Taking the Essence

By Lama Thubten Yeshe

In 1981-82, Lama Thubten Yeshe prepared his first batch of chulen (taking the essence) pills according to traditional procedures, using extremely valuable natural ingredients. The pills were then blessed by more than seventy monks and nuns of the International Mahayana Institute through the recitation of one million Vajrasattva (one-hundred-syllable) mantras. Using these pills, in the summer of 1982 under the leadership of the great yogi Geshe Jampa Wangdu, fifty Dharma students from all over the world made successful retreats at Tushita Retreat Centre, Dharamsala, showing that this practice is no longer for Tibetans alone.

After this, Lama Yeshe made more pills, which were offered not for commercial purposes but for the spiritual growth of sincere students. Over the next few years, these were used by practitioners intent upon making serious pill retreats in accordance with the instructions and advice given here or as medicine for certain illnesses, as prescribed by Lama Yeshe.

The gathering of this information by Lama Thubten Yeshe began in 1982 and finished in May 1983. Originally published in New Delhi as a booklet by Wisdom Publications in 1983.

Lama Yeshe at an outdoor puja  to celebrate the end of the first year of a geshe studies course, Manjushri Institute, England, 1979.

Out of his great wisdom and compassion, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha presented a vast range of methods by which sentient beings could, according to their various mental capacities, recognize and overcome their problems. These methods include:

  • Accumulating merit
  • Understanding dependent arising
  • Utilizing the power of medicines, matter and mantra
  • Purifying psychological symptoms
  • Achieving realizations of deities
  • Performing miracles as antidotes to obstacles
  • Achieving indestructible concentration; receiving empowerments that enable one to actualize a deity through performing strict retreat and thus qualifying one to accomplish the four activities of peace, development, power and wrath
  • Countless others that also bring the common and uncommon realizations

From these methods, that presented here is the so-called “pill retreat,” an extremely powerful and skillful means that enables sentient beings to overcome quickly the enemy?the hallucination of the pleasures of the five senses.

This pill practice helps us attain quick release from attachment and readily gain experience of the three principal aspects of the path. It is a perfect method for easily achieving powerful, indestructible concentration and, thereby, realizations of dharmakaya and rupakaya. Therefore, this method is much more powerful than deity retreats.

Through this practice we go beyond the hypocrisy of “religious dancing.” It is a great antidote to distraction and sluggishness. Other results of this practice are satisfaction and a simple life?we achieve a truly basic and organic simplicity, with less desire and grasping.


The extended lineage of these teachings goes back to Shakyamuni Buddha; they were not invented by Tibetans. The Buddha forsook all human food but pine nuts for six years, after which he manifested enlightenment. By practicing this pill method we can quickly discover enlightenment just as Shakyamuni Buddha himself did.

The close lineage comes from Vajrayogini. She gave these teachings directly to the great yogi Phadampa Sangye, from whom they passed through many great yogis up to those of the present day. That Phadampa Sangye lived for 572 years shows that, among its many other benefits, this pill method also helps to extend the lifespan. This yogi not only lived a very long time; he also achieved many realizations.


We should have an exalted or, at least, other-directed motivation. By understanding that the pleasures of cyclic existence do not give satisfaction and recognizing their impermanent, transitory character, our grasping attitude towards worldly pleasures changes; in other worlds, we generate a renounced mind. In addition, we should be seeking inexhaustible peace and happiness and have the wish to share our good qualities with others. Thus, we free ourselves from obsession with worldly pleasures and make space in our mind for tranquility and peace. We should also have, or be trying to develop, great wisdom and compassion. Those who have these qualities and goals are qualified to do this practice.

Specifically, there are three types of person qualified to be pill retreat practitioners

  1. The most highly qualified person is the one who has renounced worldly life, wants to develop indestructible special insight and inexhaustible bliss, and seeks enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings.
  2. The person with medium qualifications is the one who, having a shortage of basic necessities, takes the pill for self-preservation in order to benefit others.
  3. The person with the lowest qualifications is the one who uses the pill to cure disease.

There are four types of person not qualified to be pill retreat practitioners

  1. The person concerned with reputation. One who simply wants others to think he or she is a great yogi, a renounced meditator, is not qualified. Using the pill with this attitude benefits neither oneself nor others.
  2. The person concerned with receiving materials. One who uses this practice to become famous and receive offerings is also not qualified. Using the pill with such selfish motivation benefits neither oneself nor others.
  3. The miserly person. One who is so miserly that he or she decides to live an ascetic life in order to save money on food simply creates the cause for more suffering. A person who actually has sufficient means but this miserly attitude should not do the pill retreat because it will only create more negativity and miserliness. Furthermore, such people are reborn as hungry spirits or in places without water, such as Africa.
  4. The person who takes the pill for pleasure and health. Because these pills are very powerful and affect the body as a super-protein, one can gain great physical pleasure by taking them or revitalize low sexual energy. Using the pill to gain physical strength or increase energy or pleasure is also the wrong motivation. One should not do the pill retreat for such impure, superficial, worldly reasons unless one has great sickness or suffering.

