Healing in the Tibetan Bon tradition

In the Bon teachings, healing encompasses the physical, mental, and emotional dimensions. The human form has three aspects: mind, body, and feelings. Disturbances in any of these aspects of our being can contribute to illness. Consequently, Bon healing practice works on all three aspects. It can help us clear physical illness as well as disturbances in our mind and our feelings. On the physical level, once we master a healing practice, we have the power to heal a variety of illnesses and pain.

Tibetan healing science places special emphasis on healing the mind. If we really want to heal ourselves, we have to heal our mind. When we take care of our mind, it also takes care of our feelings and our body. Mind, body, and feelings are interconnected and interdependent. In the Tibetan traditions, medicine, astrology, and spiritual practice are recognized as deeply connected with each other. Tibetan doctors are required to study all three in depth.

According to Tibetan healing science, our physical health depends on the state of the three energy aspects or humors: wind, bile, and phlegm. Imbalances in the three humors serve as major causes of physical suffering and illness. The three humors in turn are intimately connected with the state of our mind. Wind or prana is the movement of energy in our body. Phlegm is the essential fluid in our body. It is related to the kidneys and the water element. Bile is the heat of our body, including the metabolic heat we need to draw nutrients from food.

The Three Poisons as a Cause of Illness

If we want to heal our mind and abide in peace, we need to free ourselves from afflictions. Drugs and medications can be temporary fixes for the mind, but they may never bring long-lasting healing. To heal the mind we need to learn how to take care of it through our practice.

Healing the mind means eliminating the afflictions of the mind. Out of 404 main illnesses described in Bon healing science, 101 or one quarter of each are caused by minor ailments, previous karma, evil spirits, and disturbances in the three humors. Illnesses due to karma and evil spirits cannot be cured by medicine but require spiritual and holistic practices. To help heal illnesses caused by imbalances in the three humors, changes in lifestyle, diet, medicine, and surgery may be helpful. However, the primary cause of imbalances in the three humors is the deluded mind. Thus, the most effective way to heal or to prevent illness is to heal our mind. Healing our mind means to clear the afflictions that have caused imbalances in us and to refrain from unwholesome behavior and lifestyles that are linked to these afflictions.

The main affliction that affects us is the distraction caused by the three poisons of ignorance, anger, and desire-attachment. These three are the root of all other afflictions. By transforming these three poisons we not only heal our mind but, in turn, also our body, our life, and our relationships. The three poisons are like internal demons or enemies that we need to pacify. When we perceive others as our enemies, this is due to these three inner demons. For instance, our desire-attachment may destroy a friendship and let us perceive a friend as enemy. Once we transform our inner enemies of ignorance, anger, and desire-attachment, our external enemies will become our friends.

The first of the three poisons, ignorance, is our lack of wisdom, understanding, and skillful means. In Tibetan, ignorance is called Ma-Rigpa. “Ma” denotes a negation or a lack of something. “Rig” is awareness, wisdom, or knowing. When “pa” is added, it means “the one who is lacking in awareness or wisdom”. Ma-Rigpa is our state of not knowing our habitual conditioning, our wrong views, and that our unwholesome behavior is being caused by them. Due to our ignorance we fail to distinguish whether our actions are wholesome or unwholesome. At other times we may know that an action is unwholesome but may be unwilling to accept this. This too is Ma-Rigpa. For instance, when we consume alcohol, we may not be aware that it is destroying our liver, or we may know about its harmful effects but remain unable to fully accept this.

Ignorance stimulates imbalance in the humor of phlegm. One way of overcoming ignorance is to be in the present moment, free from attachment to past situations or expectations about the future. When we are truly present, this means that we know and fully accept the state of our body, mind, and feelings. Acceptance and being in the moment is not easy. It needs aspiration, mindfulness, effort, and our full commitment.

