Mind that Heals

Mind that Heals

[This article appeared on Voice of Buddhism, a publication of Buddhist Missionary Society Malaysia, in their October 2007 (Vol.43) issue. It is based on a transcript of a talk given by Dr. Ong Tien Kwan at the Brickfield Buddhist Mahavihara, at the invitation of Buddhist Missionary Society Malaysia.]


When the Buddha talked of suffering, he described it in three ways.

First, there is dukkha-dukkha, which is suffering of suffering, or suffering of pain, and that involves suffering that we experience in this mundane world. He described it as birth, old age, sickness and death.

Then, he also mentioned another type of suffering – viparinama-dukkha. Viparinama-dukkha refers to suffering as a result of impermanence. The Buddha said that impermanence is one of the three characteristics of life. Now, we all hear this every day. Every time we come to a dhamma talk, we hear this phrase over and over again – impermanence is one of the realities of life. You cannot change that.

Yet, we don’t accept it. Not truly. We don’t truly accept it.

Every time we feel happy, or are in a state of happiness, that’s okay and we accept it, but the moment that happiness ends, or we experience pain or suffering, then we complain. That means, we really don’t understand or fully accept the fact that things are impermanence. We refuse to accept that all happiness must come to an end. But the good news is… all sadness and all pain also must come to an end. So we really need to grasp the Buddha’s meaning that suffering occurs because of impermanence.

The third group of suffering which the Buddha mentioned is suffering as a result of conditioned state, or sankhara-dukkha. All things are conditioned. Therefore, they cannot exist by themselves. That itself is also leading to impermanence and suffering.

In today’s talk, we will focus mainly on the first part – dukkha-dukkha – or suffering of suffering.

Obviously, the reason by Sister B.I. invited a doctor to give a talk on this topic is because she is hoping that I would share my personal experience as a doctor. So we are not only going to touch on the Buddha’s teachings, but I am also going to share with you some of my personal experience – in my own personal life, as well as the patients that I have seen. You know, of course, I would not tell you their names because of patients’ confidentiality but I will share with you some interesting cases that will hopefully help us to understand a little bit more about the kind of illness that we have. And we are not just talking about physical illnesses but also mental illnesses. In fact, I’m seeing more and more patients with emotional illnesses and mental illnesses. By mental illnesses, I don’t merely mean going mad but depression, stress, anxiety and thing like that.


Now, having talk about suffering or sickness as the first part of the Buddha’s teachings which is related to the first Noble Truth, then it goes to show that since sickness is also suffering, the cause of sickness must be the second Noble Truth, which is craving. The Buddha said that craving is the cause of suffering, and since disease or sickness is suffering, then craving must be a cause of our diseases. When we looked at it analytically or in a more detailed manner, then we will find that it is actually true. We crave for a lot of things in life.

For example, let’s take a look at food.

A lot of people like to eat too much, and because they crave for too much food, they grow fat. And obesity is now a major illness in this world, especially in the western world. Some people like to take sweet things, so they make their diabetes worse. Or they make their diabetes uncontrollable, and that leads to all kinds of illnesses, and complications as well, including damages to the kidneys, which is one of the worst complications ever for a diabetic patient. In fact, we all know that if you have diabetes, and you don’t control it, within 20 years you kidneys will fail and you will be going on dialysis. If we already know this, then we should know from the beginning that we need to control what we eat.

Some people like salty food. Salty food gives rise to high blood pressure. If we take too much salty food over a long period of time, then we will get high blood pressure. Again, the complications of high blood pressure are many. You can get stroke, you can get heart attack or heart failure. You can also get kidney problems. One of the complications of high blood pressure is kidney failure as well, just like diabetes. It is likely that you will get it not immediately, but maybe 20 years later, if it is not controlled. If it is controlled, then you don’t have the problem. That’s why we treat to control it.

Then, there are also people who love fatty food – nasi lemak, what else do you have… bak kut teh. These fatty foods give rise to high cholesterol in the blood, and high cholesterol in the blood can block blood vessels, and that would give rise to heart attack again, or stroke.

