This book is about how Tibetan medicine can help you to create wisdom, health, and well-being. It is not for scholars: There are already books of that kind by people well versed in the subject. This is primarily a book of self-exploration, which uses Tibetan medicine as a guide on the path to knowledge of your self.
We should regard ourselves as pilgrims following an inner journey that is beautiful, scary, and sometimes difficult. In these pages, you will learn about the art of living. You will discover many safe, traditional self-healing techniques that will empower you to become healthy and happy. Above all, you will experience the profound healing system within your being. Then, you can become your own best healer.
Understanding any culture can be difficult if you have not learned the thinking process behind it. It is the same with Tibetan medicine, which has its own special thinking process and language. In order for this book to be useful to you, it is important to know and experience the underlying worldview that is at the heart of one of the world's most sophisticated systems of healing.
Tibetan medicine is an ancient and detailed system that aims to unite the mind, body, and inner spirit of an ill person and so restore a dynamic balance. It works to create patterns of health by helping people change their mental and behavioral attitudes, even if the problem is a physical injury such as a broken leg. This does not mean that everything is in the mind. What Tibetan medicine does is to help people understand the origins and causes of illness, and how we hold illness in both our bodies and our minds.
By understanding why you are ill, why you have pain, why you suffer, you become stronger and wiser. You start to understand how and why any overwhelming or obstructive experience expresses itself as mental or physical illness. You then know how to stop suffering and heal both your illness and the way you live.
The Origins of Tibetan Dur Bön Medicine
Tibetan spirituality in all its forms goes back to a simple and basic belief held by the peoples of Tibet since the most ancient times. In order to gain spiritual growth you must first gain personal vitality and energy. This will make you strong and free from obstructions so that you attract only good things to you. This concept lies at the heart of all religious and spiritual thought of the Tibetan experience.
There are two structured religious teachings in Tibetan culture today. One is Buddhism and the other Bön, a Tibetan term that basically means "to invoke a deity." According to the Bön tradition, the great spiritual genius Tonpa Shenrab Miwo, who was born seventeen thousand years before the historical Buddha, founded the Bön teaching. As a fully enlightened person from birth, he was able to give teachings that helped people to cure their suffering.
Both Tonpa Shenrab Miwo and Buddha were regarded as master physicians because they diagnosed the root causes of suffering. They developed similar ideas about how to transform suffering, encourage happiness, and create inner balance. They understood the human condition.
The original practitioners of Dur Bön, from which my tradition developed, were married priests in pre-Buddhist times; their job was to prepare the bodies of dead kings and escort their souls to higher states of consciousness. They were advisers to royal families and important community leaders, and also held complex medical knowledge about how the body and mind worked and how it died and re-formed. This medical knowledge came from an older culture known as Zhang Zhung.
The Dur Bön school merged with a spiritual tradition known as dMu T'ang, which is also part of the Bön culture. In its earliest times dMu T'ang trained its exponents to send their minds into other realms of consciousness. This skill was used to heal, guide, and protect the community. The dMu T'ang tradition also held important spiritual and medical teachings in the forms of physical and mental exercises.
The practitioners of Dur Bön and dMu T'ang were mystics, philosophers, physicians, and scientists. Their legacy extended to all schools of Bön and has influenced Tibetan Buddhism as well. Rningmapa, the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism, is similar to some aspects of Bön culture. Modern research suggests that many aspects of Indian and Chinese culture have borrowed much from Bön. The origins of Hinduism and the Taoist and feng shui philosophies of China all emanate from Bön culture and spirituality.
When Buddhism first came to Tibet in the seventh century A.D., it made little impact. In the eighth century, however, the government was in crisis and there was unrest among the Bön nobility. The Buddhists launched a well-planned military invasion and succeeded in becoming the dominant religion in Tibet until the Chinese invasion of 1959.
At first, the two systems of thinking -- Buddhist and Bön -- worked well together. Then, however, certain Buddhist factions started to persecute Bön communities. To stop the persecution, some Bön communities took on the trappings of the Buddhist teaching and developed into what became known as Reformed Bön, or Bön-pos. In reality, however, their teachings are much the same and there is little controversy between the two approaches. The search for virtue, compassion, and wisdom is the same for Buddhists as for all forms of Bön communities. My teacher, who was a Bön master and taught me the old Bön (the Bön of the Ngagpas), married a woman from a famous family of Buddhist teachers. He and his wife suffered no division in their spiritual practices or religious views.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has recently taken a significant step in uniting the fabric of Tibet by acknowledging the crucial role of Bön in Tibetan culture. Those in the West who know anything about Bön tend to get it mixed up with indigenous Tibetan shamanism and animistic beliefs. This is inaccurate but, confusingly, both Buddhism and Bön endorse some, if not all, of those beliefs and have incorporated them into their way of thinking.