However, the pill can be taken in times of famine or if one is emotionally disturbed, generally tense, or suffering from obesity caused by hormonal imbalance. Hormonal imbalance is caused by energy going in the wrong direction; the chulen pill can bring the body’s energy back into balance. But if one takes the pill only out of laziness, they will not be beneficial.

We should take the pill with strong determination and confidence in our own ability to liberate ourselves from any kind of dissatisfaction and, by understanding the plight of living beings, try to actualize limitless equanimity, love, compassion and joy.


There are two methods.

With deity yoga

Since the pills have been blessed with one million Vajrasattva mantras, we should generate ourselves as Vajrasattva. Those who have not received this empowerment can generate themselves as any deity whose empowerment has been received.

Then, from the self-identified deity’s heart, white, yellow, red, blue, green and brown light radiates throughout the universe in all directions and hooks back the energy of long life, strength, beauty and all other perfect qualities. This sinks into the pills and they become inexhaustible, blissful wisdom energy nectar.

Invoke the long-life energy, knowledge and perfections of the buddhas, bodhisattvas, dakas, dakinis and protectors of the ten directions. They emit radiant, five-colored light, which sinks into the pills. Then, in their own aspect, all the deities sink into the pills.

Recite the mantra of the deity throughout the entire visualization; at least twenty-one times, but the more, the better.

Without deity

Visualize the pills as radiant white, red or blue light, like the sun or moon. Choose only one color and concentrate on that light. It radiates throughout the ten directions and magnetically draws back the energy of the four elements: earth, water, fire and air. All splendid energies?such as the qualities of all natural planetary resources, all magnificent universal vibrations, the finest aspects of male and female beauty, all the perfections of humans and animals, and unsurpassed love and wisdom?sink into the pills. Through this penetrative contemplation, the pills become inexhaustible, blissful wisdom energy nectar.

How to take the pill

The pills must never be exposed to direct sunlight, even when being made, because the sun takes energy. Also, don’t let them get moldy.

One pill can be taken two or three times each day - morning, noon and evening - with boiled water, black tea or some non-acidic juice. Orange, grape and pineapple juice is too acidic; the protein in carrot juice is too strong. Apple juice is suitable, but don’t add any sugar.

Ingesting one of these pills is like taking in the universal sun or moon energy. As you swallow the pill, feel your entire nervous system fill with great, blissful wisdom nectar. Visualize that this blissful energy becomes non-dual wisdom, contemplate this and let go.

During the Retreat

Since one of the reasons for doing the pill retreat is to gain perfect, powerful concentration and eliminate distraction, during the retreat, it is an excellent idea to practice the preliminary exercises for the six yogas of Naropa and the vase meditation, as these practices will help you develop deep concentration.

Any kind of deity meditation is good, but do plenty of single-pointed concentration and special insight meditation. You should do a lot of meditation, prostrations, mantras, concentration and exercises that eliminate wind interference (rlung); preliminary practices, such as 100,000 prostrations, 100,000 mandala offerings, guru yoga, 100,000 guru mantras, 100,000 water bowls or 100,000 refuges, are ideal. Also, reciting at this time 1,000,000 Chenrezig mantras to gain compassion or 1,000,000 Vajrapani mantras to eliminate powerlessness and gain the strength to control your future is very beneficial.

Your retreat should be at least twenty-one days long, but to gain deep, thorough experience, one month would be better. During this time, avoid food or drink that cause the body to produce feces. Liquids that don’t have this effect are acceptable, but control the amount to prevent element imbalance. If you drink too much on an empty stomach, you might get ill. A medium-sized mug of liquid with each pill is sufficient.

If during the first week you experience great difficulty, weakness or an inability to cope, take some liquid that increases energy, such as boiled warm water mixed with a teaspoon of honey or brown sugar. Do not drink anything that produces feces. You can do the same during the last week, but during the middle week or weeks, try to take only pills and water. Do not take any strong drugs or liquids at any time during the retreat.

During the first week, your stomach is purified. During the second, disease is purified. During the third, you grow a new body with new strength and energy.

