As Buddhists, we learn early on about the mind-body connection through such ideas as shiki shin funi, which details the idea of the oneness of body and mind. There also exist concepts like the oneness of the person and the environment, and the oneness of the person and the universe. Human beings are an amazing combination of molecules, harmonious systems, intelligence, and divinity. We are possessed with form, perception, conception, volition, and consciousness. At times this harmony becomes unbalanced due to dysfunctional lifestyle, environmental factors, and the latent seeds of karma. How do we overcome and regain equilibrium?
When illness strikes we naturally wonder, what is our reason for being? Beyond career, family, and our mundane endeavors is the seat of higher purpose. Within each of us resides a noble spirit capable of creating lasting value in our lives while profoundly moving the hearts of others. Although there are many circumstantial triggers that can induce self-reflection and redirect our lives in a positive way, the bane of illness can be transformed into the gift of life. Survivors often learn through their experience the importance of sharing with the sick, the suffering, and forgotten.

When serious illness strikes, there is no guarantee of recovery. A skilled physician can do only so much. Individual response to treatment varies and the will to live cannot be quantified. How do we change adversity into reward? In times of trouble we naturally turn to prayer, meditation, and the Absolute. It can be said that healing has seven principles. They are: treatment, faith, prayer, hope, intention, desire, and visualization. With these affirmative natural means, serious illness can be challenged and the fears of death reconciled. Our first step is proper diagnosis and treatment by a qualified physician.
The Elixir of Faith
Having faith in our physician’s knowledge and expertise is vital. We should also believe in our ability to overcome illness. It is common for people to have faith in the Absolute and find solace in their belief. If faith can move mountains, it can certainly cure illness. Studies at Harvard University have shown the faith factor to boost the immune system. Faith also has many psychological benefits like resolve, composure, gaining perspective, and peace of mind.
How important is faith? It seems vital, especially when facing daunting obstacles or imminent death. Although last minute absolution is better than falling hopeless into the void, one should consider building faith early on so when the final moment comes, our mind is steadfast and free of qualms. There appear to be many ideas of what spiritual faith is. It might be defined as belief in God or the dharma, expectation, strength of purpose, and so on. Skeptics scoff at the idea of faith comparing it to religious flotsam or a crutch. But faith does not belong to religion any more than prayer does. Faith is a human quality of hopeful conviction that exists because it is useful to our survival and development as a species. Faith to me is the state of life where I can confidently say, “I can’t wait to see how this is resolved.”
Prayer is Boundless
Human beings are hardwired for prayer. Science is now proving what most people have always believed. Prayer, in its many forms can positively influence the immune system of our own body as well as the health of others, regardless of geographic distance. Prayer has many names and forms such as spoken prayer, silent prayer, meditation, mantras, affirmations, and liturgies. Studies in mindfulness meditation have demonstrated that it can boost the immune response. Some might believe that their prayer is true and others false. What science has been able to determine about prayer and healing thus far points to the equality of all prayer in causing a measurable immunologic boost. We should be very cautious about downplaying the veracity of other types of prayer while asserting that Daimoku is supreme. We have no solid proof, just anecdotes.
Prayer emerges from the depths of life as powerful as an ocean tempest or like the cobalt silence of deep space. Prayer is elegantly simple yet utterly mysterious. In his book, The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley, speculated that all mind and life appear separate, but are actually connected and one with each other. Eastern philosophy suggests the same idea in the metaphor of Indra’s Net. In that image, the infinite aspects of the universe are contained in every atom of life as represented by a jewel. This jeweled-net spans the universe and its microcosm, and every aspect is reflected back in its entirety to every other gem. Huxley’s image of the “Mind at Large” alludes to the premise that each person is part of a limitless repository of knowledge, energy, and potential that is shared with all other life forms. With prayer and meditation, people are capable of connecting with the Absolute within and elsewhere.
How prayer works to aid the body and mind is now being researched at major universities throughout the world. Independent prayer research groups like Spindrift are also conducting controlled studies to document the effects of prayer in a variety of areas including distant healing and intention. In 2003, researchers gathered at MIT along with the Dalai Lama to discuss the relationship of mind and body and develop research programs in those areas. Until Nichiren Buddhism opens itself up to scientific scrutiny, we aren’t even pointing at the moon, we’re pointing at a moonless horizon.
