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The Healing Power of Mindfulness Meditation

According to the Pli Nikyas and the Chinese gamas

By Tzungkuen Wen

The Buddha=Great Lord of Healing

  • Stra no 389, Sayukta gama (S 389)

  • One who is endowed with the following four factors is called the Great Lord of Healing. He knows well

  • various diseases

  • the causes of the diseases,

  • the remedy for the diseases,

  • and complete cure of diseases


Great Lord of Healing


Seven Benefits of Satipahna

Teaching Patients Mindfulness Meditation

Let Only the Body Suffers, not the Mind

Cure of Disease through MM

Cakama Brings Health

Serene Faculties

Abhidhammic Explanation

The Last Exhortation of the Buddha



Definition of MM

  • Mindfulness :

    Bare awareness of the moment to moment mental and physical phenomena of the present.

    Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally

  • Developed at all time, in any posture: walking, standing, sitting, lying

  • MM = Insight Meditation (+Tranquility M.)

Dissemination of MM

  • It originated in India about 2500 years ago, spread to South East Asia, China, Tibet.

  • Its now preserved in Southern Buddhism , Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism.

Application of MM

  • Recently, MM draws extensive attentions of professionals from the fields of medicine, health care, psychology, social work and education.

  • It has probably become the most popular Buddhist Meditation in the West.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

  • Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

  • The Stress Reduction Program has benefited people reporting a variety of conditions and concerns:

  • Stressincluding work, school, family, fifinancial, illness, aging, grief, uncertainty about the future, and feeling out of control.

  • Medical conditions

  • including chronic illness or pain, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, cancer, heart disease, asthma, GI distress, skin disorders, and many other conditions.

  • Psychological distressincluding anxiety, panic, depression, fatigue, and sleep disturbances.

  • Prevention and Wellnessincluding health enhancement and wellness focused on prevention and learning the how of taking good care of yourself and feeling a greater sense of balance.

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy

  • MBCT is based on the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) eight-week program.

  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy grew from this work. Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale adapted the MBSR program so it could be used specifically for people who had suffered repeated bouts of depression in their lives.

  • an increased ability to relax

  • greater energy and enthusiasm for life

  • heightened self-confidence

  • an increased ability to cope more effectively with both short and long-term stressful situations.

Why mindfulness meditation?

  • Where does the idea come from about the application of MM in medicine and health care?

  • What Jon Kabat-Zinn teaches in MBSR program clearly shows a strong connection between MBSR and the insight meditation traditions of Burma.

MM as a cure for disease

  • Wiston King said in A Thousand Lives Away published in 1964

    At the International Centre I met one individual who had been cured of a heart-condition of near-fatal proportions some five years before. Both diagnosis and cure were backed up by competent medical testimony.

There are other individuals who reported the cure of migraine headaches, acute nervous and digestive disorders, asthma and one case of an external cancerous growth.

This is quite in line with the Buddhist belief that psychosomatic mind states produce like body states.

  • Melford E. Spiro said in Buddhism and Society (1972)

    In contemporary Burma, meditation is viewed as a method for dealing with various of lifes problems.

    It is used to cope with such minor difficulties as dissatisfaction with life, insomnia, and a variety of psychosomatic complaints; as a technique for determining the identity of onesenemies

and as a method for curing heart trouble, ulcers, hypertension, chronic migraines, mental illness, and even cancer.

When I queried him on the last category, a lay meditation master in Rangoon produced sworn affidavits and letters from former meditatiors, all claiming to have been cured of these various ailments by the meditation course they undertook under his guidance.

  • What is most interesting in these letters and sworn statements is that they were written, not by village peasants but by a middle-class and educated urban clientele, both Burmese and Western.

Rise of vipassan meditation movement

  • In the 20th century, insight meditation movement started from Burma.

  • Two mainstream traditions: Ledi Sayadaw and Mingun Sayadaw

  • Ledi S. U Ba Khin Goenka

  • Mingun S. Mahasi S. Pandita S., Silanada S.

Seven benefits of satipahna

Mahsatipahna Sutta

Bhikkhus, this is the direct path for purification of beings, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the true way, for the realization of Nibbna, that is, the four establishemnts of Mindfulness.

Teaching mindfulness meditation to Patients

SN 36:7

  • On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Vesli in the Great Wood in the Hall with the Peaked Roof.

