Balancing and re-calibrating effects are produced from the subtlest aspects of the elemental constituents of the body and mind, via the power of the inter-dependent links of the form and colour, sound, touch, smell, taste, and the inner or intrinsic meaning of mantras.
The power of colour – colour is an important manifestation linked to the elemental constituents. It is the origin or essence (dwangs ma) of the elements. The power of colour can exercise control over any of the elemental constituents of the body or mind. The elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space are born from the colours blue, white, yellow, red, and green. The subtle and gross elements derived from these make up the aggregates of the human body, and on account of this the colours bring together the elements and are capable of both aiding and opposing them. The inner elemental constituents can be (re-)calibrated (‘balanced and (re)-ordered’, snyoms sgrig byed) through the colours. For example: the colour red is the fire element and has the power to cure cold diseases of the phlegm, just as the colour green, being of the air element, also cures any proliferation of the earth element that might arise from light phlegm (disorders). Colours have an influence on both the body and mind. The colour red generates mental aggression and conceit, and it likewise increases blood temperature and the proliferation of the bile element in the body. In this regard, the power of colour is important for some mantras (as well). Through colours mantras are invigorated and thereby resolve disturbances of the elemental constituents of body and mind. The written designs of mantra ‘protective circles’ or amulets require special colours and when one meditates on mantra-syllables one must concentrate on the colour of the mantras without (mental) agitation or disturbances. The ultimate reason for this is likewise because of the power of colour.
The power of form – most represented or semiotic phenomena (brda mtshon gyi bya dngos) depend on form and form shapes our perception and comprises our most immediate given entity or (property of) phenomena (thag nye ba’I dngos po zhig tu grub). As such, outer, inner and secret forms are (each) of diverse kinds. External appearances, those manifold forms which are perceived as objects by our eyes and sense of sight are outer forms. So, for example, the basic or root-shapes which arise – the sphere, crescent, triangle, and square – are the gross shapes of the four elements. Further, by virtue of the inter-dependent connections of form, effects can be generated (from) the very nature of dharmata, from the ultimate (level of) reality. The four root shapes exemplify the four ritual actions of pacifying, expanding/increasing, magnetizing, and wrathfully subjugating. Inner forms are those which abide in the syllable-forms (associated with) certain channels and elements of the inner body. If one concentrates on the syllable-forms of these (inner forms), on these uniquely secret (aspects) of the mind, through the power of their forms, one can extend the elemental constituents and will be able to pacify disturbances. For example: if one focuses on the syllable RAM at one’s navel, the RAM will balance the elements connected with the navel(-center). Regarding secret forms, these don’t really possess any concrete form per se. These comprise ‘ultimately empty forms’ and are the highest of forms. Practicing mantra healing through visualizations that rely on form, colour, and light produces the benefit of ripening and expanding the efficacious power of the essence of the elements. When it comes to treatments (involving) the function of shapes, in the context of mantra healing these are the different kinds of circles (i.e. circular talismans or amulets) – the protective (srung ‘khor) and reversing/warding circles (bzlog ‘khor), and so on; the many kinds of esoteric inscriptions (dpe mkhyud), conjoined or subscript letters (‘dogs yig), and mantra print-blocks. The mantra-syllables of these are inscribed mostly with the power of various different elemental shapes and the forms of various animals. As such, using both mantras and shapes and the power of whatever ingredients are fitting, by combining these powers as one, results are produced in a way that resembles the making of composite medicines which blend together various different medical ingredients.
How results are effected through sound – given that the origin of the elemental constituents, as well as all of the outer and inner elements are linked with sound, these (can be said to be) born from it. As such, in the Great Perfection scriptures, the so-called three-fold ‘sound, light, and rays’ are understood as a source or beginning for the elements. Light arises from the primordially abiding sound and all of the elements arise from the rays, or waves (that radiate out) from these. Thus, everything is produced from sound. This then is the power of sound. The power of mantras permeates sound and balances the bodily elements. Because of sound, transformations can take place inside the body. For example, an ordinary or common sort of song can bring either joy or irritation to the mind. If a state of irritation arises in the mind the physical heart may become unwell and breathing may become difficult. Music provides the brain with sound-waves, and is capable of heightening human body function. For example: when certain patients with paralyzed or spastic limbs listen to certain kinds of music (they regain) their walking and sitting functions even better than before. From this we can understand clearly the power of sound’s efficacy in the body and mind. For this reason (too), the wrathful sound of PHET! stirs up the subtle elements of patients’ bodies and grants serenity (in the face of) fear. Along with this feeling (of serenity) it brings about transformations in the bodily elements. When one hears the sound and gets a fright, one’s heart-beat accelerates and one’s breath (comes out) like a wheeze. The sound of clapping too, can turn back sickness and obstacles, and open up the channels and chakras, and so on. Since effects are generated through the subtle power of the elements sound forms a part of healing.
