Land of Medicine Buddha (Santa Cruz, California USA)

By Brandon Ba

Tibetan medicine, or Sowa Rigpa (གསོ་བ་རིག་པ་།), centers around three types of therapy: guidance on proper diet and behavior, treatments like moxibustion and acupuncture, and herbal medications (Janes 2002, 267). There has been increased focus on Tibetan medicine, especially in the 21st century, as Western interests in Eastern spirituality and holistic medicine serve to complement biomedicine (Janes 2002, 267-286). Especially for chronic diseases with no cure, Tibetan medicine potentially provides a way to make meaning out of these conditions and their causes (Janes 2002, 282).

Established in 1991 in Soquel, California, by Lama Thubten Yeshen and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the Land of Medicine Buddha serves as a meditation and retreat center (Land of Medicine Buddha, 2021b). There are many facilities on its 108 acres, including the Wish Fulfilling Temple, and the Main Meditation Hall (Land of Medicine Buddha, 2021c). Among these, there is the Tara Home, which serves as a hospice for the terminally ill. Activities at the temple include Dharma retreats, teachings by lamas, and programs for students learning about Buddhism and meditation. There are also monthly Road Scholar Retreats, in which topics such as nutrition, aromatherapy, and herbal medicine are discussed. Likewise, the institution has hosted Tibetan Medicine doctors from Tibet, who teach about herbal medicines, diet, and lifestyle advice (Land of Medicine Buddha, 2019). Moreover, the Land of Medicine Buddha holds yearly festivals and daily pujas dedicated to the Medicine Buddha (Land of Medicine Buddha, 2021a).

The Land of Medicine Buddha is part of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, which is a network founded by Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche to preserve and spread their teachings. This foundation is heavily involved in health-related issues. Lama Zopa Rinpoche has a collection of health advice (FPMT, 2022a), and as he has provided specific practices for the COVID-19 pandemic including mantras and prayers (FPMT, 2022b).

The Land of Medicine Buddha follows the Gelug lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Lama Tsongkhapa in the 14th century in an effort to reexamine and rediscover the meaning of Buddha’s teachings from Indian sources (Sparham 2017). Support for Tibetan medicine was especially prominent under the fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century, who promoted the Four Tantras medical text (Salguero 2022, 138). He helped systematize Tibetan medicine by supporting revision of medical treatises, redesigning medicinal rituals, and instituting an examination process for physicians (Salguero 2022, 102). Moreover, the regent of the fifth Dalai Lama, Desi Sangye Gatso, established the Chagpori Tibetan Medical Institute in 1696 (Chagpori 2020). Currently, as Buddhist health practices serve to complement biomedical practices, the 14th Dalai Lama has also been involved with health, especially by promoting the idea that Buddhist practices have beneficial impacts on mental health (Salguero 2022, 172).


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