Monday, August 23, 2010

Gem Medicines

Sand, from a Japanese beach, greatly magnified -- a sapphire crystal.
This image is from Gary Greenberg's remarkable book, A Grain of Sand.

As mentioned previously, I am off on an extended jaunt, and that is why DTBA is a bit sparse these days. Sorry for that, but one cannot spend all of one's time sitting in front of the computer. Hogwarts is out for summer holiday.

Specifically, I am off hunting minerals, which is something I have learned to enjoy, and this may help to explain the theme of today's post: a brief rumination on an exhausting subject. Actually, I was also inspired by Malcolm Smith's comments to last week's Malas: Tibetan Prayer Beads post -- done about the same time I kicked over a boulder and found this strange little universe:


So, then...

Gems are of three categories: (1) human gems, (2) divine gems, and (3) the gems of bodhisattvas.

The gems of humans emit white, yellow, red, blue, and green light and have seven qualities. Their color purifies; they dispel the antagonistic effects of poisons, spirits, darkness, and swelling; they relieve the suffering of fevers, and they fulfill wishes. 

Divine gems share these seven qualities and also are incapable of loss, are lightweight, are perfectly pure, and have the ability to speak. 

The gems of bodhisattvas share the foregoing eleven qualities and further, enable the bodhisattva to see the death and rebirth of others. They also enable the bodhisattva to see the time of the ultimate liberation of others, and teach in various ways appropriate to the listener.

That is from memory... but, for the life of me, I can't remember the source. When you remember the text but forget the source, it is as if you have forgotten everything.

See the man at the left of the picture? This is not a trick photograph.

Closer to hand, we have Desi Sangye Gyatso Rinpoche's Mirror of Beryl, with the following, provocative passage:
"In the tantra it says, 'With gems there is nothing that cannot be dispelled.' They are the best remedy for the 404 kinds of illness, especially dual and complex disorders such as poisoning. They lengthen life and restore youth. Merely by wearing them on the body, you are protected from violent storms, hail, and weapons, and from the eight types of spirits. When made use of they close the door to birth in the lower realms."
This passage can be a little bit misleading -- you can take it to refer to gems, or you can take it to refer to gem pills, rinchen rilbu -- and we will come back to this in a moment. Meanwhile, we now have the door open to discuss gem medicines -- which in the context of Tibetan traditional medicine are associated with the potency of that which is precious (inclusive of precious metals in refined form), and also having a certain indirect overlap into that which possesses the potency of stones, and of earth.

A substantial portion of Tibetan traditional medicine is based upon Ayurvedic medicine. I think we all understand this. Ayurvedic medicine, in turn, makes use of gems as healing substances, based in part on their astrological characteristics, but more narrowly based on their color, or quite specifically, the wavelength of emitted light -- a building block, as it were, of the ancient science of healing by chemiluminescence, or so it seems to me. Nevertheless, the gems used in Ayurveda are nine, corresponding to the seven planets, plus Rahu and Ketu, and these are:
  1. Ruby (Sun)
  2. Pearl (Moon)
  3. Red Coral (Mars)
  4. Emerald (Mercury)
  5. Yellow Sapphire (Jupiter)
  6. Diamond (Venus)
  7. Blue Sapphire (Saturn)
  8. Hessonite (Rahu)
  9. Chrysoberyl (Ketu)
This, I hasten to clarify, is the strict Ayurvedic enumeration as laid out in the received literature. According to the Sushruta Samhita, "They are possessed of sacred prophylactic virtues, and  bring good luck to men who wear them, and cleanse their wearers from all impurities." The Tibetans whack the subject up a bit differently, but not by much.

Now, associated with each of these is an absolutely enormous body of myth, folklore, and superstition, sufficient to bore one to tears. I know this, because I have cried over this subject for more than fifty years, having been attracted to the study as a child. 



Just as an example, the "pearls" in the above list are not necessarily the aquatic pearls with which we are familiar. Rather, they are a bewildering variety of mutig, or bezoars, inclusive of "pearls" found in plants, snake's heads, and so forth. The ancient Arabs believed the very best kind to come from the heart of a deer that had been fed on poisonous snakes. In the photograph above, you see purported "red cobra pearls." There are firms in Indonesia that specialize in such things, if you are interested, but I cannot promise that the snake "pearls" (sometimes costing thousands of dollars) will be devoid of all oils.

Being merciful by nature, I will spare you all the rest of the tedium, and "cut to the chase," as they say in the motion picture industry.

