The Sickness as Remedy
Sickness as Remedy
Along with death and old age, illness seems to be at the heart of our lives. It touches us all in our lives at one time or another, and usually more than once! There is the minor illness, the one that passes and that the doctor easily diagnoses – laryngitis, ear infection, angina… This one doesn’t scare us, it is more or less unpleasant, more or less long-lasting, it can even prevent us from working, put us in a kind of social quarantine (a missed party, a cancelled dinner), but nothing to worry us too much. In other words: we are in familiar territory, and this from our earliest childhood.
“The tradition of the Great Perfection recommends that we never forget our condition, and first of all that we are human. As such, illness is an integral part of what we are.”
And then there is the other kind of illness, the kind that instils in us a much deeper fear than a sore throat or a stomach bug. The kind of disease whose name, when spoken aloud, imposes a heavy silence, a uneasiness that can be felt in the way we breathe or in an abrupt gesture… Because this illness, we know that, could be the last of our lives.
The COVID pandemic is causing panic: uncontrolled agent, unknown effects, rapid spread, morbidity rate… Terror has taken hold of a large part of humanity. And it is with the same primal anxiety that we evoke cancers, cardiac malformations or degenerative diseases.
In short, the French Larousse dictionary says that disease is “the alteration of health, of the functions of living beings”. And, let’s add, all the unpleasant sensations, anxiety, uncertainty and pain that go with it.
In the West, illness is treated, fought and overcome. We have no other aspiration than to eradicate it. This is a highly laudable goal, but perhaps we can also keep in mind that everything that is born, dies… And what is death, if not the alteration of our vital functions without possible remission?
The tradition of the Great Perfection recommends that we never forget our condition, and first of all that we are human. As such, illness is an integral part of what we are. It is therefore inevitable… and inevitably, it will lead us to death. Knowing this, and especially accepting it fully as part of being human, we can then relax, at least a little.
A second piece of advice from the Great Perfection is to look directly at what we call disease. When we look at it with proper concentration, the thought of “disease” does not remain for a moment. As soon as we pay attention to it, it vanishes. At first we don’t believe it, because there are too many sensations and emotions mixed up with the disease. But little by little, by repeating the exercise, we come to the certainty that the symptoms are not the disease, just as the images of a dream are not the dream itself.
When we get the flu, we have some sensations that we associate with the idea of illness. In our mind there is a whole map of thoughts, sensations and emotions that are connected by threads, like a huge network. Discovering these links and seeing how they work turns our mind to the observer. As we focus on the observer, he or she in turn disappears. Then the nature of all these phenomena appears in all its splendor, because it is straighly pointed.
Illness is a tremendous means of realizing this discovery, which is none other than the state of the Great Perfection. Tremendous, because as human beings, we can count on it to inevitably touch us today and tomorrow.
Seeing one of his students sick, a great Dzogchen master composed a short poem of which here are some lines:
“The concepts of the mind are sickness,
So when you are in the state of Ultimate Reality, sick,
There is no sickness […]
All natural manifestations are sickness.
All sickness is primordial knowledge.” 
These few words sum up the essence of the Great Perfection’s view of sickness.
But this does not prevent us from taking care of ourselves when we are sick!
 Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, The beneficial remedy that dispels sickness, translation Dzogchen Today! committee, 2023. You can read the full translation HERE.
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