So, all these craving for food is the source of our illnesses – physical illnesses, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure. All these, if you look and trace back, is due to our craving for food. Not entirely, of course, because there is also a genetic component to it. Sometimes, if your parents have it, you are likely to get it. Not your fault, right? But by and large, we can control our craving, and so we can control the levels of diabetes, for example. So craving, if you look at it from this perspective, is the cause of our physical illnesses.

But, there are also cravings in other ways. We do not crave just for food. We also crave for a certain lifestyle.

In our mind, to be successful in life, we must get to a certain level of achievement. For example, we think that in order to be successful, we need to have a big house – maybe a bungalow or semi-D; we need to drive a big car – BMW, Mercedes, or whatever new continental car. Maybe we need to wear branded clothes together with some branded accessories, with some branded make-up. These are our vision of what a successful person is. Of course, it need not necessarily be true, but we crave for it anyway, because that has been imprinted in our mind. That is what a picture of success is. So, in a way, we crave success, and when we crave for this kind of success, we work ourselves to the ground to achieve it. We have no time to look after our (physical) health. We have no time to look after our emotional and mental health.

I see more and more patients who are overstressed from work. They end up with anxiety, depression, and a lot of worries. These are mental and emotional illnesses as a result of our cravings for certain things.


Then, in the third Noble Truth, the Buddha said that there is a state where there is a cure for suffering, and that state is nibbana. In other words, this is a state that is free from change. We are now living in a world where changes are definite, but there is a state where you will not be bothered by change. That is the state of nibbana. It is a state, not a place or anything else.

The Buddha also said that there is a way to reach that state, and he called that way the Noble Eightfold Path. Now, in the Noble Eightfold Path, the Buddha started with Right Understanding and Right Thoughts. Then, he also talked about Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. He further divided these into three aspects – the wisdom aspect, panna, which comprises the first two – Right Understanding and Right Thoughts. Then, the morality or sila aspect, which is Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. Then finally, concentration or samadhi aspect, which is Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.

As Buddhists, we are quite good, I think, with Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. We are quite aware of the fact that when we talk, we need to be very careful of what we say. And we also know that what we do affect not only ourselves but other people. So we try to be very careful with what we do. Of course, we also try to choose a kind of livelihood that is on accordance with the Buddha’s teachings.

But I think that is where most of us end our awareness or end our mindfulness. We don’t take very good care of our thoughts. But the Buddha said that mind is the forerunner of all states. In other words, it is from the mind that everything else starts. So, if we want to take care of our speech or we want to take care of our deeds or our actions, then perhaps the best thing to do is to take care of our thoughts, because our thoughts will lead our speech and our actions. So, if we begin from the root, then everything will fall into place. Unfortunately, the area of thoughts is something most people don’t bother too much about. Yet, that is the most important thing.

In fact, the Buddha’s teaching is all about development of the mind, or mental cultivation. The reason why he spent so much time on mental cultivation is because that is the key. That is the key to end your suffering – the key to end your illnesses. Of all the illnesses in the world, the majority of these illnesses arise from the mind. In fact, you can almost trace everyone of it to the mind. The scientific world and the medical world are just beginning to understand that, and are just beginning to realise the truth of that statement.

We are beginning to understand that in our mind, once a certain thought arises – whether it is positive or negative – it will create a chain reaction. A chain reaction in the sense that when we have a thought, that thought triggers off some neural transmitter in the brain cells, and that triggers off some electrical charges. That neural transmitter and electrical charges go on as the first line of communication in the body. From there, they go off to trigger off hormones in the body that moves into the blood stream. These hormones are chemicals that go to each and every single cell in our body. And there at the end where the cells are, the final message is received.

So, if your mind begins with a good thought, the final message to your cell is a good message, a positive message and the response in the cellular area is positive. In other words, what happens is that it ends up the cells become healthier, the immune system becomes stronger and there is no sickness appearing in the cell.

On the other hand, if you start of with a negative thought, the same whole chain reaction occurs – neural transmitters, hormones – and then it goes all the way to the cells in every organ in our body. There, negative changes occur. That’s how we get illnesses. When our thoughts are predominantly negative, then illnesses occur. The illnesses that occur in certain place actually are symptoms of the negative thoughts that you have predominantly in your mind.