The gems mentioned are either worn, burned to ash, tinctured, or crushed and combined with other substances, then made into pills. If worn, they are worn on specific fingers, set in specific metals. Burning to ash is done to remove toxic properties, and to enable ingestion by mouth. Tincturing is done by soaking the gem in various liquids for various periods of time. Crushing and combining with other substances forms the basis of the Tibetan rinchen rilbu, mentioned above. 

These rinchen rilbu, or "precious pills" are thought by most Tibetan doctors to originate with Nagarjuna, although their introduction to Tibet is usually credited to Padmasambhava -- a sort of fusion between vedic medicine and siddha medicine. If you want to chew around on that, you can read Michael Lee Walter's 1980 Indiana University doctoral thesis, The Role of Alchemy and Medicine In Indo-Tibetan Tantrism, which is noteworthy for a Hogwarts-style translation of Jigme Lingpa ("The Essence of the Vessel, an Elixir which obtains for One the Life of a Magician.") You can find this little beauty on line, by clicking here, but don't everybody click at once and crash the server.

Getting back to Desi Rinpoche, we find that by the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama, gem medicines had deteriorated into a base practice:
"Many past nobles and high lamas ... tried to make gem pills. However, they only used up to a maximum of eighty-three different medicines, they used the water in which rare gems had been soaked, and girls born in the tiger year were suddenly being killed [for substances, such as bile, to be used as ingredients], and so the process became tainted by crime."
The Fifth Dalai Lama put a stop to all of this by offering up his treasure house -- Desi Rinpoche tells us all about this in glowing terms -- and  also went on a collecting tour, during which he received other treasures -- even some from the Emperor of China. These were used as the basis for large-scale manufacture of rinchen rilbu according to proper methods. 

I want to note parenthetically, that the Fifth Dalai Lama's gem medicines achieved lasting reknown in Asia, and even occupied the attentions of Chairman Mao. Mao believed -- and he was partially correct -- that stores of these medicines were kept hidden from light, deep in the basement of the Potala. He believed that these conferred immortality. 

As an aside: This is my friend, "Mr. Tan," who believes he was struck blind when, 
as a senior PLA officer, he "saw things he shouldn't have seen," beneath the Potala.
He is an interesting man. All of his life, he has been haunted by a dream he had when
he was a child. He dreamed that he was standing by a river, when a golden dragon
appeared with a pearl upon its head. He grasped the pearl, but fell into the river,
whereupon he awoke from the dream. He grew up and became a military officer
occupied with scientific intelligence matters. He woke up blind one morning, in
Tibet, and no doctor since has been able to tell him why. The only time he is able
to "see" anything -- and this is only brief flashes of light -- is when he takes
rinchen chagril chenmo (the "Iron Pill"), which does on a weekly basis.

When Tibet was invaded, Mao dispatched a special team to obtain these medicines -- as it happens, I personally know two members of that team, both of whom had direct access to the Chairman, and operated under his personal orders. 

Chagpori ("Iron Hill") as it appears today.

I have discussed this matter at length with them, to the extent that I am convinced they believe their account is true. They tell me that such stores were indeed kept, but they were kept in the basement of Chagpori, where they were destroyed by artillery fire, when Chagpori was shelled to rubble. What they did manage to find at the Potala was sent by personal courier directly to Chairman Mao, as a matter of very high priority.

But, we digress....


The question on every Western-educated, chronically-ill, medical skeptic's mind is, "How does this stuff work?" 

I really don't know. 

Gem medicines were created by highly evolved beings, drawing upon the transcendent knowledge of Great Space: they are a gift to mankind from the mind of the Buddhas of all times and directions. I am just an ordinary person, losing my memory, so it is impossible for me to answer such questions.

However, there are three elements of information you may wish to employ to formulate your own intelligence.

First, gem medicines must be kept in the dark until ingested.

Second, scientists in Austria have discovered that gem medicines -- in essence -- turn into light once ingested. You can see an informed discussion of this in the documentary film Das Wissen vom Heilen (1996, releaszed in English as The Knowledge of Healing), including interviews with the scientists involved.

Third, chemoluminescence is quite simply "cold light," or the emission of light with limited emission of heat in result of a chemical reaction.

So, like the man says -- if I want to teach you about a square, and I tell you about three corners, you really should be able to figure out the fourth all by yourself.

Anyway....

