Ontul Rinpoche: Drop of Ambrosia

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Drikung Ontul Rinpoche, on The Drop of Ambrosia, the Kagyu practice of Medicine Buddha:

"What we’ve covered so far are the first several pages of the text. First was the process of taking refuge. Next the generating of altruistic motivation of attaining Buddhahood for the sake of others. Then we covered the methods of generating merit consisting of the seven branches of practice. Those three things have now been completed. 

If you look on page 6 of the text, having completed the refuge, the bodhicitta
generation, and the seven branches of practice which generate merit, now
what to do with this state of refuge, this bodhisattva attitude we’ve generated
and with all of the merit from the seven branches of practice? 

Who is He?

What we do is go into the central practice of the Medicine Buddha. Here it refers first to the Medicine Buddha himself. It calls him Bhagavan, [Lord] Chom Den Dey in Tibetan.  As was explained yesterday, the three words (in Tibetan), the first Chom means that He has vanquished all of the Maras and demons:  inner, outer and so forth;  Den, that He possesses all the good qualities, and Dey, that He transcends all limitations of Samsara and Nirvana.   That is His nature -- He is the fully enlightened Buddha.  In particular, as Medicine Buddha, He is known as King of Medicine.  We are addressing Him as the teacher, the Lama, the Bhagavan -- the king of all healers and physicians.

The second line, "that He possesses in his very nature the great glory of the
spontaneous attainment of the two benefits," -- so spontaneous means that this
is His very nature: the attainment of the two benefits.  This not something that He has to struggle for or work hard for, but it arises out of His nature.  Therefore He is said to have the tremendous, marvelous glory of this spontaneous achievement of the two benefits. 

The two benefits are the benefit for oneself and the benefit for others. The benefit for oneself is the attainment of the of the ‘truth body’, the Dharmakaya. The benefit for others is the attainment of the ‘form body’, the Rupakaya. The highest benefit that any individual can achieve is the Dharmakaya, for him[self.] Then, for the benefit of others, they manifest the ‘form bodies’, such as the Nirmanakaya and the Samboghakaya. These two things are achieved by the very nature of the Medicine Buddha. 

What is Sickness?

The next line refers to sentient beings being the object of compassion. They are defined here as all living beings within the realms of birth and death. What defines them and how we understand their nature is that they are oppressed by the illnesses of the three poisons. They are tormented by sicknesses of the three poisons. The three poisons are greed, anger, and ignorance. These poisons are the basis of all suffering in the world. So, they are said to be the three root diseases, which oppress sentient beings. 

The next line, in regard to these sentient beings, states that we now resolve to aspire, to engage in activities which bring about the great happiness and bliss that consists of complete freedom from all these basic illnesses that arise from the three poisons. What we are clearing away with the practice, are the diseases of sentient beings. So it is important to understand these in order to treat them and bring about the freedom from disease and illness. 

The basic root of all illness as defined here are the three poisons, which disturb, in one way or another, the constituent elements of the body and mind. The poisons, again, are greed (or lust), anger (or hatred), and ignorance (or delusion). These disturb the psychophysical organism. In particular they disturb the three basic processes, which govern the organism, and those are known as lung-tri-began in Tibetan, which can be loosely translated as ‘wind, bile and phlegm’. 

The balance of the three basic processes is upset through the influence of desire, hatred, and ignorance.  Ultimately, to bring the body into balance and to get rid of disease, we have to deal with these underlying factors. Understanding then, that the three poisons are basis for the disturbance of constituent elements of the organism resulting in diseases, it is also important to understand what is the basis for these three poisons. 

Why do these arise? It is because they have a root cause, what can be called a fundamental ignorance with regard to the nature of all phenomena. Although all phenomena, without exception, lack any self, they lack any ‘true’ or inherent existence as such. Even though they lack inherent existence, it is through this contamination of erroneous mental process, that one begins to grasp ‘self’. This means that one sees things, as being inherently existent, where, in reality, they aren’t. 