I will give an example.

I have a patient. She was in her mid-30’s. She came to see me one fine day because she was having asthma – wheezing and difficulty in breathing. When I listened to her lungs with a stethoscope, I could hear all the signs that definitely tell us this is asthma. Of course, being a doctor treating physical illnesses, I gave her all the medications for asthma – inhalers, tablets, etc.

Then I said, “OK, you take this medicine, you go back and in a few weeks’ time you come back and we’ll review your progress and see your response.”

Two weeks later, she came back , still asthmatic, with no improvement.

“OK, never mind. I will change the medicine, this time stronger…”

(That’s what we always say – “I’ll give you a stronger one” – because patients like to hear you are doing something more. If I say I’ll give you the same one, the patient will say, “Huh? Some one? Didn’t work lah!”)

OK! So something else stronger. So she went back again and two weeks later she came back.

“Dr. Ong, no change. Still asthmatic.”

This goes on for several times. She was quite patient with me. She came back several times despite the fact that she had no improvement. I think I must be a very lucky doctor (laughter). Anyway, she came back. Then one day she came back in the afternoon.

You see, my practice is such that in the morning, I am very busy. In the afternoon, I am quite free. So when she came in the afternoon, we managed to have some time to chit-chat and talk.

I asked her, “Was there anything that happened before your asthmatic attack?”

Aha, now we got the answer!

She said, “Yes, two weeks before my asthma arise, I had a miscarriage.”

“Oh, a miscarriage, huh? What happened?”

“Well, I was in my early pregnancy, about 6 weeks or so. And then one fine day I had cramps in the stomach and the miscarriage happened in the night. We went to the hospital and I was admitted. Then they did an ultrasound and they saw the fetus was out already. So I had a D&C done.”

I said, “Oh ya, how did you feel?”

That was all I said, “How did you feel?”

She started crying. She started crying because she felt so guilty. She thought it was her fault that she had a miscarriage. I think every mother is like that. Something happens to their children… ah, the first person they blame is themselves. So miscarriage must be her fault. So she had this strong sense of guilt. But what made the situation even worse was that – she said, “I couldn’t talk about this with my husband because my husband refused to listen. My husband refused to talk about the event.”

Obviously, the husband was not ready to face the facet, you see. But she needed somebody to talk to about her feelings. And the person she was supposed to be able to talk to wouldn’t listen to her. So she had a lot of guilt – a lot of pain – inside her, and she couldn’t do anything about it until that afternoon when somebody innocently asked her that question and everything spilled out. She cried and cried, and I used a lot of tissue paper from the Kleenex box that afternoon. But it made her feel good that she was finally able to talk about the pain and the guilt. Of course, I assured her that it was not her fault that she had a miscarriage. It could be that the fetus was not ready to be born.

In fact, many a time, fetuses abort on their own because they are not ready. They abort very early and the mother may not even know that she is pregnant. She thought that the period just came. Because you thought the period just came, you have no feeling of guilt – because you didn’t even know you are pregnant. A lot of it happens like that. So I told her, “If you had not know it and it had been aborted silently like that, would you have felt guilty?”

And she said, “No, because I wouldn’t know.”

Actually that’s the problem. Now you blame yourself because you know already. But it is not true. Some fetuses abort because they are just not ready for it. It is the natural way of excreting themselves rather than being born with a lot of deformities. They are not healthy fetuses. They will abort by themselves.

But the real surprise was, one month later she came back to see me. And then she said, “Dr. Ong, I’m cured. I’ve got no more asthma.”

So I said, “You took the medicine ah?”

“No, I didn’t touch the medicine. I was cured after I talked to you that day.”

Amazing, isn’t it? It shows how powerful our mind is in influencing our body. This example clearly taught me how powerful our mind is… so powerful that it can turn our physical body into illnesses. That day I was convinced of the Buddha’s teachings, of how powerful the mind is and that the mind is truly the forerunner of all states. Because now I see it with my own eyes. Before that, it was just all talk, that the mind is the forerunner of all states. But now, I truly believe it. Mind is the forerunner of all states.


