E-letter No. 67: December 2008

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
(Archive #1331)
Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe, Lake Arrowhead, 1975. Photo: Carol Royce-Wilder.

Dear Friends,

As 2008 draws to a close, I want to thank you most sincerely for your kind interest in and support of the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive and to wish you and your family and friends all the very best for 2009 and beyond.

Your Donations at Work
As a result of your generosity we engaged in a wide variety of activities all motivated by the wish for all sentient beings to attain enlightenment as quickly as possible. There are four of us working from our office in Boston, Massachusetts; six editors working from various locations around the planet; three people working on transcribing; a monk traveling with Lama Zopa Rinpoche to record all his teachings and advice and send it back to us for archiving and transcription; and three people working on digital imaging, DVD production and audio editing.

Our Publishing the FPMT Lineage project is up and running under the guidance of Gordon McDougall in the UK. At present we are editing Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s collected teachings on the lamrim topics of the perfect human rebirth, the three lower realms and death and impermanence to create extensive study and practice manuals out of these teachings in the first instance and more general books subsequently. Our aim is eventually to publish all of Rinpoche’s lamrim teachings in these formats.

Looking Back

Book launch at Kopan MonasterySo far we have published about 450,000 books for free distribution all over the world; we expect to reach a half million free books next year. We conducted a survey earlier this year and have been very encouraged by what people are saying. We have also been publishing more specialized books for sale and will continue to do so.

This year we also prepared Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s extremely popular How to Be Happy for Wisdom Publications.

We recently updated our website and are constantly adding written and audio teachings to it. We are also developing an amazing photo archive covering forty years of FPMT history; so far we have more than 20,000 images to sort through, digitize, catalog and display, but we hope to be able to make much of it available within the next few months.

Coming Soon!
Books we are working on include Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s The Heart of the Path, which will be printed in January, and Teachings from the Medicine Buddha Retreat, which will be printed in March (excerpt below); Lama Yeshe’s and Rinpoche’s Freedom Through Understanding, a weekend seminar in London, 1975, which will also be printed in March; Lama’s and Rinpoche’s weekend seminar in Geneva, 1983; and Rinpoche’s Vajrayogini commentaries and Lama’s Manjushri commentary.

A major book project to be published next year is Adele Hulse’s authorized biography Big Love, Lama Yeshe, which has been twenty years in the making. At present, Ven. Connie Miller is copy-editing this work, which we envisage publishing in two 600-page volumes with color photographs throughout. I will be giving you more details about it in due course.

We have published five Lama Yeshe DVDs and are working on several more, including DVD sets of Lama’s and Rinpoche’s UK 1975 and Geneva 1983 seminars mentioned above, which we expect to be available next year.

Working for the Benefit of All
In addition to all this, of course, we have to collect and preserve the precious teachings of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche that form the foundation of our work, the main reason we’re called an “archive.”

So once again, thank you so much for your kind support of all these beneficial activities. We are so grateful to you for making it all possible. And if you can please continue to do so we would be even more grateful!

This highly beneficial work is what your donation helps us to do. Make your donation now to help us keep doing it. Ours is a partnership to benefit all sentient beings.

In gratitude for your kindness, we are offering gifts to donors who can support us at the following levels:

♦ Donate $50 and we'll send you a free copy of our new Lama Yeshe DVD Bringing Dharma to the West;

Donate $100 and we'll send you Bringing Dharma to the West AND Lama Zopa Rinpoche's latest book from Wisdom Publications How to Be Happy;

Donate $250 and we'll send a 5x7 museum-grade handmade print in an 8x10 mat;

Donate $500 and we'll send an 8x10 museum-grade handmade print in an 11x14 mat;

Donate $1,000 and we'll send an 11x14 museum-grade handmade print in a 16x20 mat.

Also remember that all donors of $25 or more become Benefactors and automatically receive all free books published by the Archive for one year, and donors of $1,000 or more become Members. See our Special Appeals page for more information about these gifts.

Thank you again for your kindness!

Much love
Nick Ribush



I thought to mention a little about the benefits of Medicine Buddha and other holy objects.

I think that the whole Medicine Buddha Sutra has been translated into Chinese from the original Sanskrit of the Kangyur, Buddha’s teachings. The sutra part of the Kangyur has been completely translated into Chinese, and there are perhaps even a few more texts in Chinese than in Tibetan.

The Medicine Buddha Sutra that we have here already exists in Chinese. I think many Chinese people have read the whole sutra, which describes all the extensive benefits. There are different texts, and I think that what I have here has been compiled from the sutra and from other texts.