Desire-attachment is the second internal enemy. It can take the form of a very subtle failure to be content. Finding the treasury of contentment within is the Buddha Way. We are all gifted with the potential to be happy and joyful independent of circumstances. However, due to desire-attachment we fail to realize our potential. Desire-attachment causes an imbalance in the wind element. This gives rise to frustration, tension, depression, and mental insecurities. We can be healed from the torment of desire-attachment by consciously practicing contentment. We do this by being generous and open to the world.

The third major affliction is hatred or anger. Hatred and anger imbalance the function of the liver and stimulate the energy of the bile. When the bile is out of balance, we feel anxious, become angry easily, and worry too much. We may experience heart burn, weak memory, and find it difficult to make decisions.

Anger damages both ourselves and those with whom we are angry. When we are angry we do not see the effects of our anger upon others. We also fail to recognize the the damage caused by this anger within our own life. That is the ignorance. Ignorance that causes both the failure to recognize that anger is unwholesome and the failure to recognize its effects upon ourselves and others. Can we have the heart and mind to see the pain and suffering that our anger causes in our life and the lives of others? When we are beginning to see this, it means that our practice is developing.

We may wonder whether it is possible that anger does not cause someone any trouble. When we are angry we are going through difficulties somewhere in our life, even though we may not realize this. We are already affected; this is why we are getting angry. Before we get angry, something or someone has poked us. This experience of being poked is suffering. If we respond based on deluded mind consciousness, our suffering will give rise to anger. Deluded mind consciousness is the mind that is conditioned by ignorance or desire-attachment. If you feel that your anger is not causing you any pain, bring your awareness to the state of your mind and feelings just before you experience anger. Anger begins with mental pain. This turns into emotional pain, and emotional pain slowly takes on physical form.

The best antidote to anger in ourselves and others is the practice of loving kindness and compassion. If we see another person who is very angry, can we be the antidote for them? Can we be present with love and compassion? If we are able to gently refrain from any reaction, we have already stopped the process of anger and suffering.

How do we practice love and compassion toward the object of our anger? First, we can do our best to contemplate on the positive qualities of the other person. A second way is to accept and acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes. Third, we can practice seeing the other as the benefactor of our love and forgiveness. If we really want to be a compassionate being, any situation that offends us can become an opportunity to really grown and develop our compassionate heart. The fourth way is to take the situation as a way to become Buddha. If all this fails, we can practice entering into the state of a healing practice such as the Bon healing practice of Sidpa Gyalmo.

If we can free ourselves from ignorance, anger, and desire-attachment, our life will be much easier, healthier, and happier. This is true both with regard to our mind, and with regard to our body and feelings. When we take care of the mind, our body and feelings will experience healing also.

La, Sog, and Tse

According to the Way of the Bon of existence, we are each the result of the coming together of three essential energies: the La, Sog and Tse. The La is our soul. The Sog is our life force. The Tse is our life span; it is the unification of La and Sog.

When we experience a state of shock or very difficult circumstances, the La can be disturbed. Both the La and Tse can leave our body. The La may leave our body due to shock, or it could be taken away or even destroyed by the eight classes of spirits. Likewise, the Tse, our life span, can be interrupted, disturbed, taken away, or destroyed. Our wellbeing and longevity depend on the La and Tse. It is therefore very important to keep the La and Tse in balance. The Sog only leaves our body when we die. It departs our body at the moment of death when our mind consciousness and body disintegrate.

There are certain signs that indicate that our La may be disturbed, weakened, or stolen. We may have difficulties sleeping or be scared easily. We may experience nightmares and strange dreams, panic, depression, or self-judgment. To help someone whose La is weakened, the practice of soul retrieval or ‘La Gug’ can be performed.

When the Tse is disturbed, we turn inward and isolate ourselves from people. Our face and body lose their luster and become pale. We may feel restless, impatient, easily frightened, and constantly frustrated. To strengthen the Tse of an individual, we can either do the longevity practice ‘Tse Drub’ or the life force retrieval ‘Tse Gug’.