Not only that. The Buddha also gave us a few clues of how we can use this mind in a proper way. He said that if you think good, good things result. If you think bad, bad things result. Basically, he is talking about the law of cause and effect; the law of kamma. Again, we listen and we could say, “Ah, I understand that.” But that’s all. We go back and then we don’t do anything about our thoughts again.

This is because – like I said – we are good Buddhists when it comes to speech and actions, because these are things that other people can see us. When we say bad things, other people can know. When we do something bad, other people can see. But when we think negative things, nobody knows. (I hope none of you here can read my mind.) So, we can hide behind that invisibility. – nobody can know what we think. At least, we don’t think anybody can have this ability to read our minds (although there are some people who can, you know). Anyway, that is where we lack effort. We lack effort in training our mind, which in fact is the most important thing. We have to start with the mind, because when we start with the mind, then our emotions get better, our physical body gets better. With all the research that is going on now, we can know how the mind affects the emotions, and how the emotions affect the body. This is true. This is no more a question mark. This is already something scientific and accepted in mainstream science.

Why Do We Still Do Things That Are Negative?

Now, why is it that despite the fact that we know our mind is so important, we still behave the same way, and still do things that are negative? To get to that answer, we need to look at cravings again. We need to go back and analyse cravings and know what craving is. Craving actually is a desire. It is a desire to chase after what we perceive as real or as the truth or as good. The key word is “perceive”. It may not be good, but we perceive that way. So, it is a belief that we are chasing after. We crave for a belief that we are chasing after.

The reason why we crave for it is because that belief has long ago been imprinted in our mind, whether it was from our past experience in this lifetime or from many, many lifetimes ago. That belief has been imprinted in our mind and it has been imprinted in a subconscious way – outside of our conscious awareness. That is why it is so difficult to recognise it or to identify it. If we were conscious of it, we could have easily removed it. Unfortunately, we are not conscious of it. A good example of this is the little baby elephant that is tied to a stake. I think perhaps you have heard of this story but I shall share with you anyway.


In Thailand, they have a lot of elephants. They use elephants thee for a lot of work. When an elephant is still a small little baby elephant, they tie the elephant with a big rope on one of the elephant’s legs and the other end of the rope to a big stake. Then, they hammer the stake into the ground tightly. Because the baby elephant is still small, she cannot pull the stake away. Even though she tries at first, it couldn’t move. She feels that she is tied there already. Several times, she tried and finally she gave up. Then the elephant grows up to become an adult elephant. Still the trainer just tie the leg to the stake in the ground and the elephant doesn’t even try to pull the stake out, believing that if she does it, she will not be able to pull it out. It has been conditioned from young that she cannot escape. That is how our mind is conditioned.

Another example of this is a famous example in the scientific community. It’s called Pavlov’s experiment. This scientist called Pavlov demonstrated the effects of conditioning the mind by training the dog to salivate. What he does is this. First, he rings a bell, then he gives the dog food. And the dog would happily wag its tail and salivate because of the food in front. Every time he does that, the dog will respond in that way. Eventually, after some training (some conditioning), what he does is… he just rings the bell, but serve no food. The dog will still wag his tail and salivate. Although there is no food, the dog will salivate anyway because of the bell. Of course, this type of conditioning is gradual conditioning. You have to reinforce it many times, then it gets conditioned, or in other words, it gets imprinted into the subconscious mind.

But we can also be conditioned by just a single event or a single act – a very emotional one. That event could be imprinted into our mind and it becomes something that drives us. For this, I will share with you my personal experience.

Some of you may remember May 13, 1969 – the racial riots in Malaysia. At that time, I was a little boy. On that day, the government extended a curfew because of the racial riot. Where I stayed, there were some soldiers patrolling in their patrol cars and in their jeeps. Now, being a young boy, I was curious because I had never seen a soldier before. So when I heard a car, I quickly ran out into the middle of the road to take a look at the soldiers. Being an innocent child, I didn’t know the danger. The car that came by was a jeep with a soldier driving it and behind the jeep – there was an open jeep – there was a submachine gun with another soldier holding it. When I ran out, my mother panicked, so she screamed. The soldier who was holding the submachine gun was looking elsewhere. When he heard the scream, he turned with the submachine gun pointing right at me. When I saw the machine gun, I froze. Somehow, I know that was dangerous. My mother quickly ran out of the house, grabbed me and pulled me back in, but that shock of seeing the soldier with the submachine gun pointing the gun at me was enough to imprint the fear of uniformed men.