Indeed, all Tibetan teachings have succeeded in keeping their vitality and universal truths. Although Tibetan Buddhism is far better known today than Bön, there are still thousands of practitioners in Tibet and throughout the Himalayan region, and there are Bön religious communities in India, Eastern Tibet, North America, and some parts of Central Asia.
Currently, all religious activity in Tibet is outlawed. The official religion today is the mindless adherence to Chinese Communism. But Buddhist and Bön communities are not the only ones to suffer from communist persecution. The Tibetan Muslims, Jews, and Christians have all suffered terribly.
How We See the World
According to Tibetan medicine, the body is a physical expression of mental energies generated by the brain. The nature of these energies is created by the way each person interprets the world around him.
Although we think that we are reacting instantaneously to everything that happens to us, we are, in fact, always living in the past, because our brains can only react through our senses. Consider this, and you'll see that your reaction is always a few seconds behind the event because of the time it takes to process via your senses and brain. Our sense of immediacy is an illusion. What we think is happening right now has already passed.
In the same way, illness creates an illusion about its nature, and it is this illusion that we need to see through. We are conditioned psychologically to expect to be ill. Because we live in this potent expectation, illness follows us like a stubborn dog that refuses to be sent home. Illness is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
How Illness Builds Up in Our Bodies
Over time, extremely intense experiences, good or bad, slowly stun the body and mind. They infiltrate the central nervous system and leave their influence behind in the form of deeply rooted energies that abide in the deepest parts of the personality. Here, according to Tibetan medicine, these old influences build and create emotional and spiritual garbage that, in time, becomes physical and emotional illness or negative life circumstances.
These subtle underlying forces of ill health relate to "karma." The way we react to the stimuli around us and the illusion we have of living in the present create the causes and conditions of our lives. This is karma.
Karma can be defined as a conscious mental decision and action carried out for a particular end result. Every day we create karma by experiencing problems, coping with stress, eating or drinking too much, and even having too much of a good or bad time -- when we are angry, lie, cause trouble for other people, or cause ourselves harm by acting before thinking things through. All of these daily experiences that we go through leave their imprints in our minds and bodies, on our lives and on those of other people. You will find a fuller explanation of karma in chapter 3.
How can we try to overcome this dilemma?
Health Is a Process
According to the Tibetans, health is like the tide. It is a process, not a static or constant experience. Each person's state of energy is continuously changing from one moment to the next, rising and falling, increasing and decreasing. When energy falls below a certain level, which differs from person to person, the first signs of illness are experienced.
Illness can take a long time to find its way into material form and may not be obvious. Many people go about their daily lives looking perfectly healthy on the outside, yet within they may have a deep-seated emotional problem or an unseen cancer carrying them closer to death. Some people allow stress, one of the most damaging influences on our health in modern times, to fester and build up inside so that years, even decades later, they find themselves burned out and ill.
To prevent the causes of illness you must know how to prevent unskillful patterns of emotions and behavior so that your life becomes more harmonious and balanced. You will meet the concept of skillful behavior frequently in this book. In a nutshell, skillful behavior leads to positive outcomes, unskillful to negativity.
Negativity and prejudice are closely related. People are united more by their prejudices -- of every kind -- than by any other common factor. Prejudice represses anyone who experiences it into a state of worthlessness and triviality. Illness can be seen as a prejudice that you have created toward yourself. By understanding how we think about ourselves, we learn how we create the foundations of health and illness and this in turn will show us how we create our own subconscious patterns of karma.
Your Life Is a Spiritual Experience
We see ourselves as flesh and blood, but, in fact, human beings are consciousness that has sought a way to express itself in this material world by taking on a physical form. Underneath all the physical and mental construction of daily life on this planet lies a pure and open spiritual consciousness. This is a natural state of mind that is always there within every person, entwined in the fabric of our lives.
This duality can create chaos and suffering. Illness is often brought about by our minds, emotions, and habits getting in the way of the pure consciousness at our core. But our innate spirituality can also create order and beauty.
Realizing that each of us has this infinite potential is at the heart of Tibetan spiritual teaching. It exists in everyone and everything. At this very moment, you are the great symbol of your own potential enlightenment.
The purpose of any spiritual practice, ethical framework, or religious belief should be to help us enjoy the lives that we have. What's important is to avoid getting caught up with the future, because the future -- and the past -- are only creations of our imaginations. To be happy we need first to allow ourselves to be so -- now. So forget thoughts like "I will be so happy if only that would happen," and "I was so happy when things were different." All you have is now. So accept yourself as you are without embellishment or regret.
Start by aiming to experience everyday life in as open and direct a manner as possible. From the moment you wake to the moment you sleep, allow every experience to come to you without judgment. The key is acceptance.
Accepting whatever happens is a hard task at first. Like everyone, you will feel fear at the very idea, but gradually, as you cut through the barriers developed by years of habit, you will start to become less reactive to the world around you. We often live our whole lives in a state of reaction to experiences. If we are caused pain, we become angry, we hurt, we cry, we fear for our existence. These reactive responses continue the subtle links of our suffering. Whether they are big events in our lives or small ones, the end result is the same.
