Field of Blessings: Mahayana Buddhist Approaches to Healing 

By Ji Hyang Padma

In contemporary American culture, we have enhanced awareness of Buddhism by bringing it into dialogue with science.  Jon Kabat- Zinn, who is almost single-handedly responsible for this development, has brought about a cultural renaissance with regard to the inclusion of mindfulness in the healing arts.

However, there are other healing aspects of the path, the deep rituals of traditional Buddhist healing practices that may also serve to revitalize our Western healing monoculture. Tibetan Medicine, particularly, has evolved into its own art & science, woven together with Mahayana Buddhist practice.

One powerful vision within Mahayana Buddhism is the interdependence of all beings.  

Field of blessings, in a traditional Buddhist sense, refers to the teaching that one person’s awakening ripples out to the world through their presence in it, through the way they walk in the world. That field, that way of being catalyzes personal and collective healing.  In Mahayana Buddhism, we often describe interconnection through the image of Indra’s Net—a net woven throughout with crystals, each of which reflects every other crystal. Even though we are not enlightened, we are always composed of reflections of each other. We are always coming into being together. To whatever degree we rise up to meet the world with compassion, kindness and insight, this enters into the collective field, and brings about healing. To paraphrase Suzuki Roshi, it shines a light on the corner of the world where we are.  In this way, we can understand as well that personal healing and collective, societal healing are interdependent. On a societal level, that way of seeing healing-through-relationship could pave the way for a secular ethic of wholeness based on healthy relational connection.  In Field of Blessings, I draw on psychological models of healthy adult attachment to explore the connection between personal health and societal health more thoroughly.


We are hungry for a direct experience of the sacred in this culture.  We are continuously making contact with spirituality through our ways of making meaning.  This is the source of our resiliency. Narratives mediate between the inner world and the outer world, giving shape to our experience. Narratives effectively mediate between the subtle body and the physical body through this sequence:

·      The psycho-neuro-endocrine-immune system is the matrix through which information flows from the subtle body into matter.

·      This interaction between body and psyche (soul) can be understood to be mediated through neuropeptides (termed the “molecules of emotion”, hormones, and the specialized cells involved in our immune response. 

·      Our perception and interpretation of the outer and inner environment determines our response– both at the cellular level as well as at the level of the whole individual. This is where one could say that “biography becomes biology.”  In psychology, a common measure of relational health is the Adult Attachment Interview, which examines the story you tell of your relationships.  Have you found healing from the past, have you made meaning of your relational life, have you found a sense of belonging? This is linked to health outcomes.

Within Buddhism, healing has always been considered a whole body-mind process. In the ancient texts, consciousness and the body/ form (nama rupa) are described like two sheaves of reeds leaning against each other.  The rituals of traditional Buddhist medicine are powerful vehicles for spiritual transformation that reconnect clients with an embodied wholeness, reconnecting them with sacred world and with community.

Chod, Medicine Buddha practices, and other traditional Tibetan rituals are currently used by healers to evoke sacred energies. These rituals create the ground for experiences of radical empathy between client and healer, support psycho-spiritual integration of the healing crisis and also contact deep archetypal realms of the psyche. In reclaiming the power of ritual within healing, we have access to a deeper well than object-materialism provides.

Healing Across Cultures.  

The eclectic cultural praxis of the healers brought the author to actively question whether there are core ritual components of the healing process that can be identified across traditional cultures. Within this study, I was influenced by Koss-Chioino who hypothesized a global model of healing ritual, in which “cultural elaborations—such as very different mythic worlds, diverse symbol systems, and so on—are elaborations of content rather than process”, elements of which can also be found within the field of psychotherapy.

Koss-Chioino’s model (2006) centered upon three components: transformation, relation, and radical empathy, a state in which the healer and client’s experiences are felt by the healer as a single relational field. This concept of radical empathy is analogous to Dan Siegel’s concept of integrative joining: through tracking, the therapist’s whole-body listening and attunement to the client, accompanied by unconditional acceptance and kindness, a level of resonance is achieved that catalyzes the therapist’s interoceptive awareness of a connection “before and beyond words” (Siegel, 2010b, p. 142).

Koss-Chioino identified relation as the third core element: that belief that everything one does, says and feels is affected by– and affects– others, particularly those to whom we are closest. This is the “field of blessing” which is central to this project, this book.  In this book, I trace that vision through the themes of interrelationship and tendrel. That restoration of connection with the natural world and community is an important aspect of healing.

Speaking to Buddhist healers, I discovered also the deep value of setting intention, mindfulness, and creating sacred space. These core elements prepared the ground for spiritual transformation, relation, and radical empathy.


Years ago, my sociologist mentor, Elise Boulding, went around the world, studying indigenous cultures and the ways of making peace that were characteristic of each culture. She collected these knowledges and practices in a book, Creating Cultures of Peace, that enhanced out society’s capacity for peacemaking, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In this same vein, it is my intention to actually strengthen our societal capacity for healing by bringing forward the knowledges and practices that are characteristic of Buddhist lineages. By identifying these traditional practices of healing as rituals, it is my intention to draw awareness to the culturally constructed nature of the healing arts. It has been my intention to model a research approach that itself brings forth tools for multicultural awareness from within the healer, the researcher and their discourse.

By shaping transcultural understandings of healing and spirituality, we can support the development of new healing paradigms: paradigms that consciously harness the power of traditional ritual to fully engage the power of consciousness in the creation of somatic, psychological, and spiritual health.

We also discuss, in this text, the deep connection between personal healing and the natural world. First, through specific Buddhist practices, the elemental nature within us reconnects with the elements of the natural world, renewing our body/mind. Also, we are nature– so every spiritual practice we do reverberates in the macrocosm, helping to heal this world. Then, as we awaken and see the connections, we know our wholeness is bound up together with the renewal of the environment, and naturally we take actions to conserve and restore it.

About Ji Hyang Padma

Ji Hyang Padma has combined an academic career with her vocation as a spiritual teacher. Ji Hyang served as Director of Spirituality & Education as well as a Buddhist chaplain at Wellesley College for fourteen years. Additionally, she has served as a meditation teacher at Harvard University, Boston University, Babson College, Esalen Institute and Omega Institute.

Ji Hyang Padma has done intensive Zen training and teaching in Asia and North America for 20 years. She has completed several 90-day intensive retreats in Korea and North America. Ji Hyang has also served as Director and Abbot of Cambridge Zen Center, one of the largest Zen Centers in the country.

Ji Hyang holds a doctorate in psychology from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology/Sofia University. Her dissertation research focused on consciousness & healing, through the lens of traditional Buddhist healing practices. She currently serves as Director of the Comparative Religion & Philosophy Program at the California Institute for Human Science.

Ji Hyang’s recent writing has been published in Education as Transformation, Our Neighbor’s Faith: Stories of Interfaith Encounters, Arts of Contemplative Care: Pioneering Voices in Buddhist Chaplaincy and Pastoral Work, and From Text to Life: Religious Resources for Inter-religious Engagement. Her first book, Zen Practices for Transformative Times, was released by Quest Books in 2013.

In her private practice, Ji Hyang integrates Eastern and Western psychology with indigenous and core shamanic healing and energy psychology to support the client’s healing into the fullness of joy and wisdom.

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