It is advisable to have someone experienced and knowledgeable about the retreat nearby, since this method can be dangerous for the inexperienced practitioner.

Beginning and ending the retreat

Before starting the pill retreat, reduce the amount of food you eat very gradually, cutting down your food intake even a month ahead. It is unnatural to stop eating suddenly and to do so throws you out of balance.

When you end the retreat and start to take gross food again, start slowly, spoon by spoon. Don’t suddenly eat a kilo of milk, butter or yogurt, or some extremely rich food, otherwise you’ll shock your nervous system.

Very thin soup made of tsampa or suji, with a little butter and finely chopped, well-cooked vegetable is excellent. Don’t eat any raw vegetables.

Situations and Conditions for Retreat

A peaceful environment is essential. While in retreat, do not to meet people or read newspapers, novels or comics, which have little meaning. It is better to read about meditation subjects such as how to free the mind from the afflictions of cyclic existence?desire, grasping, dissatisfaction, anxiety and so forth. Books like Milarepa’s biography and Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life are useful.

While taking the pill, keep your body, speech and mind pure. It is absolutely essential to keep the five precepts: don’t kill, steal or lie; don’t smoke any kind of cigarette or take alcohol or drugs, including hashish. It is especially important to avoid all sexual contact; experiencing strong sexual pleasure during this retreat is extremely dangerous. If you keep your body, speech and mind pure, your energy will become totally directed towards penetrative concentration.

For detailed retreat advice, see The Tantric Path of Purification (Becoming Vajrasattva).


All disease is eliminated, your lifespan is increased and your complexion and body vibration improve. This retreat can make you appear younger and eliminate wrinkles and gray hair. While taking the pill, you are protected from new diseases. You do not get lice. You gain great wisdom and clarity of mind. You can receive realizations more easily because you are not eating food obtained from impure sources, such as money earned by selling texts, or food with heavy karmic obligations, such as that bought with offerings for the dead. Through renouncing impure food, you can easily achieve realizations such as great compassion, loving kindness and wisdom; the positive mind arises without difficulty.

These pills are an antidote to all diseases common to humans; the elements they contain balance your internal nervous system. Therefore, they are an essential medicine for controlling all disease. Generally, you make the pills according to the imbalances in your own body. For example, if you have a preponderance of bile, you make pills containing more of the natural medicine for bile.

If your body is quite well balanced, the ordinary pills made for the retreat are satisfactory. But if you have a serious illness such as tuberculosis, you can have pills made according to your needs. There are particular ingredients for each disease. You learn through experience what percentage of each ingredient to include.

Normally your body, speech and mind are dirty, but when you take the pills, your body becomes so clean that it has a fragrance of purity. Normal body odor transforms into perfume, speech into mantra, and mind into wisdom. As a result, you attract all positive energy magnetically, like sources of honey-nectar attract bees. All dakas, dakinis and positive spirits become your friends and come to help.

Matter has great power; the power of mind and matter go together. If the yin-yang energy of the food you eat is out of balance, your body becomes imbalanced; when the yin-yang energy is balanced, extreme thoughts of desire or hatred do not arise. According to Tibetan medical theory, bile produces anger, wind produces attachment, and phlegm produces ignorance. These pills eliminate this impure energy and automatically subdue the interdependent emotions of desire and hatred. It is for this reason that the chulen practice results in great bliss, not because of the power of the pill; it is because you eliminate your unsubdued energy, which is interdependently related you’re your emotions.

Taking the pill under ideal retreat conditions, you discover your own fundamental nature. It is like an introduction to your own consciousness, to awareness of your own mind, and leads you to discover your innate potential to develop limitless, omnipresent wisdom and loving kindness.

