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Buddhist Medicine

Articles on Buddhist Medicine

Buddhist Medicine: Liberation from Physical and Emotional Suffering

An interview with Devatara Holman M.A., M.S., Lac, specialist in Buddhist Medicine

This interview was conducted by Byron Belitsos, the coauthor of A Return to Healing: Health Care Reform and the Future of Medicine.

Buddhist medicine is the specialty of the Sausalito-based Primary Care Practitioner, Chinese medicine practitioner, Dharma teacher and Qigong Master, Devatara Holman, Ven. Pema Lamo Tso. She teaches Dharma under the guidance of H.E. Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche, of the Dzogchen and Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism and is a senior student of the Emei Linji Chan (Zen) lineage head, Grandmaster Fu Weizhong.

“Buddhist medicine is a physio-cognitive approach to healing, to the realization of one’s true nature and to the true nature of all things,” she explains. “It allows us to peer into the realm where the immaterial becomes the material and which then is expressed as ill-health or health,  suffering or happiness. In this territory,” she states, “our understanding of medicine penetrates to the very root of the art of healing itself, and to the unity of energy and form, what might be referred to as ‘spirit’ and body, the divine and the earthly.”

“The point of view of Buddhist medicine,” she adds, “is one that offers access to the headwaters of physical and emotional health and true happiness, from which flow the message patterns of the mind and nervous system, the endocrine and circulatory systems, the entire organ-channel complex and all functions of the physical form.”

Recently, I had occasion to interview this fascinating woman about the philosophy and practices that comprise Buddhist Medicine which, she claims, offer a “Great Liberation.”

Your expertise is in “Buddhist Medicine,” yet most of us are not familiar with this term? Please explain in general what Buddhist Medicine is?

Buddhist Medicine is based on the fundamental principle set forth by the Buddha that everything that manifests in the physical body and emotions is the result of our previous thinking and previous karma—and we can change it! The assertion that we can actually change our karma offers us a source of tremendous liberation.

How does Buddhist Medicine actually help us to do that?

As an example, when a patient comes in with an illness, we make a diagnosis and determine the root of the disorder, which resides in the body as a type of information that is directing the abnormal function of the body. Then I help to remove some of this information through manipulation of the subtle Qi outside the body. This relieves some of the pervasive burden of the information pattern, and this burden is itself a factor that makes it difficult for the patient to perceive the pattern itself. In addition, once we understand the precise information that gave rise to the illness, we are able to prescribe specific practices using mantra, mudra, and intention to completely eliminate it.

How does that process work?

Well, to get at this, we first want to understand something about karma. Secondly, we want to understand the role of “intention.”

As I mentioned, previous karma and previous thinking are actually the same thing. We can also think of karma as the power or energy of our previous thinking. It is like the power of a great river that pushes water forward, determining the direction or quality of it’s flow. Karma is the power or thrust of our previous thinking that drives and directs our subsequent thinking. It is a simple case of cause and effect. Certain types of thinking naturally lead to further thoughts of a similar nature. This is true in our present life, and in Buddhist philosophy it is thought to also be carried from one life to another.

The point is this: At every moment we have karma ripening; this is the result of our previous thinking, which in turn gives rise to our current state of illness or health. And, at every moment our current thinking is determining our future karma, either positive or negative, in this life and in future lives. If we want to change that, we must focus on our current life, what karma is manifesting for us now, and what karma are we creating now that will ripen in the future. In this way, we can change factors that played a role in the past, affect our present, and determine our future health and happiness.

How exactly does our current thinking actually affect our physical state?

Every thought that we have is entered and stored in our body just like information is input into a computer. When we have similar thoughts recurrently or when they are repeated at a later time, that stored information in the body is reinforced, fortified. It begins to have a stronger and stronger influence on the body, eventually creating a physiological state that in turn perpetuates the original thinking pattern. As we move through life, the thinking pattern becomes even more solid in form, and more and more believable in our day-to-day thinking. One becomes gradually more convinced that the thinking pattern is “just the way I am.”

Then this must, in turn affect our intention. Is that how it works?