Likewise the authoritative texts of Tibetan medicine unanimously teach that if one hears the cry of an animal this helps with recovery from sickness. The esteemed Ju Mipham Namgyal Gyatso states that “if one hears a mad dog barking or the call of an owl it can help to cure poisoning. Hearing the call of a Tibetan snow grouse or partridge (gong mo) also helps. Hearing a snow grouse’s call helps cure pollution caused by faeces and urine (grib rtsog)” [*’Direct pith instructions on treating any disease from Mipham’s medical scriptures of ritual methods’, mi pham sman dpe thabs kyi cho ga gang gis nad gso ba’i man ngag, pp. 163). Alternatively, if one listens to the sound of running water, it’s easier to give birth or pass urine. When one listens to the sound of rain or waves, it relaxes one’s body and mind. Thus, the sound of meaningful words and ‘meaningless’ ‘natural’ sounds (i.e. like the sound of rain etc.) of whatever sort also inherently possess healing power.
In summary then, mantras’ primary efficacy derives from sound. The power of sound waves or sound vibration-waves, by permeating various ritual substances like water and salt, is able to treat illness. Since water and other such things have the power to hold sound-waves, results are effected through the water-element of patients’ own bodily fluids.
How healing through smell is efficacious – generally, in the context of mantra healing, scent-treatment is when one says mantras over different kinds of medical ingredients such as frankincense, and (these medicines) become pungent. In the case of the gross bodily elements, in the Tibetan medical texts the nose is described as “the door to the brain” – the power of ingredients reaches the brain through smell and the elemental constituents of the nerves, blood vessels etc. of the brain are balanced and in this way, through the lungs and blood vessels, beneficial effects are felt all over the body. In the case of the subtle (bodily elements), the ‘smoke’ or vapour of the mantras and (ritual/medical) ingredients are drawn into both the right and left ro rkyang channels, and the power of the mantra along with the smell generates effects via the rlung in the three middle, right, and left channels and the five channel-chakras.
In Tibet, for example, there are many incenses and aromatic substances that are ‘perfected’ or ‘accomplished’ (i.e. ritually consecrated or purified through sadhana practice) by monastic community members and powerful ngakpas. These possess the beneficial efficacy of the conjoined power of the ingredients and mantras (used). For example: the incense of Mindroling (i.e. a Nyingma monastery) is very well-known in Tibet. Accordingly, quality rlung and fragrance-endowed (ingredients) such as De’u mar Kola 25 and Agar 15 dissolve obscurations and restore (bodily) constituents extremely well. Rlung and fragrance-rich (substances) and bsang (offering incense) ingredients not only cure physical and mental illnesses but also purify the atmosphere and bring real benefit.
How healing through taste is efficacious – generally speaking, the six tastes arises from the five elements. Sweet is born of earth-water; sour from fire-earth; salty from water-fire; bitter from water-air; spicy from fire-air; and astringent from earth-air. The outer elements enter inside the body through food and drink and augment the inner elements. The power of the six tastes is an indispensable and substantive component of the strength of the body. So-called ‘taste healing’ is a method of medical treatment that depends on the six tastes and whatever (other) tastes are appropriate. In this case, the potency (ngar) of mantras is tied to the six tastes and cures disease. The pure (tantric-vow or samaya) substances that liberate through taste’, ‘accomplishing medicine’ (medicines blessed in the course of medical sadhana practices), ‘corrupted or impure mantric (substances)’, ‘vase water’ (blessed water for asperging), mantra water, and the like are well-known in Tibet. These are experienced through the tongue’s sense of taste – through the faculty of the tongue the power of the mantra substances (moves) through the blood vessels and permeates the blood, by means of which, along with the body’s strength and all its internal organs, the elemental constituents are balanced. Thus, due to having consumed medicinal (substances), medicine spreads through the blood vessels and results are effected.
Healing by touch – it’s said that beneficial effects are produced through seeing, hearing, recollecting, and touching mantras. Results are effected merely by recollecting mantras in one’s mind and by touching them. If one touches one’s body with mantra water, mantra syllables, mantra amulets or mantra threads, and so on, demonic provocations and the obscurations of illness are dissolved and one’s body and mind are made blissful. Mantra power is absorbed into the mind and body via the skin and through the small openings in the fine hairs on the body. If mantra syllables do not touch the body directly, even if the mantra power touches the body through the elements and rlung by means of mantra-bearing prayer flags (of both the small string and larger vertical flag-pole variety) it’s still beneficial.