As I have already reported elsewhere, I came across an old adit the other day. From the looks of the place, the miners were a little on the reckless side. Holes bored everywhere; single blasts up and out. Shoddy work with the dynamite. 

So, I was just poking around when I turned over some of the larger blast fragments -- around the size of bowling balls -- and saw the strange treasure depicted in the second photo from the top, above. You can't see it very well from the photo -- I am not a skilled photographer -- but there is a universe inside. 

That darker botryoidal habit you see to the right of the interior is actually a dark, ruby red. 

Sitting there, looking at this, caused me to think that if you take all the gems ever polished and set into jewelry, and if you take all the mineral specimens in the museums of the world -- if you take all the precious and semi-precious gems known to mankind from the beginning of time -- all of these would not equal the smallest fraction of the smallest part of what lies undiscovered. 

And this is all around us, all the time. 

So.... the next time you are wondering what to offer, you can just offer up all of this hidden treasure -- an offering equal to a galaxy, really. Indeed, looking at the micro-photograph of sand, with which we began this post, one is reminded of this verse from The Discourse of the Holy Doctrine of the White Lotus, as quoted by Chatral Rinpoche:
    All who build a stupa of this nature to the Victorious Ones out of sand and brick or who even just pile up sand and dust to that end, who in due fashion or even as simple child's play build a refuge from suffering and even those who simply heap up sand as a support of offering to the Victorious Ones- all such persons will attain enlightenment.

Where are we, if not in buddhafields?


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11 reader comments:

Cliff said...

Beautiful! A big interest of mine for many years now. Thank you for sharing.

Here the question is, "How to proceed?" The answer is obvious!

Patricia said...

What a wonderful and fascinating blog post. Thank you for sharing that. I think I'll be studying this one for quite some time.
om mani padme hum
Pat

J.Crow said...

And of course we offer the Chakril Chenmo (and others here):
http://www.jcrowsmarketplace.com/chakrilchenmotibetanherbalformulation.aspx

And it is the post I have been waiting for to you utter, UTR_ to link from here (which I will):
http://jcrows.com/incense.html#pills

Anonymous said...

Great post. I love Sapphires and read they are of importance in Buddhism.

If you find more information on gems and Buddhism, and particularly Sapphires, please post it.

Also, can you tell anything about the history of the use of gems and jewelry in Stupa construction? I hear that one puts jewelry in stupas at times. We have noted the manifestation (mysterious finding on the street, etc.) of jewelry as we prepare for the construction of a stupa. Is this possible?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the time you have put into this post. You are truly a gem with many facets!

Anonymous said...

Where did the photo with the man in the crystal cave come from?

If it is not a trick photo, photo shopped, etc. then how did a perfect little man get in there!?

TENPA said...

He climbed down in there. BBC did a report on these large crystals. They are in Mexico.

Janis said...

For the person who wrote

"Also, can you tell anything about the history of the use of gems and jewelry in Stupa construction? I hear that one puts jewelry in stupas at times. We have noted the manifestation (mysterious finding on the street, etc.) of jewelry as we prepare for the construction of a stupa. Is this possible?"

I ask you, How can you be making a stupa without knowing what your doing? Ask a lama, lay teacher or, best of all, a Tibetan Geshe.


*** Now your answer ***

Yes, you need gems to empower most objects. I gave some raw rubies I mined to my geshe and he used them in some items. Enough said...

For a stupa you need lots of different gems, because of the meaning of parts of the stupa and other ... not mentioned here ... reasons. Dharma reasons.

Also, you MUST remember - you circumambulate all stupas with the stupa being on your right hand side.

One circumambulation should give you the benefit of the prayers inside, but only if it was made, constructed, filled, empowered, etc. correctly.

.... more advanced stuff I'm leaving out .... etc.

**** Caution is given ***

So, If you don't make it correctly, how do you expect it to work properly?

You need a non-nillion or so prayers, drawn or printed on paper or other acceptable medium, to go inside the stupa as well as gems and other unmentioned things. I recommend prayers, the kind that are printed on microfilm. They are super tiny and work great. They can be purchased from several Tibetan sites online.

Again, they work better if a properly qualified lama writes them or makes them in another way. Doing it yourself may have no, as in zero, effect.

**** Caution is given again ***

If you don't understand what I've written, don't make a stupa. Trust me, you don't want to mess up making one. Would you do a magic spell without a circle of protection? If yes, don't involve anyone you care about in the making of your stupa.