For example, with regard to yourself, you see a ‘self’ that truly exists. This is an example of the contamination of the intellectual conception of inherent existence, and that is what is meant by the term ‘fundamental ignorance’. It is from this fundamental ignorance that the three poisons arise, resulting in the various types of unwholesome mental factors. 

On the physical level, they result in the imbalance of the corporal system, which leads to various disease processes. This type of ignorance -- this seeing of things as inherently existing -- is called ‘innate ignorance’ because it is something that comes with us from beginningless time, throughout all of the lifetimes into which we are born again and again.  It is not something we came up with at some point.  It has always been there. It is the ignorance that falsely construes phenomena to inherently exist. Because of this innate ignorance, the resultant types of imbalances are always with us. 

They don’t always manifest, even though we are never separated from them.  When we are in a state of equanimity -- when we are completely free of ignorance -- we think we have gained some freedom from the three poisons in the disease process.  

This is like the bird whose shadow is there but cannot be seen because it is cloudy outside. It just awaits the coming together of conditions, the conditions that allow it to become manifest, such as sunlight.  The causal factors are always present for the imbalances of the diseases. They only await the conditions to make them manifest, when those conditions manifest, then suddenly one has one or another type of imbalance or illness. 

This simile of the birds helps us to illustrate this, but it only goes so far, because the bird, so long as he is flying under the sun, there will always have a shadow.  However there is a way that we can become separated from basic causes of illness, when we become free of their ultimate underlying cause; innate ignorance. 

Once we’ve done that, we lack the cause of illness or any type of imbalance. No matter what conditions arise, we will not be subjected to illness. As long as the bird is there, you have a shadow.  If you remove the bird, you’ll have no shadow. With the removal of ‘innate ignorance’, there can be no cause allowing illnesses to arise. 

What we have here, is a progression from the ultimate root cause (innate ignorance) to the generation of the unwholesome mental factors of greed, hatred, and delusion and from that to the imbalances of the winds, bile, and phlegm.  In this way we can understand how the processes proceed according to the combinations of the underlying mental factors. We’ve talked, here, about the specific way in which diseases arise. That is to say the ultimate source of illness is ‘innate ignorance’ and the unwholesome mental factors that arise from that disturb the constituent elements of the body, leading to disease processes. 

In particular how do we understand this? What is the precise basis of the
arising of each type of illness? 

Wind Disease

Here we have the analysis of the origins, or the etiology, of different types of diseases, and though there innumerable diseases, they can be summed up into three categories. Those diseases, whose origins are associated with disturbance of the ‘winds,’ come from
some, certain unfortunate event and are associated with the Wind God. 

The Wind God at one time was traveling around and he saw the princess Norbu Zinpba (which means in Tibetan ‘Holder of the Jewels). She was also a goddess associated with the wind. The Wind God hadn’t met her before and when looked upon her, she was incredibly beautiful, ornamented by different jewels, and there arose within him a desire towards Norbu Zinpba.  They entered into a relationship; specifically they embraced in a sexual way.  Just as they were having sex, he lost his grip on the ‘Bladder of the Wind’ which held in the forces of the wind, and of course, it opened up and they
spilled out. This is the source all wind illnesses. This is why the source of wind illnesses is excessive desire. 

Bile Disease

The origin of the diseases [connected] with the bile is also associated with a certain king. He was a historical king. His name was Sherab Tengpo Sheten. (Sheten means ‘firm wisdom’.) He decided to make a great offering ceremony to the gods and the great rishis (yogis). He invited them and they all arrived one by one. They came in front of the king to receive their offerings. 

It so happened that the god Shiva ended up at the end of the line. He was very unhappy with this and thought: “now I am the preeminent god of the world, and I shouldn’t be at the end of the line.” There arose within Shiva a great anger. 