Tibetan Name Common Name Latin Name
1 A-ru-ra Chebulic Myrobalan
(benefits all diseases)
Terminalis Chebula Retz
2 Ra-nye Polygonatum Cirrkifolium  
3 Le-tre Heartleaved Moonseed Timospora Cordifolia
4 Se-wai me-tog Wild Rose Rosa Sericea
5 Tri-ngag   Callicarpa Macropylla
6 Kur-kum Saffron Carthamus Tinctorius
7 Ka-ko-la Greater Cardamon Amonum Subulatum
8 Tag-ngu (for bile) Drosesa Peltata
9 Ba-ru-ra Belleric Myrobalan Terminalia Bellerica
10 Chu-shing Banana Tree  
11 Ha-lo me-tog Mallow  
12 Ba-lui me-tog Himalayan Silverfir, like Azalea
(for phlegm, T.B.)
13 Li-shi Clove Syzigum Aromaticum
14 Chu-kang Bamboo Manna  
15 Kyu-ru-ra Emblic Myrobalan Emblicia Officinalis
16 Nye-shing Aspargus Spinosissimus
17 Lug-mig Aster Aster Flaccidus
18 Ut-pa-la Utpala Nelumbo Nucifera
19 Me-tog lang-da    
20 Tsa-di Nutmeg (for wind disease) Myristica Fragras
21 Pe-ma ke-sar Petals of Ironwood Tree Mesua Ferrea
22 Dang-tzi Honey  
23 Mar Butter  
24 Cha-ka    
25 Se-ma   Tribulus Terrestris
26 Lug-mug   Pedicularis Diveriana
27 Pang-gyen Gentian  
28 Wang-lag Orchid Root
(like ginseng; gives strength and energy)
Gymnademia Crassimerius
29 Sug-mel Lesser Cardamon Elletaria Cardomonium
30 Ug-chö me-tog (for improvement of sense organs)  
31 Chang Wine  
32 Ba-tam Peanut  
33 Ba-tru    

Each of these helps eliminate particular diseases and gives a particular energy. In Tibet only a few ingredients were used. But, in these times, especially in India, there are more diseases. All the extra herbs have been added as antidotes to these. Also, it is very easy to obtain all the medical substances here, thanks to the kind assistance of the Tibetan Medical Center.