Acceptance takes the sting out of reactivity and creates for us insight into the way we make our lives happen. An experience of great simplicity will emerge from your consciousness as you allow acceptance to filter into all your mental and physical actions. It will make you feel naked and exposed at first, but, as you stay with this, you will learn that truth needs no clothing.
As you follow the path to your inner morality, many confused emotions may come to the surface of your everyday mind, causing you self-doubt and fear. You may worry that you are inferior to your colleagues and peers. Remember: You are not bad. You are essentially good, and intrinsically enlightened. You lack nothing. If you can accept this, the path will start to reveal itself.
Simply look at the natural world. Bees and flowers, clouds and rain, sun and moon, light and dark, birth and death -- all of these are part of the continual cycle of truth. See how the ants and birds work together, each giving support to the others of their kind. Human beings often fail to do this. The seeds within the fruit know only one thing: that they must grow, blossom, and bear fruit. Essentially, we human beings must do the same, but some of us have forgotten. The truth is everywhere, in all things, in all situations, and is behind the beginning and completion of everything. It can lead you to your spiritual potential, and, most of all, it can reveal to you how to live your life.
Remember, living in a way that is as true to yourself as you can be is not always an easy path. Do not climb spiritual mountains just because they are there, or seek the meaning of life because you feel you should. Life has only the meaning you give to it. The truth reveals life as it is.
Spiritual Consciousness in the Twenty-first Century
The first one hundred years of the new millennium will dictate the cycles and patterns for the future. New forms of spiritual wisdom and consciousness are finding their roots. New technologies and the changes in the global economy and the use of natural resources will influence the evolution of human beings as a species.
Tibetan wisdom teaches that in this century, the foundations of the new wisdom will be manifested in the rising up of female and feminine consciousness, influencing both the worldview and individual development. This feminine consciousness will create new ways of thought, new insights into human nature, and will become humanity's next step on
the evolutionary path to the understanding of its spiritual potential.
It can and will empower both men and women, redefining individual responsibility and revising our priorities. Individual and social spirituality will be the only important human resource that will guide us to the understanding of ourselves and our planet. People all over the world are starting to understand, deep within themselves, that the so-called modern world has not delivered. Although science and technology and rational philosophies have contributed to material and intellectual well-being, our spiritual needs are not being met.
Inner wisdom and higher states of consciousness form the only bedrock of individual spiritual happiness. They are the resonance of the higher humanity that links all people. But we feel separated from them. In this troubled time, careful understanding of the past, present, and future can bring great insight.
Many people understand that life on our planet is simply a transition to a higher level. But often we have closed down those very perceptions that can reveal to us our inner light, and so we stay confined to this world and its material emanations. The risk is that if we do not reach out now for whatever we see as heaven or higher consciousness, then hell and hellish states of mind will slowly creep upon us.
The earth is going through a painful adolescence, for not only is humanity a young species but so is the rock on which we live. We are living in a kind of global puberty. Squeezed between the old and the new, we forget the constant that is there regardless of history, time, or politics: our ability both as individuals and as a species to reconnect with one another and with the gifts of nature. For this we need to allow our humility to emerge. Humility is the foundation of generosity.
To find this humility, you must encourage simplicity of thought and directness of action in all parts of your life. Respect the society that you find yourself in and understand that great value can be found in what you have and are. Most people can understand and experience their spiritual potential without any particular training. A focused and sincere heart and a direct mental focus are often enough. The purpose is simply to comprehend the underlying spiritual nature of all things. From this develops a way of manifesting freedom, peace, happiness, and higher consciousness.
parAll of us are wise. All of us have access to inner truth. No one holds a single key to truth above all others. Rest in your emerging divinity and consciousness. Do not grasp for it. Receive it and enjoy.
Live every day not as if it were your last, but for what it is: an unknown experience, potentially able to offer you a connection to your humanity and happiness. We need to realize that the process of traveling toward our dreams is in itself a spiritual experience.
In the next chapter you will discover how to create your soul for this life, a process the Tibetan Bön tradition calls Activating Your Thunder, because the individual who has made his or her soul has the power of thunder and lightning to cut through ignorance and reveal truth to others.
Copyright © 2001 by Christopher Hansard
Wise Body, Mind, Life
The Tibetan Art of Living
Wise Body, Mind, Life
The Tibetan Art of Living provides clear and practical techniques and advice that will lead to:
- A greater knowledge of yourself
- An understanding of the origins and causes of illness, and how we all hold illness in our bodies as well as in our minds
- The awareness that we are our own best healers
- A life of physical, emotional, and spiritual health
From dietary guidelines, massage, and rejuvenation techniques to mind-strengthening skills, soul medicine, and herbal remedies for common ailments, Hansard presents many simple ways of inviting Tibetan Bön wisdom and spirituality into everyday life.