Unwholesome actions of the three doors of body, speech, and mind open the door for disturbances in the La and Tse. Unwholesome actions are generally all actions that have harmful effects on ourselves or others. We engage in unwholesome actions when we are under the influence of the five poisons of ignorance, anger, desire-attachment, pride, and jealousy. When we think and speak ill of others, we are creating bad energy for them and they may be affected. This is why we do not gossip or speak ill of others.
Through healing practice and practice in general we help the energies of La, Sog, and Tse to be in balance. When we pray and perform healing practice for others, we increase the strength of their individual deities. This can make our healing practice very powerful.

Bon Healing Practices

If we want to heal from a disturbed state of our mind and feelings, we have to let go of the object that is causing us to feel disturbed and that our mind is holding on to. How can we let go? The practice of letting go relies on the threefold power of wholesome intention, single pointed concentration, and joyful effort. Our wholesome intention is our wish that we and all beings may be happy. This wish gives us the strength to engage in wholesome actions and renounce unwholesome actions.

Single pointed concentration means that we always remain connected with our intention to liberate ourselves and others from suffering, no matter how difficult this may be. The third quality, joyful effort, actualizes the unified essence of wholesome intention and single pointed concentration. Once we have established these three qualities, a moment of laughter, remembering our mantra, protector deity, or spiritual teacher can help us shift our mind away from any object that is disturbing us.

The Bon tradition offers a number of Tantric healing practice that require single-pointed concentration but take us beyond concentration practice to help us work with and actually transform our emotions. The Tantric way is the way of transformation. This path is grounded in the recognition that we do not need to reject the afflictive emotions that obscure our true nature but can skillfully use them as a means toward liberation. Tantric practice employs the transformative power of mantra and of visualizing ourselves as an awakened deity, such as the Bon protector deity of Sidpa Gyalmo.

Protectors are like guardian angels. They protect beings from external and internal harm. In particular, protectors guard the Bon teachings, temples and holy places, and they protect practitioners from obstacles, misfortune and epidemics. There are two kinds of protectors. There are worldly protectors, called Sungma or Bon Kyong or Ka Kyong. The second kind are the enlightened protectors. Enlightened protectors have left the worldly dimension and cleared the two obscurations of afflictions and intellect. They are the manifestation of clarity, which is the unification of emptiness and awareness. It is the mind of Buddha, or Bon Ku in Tibetan and Dharmakaya in Sanskrit.

Sidpa Gyalmo is an enlightened protector. As such, she is without form. However, she can manifest in any from including human form. The healing and wisdom aspect of Sidpa Gyalmo is Yeshe Walmo (here link to picture on website). Her name can be translated as “Flaming Wisdom”: “Yeshe” means wisdom and “Walmo” means flame or fire. Yeshe Walmo is the fierce protector deity who protects the Bon teachings and the health, prosperity, and happiness of the practitioner. As a healing deity she also protects beings from epidemic diseases.

Tantric healing practice involves two stages: the Generation Stage and the Completion Stage. The Generation Stage is the practice of meditation and visualization in order to purify our afflictive conditioning and cultivate positive qualities. When we visualize a deity and invoke her qualities, we bring these qualities back into our lives from within ourselves. Through the healing practice of Sidpa Gyalmo we open our heart and mind to her healing power and connect with the enlightened awareness that she embodies. We open the door to the space of Sidpa Gyalmo so that we become able to embody her.

When our practice of Sidpa Gyalmo becomes spontaneous, we will truly embody her healing wisdom and power. This allows us to cognize and clear all the karmic conditions that give rise to the two obscurations of affliction and intellect. When we become the mind and heart of the deity through our visualization and mantra recitation, our practice is like a burning flame that clears all afflictions, even afflictions that we are not aware of. Once we truly know that we are Sidpa Gyalmo, her healing power will flow through our speech, mind, body, and breath. This enables us to heal ourselves and to help others heal through the words we speak, by holding them in our mind, or through physical touch and our breath.