34 Chung-shi Quartz (antidote to phlegm, T.B.)
35 Coral
36 Silver
37 Gold
38 Turquoise
39 La-tzi Musk from Tibet
40 Natural Camphor
41 Rin-chen rat-na sam-phel contains purified mercury, sulphur, sixteen differentmetals and minerals
42 Seventy other ingredients include: Copper, iron, lead, lodestone, pearls, lapis lazuli and zi (a rare and precious gem from Tibet)
43 Animal products include: Rhinoceros horn, musk and bile stones of elephants
1. In the 1970s, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama gave the three great initiations of Guhyasamaja, Heruka and Yamantaka. Sand from each of the mandalas is contained here.
2. Inner offering nectar from Kyabje Ling Rinpoche.
3. Inner offering nectar from Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche.
4. Du-tsi chö-men, a pill made by Thekchen Chöling monastery in a medicine retreat led by HH the 14th Dalai Lama.
5. Thubten Yeshe’s Hayagriva nectar.
6. Thubten Zopa Rinpoche’s wisdom pill.
7. Sindura (red earth) from all the holy places of India and Nepal
8. Gyalwa Yangtzangpa’s hair.
9. Atisha’s kundalini energy.
10. Rinchen Manjor, a famous pill made in Lhasa full of extraordinarily powerful ingredients. It cures high or low blood pressure, bile, phlegm and wind diseases, headaches, arthritis, hemorrhage, rheumatic and persistent fevers, rabies and infections. It stops the vomiting of bile and blood. It is an antidote to any kind of poison. Even if one has no disease, it can be taken as a vitamin or protein supplement.
11. HH the 14th Dalai Lama’s kundalini energy.
12. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s kundalini energy.
13. Kyabje Ling Rinpoche’s kundalini energy.
14. Den-du, a pill made by combining many other blessing pills.
15. Tashilhunpo Panchen Lama’s vase pill, a very famous Maha-anuttara pill.
16. Earth from Bodhgaya, Sarnath, Rajgir, holy cemeteries, the Mahakala Cave and other holy places.
17. Sakyapa’s great nectar pill.
18. Robes of the previous Je Pabongka.
19. Robes of HH the 13th Dalai Lama.
20. Marpa’s robes.
21. Takri Dorje Chang’s hair.
22. Panchen Losang Yeshe’s hair.
23. Precious pill from the Lhasa Ramoche Jo, a very famous Buddha statue, from which this pill came from when the statue was destroyed by the Chinese.
24. Robes from the very famous Hayagriva statue in Sera Je.
25. Incense from the pine trees planted by Kadampa geshes at Reting, Dromtönpa’s monastery. It is considered very holy.
26. Ganden Kyenpa, a kind of incense that grows in Ganden, said to have sprung from Lama Tsongkhapa’s hair. It is regarded with much devotion and used as medicine.
27. Earth from all Tibet’s holy places.
28. Panchen Lama’s very famous blazing pill. When the Panchen Lama was blessing the inner offering ingredients, by the power of his realization and concentration it actually burst into flames.
29. Pachung Rilbu, made of cow dung.
30. Special herb matter, used especially in fire pujas, for peace, development, power and wrath.
31. Tsampaka flowers from Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s body.
32. Saffron flowers from Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s body.
33. The 4th Tsame Ling Rinpoche’s hair and robes.
34. Robes from the very famous Palden Lhamo statue in Sera Je.
35. Robes from the Sera Je College Mahakala statue.
36. Maha-anuttara nectar pill from the great yogi Yeshe Gyaltsen.
37. A pill made from a collection of pills from all the great lamas of all the four traditions.
38. The cloth covering from the blessed dagger (phur-bu) of the Sera Je Hayagriva statue.
39. Mani Rilbu, meditation pill of great compassionate Chenrezig.
40. Relics of Sangye Ösun, a past Buddha.
41. A piece of Garuda’s nail. Garuda is a manifestation of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha.
42. A piece of Shariputra’s staff.
43. Shariputra’s robes.
44. The bodhisattva Chöpa’s teeth.
45. Naropa’s mahasiddhi ornaments.
46. Wisdom energy of the bodhisattva Sadaprarudita (Always Crying).
47. Gelongma Palmo’s begging bowl cover.
48. Phadampa Sangye’s meditation belt.
49. Great bodhisattva yogi Lha Lama Yeshe Ö’s kundalini energy.
50. Atisha’s robes.
51. One Tibetan pandit’s prayer paper.
52. Chandrakirti’s Guhyasamaja prayer paper.
53. Guru Padmasambhava’s treasure material.
54. The energy of Drubthob Thangtong Gyälpo.
55. Great yogi Urgyen Lingpa’s kundalini energy.
56. Robes of great yogi Longchen Rabjampa.
57. Robes of the great saint Drubchen Legyi Dorje.
58. Marpa’s meditation belt.
59. The great yogi Gampopa’s shoes.
60. The great yogi Karmapa Dusum Kyenpa’s shoes.
61. Pagmo Drupa’s robes.
62. Lama Shang’s shoes.
63. Kedup Kyunbo Weijoi’s bones.
64. Sakya Pandita’s meditation belt.
65. Sachen Losang Gyatso’s robes.
66. Lama Dampa Sonam Gyältsän’s robes.
67. Relic pills emanated from Chöje Thondup Rinchen’s body (first teacher of Lama Tsongkhapa)
68. The 86th Ganden Throne Holder’s robes.
70. Sindura from Dragyerpa, a Vairochana cave near Lhasa.
71. The 6th Dalai Lama’s robes.
72. Nectar collected by the previous Gonsar Rinpoche, when it flowed from the 6th Dalai Lama’s holy body, on a trip to Mongolia.
73. Leaves from the sacred bodhi tree in Kumbum.
74. Pills made from the Ganden Kalampa statue, when it was destroyed by the Chinese.
75. The 5th Dalai Lama’s robes.
80. Geshe Chekawa’s robes.
81. Lama Tsongkhapa’s robes.
82. The 1st Dalai Lama’s robes.
83. The 8th Dalai Lama’s robes.
84. The 7th Dalai Lama’s robes.
85. The 7th Dalai Lama’s hair.
86. The 13th Dalai Lama’s hair.
87. Panchen Losang Chögyen’s hat.
88. Je Pabongka’s hair.
89. Panchen Losang Yeshe’s robes.
90. Panchen Palden Yeshe’s robes.
91. Panchen Denpa Nyima’s robes.
  1. Sindura from a New Zealand ocean.
  2. Perfumes from Spain, Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland.
  3. Magnificent herbs from all these countries.
  4. Ocean salt.
  5. Yogurt.
  6. Rock sugar, processed sugar.
  7. Brown sugar.
  8. Red sandalwood from Mysore.
  9. White sandalwood from Indonesia.
  10. Chamomile from Europe.
  11. Alpap from Europe.
  12. Iron.
  13. Chinese seaweed.
  14. Australian eucalyptus oil.
  15. Lavender oil perfume from France.
  16. Essence of chamomile from Germany.
  17. Hungarian sozborszesz szged.
  18. Rede frow from Hungary.
  19. White grapes.

These pills have been made to introduce people to perfect peace and happiness. Those who do the pill retreat become convinced of their own limitless potential. They achieve the power to create balance, harmony, great love and wisdom within themselves, without intellectual pushing. This pill method is the key to discovering those potentialities without need for intense intellectual indulgence. It will help counter the tendency of contemporary people towards over-intellectualization and skepticism regarding the benefits of religious practice.

Philosophical worlds alone cannot convince people to become deeply involved in meditation, but putting these same people into a situation of organic experience opens them up through their own understanding, and they then become totally convinced that they can achieve everlasting peace.

May this pill practice bring everlasting satisfaction to all sentient beings.