  • Then, in the evening, the Blessed One emerged from seclusion and went to the sick ward, where he sat down in the appointed seat and addressed the bhikkhus thus:

  • "Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu should await his time mindful and clearly comprehending. This is our instruction to you.

  • "And how, bhikkhus, is a bhikkhu mindful? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating the body in the body, ardent, dearly comprehending, mindful, having put away covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world.

  • He dwells contemplating feelings in feelings ... mind in mind ... phenomena in phenomena, ardent, dearly comprehending, mindful, having put away covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world.

  • It is in such a way that a bhikkhu is mindful.


AN 5:235

The Buddha points out, a bhikkhu who is endowed with five things does have pity on householders.

The third thing is as follows:

when visiting the sick, he stirs up mindfulness, saying: Let the venerable ones set up mindfulness, that thing most worthwhile!

1. He incites them to greater virtue;

2. he makes them live in the Dhamma vision;

4.when many monks of the Order have come, he urges the householders to do meritorious deeds.

5. and when they give him food, whether mean or choice, he enjoys it by himself, nor frustrates (the effect of that) gift of faith.

SN 47: 29

  • Householder Sirivaha was sick, afflicted, gravely ill. Venerable nanda went to visit him.

  • Having known that situation of the household was not getting better, Venerable nanda encouraged the householder to train himself in the four establishments of mindfulness.

  • "Venerable sir, as to these four establishments of mindfulness taught by the Blessed One, these things exist in me, and I live in conformity with those things.

    (Yeme, bhante, bhagavat cattro satipahn desit savijjanti te dhamm mayi, ahaca tesu dhammesu sandissmi.)

Let only the Body suffers, not the mind

SN 22: 1 (only afflicted in body)

  • The householder Nakulapit came to ask guidance from the Buddha:

    "I am old, venerable sir, aged, burdened with years, advanced in life, come to the last stage, afflicted in body, often ill. I rarely get to see the Blessed One and the bhikkhus worthy of esteem. Let the Blessed One exhort me, venerable sir, let him instruct me, since that would lead to my welfare and happiness for a long time.

  • The Buddha says,

  • "so it is, householder, so it is! This body of yours is afflicted, weighed down, encumbered. If anyone carrying around this body were to claim to be healthy even for a moment, what is that due to other than foolishness ?

  • Therefore, householder, you should train yourself thus: 'Even though I am afflicted in body, my mind will be unafflicted.' Thus should you train yourself."

  • Tasmtiha te, gahapati, eva sikkhitabba turakyassa me sato citta antura bhavissatti. Evahi te, gahapati, sikkhitabbanti.

S 107

SN 36:6 (Two Darts)

  • This sutta compares two kinds of people, the uninstructed worldling, and instructed noble disciple.

  • It tells the difference in the how they react to a painful contact between worldling and noble disciples.

  • Suppose they were to strike a man with a dart, and then they would strike him immediately afterwards with a second dart, so that the man would feel a feeling caused by two darts.

  • So too, when the uninstructed worldling is being contacted by a painful feeling ... he feels two feelings--- a bodily one and a mental one.

  • suppose they were to strike a man with a dart, but they would not strike him immediately afterwards with a second dart, so that the man would feel a feeling caused by one dart only.

  • So too, when the instructed noble disciple is contacted by a painful feeling ... he feels one feeling-a bodily one, not a mental one.

S 470

SN 52:10

  • On one occasion the Venerable Anuruddha was dwelling at Svatthi in the Blind Men's Grove, sick, afflicted, gravely ill.

  • Then a number of bhikkhus approached the Venerable Anuruddha and said to him: "In what dwelling does the Venerable Anuruddha usually dwell so that the arisen bodily painful feelings do not persist obsessing his mind?"

  • It is, friends, because I dwell with a mind well established in the four establishments of mindfulness that the arisen bodily feelings do not persist obsessing my mind.

  • Catsu kho me, vuso, satipahnesu suppatihitacittassa viharato uppann srrik dukkh vedan citta na pariydya tihanti.

S 540

MN 119 Kyagatsati sutta

  • Bhikkhus, when mindfulness of the body has been repeatedly practised, developed, cultivated, used as a vehicle, used as a basis, established, consolidated, and well undertaken, these ten benefits may be expected. What ten?

