Nepal has felt like a second home ever since my three-month expedition in 2017. As 2020 approached, my desire to revisit the place of deities, holy mountains, and dal bhaat resurfaced—guiding me to endure an opportunity to explore the depths of Tibetan Medicine and the esoteric traditions of shamanism. My curiosity to learn about these philosophies and how it relates to healing disease led me to revisit Nepal to research how disease relates to karma, the impact of our external environment on our health, and the metaphysical influences we are blind to.
During my (short but sweet) 2 weeks in Nepal, I completely immersed myself into Tibetan Buddhism and Nepalese shamanism. I had the opportunity to spend time with two Nepali shamanesses (one of them being Aama Bombo), a Tibetan Buddhist nun, several Tibetan Medicine Doctors, and finally, my most profound connection, the Tibetan Buddhist Master, Machig Rinpoche.
Machig Rinpoche is a yogi of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. He was born in Tibet and was recognized by the Dalai Lama at the age of 13 to be the reincarnation of a yogi with high spiritual realizations.
During my stay in Kathmandu, I wanted to meet with Rinpoche to ask him questions about the principles of Buddhist philosophy and what the Tibetan tantric Buddhist systems say about healing illness and disease. After my Tibetan and ex-pat friends managed to arrange my meeting with him, I eventually found myself sitting in Rinpoche's living room, sipping a cup of tea, talking about the Tibetan Buddhist perspective on the manifestation of disease.
Although I learned about the three conditions that cause illness, I'm only going to cover one for now—karma and how it connects to our mental suffering.
Here are the wisdom teachings of Machig Rinpoche and his perspective on healing the invisible, and the transcendent world we call our human mind.
People can become ill from their karma.
Illnesses do not all manifest the same way; the same illness might manifest differently based on the differences within a person's body. For example, in the time of an epidemic there are usually some people who succumb while others escape even though both groups are exposed to the same conditions. According to the Buddhist view, the difference between the former and latter is due to the nature of karma of each in the past. Although person A and person B may go to the same doctor, the same hospital, or take the same medicine, they each will experience different results because of the differences in the body, which is based on karma.
Rinpoche says that one of the reasons people can become ill is because of their karma, and karma is the fruition of action or the consequences of your actions. Each action from our past (both good and bad), creates an inevitable impact that carries into our next life.
We have a body; therefore, we experience physical suffering. We also have a mind; therefore, we experience mental affliction (mental suffering). At the end of one's life, when one abandons the physical body, all physical illness' are abandoned. Mental affliction, however, stays with our consciousness until we can purify our karma. This means that until we can purify our karma, we will suffer from the mental afflictions embedded within our consciousness from one lifetime to the next—also known in Buddhism as samsara.
But what causes mental affliction?
The primary cause of mental affliction is excessive ego fixation, also known as self-grasping.
According to the Buddha Dharma, the primary causes that keep us trapped in samsara (the continuous cycle of life, death, and reincarnation) are the three poisons; anger, desire, and ignorance (ignorance=misunderstanding reality). Self-grasping forms the basis of this; it is the root of samsara. Self-grasping is grasping things as if they are real.
Let me break it down...
There are two types of self-grasping: self-grasping of others and self-grasping of phenomena. Self-grasping of others relates to holding ourselves or others' self, as being truly existent. Self-grasping of phenomena relates to holding any phenomenon other than our own or others' self as being truly existent. In other words, self-grasping is the act of holding onto a thought, a person, an object as being truly existent.
Self-grasping is the ultimate form of suffering.
As I mentioned, self-grasping is excessive ego fixation. Ego meaning a strong belief in the existence of the self or "I."
For example, when our self-grasping is very strong, we feel offended and hurt when others tease us in a friendly way, whereas when our self-grasping is weak, we just laugh with them. Once we destroy our self-grasping (ego), all our problems will naturally disappear.
There is no medication to treat self-grasping because self-grasping doesn't have a physical form. And just like consciousness, it's formless. You can't take medicine, which has form, to treat something that is ultimately formless such as mental affliction.
According to Rinpoche, one of the ways to eradicate self-grasping is to realize emptiness. Emptiness does not mean nothingness; it does not mean that nothing exists at all. Emptiness means to release our mind from wrong conceptions and mistaken appearances so that we can become a completely pure or "enlightened" being—empty of greed, hatred, and delusion.
As I mentioned, emptiness doesn't mean that there is nothing, there is something in a conventional sense, but ultimately, you cannot find it when you look. Therefore, it ultimately does not exist. Neither does any kind of single atom, even your consciousness.
According to quantum physics, if you look at your hand and reduce it to fiber levels of physicality, it quickly becomes a shivering web of molecules. The molecules are not solid; they are sub-atomic particles popping in and out of space, the atoms are barely physical— they are 99.999 percent empty space.
So how do you realize emptiness?
Meditation on emptiness destroys our suffering.
Machig Rinpoche says, there is a path and remedy for treating self-grasping, and you don't have to become a Buddhist to do this.
The Tibetan Buddhist remedy is the practice of chöd, cutting through the ego or attachment to the self. But for those who are non-Buddhist can practice meditating on emptiness.
By meditating on emptiness, we can reduce and finally eliminate both types of self-grasping: self-grasping of persons, and self-grasping of phenomena.
However, meditating on emptiness is very difficult.
The simple medicine to heal mental affliction is meditation on love and compassion...not anger or hatred.
Meditation on compassion can reduce suffering.
For example, people who think a lot about themselves, and people who are fixated on themselves can encounter suffering from even the smallest of things. If we compare them to someone who thinks about others, the person that thinks about others does not endure as much suffering.
Liberate living beings (animals) whose life is in danger.
At the core of all Buddhist practice is the fundamental principle of non-violence, loving-kindness, and compassion. Because of this, many Buddhists practice animal liberation. Animal liberation is the practice of saving the lives of animals destined for slaughter and releasing them into their environment. The TibetanBC puts it as, "just as violent actions are believed to create the cause to experience harm and illness oneself, altruistic actions such as saving the lives of animals are said to create the cause to experience good health and long life." By liberating their lives, you can create good karma.
Rinpoche says, "if you go to a hotel or restaurant and see a fish in a tank, free it. However, it all depends on you. The principle is your mind. The mind is like a driver; it can drive you in a good or a bad way. Your mind is your teacher, and your mind is your enemy, it's all up to you..."
(A massive thank you to my dear friends Tenzin Deckyi, Pema and Michael Smith for making this happen).