From then onwards, whenever I see a policeman, I start to shiver, for no reason. Not that I have done something wrong, but I would just shiver, so much so that when I’m walking in town and I see a policeman there, and that’s where I want to go, I would go the other way, just to avoid the uniformed man. That fear was already imprinted.

Fortunately, as I grow up, I was aware that this is an irrational fear. There is no reason why I should be fearful. It was irrational. So I worked on it and eventually I was able to overcome it. Nowadays, when I see a policeman, there’s no more fear. But I had to work hard to overcome that. I had to actually face my fear, i.e. to purposely walk past a policeman whenever I see one. Actually, each time I walked past him… grrrr… very fearful. But the more I do that, the more I realise there is nothing to fear, and soon I re-learnt something – nothing to fear. Eventually, I walked past a policeman without any more fear. I had replaced that fear with a new belief that there is nothing to fear about policeman.

So, this is what happens to us. This is why we crave for things. It is conditioned into us because of our past behaviour, because of our past experience, either in this life or in our previous lives. The way we crave for food or for certain lifestyle is because it has all been conditioned into our mind. Who says that you need a big house, a big car, and all the nice things in order to be able to live a decent life? The Buddha didn’t say so, but who says – the TV, the media, the newspaper! All the people who try to sell you something! They are the ones who tell you how to behave and they are the one who have imprinted that into your mind. So you are convinced that in order for you to be successful or seen as successful, this is what you should have. But we don’t have to. In fact, the Buddha’s message is for us to un-clutter the mind, i.e. don’t put too much things into the mind.

We need very little to be happy. I know of one person who, if he gets his father’s inheritance, he will be one of the richest men. Yet, he choose not to. He choose to renounce and become a Buddhist monk, because he knows his priority, and because he truly understands the Buddha’s teachings well. Therefore, sometimes we have to re-conditioned ourselves. In fact, if you want to be free from a lot of sicknesses, this is what you need to do. You have to re-condition your mind.

Examples of Mind Over Matter

Now, I can also tell you a story of a nun who had cancer, and she was able to cure herself of that cancer. The moment she was told she had cancer – of course, she would go to the doctor, get a diagnosis, get the treatment and all that thing – but some cancers are not amenable to treatment. Not with western medications, anyway. Well, what she decided to do when she knew she had cancer was that…

“Because I have only a short time to live, I will devote all my time to meditation, improving myself.”

The way she thinks is like this – “If I meditate, if I purify my mind, perhaps I can cure my cancer. Even if I don’t cure my cancer, the act of meditation would have purified my mind so much that I would not be too affected by the illness, and at least I could be reborn, perhaps, into a more fortunate state next time.”

So she spent her time meditating, and she meditates and meditates. Day and night, she meditates. She made it a habit, even in her daily work, to be doing things mindfully. She has made meditation a regular part of her life. About about half a year or one year – I can’t remember exactly – she went back to see the doctor and to her surprise, the doctor said that the cancer was no more there.

“What did you do?”

She didn’t do anything, she says.

“I just meditated. I just keep my mind pure. I don’t think even about the illness. I don’t even think about the cancer that I have. I just make sure that every time that I think, or I am aware of a thought, that thought is a pure thought. It is a good thought. And that is all I did.”

And to her surprise, the cancer was gone.

Of course the doctor said, “Oh, a miracle has happened.”

And it is true. A miracle has happened because the mind has changed. And when she looked back, she realised that before she had the cancer, she was like everybody else – worrying about this, worrying about that. The moment she decided to give up all of this and just focus on cultivating her mind, all her worries were gone. Her mind is no more focused on the negative. Her mind is constantly focusing on the positive. And, so with positive mind, positive emotions, ends up in positive body. The body heals itself So, the mind heals the body – just like the lady with asthma. And that is what we call a miracle.