If we practice the seven limbs—prostration, making offerings, confession, rejoicing, requesting to turn the Dharma wheel, requesting not to pass away into the sorrowless state and dedicating the merits to achieve enlightenment—in relation to Medicine Buddha, we collect the same amount of merit as having practiced the seven limbs in relation to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas. We get the same amount of merit has having done the seven-limb practice in relation to every single one of the numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas. That might be one reason that in the intermediate and long versions of the Medicine Buddha puja the seven-limb practice and requests are done with each of the Medicine Buddhas. Instead of doing the seven-limb practice just one time to all of them, you do it very precisely to each of them. I don’t do it every time, but I often try to do each limb seven times. (I’m not talking about Padmasambhava’s simple meditation for healing, but about the other one, where you visualize the Medicine Buddhas on your crown, like in the thangka, though I’m not sure about the colors of the Medicine Buddhas in the thangka.) When you do the seven limbs seven times in relation to each Medicine Buddha, as you do during the sadhana, you collect unbelievably extensive merit. It’s really powerful.

The physician of the devas, Kyegu Dakpo, requested Buddha to explain everything about the Medicine Buddha, including the benefits of the practice. This sutra is Buddha’s explanation.

Buddha said, “Physician Kyegu Dakpo, listen to me. One hundred phagtses to the east from here is the Bedurya, or Lapis Lazuli, pure land. There abides the Buddha, Medicinal King, who has accomplished extensive prayers. Due to having generated the good heart, this buddha is very compassionate and extremely powerful.”

According to the Abhidharmakosha, five hundred armspans is one gyangtak, and five hundred gyangtaks is one phagtse. I heard that there are different ways of measuring, one according to Kalachakra and the other according to the Abhidharmakosha, but maybe there are also others.

Buddha then explains to Kyegu Dakpo, the physician:

If, to this buddha, you prostrate, make offering, confess negative karmas, rejoice in merits, request to turn the Dharma wheel, request to have stable life and not pass into the sorrowless state, and dedicate the merits for enlightenment, through this seven-limb practice you will have collected the same virtue as having done the seven-limb practice in relation to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas.

There are numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas, and by doing the seven-limb practice one time in relation to Medicine Buddha, you get the unbelievable merit of having done the seven-limb practice in relation to all those buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Buddha then says:

You have offered respect and service to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas.

If you make offering to Medicine Buddha, you have made offering to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas. The reference for that is this major teaching, this sutra from Buddha.

Also, another text, Men Gyu Rinchen Bumpa, says:

Reciting Medicine Buddha’s name and mantra one time becomes having recited the names and mantras of all the tathagatas of the past, present and future.

So, if you recite Medicine Buddha’s name and then recite the Medicine Buddha mantra, it’s the same as having recited all the names and mantras of all the buddhas of the three times.

Remembering, seeing, hearing, touching or meditating on Medicine Buddha includes remembering, seeing, hearing, touching or meditating on all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, all the Triple Gem. Therefore, the Medicine Buddha’s holy name is “All-Encompassing of Those Gone to Bliss.”

The Medicine Buddha mantra is all-encompassing of Those Gone to Bliss. In other words, the Medicine Buddha mantra is the mantra of all the buddhas.

You will achieve all your wishes, temporary and ultimate, and all success. It will destroy all of the ten nonvirtuous actions. All negative karmas will be purified. When your death happens, you will immediately go to the pure land and then achieve enlightenment. Therefore, do not have any doubts about the benefits of this practice.

In the Encompassing Only That Sutra, there’s a story about how powerful Medicine Buddha practice is for purification. The head of one family, who was called Having Bird Wings, had collected much negative karma, including the five uninterrupted negative karmas (having killed one’s father, one’s mother or an arhat, caused blood to flow from the Buddha and caused disunity among the Sangha). Why are these negative karmas called uninterrupted? Other negative karmas are not as powerful as these karmas. Even if you create those other negative karmas in this life, you can have the interruption of another life before experiencing their result—for example, maybe another good karma ripens so that you are reborn in a deva or human realm. Because these negative karmas are not so powerful, you don’t have to experience the lower realm suffering that is their result right after this life; you can experience it after a few lifetimes or after many lifetimes. But the negative karmas of having killed one’s father, one’s mother or an arhat, caused blood to flow from the Buddha and caused disunity among the Sangha are so powerful that without the interruption of another life, right after death you are immediately reborn in the eighth hot hell, Unbearable Suffering. I’m not sure whether you have to experience all eight hot hells or just the last one, Unbearable Suffering, which has the heaviest suffering of samsara, of the lower realms and of the hell realms.