The power of words of truth – in Buddhist texts one finds the profound path of the Secret Mantra. If one recites the mantras of the three roots of the Creation Stage and perfects the practice of the channel-and-winds meditations of the Completion Stage the channels of the throat-chakra will open. If the sixteen channel ‘petals’ (or radial, supplementary channels) and the eight secret channels of the enjoyment chakra of the throat have been opened, it is said that, since the vital-energy rlung and speech have been accomplished, all and anything that one says will be attained without impediment. As such, the latent efficacious power of speech-and-wind in one’s body will be made manifest. If one attains mastery over the speech-and-wind in line with the power one has to control one’s winds and mind, one will be able to transform the powers or functions of the subtle elemental constituents by means of one’s speech. If one has opened one’s throat channels, through experiencing the spontaneous overflowing inspiration or realization of the expanse of primordial awareness, as with the venerable (yogis) Milarepa and Shabkar Tshokdruk Rangdrol, the words of religious songs, oral advice, prayers and the like will come forth naturally and spontaneously without one having to think about them. The power of ‘words of truth’ is described as ‘accomplishing whatever one utters’. For example: whatever Drukpa Kunleg said took place or was accomplished just as he (said it). For this reason, (his) prayers were also efficacious. When it comes to prayers, beings who have obtained efficacy in speech have made aspirational prayers and supplications perfectly and then written them down. If others, believing in these beings, follow after them and pray, they will also be able to get results. When plagues and disputes have arisen powerful ngakpa have written prayers and when recited, these have brought benefit. There are very many mantra healing rites (like this).
How results are effects through visualization, or meditative concentration (on some object – dmigs pa) – if one masters one’s winds and mind, one will be able to have control over/transform all of the outer and inner elemental constituents of the body. In general, when one concentrates on an object, the power of one’s rlung and mind is expanded. One’s rlung effects results through the movements of the subtle winds. For example, having visualized a blazing blue HUNG syllable at points of discomfort in one’s body – at which points one focuses on one’s sickness as having the nature of grass-husks, dirt etc – and having then recited HUNG HUNG HUNG HUNG, one contemplates that one’s different sicknesses burn up and are destroyed. In the Tibetan Secret Mantra texts one generates as one’s own yidam or personal meditational deity, and from there, there are a great many different stages of visualization that happen. These principally work through meditative concentration. The basis of (this) meditative focus is the various forms and lights (one holds or concentrates on) in one’s own body and accordingly, this is one of the highest methods for generating and increasing the vital-essence aspect of the elemental constituents. By clarifying one’s visualizations, recalling pure-vision, and firmly maintaining (‘divine’) pride one restores the power of one’s mind and thereby brings the elemental constituents into balance. When (patients) have treated illnesses through visualization they have recovered, and today’s foreign doctors have conducted research and have verified that when (patients) have practiced meditative concentration/visualization they have gotten better. If one has meditated and practiced visualization, various changes occur in one’s brain cells which can be seen with computers, which can be thought of as one aspect of the manifestation of the movement of subtle winds. If a person, having manifested their rlung, concentrates on another person’s body, results may also be effected. For example: when a patient has a stomach illness, if a mantrin imagines there’s a small hole in the patient’s stomach, and if he visualizes that blood, pus, and impurities come out of it, this benefits the patient. In Tibetan tantric tradition, if one does ‘pho ba or ‘transference’ practice for someone as soon as they die, signs that (the consciousness) has pierced through the aperture of Brahma at the crown of the deceased person’s head appear [this usually entails small holes appearing, or blood or other fluids leaking out of the corpse’s skull]. Medical treatment by means of visualization appears extremely frequently amongst mantra healing practices, and its beneficial efficacy is something that can be readily seen and felt.
How results are effected through devotion of the mind and the power of belief – since of the two, body and mind, mind is most important, the elemental constituents of the body and disturbances of the humours can be healed by the mind’s power. Recovering from illnesses through faith and belief is a reality, and in the context of mantra healing, faith and belief [or translated differently ‘devotion and confidence’] having been stimulated in the mind, improve sicknesses through the power of the subtle winds and mind. In sum, patients recover from their own diseases as a result of their own minds. Given that many sicknesses appears as harmful manifestations in the likeness of mentally-imputed demonic disease, healing these through belief and faith is thought of as an extremely profound method.
Even if, in whatever context, with whatever it may be – tantric rituals, medical treatments and procedures, or even surgery and so on – patients have generated belief or great confidence from the depths of their hearts but it brings no benefit at all to these procedures, by calming the nerves of their own brains, the power of patients’ thoughts can still help with sickness. Furthermore, the subtle winds are conducted by the power of the mind and other elemental constituents are balanced by the force of the flow of the winds. Blissful feelings devotion, belief, and so on are positive emotional states (tshor snang bzang ba) and as such balance the subtle and gross elemental constituents of the body. Likewise, undesirable feelings (incite) provocations and turmoil which disturbs the winds, and then (all of) the elements, from the subtle to the gross, become unbalanced and are agitated. The genuine effecting of results through the power of the mind is therefore important to every contemporary method of medical treatment.
When it comes to doing mantra healing to treat the diseases of others, the way that results are effected in other people through the flow of breath is similar to (the descriptions above). The power of mantras enters into water and medicines and makes them efficacious. Patients listen to the sound of the mantras recited by doctors and by the strength of these benefits arise. (Likewise), the beneficial powers of the inner meaning and forms and signs of the consecrated esoteric designs and so on have been keenly demonstrated.”
From ‘The Science of Dependent-Origination Mantra Healing’ (rten ‘brel sngags bcos rig pa), written by Nyida Heruka and Yeshe Drolma, 2015, mi rigs dpe skrun khang, pp. 36-52.