  • One bears cold and heat, hunger and thirst, and contact with gadflies, mosquitoes, wind, the sun, and creeping things;

  • one endures ill-spoken, unwelcome words and arisen bodily feelings that are painful, racking, sharp, piercing, disagreeable, distressing, and menacing to life.

M 81

AN 5 123

  • 'Monks, possessing five qualities a sick man is an ill 'help for himself. What five?

  • He treats not himself with physics;

  • knows no measure in his treatment;

  • applies not medicaments;

  • sents not out the extent of his illness to one who tends him in goodness of heart, saying: in going it goes thus, when it returns it comes so, while it is with me it is just thus;

  • nor is he the kind of man who endure the onset of bodily aches and pains, racking, shooting, stabling, bitter, galling,life-taking.

Dharmaguptaka Vinaya 1

  • The patient who is endowed with these five things is easy to attend

  • 1.he dont eat what should not be eaten.

  • 2.he takes medicien.

  • 3.he tell truth to his nurse.

  • 4.he moves moderately.

  • 5.he endures bodily pain and take care of things himself whatever he can.

Dharmaguptaka Vinaya 2

  • The patient who is endowed with these five thins is easy to attend.

    The first four are the same as above.

    The fifth is that he meditates to calm his mind.

AN 5 215

  • Monks, there are these fve disadvantages from being impatient. What five?

    Not to many folk is he dear or pleasing;

    he is hated much;

    he is avoided by many;

    dies muddled in thought

    and rises in hell.

Cure of disease through MM

DN 16 Mahparinibbna Sutta

  • At that time [in Velva Village] a severe illness arose in the Blessed One who had entered the vassa. Deadly, excruciating [physical] feelings occurred.

  • Being mindful and aware, the Blessed One endured them without being distressed [or oppressed].

  • At that time it occurred thus to the Blessed One: If I should pass away into parinibbana without having informed my attendant disciples, without having notified the community of monks, this act of mine would indeed not be proper.

  • It would be well if I should dwell, having removed this illness by [diligent] effort and undertaken the repair of vitality

S 1038

  • Not long after the householder Mnadinna recovered from his illness, he sent for Ven. nanda in order to provide Ven. nanda a meal.

  • When Ven. nanda together three other monks arrived, he asked the householder : are you enduring and at ease?

  • The householder replied: Yes, Venerable, Im enduring and at ease. I got an illness before, at that time I was critically ill, but now I recovers from the illness.

  • Ven. nanda asked: By means of what dwelling did you get rid of the affliction from illness in time?

  • The householder replies: I dwelled in the four establishments of mindfulness, devoted myself to the development of them, so all bodily afflictions came to cease in time.

SN 47: 30

  • But, venerable sir, when I am being touched by such painful feeling, I dwell contemplating the body in the body feelings in feelings ... mind in mind ... phenomena in phenomena.

S 541

On one occasion the Venerable Anuruddha was dwelling at Svatthi in the Squirrel Vihara, not long after he recovered from illness.

Then a number of bhikkhus approached the Venerable Anuruddha. Having greeted and consoled him, they sat aside and asked the Venerable Anuruddha :

  • Are you at ease and happy? asked the Venerable Anuruddha said, I am at ease and happy Those bodily suffering and pain gradually comes to rest.

  • The bhikkhus asked the Venerable Anuruddha: By dwelling at what kind of dwelling, does the bodily suffering and pain gradually come to rest

Venerable Anuruddha said, By the dwelling of the four establishment of mindfulness, those bodily suffering and pain gradually comes to rest Which four?

One contemplates inwardly the body in the body.. The dharmas in the dharmas. By the dwelling of the four establishment of mindfulness, those bodily suffering and pain gradually comes to rest

Cakama brings health

AN 5 29

  • Capable of long travelling (Addhnakkhamo)

  • Capable of diligence (padhnakkhamo)

  • Health (appbdho)

  • Good digestion (asita pta khyita syita samm parima gacchati)

  • Concentration obtained in walking lasts long (cakamdhigato samdhi cirahitiko)

The Stra of Seven Bases and Three Contemplations

The first, being able to walk long;

the second, gaining strength;

the third, removing drowsyness;

the fourth, digesting well what is eaten without illness;

the fifth, easier to obtain concentration, and the concentration obtained lasts long.