Physical medicine encourages the patient to reestablish equilibrium in the body through drugs, surgery, therapy, and radiation. Prayer and meditation can facilitate that unity. Once the body is aided by the therapeutic approach, it tends to heal itself. Sometimes treatment can’t stop the progression of disease and something beyond physical medicine is needed for recovery. As Larry Dossey, M.D. states in his book of the same name, “Prayer is Good Medicine.” Prayer is noninvasive, easy to do, and can empower the human spirit to move from the darkness of despair to one of hope and determination. Moreover, prayer is free.

Hope is Good Medicine

Believing in our own recovery is vital. Hope can boost the immune system and give us positive energy to move forward, not just cope with our burdens. A young man named Adams was able to achieve complete remission from leukemia for more than five years by having faith in the process of his treatment and hope for the future. When he first fell ill at 11, Adams learned visualization and prayer to combat his leukemia. He became very proactive in his recovery. The doctors at the children’s hospital were so impressed with his use of visualization that they began to incorporate guided imagery into their treatment options for other patients. Adams’ hopes for survival were realized, and he became cancer free. How his remission occurred can be attributed to the therapeutic excellence of modern oncology and Adams’ resolve. Along with the physical aspect of medicine are the intangible elements of the mind, the unconscious, and spirit. Prayer, meditation, and visualization seem to harmonize the physical part of us with our spiritual nature. Adding hope, we can unite the body and mind, the unconscious, and our spirit for healing. There is advantage in squarely facing up to the realities of our condition. With hope, we can face the inevitable, transforming it into victory. Hope and prayer can be a child’s most potent medicine against disease.
Intention is Prayer
The idea of intention has seen a rise in popularity lately by author, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer. Intention is a form of directed prayer, often without religious component. Because the mind is connected with the environment, our intention is reflected there causing influence of a profound or weak nature, depending on inscrutable factors and conditions. Intention can be both positive and negative, just as prayer is. When our attachment to a specific outcome is strong, waves of intention penetrate the objective, causing a measurable effect.
Not long ago, the famed Spanish dancer, Pascual Olivera, died of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma after a harrowing, three-year battle. During the course of his illness, Pascual displayed the kind of heroic behavior described by Joseph Campbell in his book, Hero of a Thousand Faces. Fighting illness while encouraging others was Pascual’s intention. The result of his efforts left a treasure trove of inspiration and poignant images that could inspire others to overcome their suffering.
During a particularly difficult day, a friend of Pascual took up pencil and paper and drew the image of a mighty lion in attack and a tiny ant. She asked him what he was at that exact moment – the lion or the ant? Realization swept through him. Understanding that his recovery was a potential in each moment, he intended to be that lion and to regard cancer as the ant. His prayer and visualization, tempered with firm intention were true and potent. Pascual went into complete remission. Despite his weakened state, the world traveler and his faithful wife, Angela, traveled the US, speaking to more than 15,000 people about his life and battle with cancer. He shared with the audience the lesson of the lion and the ant, encouraging people to have the same spirit when challenging their own obstacles. Moved with compassion for those attending, despite his weakened condition, he and his wife danced with the grace of two loving swans traversing rough waters, in a movement of life and love. In their final flourishes, behind her grand Spanish veil, they kissed one final time. All felt their power of intention.
Desire Means Life
Desire exists for survival. Lets root out baser aspects of desire that spring from greedy attachment and comfort. The type of desire referred to here is the same kind that moves the salmon upstream to spawn and die. In other words, the desire to quickly overcome and manage illness or die with grace and honor is the kind of impetus being described here. Our will to be cured is paramount. Desire for wellness that is found in our positive attitude can truly be a deciding factor in recovery. Many people fall ill in the first place because they have given up on life or have lost hope. If we receive a bad diagnosis, it is only natural to be discouraged. We cannot let our negativity win over us. Once we know our options and have pondered the situation, our desire to fight or give up becomes a deciding factor in our recovery.