Here is another story of a doctor who had cancer. This doctor had a cancer six months after his son passed away. His son passed away because of a car accident. The son was about 16 or 18 years old, just old enough to drive a car. On that day, he wanted to drive a car, and the father said, “OK, take my car.”

So he drove, and was involved in an accident, and died. Of course, the father blamed himself for allowing the son to drive his car. It was a simple… I mean at that time that he made the decision… it was a simple decision. After all, his son can drive, he wants to go out, he let him used his car. You won’t imagine something terrible could happen, but it did, and the son died in the accident. And he felt guilty. Six months after that, he was diagnosed of having a cancer.

(Now, I tell you these stories, not to say that if you do have a cancer or if you have an illness, you should do the same things that these people do, and forget about the doctor and throw away all your medicine. No. Please do consult your doctor. Don’t just do things on your own, but you can do this together.)

So this doctor, six months later he had a cancer. Being a doctor, he has a lot of doctor friends of course, and they treated him with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, injections, whatever. All the best medicine for him. Still, the cancer won’t go away. In his desperation, he also seeked alternative treatment. Now, why do I say desperation? Because when you are dying, you are desperate when there is no cure. Why I say desperate is that doctors, especially western doctors, are the last person to adopt alternative medicine. So, for him to finally say, “OK, I’ll try alternative medicine”, must be very desperate, you know. (Of course, there are doctors who are very open-minded to all kinds of possibilities, and alternative medicine should not be totally excluded.) In this case, he tried and tried all kinds of alternative medicine, but didn’t cure him.

Until one day, he came across a programme. It was a programme of forgiving. It was a programme that teaches you how to forgive. In the west, they have a lot of such programmes. He joined the programme. In that programme, he realised that he has a lot of guilt, anger, and a lot of blame as well, because he blamed himself, and at a different lever, he blamed his son.

“Why did you do it? Why did you decide to drive on that day? Why did you have to ask me?…”

You know, sometimes we do that. Although we take the blame, we also blame others because it is always easy to blame somebody.

So he found that there were a lot of emotional conflicts within him. In that seven day forgiveness programme, he realised that he has all kinds of guilt, blame and negative emotions on his mind. They thought him how to recognise them and how to release them. After the programme, he continued to practice that. The programme also introduced him to meditation, so he also did some meditation. After many months, of doing all this, one day he went back for his follow-up in the oncology clinic.

And his good friend the oncologist said, “Hey, where’s your cancer?”

Gone! The cancer was gone.

So, this is another exceptional case of how a person can heal himself or herself just by clearing all the mental and emotional blocks. It starts with the mind. Once you start with the mind, the emotion will clear itself and then the body will eventually clear itself. It may take a lot of time, but the good news is that even if you have started with your mind and have relieve a lot of negative energy but your body is still not healed, you would still have benefited. At least, the disease would not have been so serious, so unacceptable, so painful. It will become more bearable. The other benefit is of course, if you do die of that disease eventually, at least you will have a purer mind. That means you will probably be able to die more gracefully, more dignified, without so much fear. That itself is worth it, even if nothing else works. There ‘s a lot of fear of dying. I see that in a lot of patients.


Let me proceed to teach you a method on how to transform your emotion. I learnt from a western author by the name of Christopher Westra. He’s not a Buddhist but his method is very Buddhistic. The book he wrote is called “I Create Joy – the Art of Emotional Transformation”. It is an e-book. He outlined eight simple steps to emotional transformation.