Now, this was a very auspicious event that the king Sheten put together. There were beautiful, extensive offerings. The guests were also very auspicious; there were all of these wonderful gods, goddesses, and rishis. But Shiva at the [end of the] line was getting very angry, his eyes blazing forth with anger and, from the center of his forehead, he shot out a stream of fire.  The fire burned up all the offerings and dispersed the crowd, incinerating them, or chasing them off, in any case the whole beautiful event was ruined by his anger. 

This is the origin of the rise in the bile element. We can understand from this, just as all those good things lost from Shiva’s anger, the nature of anger and the rise of bile. When the bile gets too great, anger arises. The bile is associated with the presence of strong anger. 

Phlegm Disease

The third category of illness is that of phlegm. This also has an origin. The introduction phlegm illnesses into the world are associated with a king of the ancient times. His name was Gyalway Ming. He had a beautiful queen whose name was Remaya. He also had a minister whose name was Tongo Chien. 

The queen and the minister struck up a friendship, which eventually came to the notice of King Gyalway Ming. The king became angry as he thought they were too friendly, so to speak. His anger resulted in having the queen and minister taken out into the middle of the ocean and tossed overboard. As this was occurring, Remaya and Tongo Chien said a prayer (munlam, which is a type of a prayer). 

They prayed that the king, who they referred to as ‘nasty and insufferable,’ be beset with an incurable illness of the nagas. The illnesses that are said to arise from the influence of the nagas or from any sort of local deities are then associated with the phlegm category. The force of their prayer, which was very strong and focused, produced the desired effect. The naga disease indeed struck the king. This was the first phlegm illness to enter the world. From that time on phlegm illnesses have spread throughout the world.

In the former accounts of the wind and the bile illnesses it is clear how strong desire gave rise to the wind illnesses and strong anger gave rise to the bile illnesses. Here the present story illustrates how delusion (or ignorance) gives rise to the phlegm illnesses. It is not as clear here, and that is the nature of delusion. All parties, that is to say the king, queen, and minister, were not clear as to an appropriate resolution of events. They could have been clearer in their thinking. This event is indicative of disturbances of the mind. So, this event is associated with the generation of all phlegm illnesses. 

How is Healing Effected?

Now, back on page six, the last line says: “May all sentient beings come to enjoy that great happiness and bliss which is complete freedom from illness.  This is the goal: understanding the causes of illnesses, both general and specific, and because they have ultimate causes, the causes can be removed.  Illnesses are not inherent. They are not inevitable. By removing the causes of illnesses, we can produce, ultimately, a state of happiness and bliss that is free from all illness. 

We continue on page seven: It refers here to the meditation one does in conjunction with the recitation of the mantra. The first thing one does is the invocation of the Medicine Buddha together with his retinue, including all eight of the Medicine Buddhas and their retinues. They are invoked through the recitation of the mantras. The recitation of the mantra also serves as an exhortation, asking for their blessings. 

From doing this, innumerable rays of light come forth from the three places of their bodies (the crown of the head, the throat, and the heart). These rays of light purify sentient beings by the specific focus of one’s concern in this practice, which is the welfare of living beings in the six realms of samsara without exception. 

Sentient beings function as one’s chief object of concern. All sentient beings, from beginningless time, have accumulated various types of defilements and obscurations by virtue of karma and kleshas.  In addition to defilements and obscurations, there arise three different types of manifest problems. The three manifest problems are the illnesses, demons, and the degeneration of one’s sacred commitments. The innumerable rays of light clear all of these away, which stream forth from the three places in the bodies of the Medicine Buddha and his retinue upon our request, which comes through our recitation of the mantra. 

Having thus purified all sentient beings in this way -- of the underlying and manifest unwholesome qualities -- then the blessings of the Buddha and his retinue enter into them and establish the realization of samadhi. 

Samadhi is the meditative concentration and the full realization of all the qualities associated with the Medicine Buddha and his retinue. All of this is realized, or established within the mindstreams of oneself and other living beings through this recitation of the mantra. 