Doreen was 62 when she was diagnosed with throat cancer. The squamous cell carcinoma had invaded her lymph nodes. Her prognosis was extremely poor. Doreen survived her surgery and went through intense radiation therapy that had many difficult side effects. Her head was tilted to one side. She lost her ability to speak and had to breathe through a hole in her throat. None of these indignities impeded her desire to live her life to the fullest, one day at a time. The mortality rate for metastasized esophageal cancer is fewer than 5% of patients surviving five years. Doreen survived for ten years, astonishing her doctors, and encouraging other cancer victims to keep on fighting. Her desire to live complimented her treatment and enabled her to survive far longer than expected.
Visualize Wellness
We use visualization every moment, whether we are aware of it or not. When we think back to a full moon over the ocean or picture our dream home, we are using visualization. From the realm of desire and our belief system, images emerge from our mind and we make them a reality. It can also be said that our desire, belief system, and conflicts in the unconscious affect our health and may even foster illness. “If the mind’s belief system (on a conscious or unconscious level) says that it is appropriate to get sick in a certain situation, it will signal the body accordingly, and the body will obligingly manifest symptoms of illness; it will in fact become ill.”
To promote healing and maintain wellness, we can use visualization to project positive images into our life. We accomplish this during our prayer or mediation that is performed twice daily for ten-minute intervals. With a visualization of wellness, the mind-body relationship is improved with tangible results both physically and psychologically.
Carolyn was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Her breast was removed and there were more surgeries. She tried prayer and apology, but her mind was like a snowstorm of thoughts and insecurities. Carolyn learned about visualization and used daimoku to quell the deafening voices inside her mind. With visualization twice daily, the internal noise abated and she was able to focus again. Feeling renewed, she joined a support group and began to share her newly found wisdom with other breast cancer patients looking for answers in their own fight. The mind-body connection is real and visualization enables us to issue commands via specific images to stimulate healing. Once our mind can reconcile the innate fears associated with disease, it can be put to the practical work of making us well through visualization.
“It is remarkable that the mind (brain) can alter the activity of white blood cells and thus an immune response, because white blood cells travel through the body in blood or lymph vessels and are not attached to nerves. Nevertheless, research has shown that the brain does communicate with the white blood cells.” Our conscious mind is wholly unaware of the immense internal dialogue that occurs inside us, keeping us alive. This internal communication is unrelenting and astounding. There are more than 5 trillion cells in the human body, working in complete harmony with each other. There is an ancient Eastern metaphor that suggests that our mind experiences 847 million thoughts each day. Interestingly, modern science has discovered that there is a constant communication between our brain and various bodily systems, the organs, and cells. Taking the idea even further, we might surmise that this internal communication extends to the atomic and quantum levels as well. Visualization can move sick bodies toward wellness.
Reaching Out
Reaching out to others during course of our own illness helps encourage people, giving them hope. Our actions might be as simple as sending a card, calling, visiting, or just holding someone’s hand in time of need. For those of us who have recovered from serious illness, we can teach people the secrets of our survival. Helping the sick is a powerful reason for being. Treatment, faith, prayer, hope, intention, desire, and visualization are universal principles for healing. Underlying these seven principles is the bedrock of altruism – the selfless act of giving back. Life is the ultimate healer. We are that life.
Sources consulted:
Benson, Herbert with Miriam Z. Klipper, The Relaxation Response, HarperTorch, 1976
Davidson, Ph.D., Richard, et al., Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation, Psychosomatic Medicine 65:564-570 (2003)
Huxley, Aldous, The Doors of Perception, New York: Harper, 1954.
Sweet, Bill, A Journey Into Prayer: Pioneers of Prayer in the Laboratory – Agents of Science or Satan? 2003, Xlibris.
Hall, Stephen, New York Times, September 14, 2003, Is Buddhism Good for your Health?
Khalsa, M.D., Dharma Singh, Food as Medicine: How to Use Diet, Vitamins, Juices, and Herbs for a Healthier, Happier, and Longer Life, pg., 4, Atria Books, 2003
Dossey, M.D., Larry, Prayer is Good Medicine: How to Reap the Healing Benefits of Prayer, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.
Campbell, Joseph, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Pantheon Books, 1949.
Gawain, Shakti, Creative Visualization, pg., 57, Bantam Books, 1982.
The Merck Manual of Medical Information, Second Edition, pg. 7., Merck Research Laboratories, 2003.