This person, Having Bird Wings, collected all five uninterrupted negative karmas in that one life, as well as the five actions that are close, or similar, to the uninterrupted negative karmas. It is mentioned that if you step on the shadow of your guru’s holy body, while it’s not one of these five actions, it is similar to them. The same applies to sitting or stepping on the guru’s seat without the guru’s permission. It is also disrespectful to ride the guru’s horse without his permission. I think it might be the same with the shadow of a stupa. Of course, when you walk around a stupa, many times there’s no choice—there’s no other way to walk. Also, when you’re offering service, there may be no other way to walk except by going over the shadow of the guru or a stupa. The main point is mentally to have respect; if there’s disrespect mentally, it then becomes heavy negative karma. While you are going around a stupa, you think that you are going underneath the shadow of the stupa. This way, mentally, there’s respect. It is similar if you have to walk on the guru’s shadow.

I’ve just remembered something that happened one time in Delhi. Due to Lama Yeshe’s kindness in setting up the Dharma Celebration, each year Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre invites His Holiness the Dalai Lama to give teachings. The main focus is the Indian people. Buddhism came from India to Tibet, where the Tibetan lamas and Tibetan people preserved it, and now it is time to return it to the Indian people. That was why Lama started the meditation center in Delhi. Lama also checked with his root guru, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, who is also my root guru. Trijang Rinpoche did a divination and said that at the beginning it would be difficult, but in the long run the center would be very beneficial.

I think we’ve missed having His Holiness teach only one or two years. Once was because the director was Indian and quite new (not new to the center but new to the job) and didn’t take the job seriously. Otherwise, we have received His Holiness every year.

One year His Holiness himself chose to give a Chenrezig great initiation, but normally we choose a title for the talk then check it with His Holiness. Two or three years ago, when there were a lot of problems in India, we came up with a title that was, while not exactly political, connected to the current Indian situation. That time many people from foreign embassies and also Indian high officials, including even the head of the army, came, because of the advertisement. It was very good.

Before that talk His Holiness asked me, “What is the subject?” When the director of the center, Dr. Renuka Singh, who teaches at a Delhi university, presented the title, His Holiness said, “Oh, I don’t know.” His Holiness then actually spoke on that topic. For quite a number of years His Holiness has talked more in relation to the present global situation, which has been extremely beneficial because the teaching applies to thousands of people, including most of the Indians and also the people from other countries, including usually many officials. They are really very impressed, and because they can relate to the talk, they enjoy it very much. They then talk about it for long time, about what a good time they had. The Delhi center offering this service of arranging for His Holiness to teach is a quick way to spread Dharma and to serve many sentient beings by bringing them to enlightenment.

During recent years His Holiness has become well known and respected in the West, especially in the United States. Of course, India then naturally has to do the same thing and respect His Holiness. It is due to Lama’s kindness that Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre in Delhi has that special karma. Even though at other times teachings and meditations are normally happening, it is through the Dharma Celebration that the center can offer the most extensive benefit to sentient beings.

The main point that I was going to mention is that a few years ago, when I was receiving His Holiness with incense, as we were coming through the door to go to the teaching site, His Holiness’s shadow was on the steps. As I was trying to go around the shadow. His Holiness asked, “What’s happening? What are you doing? What are you doing?”

Anyway, to return to the story: Having Bird Wings collected all five of the uninterrupted negative karmas and even the five close ones. He also collected the fourteen tantric root falls. He created so much heavy negative karma. When the time came for this karma to ripen, though he didn’t see any form he heard a voice say, “You, Having Bird Wings, have collected such heavy negative karma that the earth will crack, and you will then be born in the hell realm, Unbearable Suffering.” (That’s the eighth hot hell, the very bottom one.) When he heard this he became unbelievably frightened. Then again he heard a voice from space say, “If you recite the mantra and holy name of the Medicinal King, which encompass all Those Gone to Bliss, all your negative karmas collected during beginningless rebirths will be purified. It will close the door to your reincarnating in the hell realm. And in this life you will achieve no birth.” (I guess it means that he would actualize the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, the arya path, and by ceasing his delusions through that, he would then overcome death and have no further rebirth.)

Remembering the qualities of Medicine Buddha, Having Bird Wings then recited Medicine Buddha’s name and mantra. After seven days a fully ordained monk in the form of a physician appeared in front of him and told him, “Hold the corner of my robe. We’re going to see the wonderful medicinal city.” Having Bird Wings immediately held the corner of the monk’s robe and was taken to the pure land. (What actually happened was that Having Bird Wings saw Medicine Buddha in the form of a fully ordained monk, who then took him to the pure land in that body, and there he became enlightened.)

Also, in the tantra called Ser Dom Upa, Buddha explained to his attendant Ananda:

If you recite one time the name and mantra of the Medicinal King, encompassing all Those Gone to Bliss, you purify 80,000 eons of negative karma; if you recite it ten times, you purify 800,000 eons of negative karma; if you recite it twenty times, you purify 8,000,000 eons of negative karma; if you recite it one hundred times, you purify the negative karma from unimaginable samsaric lifetimes. Anybody who even hears or remembers the name and mantra purifies the five uninterrupted negative karmas.

