Question: The Heart Sutra says that when one realises the five aggregates to be empty, one transcends all suffering. But how does understanding this cure one with a terminal disease like cancer, or one who is handicapped with blindness? And what about those with mental illnesses?
Answer: If one truly realises the truths in the Heart Sutra, one will really end suffering – because one will no longer be bound to an ailing form, and transcend mind and matter. But the complete cure is to be free of attachment to a faulty form; not so much to heal a severely disease-ridden form, though this is possible in some cases too (E.g. See story on Aniruddha, the ‘blind’ monk who attained heavenly vision). One’s karmic conditions can limit physical healing too. For example, one cannot expect to ‘grow’ or manifest a limb where there was none – unless one has attained supernormal powers through deep mastery of mind over matter.
To realise the aggregates to be empty is difficult for most. For the dying, it is much safer and more universally encouraged to be mindful of Amituofo (Amitabha Buddha), to be reborn in his Pure Land. There, one will attain the best of forms, to be fully equipped for further learning and practising the Dharma. One can also perfect the Perfection of Wisdom (which is taught in the Heart Sutra) there, under the direct tutelage of Guanyin Bodhisattva (who is the teacher of the Heart Sutra, and one of the major Bodhisattvas there).
With countless recorded cases of healing of the sick when they are properly mindful of him, Amituofo is also called the ‘Great King of Healing’ (Da4 Yi1 Wang2). However, complete healing is to be born in Pure Land with immeasurable life – to be much better off, ever at ease and never again subject to ageing and disease. As such, it is a grave mistake to cling to one’s samsaric form when severely ill, to be mindful of Amituofo only for the short-sighted goal of healing one’s limited and failing body. Strong attachment to one’s present body thus obstructs the rise of the pure aspiration to be born in Pure Land.
With the availability of Amituofo’s great blessings, troubling lifelong mental illnesses will also cease to be when one arrives in Pure Land. In the mean time, mindfulness of Amituofo aids healing of the mind too. (More on this can be seen in the article ‘Miscellaneous Uses of Pure Land Practice’ at http://purelanders.com/2009/09/14/miscellaneous-uses-of-pure-land-practice/) If those with physical or mental illnesses do not seek birth in Pure Land, there remains the possibility that their ailments might continue in their next life elsewhere if their corresponding negative karma is yet to be exhausted.
There are cases of some who practise mindfulness of Amituofo and are healed of terminal illnesses, though they were practising to be born in Pure Land, ready to relinquish their bodies. With their new lease of life, their aspiration to be born in Pure Land does not dissipate. In fact, it increases, as they become more serious practitioners, while they inspire more to practise similarly. It is as if Amituofo saw that since they can easily reach his Pure Land, and since they are able to inspire more to reach Pure Land, he delays receiving them and prolongs their lives. However, truly proficient practitioners can indeed depart for Pure Land any time, when they feel that it is time to go, even when not ill.
When severely ill, it is thus safer to directly aspire for birth in Pure Land (which also means to be healed there), than to aspire to be healed here. Paradoxically, the more one is ready to let go, the more likely will one be healed, as one entrusts one’s future to the infinite compassion and wisdom of Amituofo without any stray thoughts. Ambivalence or hesitation as to what one should aspire for would hamper the practice of single-minded mindfulness of Amituofo, thus hampering both birth in Pure Land and healing.
One day, Aniruddha fall asleep during Buddha`s lectures and was reproved him for missing his precious sermons. Aniruddha was so embarrassed that he vowed to the Buddha that he would not sleep again as long as he lived. Because of the lack of sleep, he gradually developed an eye-ailment. The Buddha told him that one should eat to sustain life, and that sleep is the food for his eyes. He also said that all beings need food to stay alive, that sleep is necessary to stay healthy. However, Aniruddha replied that he would observe his vow under any condition. Several days later, he became completely blind.
Once, his robe was so torn that he needed a new one. As he could not sew, he asked Ananda to weave a new robe for him. Ananda then asked the other monks if they could help. When the Buddha heard this, he asked Ananda for the reason that he ask him too. Ananda replied that he felt the Buddha was too honorable to be asked for such a minor task. However, the Buddha replied that he too was one of the Sangha. Moved by his words, Ananda visited Aniruddha with him to ask for needle and thread.
Overwhelmed by the Buddha’s kindness, tears flowed from Aniruddha’s eyes, as he lost his words. The Buddha later taught Aniruddha on how to attain the heavenly eye, that enabled him to see anything anywhere in the universe. Thus was Aniruddha able to see again, despite his physical blindness. Once, he was so delighted with his new power that he told Shariputra that he could see anything, as if he was flying without disturbing his tranquility. Shariputra replied that such arrogance, fantasy and ignorance could not lead to enlightenment. Realising this, Aniruddha apologised for his attachment. – Edited from web
(Notes: Pure Land is the safest place to have and use supernormal powers, as its environment does not spur the rise of any defilements, while the powers will be used for furthering realisation of the Dharma and helping other beings.)
Right Aspiration When Severely Sick