Medicine Buddha Today

Emergency Room Visit

The Power of Symbols—Note: While at this level Menla is beyond gender, for the sake of simplicity, the singular pronoun, he, will be used hereafter.

Having met Menla, you can speak to him. And as you get to know him better by just repeatedly saying his name, or conjuring him up in your mind, you begin to develop increasing confidence in the primordial healing qualities he manifests—his openness, warmth, and brightness. You get a sense that, down deep, below whatever distress you are having at the time, the openness and warmth you see in him are your qualities as well. You get the sense that no matter what is happening to you, there is a way, no matter how small it seems, in which you are brighter and healthier than any problem you face. Then you know you are on a healing journey! And this is just the beginning.

Medicine Buddha RupaYou get the sense that Menla is a very active healer. He doesn’t just sit there and smile. Just as other healers, he has the tools of the trade, and he uses them well, and as both a healer and a teacher. He shows us that we too have those tools, and he shows us how to use them. In this case, the tools are not pills, supplements, blood tests, etc., but rather the symbolic healing forces he manifests in his very being. Symbols are not substitutes. Symbols are at the heart of what sets us humans apart from all others in the universe. Symbols are tools we use to join the healing force of the universe and the brightness in our heart to the details of ordinary life. If life is what we make of it, symbols are the tools we use to do so.

We have discussed his radiance, color, posture and the spacious form of his body. But there is more. His left hand rests in his lap, palm up and holding a begging bowl, a symbol of  willingness and commitment to hold, be with and actually digest whatever life gives with awareness and appreciation. When we too hold that bowl in our mind and life, we rejoice in using whatever comes to us as the very food we need on our healing journey. Just that attitude means we can never ever be defeated! We turn everything into medicine.

Next, he holds a kind of flower in his right hand called Arura, or Myrobalan, which is the starting and indispensible ingredient in any medicine in the Aryuvedic formulary. This does not mean that Aryuveda is more important than any other healing system. All healing systems deserve respect. He holds this flower with his right hand near his knee, as a symbol of transmuting all life puts in his bowl into an offering of wisdom, compassion and love to all beings without exception in the universe. This is another basic, universal medicine.

Finally, if you look through the shell of his body, into his chest , you can see what would in ordinary beings be his heart. But instead of an ordinary heart, you see the letter HUM that shines out to all beings and to every aspect of the entire universe, transforming all suffering into wisdom. We can call this light out with our good intention and wishes, and with it, wash away all fear, and if not the immediate causes of our problem, then the deeper forces that support it.

Now we have three extremely powerful symbol-tools in our medical kit, tools that go to and over time heal the root causes of whatever problem we or anyone else is facing. We take his image and learn to use it as we appreciate the grounded, upright, living and open qualities of his body. We resonate with and emulate his mind, which is symbolized in the begging bowl and flower he holds in his hands. And we take up the third tool, his speech or voice, as a kind of song of healing which we can call forth as the healing light in his heart.

Each symbolic aspect of Menla shows us the healing power of the universe and that we have within if we care to call upon them. This might be a good time to recall the innate healing power in just being a human who is trying to help. There have been many human healers who arose within many traditions to help others return to health. Some of these are iconic figures like Christ and Buddha, but others are more ordinary people of more current times. Just like these people, who worked to help others with their body, speech and mind, we too can all be powerful healers and use whatever life brings as medicine!