This applies to any being, even an animal. It doesn’t depend on whether or not someone has faith or is Buddhist. This is why it’s very good to recite Medicine Buddha’s name and mantra to any animal that we see.

I think I mentioned during the introduction to the initiation that Buddha told Ananda that even an animal who hears Medicine Buddha’s name and mantra will never ever be reborn in the lower realms. When we are near cats, dogs or any other animals in our daily life, we should recite the Medicine Buddha mantra so that they can hear it. It’s an extremely beneficial service. Even if we explained Dharma to an animal for billions of eons, there is no way they could understand what we were saying. Because they have taken an animal body and don’t have a human body, this is the only way we can help them. If they had a human body, when we talked to them they could understand simple Dharma explanations, or at least the Dharma words would stay in their mind. But because they don’t have a human body and have taken an animal body at this time, it completely blocks their understanding the meaning of Dharma. So, all that’s left is to chant the name and mantra of this powerful buddha, which has unbelievable benefit. If we chant the Medicine Buddha mantra in their ear or chant it and blow on their body, it purifies their negative karma. It’s an excellent thing to do to help them, to liberate them from the sufferings of the lower realms. And because it leaves a positive imprint on their mind, sooner or later they will gain a higher rebirth, meet the Dharma, actualize the path, cease their defilements and achieve enlightenment. That’s how, by chanting mantras for animals, we liberate them from samsara and bring them to enlightenment.

This tantra says that even hearing or remembering Medicine Buddha’s mantra purifies the five uninterrupted negative karmas. Even seeing or touching a Medicine Buddha statue or the Medicine Buddha mantra purifies negative karma, such as the ten nonvirtuous actions. It also says that even seeing, touching or remembering the holy body of a statue of Medicine Buddha completely purifies kor, the pollution that comes from taking food and other things that people have offered with devotion to the Sangha community. Since those things belong to the Sangha, taking them brings pollution. If you use something that belongs to the Sangha without permission, the pollution obscures your mind; it interferes with realization. Here pollution isn’t referring to external pollution in the Western sense; this is mental pollution. It doesn’t become pollution for buddhas or arya beings. Whether or not it becomes pollution depends on the person. It’s different if you’re a Sangha member who has studied very hard, offered service in the monastery or lived in pure morality; otherwise, using the Sangha’s enjoyments obscures the mind and then makes it difficult to have realizations. That’s the function of kor. So, the stains of kor are purified by seeing, touching or remembering Medicine Buddha’s holy body or a statue of Medicine Buddha.

The heavy negative karma of causing disunity among the Sangha is also purified, as well as the heavy negative karma of trying to stop somebody from making offering to the Sangha. In Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, when Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo talks about refuge practice in the commentary to Jorchö, he mentions various negative karmas collected in relation to the Sangha that you have to purify. One of them is trying to block other people from making offering to the Sangha. Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo gives the example of somebody planning to offer butter to make Tibetan tea, and you, as manager of the monastery, say, “Oh, this is too much for the Sangha—they don’t need it.” If you stop someone from offering even one slice of butter, you create the heavy negative karma of stopping offerings to the Sangha. So, those negative karmas are purified by reciting the Medicine Buddha mantra. Criticizing Sangha, another heavy negative karma, is also purified. In short, all the negative karmas collected in relation to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are purified.

By making offering to Medicine Buddha, you purify even the negative karmas of having harmed the guru’s holy body, gone against their advice and disturbed their holy mind, as well as the pollution from using the guru’s belongings.

Buddha explained all this to Ananda, his attendant. Buddha also explained:

This buddha is equal to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Their life, holy activities, duration of their teachings and power of their blessings are equal. This buddha’s compassion and prayers working for sentient beings are equal to other buddhas. This buddha is the embodiment of all the gurus, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. It encompasses Those Gone to Bliss. It is the embodiment of the Triple Gem, the mind-seal deities, the dakinis and the Dharma protectors; it is the embodiment of all the objects of refuge. This one Victorious One encompasses all. Therefore, there is no doubt that if, with strong devotion, you make prostrations, offerings or requests to Medicine Buddha, or even hear the name or see a holy object of this buddha, or merely remember them, you will be saved from the sufferings of the lower realms.

We’ll do just that much tonight. I thought during this time to talk a little, here and there, on some of the benefits of Medicine Buddha practice; and to talk also in relation to the practice of the sadhana. I’m not sure what will come.

Excerpted from Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Teachings from the Medicine Buddha Retreat (held at Land of Medicine Buddha in 2001), edited by Ven. Ailsa Cameron, to be published by the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive in 2009.