Yes. Originally everyone has pure intention, pure mind, what we call Buddha mind or Buddha nature. But as we navigate through the challenges of life, and are thrown off balance by difficult experiences, our thoughts create a kind of cloud or blurring of our subtle intention. Our originally pure state is obscured and gives rise to further imbalance in our thinking. We are unable to find a true balance between self and other. We may think that our fundamental intention is good, but it is not in true equipoise; it is not absolutely free of negative thinking, disturbing emotions, or unbalanced judgment. A vast array of unpleasant mental states can then arise: desire, greed, jealousy, anger, etc. Sometimes all of these states are referred to as an attachment to self. In any case, it is these unbalanced mental states that drive our subtle intention.

As I indicated, this imbalance in our thinking becomes incredibly difficult to see; it is not something that we can recognize as driving our conscious actions. But, from the point of view of Buddhist Medicine, it is the source of what manifests as either health or illness, happiness or suffering.

Initially, a thinking pattern creates an energetic pattern in the body, which can localize in very a specific area of the body depending upon the nature and character of the thinking or information. Then the energetic pattern forms an even more dense matrix and begins to manifest as a form, a clear physiological pattern.

Once the energetic pattern has become dense and taken on form, it seems like it would be very difficult to change. Is that right?

Yes, it is a trap. In some Buddhist traditions it is said that when karma manifests we just have to accept it. But in some Tantric schools of Buddhism there are specific energy methods that can be used to change that karma. This is the Great Liberation I mentioned earlier—that is, the healing methods of Buddhist Medicine. Energy practices are necessary in order to change what has taken form in the body.

For example, we use the methods of the Emei Linji Chan Lineage to first identify the precise thinking pattern that planted the initial seed for the condition. Through these methods of diagnosis we can clearly identify the nature of the specific thinking giving rise to a particular condition. Again, this thinking is not necessarily obvious or apparent in driving our conscious thoughts and behavior. For example, it is often not the result of a big trauma. Instead it tends to be found in our interpretations of seemingly minute experiences; that why it is difficult to define or detect in oneself.

You say this level of thinking is difficult to see and change in oneself. Yet you encourage us to change. How do you reconcile these two aspects?

Many good people say to me, “Yes, Devatara, I understand that we want to have good intention and good thinking, but it is sometimes very difficult to change my thoughts.” This is because the power of the karmic river is behind it. But if we relieve the power that karma has on us, then changing our mind and the physical manifestations in the body becomes a totally different ball game. If we remove the negative, the healthy state of the body and positive state of the mind naturally arises. It is like picking oneself up off a garbage dump and plopping oneself down in a beautiful garden. One of the magnificent benefits that Buddhist Medicine has to offer is the method to first identify the very specific thinking at the root of an illness, and then remove it from what we could call the master computer that controls the body and mind! Patients not only find that physical signs and symptoms of illness resolve, but also that their very subtle habits change effortlessly without laborious therapy. No emotional archeology is necessary.

So is this what you mean when you say previous thinking and previous karma are the same thing?

Yes. By removing the information laid down in our bodies by previous thinking, we can as I said change the karmic thrust of the river. Our current physical health and thoughts then also change naturally. As we eliminate more of that stored information from previous imbalances, we improve our health now and the chances of health in the future. If we apply the right method, things can change, the previous karma that is manifesting or ‘ripening’ as an illness can be changed. It is important to mention here that we each have endless lifetimes of karma and we should not expect ourselves or others to never get sick. This is unreasonable. Even the greatest practitioners become ill and die. This is true as long as we are in human form. We must keep this in mind.

That makes a great deal of sense. Can you share an example of how your approach works in your clinic?

Yes. A patient recently came in complaining of recurring acute urinary tract infections (UTI). She was not willing to rely on antibiotics and was determined to understand the root of this problem. This was a very savvy woman who had long practiced the good hygiene and dietary practices necessary to avoid these infections. She was also a very kind and aware person who had done much to preserve a positive outlook toward others and had long focused on a life that brought only benefit to others.

We discovered that in her subtle mind, she was feeling very challenged by a man in her workplace. He was actively trying to restrain her good intentions at work; in fact, he was intentionally creating obstacles for her team of co-workers to achieve what everyone agreed was the greater good. My patient was not conscious of personalizing emotions about this man, nor was she driven in her daily actions to blame or lash out at him. But within minutes, we were able to determine a subtle bitterness toward this situation that was at the root of her physical suffering.