**** Caution given yet, again ***

*** I SUGGEST AGAIN - GET A REAL LAMA, PREFERABLY A GESHE. He can advise you on how and what to do when building a stupa.

There are a lot of prayers that are needed to be recited as well as the stupa is built, filled, empowered, etc.

***

Now you know more than you did, but not enough to do something like this without a clue as to what you are doing.


**** The BEST advise for proper making of a stupa follows ***

***** PLEASE, Pay a monastery to send a group of monks to build one for you. That is what I think would be best for you and get you a lot of additional good karma and blessings. Helping monks does that you know. ***** So let the experts help you.

**** Caution given again ****

.... If you go ahead on your own, just remember that good intentions are not enough, when messing with sacred things. You don't want all the bad karma and worse to accrue to you and anyone who helps you. Really bad stuff can happen.

You do want to benefit from this stupa don't you?

... get a lama to advise you. ...

If you do go ahead without proper instructions, I advise you consult with a lama when things go badly or worse than badly. ...

**** ****

Your idea is good. A stupa benefits all things and beings around it. Sometimes for quite a distance. But only if you know what your doing AND with the blessing of a qualified lama.


Building a stupa, is a very involved process. Did I mention, you need to be careful where you build one? Did I mention that the land has to be cleared properly? Did I mention that the land must be prepared, in part by removing all hindering spirits? A torma offering must be made. I doubt you know how to properly do that. Also a puja must be done. Sometimes multiple tmes. .... etc.

It really is a job best left to the experts. I really hope you take my advise on getting the proper help.

Janis said...

Part 01 , For the person who wrote

"Also, can you tell anything about the history of the use of gems and jewelry in Stupa construction? I hear that one puts jewelry in stupas at times. We have noted the manifestation (mysterious finding on the street, etc.) of jewelry as we prepare for the construction of a stupa. Is this possible?"

I ask you, How can you be making a stupa without knowing what your doing? Ask a lama, lay teacher or, best of all, a Tibetan Geshe.


*** *** *** *** Now - your answer *** *** *** ***

Yes, you need gems to empower most objects. I gave some raw rubies I mined to my geshe and he used them in some items. Enough said...

For a stupa you need lots of different gems, because of the meaning of parts of the stupa and other ... not mentioned here ... reasons. Dharma reasons.

Also, you MUST remember - you circumambulate all stupas with the stupa being on your right hand side.

One circumambulation should give you the benefit of the prayers inside, but only if it was made, constructed, filled, empowered, etc. correctly.

.... more advanced stuff I'm leaving out .... etc.

Janis said...

Part 02, **** Caution is given ****

So, If you don't make it correctly, how do you expect it to work properly?

You need a non-nillion or so prayers, drawn or printed on paper or other acceptable medium, to go inside the stupa as well as gems and other unmentioned things. I recommend prayers, the kind that are printed on microfilm. They are super tiny and work great. They can be purchased from several Tibetan sites online.

Again, they work better if a properly qualified lama writes them or makes them in another way. Doing it yourself may have no, as in zero, effect.

If you don't understand what I've written, don't make a stupa. Trust me, you don't want to mess up making one. Would you do a magic spell without a circle of protection? If yes, don't involve anyone you care about in the making of your stupa.

*** I SUGGEST AGAIN - GET A REAL LAMA, PREFERABLY A GESHE. He can advise you on how and what to do when building a stupa.

There are a lot of prayers that are needed to be recited as well as the stupa is built, filled, empowered, etc.


**** **** **** **** **** **** **** **** **** **** **** **** **** **** **** **** **** **** **** ****

Now you know more than you did, but not enough to do something like this without a clue as to what you are doing.

***** PLEASE, Pay a monastery to send a group of monks to build one for you. That is what I think would be best for you and get you a lot of additional good karma and blessings. Helping monks does that you know. ***** So let the experts help you.


**** Caution to you - given yet again ****

.... If you go ahead on your own, just remember that good intentions are not enough, when messing with sacred things. You don't want all the bad karma and worse to accrue to you and anyone who helps you. Really bad stuff can happen.

You do want to benefit from this stupa don't you?

Grunuche said...

The original text of Jigme Lingpa about gems is "rin po che brtag pa'i gtam", 4th volume (pod nga pa)in the gsung 'bum of JL. That is the source you forgot concerning classification of gems acoording to Devas, Humans and Bodhisattvas.

Do you know if it already exists a translation?
thanks for this very interesting article you wrote here!

Manon