A Record of Buddhist Practices Sent Home from the Southern Sea

Within the five divisions of India, both monastic and lay Buddhists often practiced cankrama. They walked back and forth on a straight path at a suitable time and in adaptation to their dispositions. But, a noisy place should be avoided.

  • Cankrama, first of all, cures disease, and secondly, help digest food. Near midday or at sunset is the time to walk. One might go out of the monastery for a long-distance walk or simply walk slowly on a veranda.

If one didnt practice cankrama, much affliction of illness may occur in the body, making the foot and abdomen swollen, the arms and neck sore. Also phlegm does not dissolve.

All these result from [long time of] upright sitting. If one practices cankrama, it will strengthen the body and cultivate the spiritual path.

The Milindapah

  • The Milindapah meditation (paisallna) brings 28 kinds of advantages.

  • Among them, prolonging lifespan (yu vaheti) and giving strength (bala deti) both point to the fact that Buddhist meditation can improve our health.

Serene Faculties

  • In the Nikyas, we read that the physical appearance changes in the wake of meditation practice or even hearing a dharma talk.

  • The terms used to describe the physical change is vippasannni indriyni (faculties are serene) and parisuddho mukhavao pariyodto (facial complexion is pure and bright).

Chinese translation in the gama

  • faculties are joyfulfacial color is shining or beautiful

  • faculties are purifiedthe color is bright and clean

  • skin is fresh and clean

SN 52: 9

  • On one occasion the Venerable Anuruddha and the Venerable Sriputta were dwelling at Vesli in Ambapli's Grove. Then, in the evening, the Venerable Sriputta emerged from seclusion. Sitting to one side, the Venerable Sriputta said to the Venerable Anuruddha:

Friend Anuruddha, your faculties are serene, your complexion is pure and bright. In what dwelling does the Venerable Anuruddha now usually dwell?

Now, friend, I usually dwell with a mind well established in the four establishments of mindfulness.

(Catsu khvha, vuso, satipahnesu suppatihitacitto etarahi bahula viharmi)

  • The bhikkhu, friend, who is an arahant, one whose taints are destroyed, who has lived the holy life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, reached his own goal, utterly destroyed the fetters of existence, one completely liberated through final knowledge, usually dwells with a mind well established in these four establishments of mindfulness."

  • "It is a gain for us, friend, it is well gained by us, friend, that we were in the very presence of the Venerable Anuruddha when he made such a bellowing utterance."

SN 1:10

  • At Svatthi. Standing to one side, that devat recited this verse in the presence of the Blessed One:

    "Those who dwell deep in the forest,

    Peaceful, leading the holy life,

    Eating but a single meal a day:

    Why is their complexion so serene?

SA 995

  • The Blessed One:

    They do not sorrow over the past,

    Nor do they hanker for the future.

    They go on with what is present:

    Hence their complexion is so serene.

"Through hankering for the future

Through sorrowing over the past,

Fools dry up and wither away

Like a green reed cut down."

  • Spk: This verse was spoken by an earth-bound deva who dwelt in that forest. Each day he would see the bhikkhus who inhabited the forest sitting in meditation after their meal.

  • As they sat, their minds would become unified and serene, and the serenity of their minds would become manifest in their complexion (vaa).

  • Puzzled that they could have such serene faces while living under these austere conditions, the deva came to the Buddha to inquire into the cause.

  • The facial complexion (mukhavaaa) or complexion of the skin (chavivaa) is understood to indicate success in meditation;

Abhidharmic explanation

Four Kinds of Rpa

  • kamma-rpa

  • citta-rpa

  • utu-rpa

  • hra-rpa

  • Matter produced by Kamma: matter produced due to the kamma of the past.

  • Matter produced by Citta (Mind): Matter produced as a result of the present activity of mind.

  • Matter produced by Utu (Temperature): Matter produced due to the external enviroments such as temperature, weather.

  • Matter produced by hra (Nutriment): Matter produced due to the digestion of food.

Exhortation of the Buddha

  • What should be done for his disciples out of compassion by a teacher who seeks their welfare and has compassion for them, that I have done for you, bhikkhus.

  • There are these roots of trees, these empty huts. Meditate, bhikkhus, do not delay or else you will regret it later. This is our instruction to you.

The End



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