With that simple awareness, we treated the acute condition. I helped her to remove some of that thinking pattern residing in the body in the form of information. She could feel the acute infection resolve within an hour. No needles, herbs, or antibiotics were necessary. Then she went home and practiced the exercises I prescribed. Very quickly she observed a change in her subtle thinking toward the man at work, and no longer suffered from another UTI.

The additional amazing benefit was that when her subtle thinking changed, so did that of the man in her workplace. He became less and less intent on causing difficulty for the team and directed his intentions in more constructive ways. Everyone involved was released from that little cycle of suffering.

What other types of illnesses have you found are easily resolved with the methods of Buddhist Medicine?

We find good results with a vast array of different conditions. I had a patient recently who came in with dermatitis. We very quickly diagnosed the root thinking pattern related to a time when she felt embarrassed as a young girl. After applying the practices, not only did the dermatitis resolve, but she found herself effortlessly more skillful and at ease in dealing with her daily life.

Another patient was able to resolve her irregular heart beat by treating her expectations of herself and removing information from a thinking pattern established at the age of three.

Yet another patient found his spells of dizziness resolved by removing information from a thinking pattern set in motion 30 years ago when having a brief love affair outside of his marriage. As his dizziness resolved, his old lover surprisingly reappeared in his life and all three parties were able to find a peaceful place in their hearts and relate harmoniously.

Is it typical for relationships or external difficulties to change by changing the thinking behind an illness?

Yes. I see this happen frequently. By resolving our own suffering, we release others from the web that entangles them as well. This is because our thinking is the cause of our own suffering or happiness, and it creates the condition for other’s suffering or happiness.

In addition, because our mind is not bound by time or space, when we change our own interpretations we had in the past about our experiences, it affects others and their interpretation of past experiences. This work allows for a healing of both the past and of the present; it also changes our future and the future of other. By freeing ourselves of suffering, we free others as well.

It sounds like one becomes the master of his or her own mind through this process.

Exactly. It is all about the mastery of one’s own mind. Those very subtle aspects of our mind that cause physical suffering for us are often extremely difficult for us to see and be aware of – even if we have a great deal of training and intention to do so. But, through these extraordinary methods we can find the roots of that karma or previous thinking and actually change it.

Allow me to put it in another way: Buddhist Medicine focuses not only on the physical or emotional manifestations of illness but, by working from the headwaters of all bodily systems, in that domain that exists below the conscious and subconscious mind, we delete what obstructs our natural tendency toward good health and true happiness, and what obstructs our pure intention. Then, from this subtle realm, greater and more profound levels of physiological homeostasis and psycho-spiritual equanimity spontaneously arise and naturally manifest.

These are ancient methods, tested over centuries, by highly practiced monastics in the Emei Linji Chan tradition of Buddhism, an ancient and unbroken Trantric Zen Lineage. We also use methods from the Dzogchen tradition. They are methods that members of the secular, general public, have not had access to until only very recently. It is only now, in our era, that they have been released into the general society to offer us a reliable way to relieve our own suffering, and to also have a profoundly positive effect on others, as well, in ways that we cannot perceive. There are infinite rippling effects out into the Universe.

Devatara Holman M.A., M.S., LAc practices acupuncture and Buddhist medicine at her private medical clinic in Sausalito, CA. Unusually trained in Eastern healing arts, she speaks Chinese fluently and lived in China and Tibet for seven years where she studied the practical integration of medicine and spiritual practices. A Buddhist practitioner since 1985, Devatara is a student of Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche and senior student of Grand Master Fu Weizhon, head of the Emei Linji Chan Lineage of Chinese Buddhism. She is a Certified Master in the Emei Tradition. A gifted healer and scholar, Devatara has also held faculty positions at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and San Francisco State University. She is co-chair of the Emei Qigong Advisory Committee and a Director of the Qigong Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to research and public education about Qigong and energy medicine.

This interview was conducted by Byron Belitsos, the coauthor of A Return to Healing: Health Care Reform and the Future of Medicine.

If you have questions about Buddhist Medicine and the ideas put forth in the article above, please leave a detailed comment and Devatara will reply with more information. Your questions and suggestions help to guide the subjects covered in her next article.

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