Now, on pages eight and nine is the long form of the mantra recitation. Following that on page ten is the short mantra. Whichever of these one can do, then one does it as many times as possible at his point in the practice.  Whether it is a few minutes or a few hours, you do as many as you can. As you do it, of course, you do the meditation as described understanding that the recitation of the mantra is the invoking of the blessings of the Medicine Buddhas and their retinues, exhorting them to send forth these rays of purifying light, removing the obscurations, diseases, demons, and so forth.  This gives rise to the true realization of the meditation on the qualities of the Medicine Buddha. So, thinking in those terms one does the recitation, then on page ten there’s the conclusion of that meditation practice. 

At the conclusion, one visualizes each of the retinues of the Medicine Buddhas in turn dissolving into the Medicine Buddhas and they dissolve into the next one, and finally into the (main) Medicine Buddha himself. Then from the three places of the Medicine Buddha again come forth rays of light in the three colors (white at the crown, red at the throat, and blue at the heart). The nectar of pure awareness or the light of perfect wisdom then enters respectively into the three places of one’s own body. Dissolving into one’s three places, it gets rid of the three types of obstacles. It gets rid of the three
obstacles. 

What are the three obstacles? They are the karmic obscurations arising from actions, from the unwholesome states of greed, anger, and delusion, which are the obscurations to omniscience. They are removed through the blessings of the rays of light. Once the obscurations are removed, the Medicine Buddha dissolves into light and the light enters into the crown of one’s head. With this, one’s self becomes inseparable and undifferentiated from the Medicine Buddha himself. That is to say that one becomes
inseparable from the Buddha who is the embodiment of the omniscience and
universal compassion of all enlightened beings, of all the Buddhas.

Following that you rest your mind in Mahamudra which is the ‘emptiness in form’. This is the defining quality of the realization of Mahamudra. That emptiness arises as form. In other words, one realizes that emptiness is not other than form. Through that understanding, one realizes the relative identity of form and emptiness. This is similar to what is written in The Heart Sutra where it says “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form …” only here it is just saying emptiness is form.  If the form that we see is emptiness, then it follows very easily that form is emptiness. 

So, in that state of realization one rests the mind at this point of focusing on the Great Seal, the Mahamudra, which is characterized by this realization. With everything dissolving into emptiness you rest the mind in that nature of perfect awareness, the union of form and emptiness. 

Upon the completion of that meditation, all that is left to do is the dedication.  The dedication, first of all, is a dedication of the merit of this practice to one’s own swift attainment of the state of the Medicine Buddha. Then, having attained that state, one resolves to establish all sentient beings, without exception, in that highest state of the Medicine Buddha. 

Questions and Answers

Question: “Can you explain the difference between the long and short mantra?” 
Answer: “It is always good to begin by saying the long one at least three times, or, if you have the opportunity, seven times or more. Then when you go for the actual accumulation of repetition of the mantra, you just do the short one.” 

Q: There seems to be an obvious qualitative difference between the long and short mantras, can you explain that difference?” 
A: “There is not really a qualitative difference as it is a quantitative one. The meaning of both of them is the same, but the meaning is drawn out more explicitly in the long one.” 

Q: “What is the number of repetitions required to complete the practice of Medicine Buddha?” 
A: (Rinpoche giggles) “More than one!” (Now laughing out loud).  “If one is not enough, then, do more!” 

At this point, Ontul Rinpoche requested all attendees to begin the practice.  “And now we try (laughing again).” 

This is the final part of a translation by Robert Clarke that was transcribed and edited by Jeffery Beach.  No date was given. It was further edited for the Net in terms of spacing and punctuation. 

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ambrosia: This is ordinarily defined as a divine food that confers longevity or even, immortality.  Here it is a panacea -- a cure for all illnesses. Ambrosia  contrasts with nectar which is a drink that confers bliss.

demons:  It would not be incorrect to think of the normally unseen agents of disease -- bacteria, viruses and so on -- as demons.  Within the context of the  Buddhist view, there are no inherently evil beings but many kinds of (normally) invisible ones.

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