  1. Accept Responsibility
    • The first step is that you must accept responsibility. You must always accept responsibility for your emotions. Why? Because your emotion is your own creation, not somebody else’s. The trigger may have been from somebody else, but you always have a choice as to how you want to react. So it is your choice. It is your creation. So start by accepting responsibility for your emotions.
  2. Name the Emotion
    • Then, the second step is to name your emotion. Why do you want to give a name to the emotion? The reason is very simple. The moment you are able to name the emotion accurately, you will have clarity and awareness, and you will be conscious of the emotion. You will find – if you have never tried this before – that most of us have very limited vocabulary when it comes to describing emotions – happy, sad, angry. That’s about all. In reality, there are a lot of very subtle emotional labels and description as well. So, the more you practice this, the more you are clearer about your emotion. Basically, it is a way to improve your EQ- Emotional Quotient. When you name your emotion, you become better at recognising your emotion.
  3. Let Go of the Story
    • The third step is letting go of the story. What does it mean by letting go of the story? The story is what happens outside that triggers off the emotion. The story is something we always blame on. On the outside, it looks like there is a story, but in actual fact, from the first step, you know that we create our own emotion. We decide how to respond to it. Therefore, don’t blame the story. Instead, let go that story. Let go of the trigger or the person who actually triggers off that emotion.
  4. Bless your Emotion
    • The fourth step is bless your emotion. Bless your emotion means be grateful for your emotion, and be thankful for your emotion. Why? Because your emotion is your best teacher. When you look at your emotion as a teacher, then you can see that it is a gift to you. There is a lesson in there for you. And when you bless it, then you open your mind to possibilities. If you keep blaming others and if you keep resisting accepting responsibility for your emotion, you will never look inward. You will never look to try to find out what is the belief that is causing the emotion.
  5. Feel your Emotion
    • Then step five – feel your emotion, meaning you allow yourself to release the energy associated with the emotion. If there is a lot of anger, just feel it. Ok, ok… I’m experiencing anger. There’s a lot of mindfulness you need to have here. Most people can’t do this. That’s why meditation is very useful. It increases your awareness and mindfulness so that this kind of step becomes easier for you. If you don’t have the kind of mindfulness or awareness, going through this step can be very difficult. So, the first thing to do is to train your mind to be mindful. Once you are able to be mindful, then this step becomes very simple. Feel the emotion means you don’t want to resist the emotion. If you resist, it persists and stays on longer. It becomes a block and remains there. If you allow yourself to experience it in a positive way – in a conscious way – then you won’t cause too much damage. Once the energy is released, you let it go. You don’t cling on to it anymore.
  6. Ask for Clarity
    • Then step number six – ask for clarity. Ask for the lesson. Is there a lesson for me here?
  7. Identify the Belief
    • Step number seven – identify the belief behind your emotion. Like I say, behind every emotion there is a false belief. There is a self-limiting belief – a belief that is not working well for you. You want to change that. Step number seven is to identify that belief.
  8. Replace the Unhealthy Belief
    • Step number eight is to replace that belief with a newer belief – a more effective belief, a more wholesome or skillful belief. That’s what the Buddha used – the word that the Buddha used is “skillful”. You want to discard all the unskillful or ineffective beliefs and replace them with more positive and more effective beliefs.

Finally, when you do that, you would have replaced that imprint in your mind that has been playing your life all the while, like an old broken record. Now you have more awareness, you have better control. You can choose what you want to believe. When you choose the right thing to believe in and to focus on, then you get what you want. It is very important to focus on the right thing.


I have a patient who says, “Dr. Ong, I have cancer.” She had breast cancer. The breast cancer had been removed and she was following a very strict diet and exercised every day, and yet the cancer recurred.

She said, “Dr. Ong, I have done all that is necessary to lead a healthy life. How come I still get my cancer?”

I said, “What did you focus on? Did you focus on your illness? Did you focus on the fear of getting the recurrence? Or did you focus on just being healthy?”

There is a big difference here, because whatever you focus on, you’ll get it. If you are watching your diet and doing your exercise with the focus – “I’m afraid I’ll get the recurrence, I’m afraid I’ll get the recurrence” – then most probably you will get the recurrence because that is what you focused on.

On the other hand, if your focus is – “This is going to give me a healthy body, this is going to give me a healthy body, this will give me a healthy body” – then eventually this is what you will get.

Externally, the habit is the same but the mindset is different inside, and that makes a lot of difference. That makes a major difference to the outcome. Therefore, you must know how to focus. Never focus on the negative, because if you focus on the negative, the negative will come. Instead, you should focus on the positive. Each time you catch yourself focusing on the negative, change that to something positive. Instead of saying, “I don’t want to be sick”, you should be saying, “I want to be healthy” and you should imagine yourself being in good health.

So, I hope that now you have a clearer understanding of how the Buddha’s teaching has actually shown us that if you want to lead a healthy life and be free from sickness, then start with your mind. Purify your mind. Keep your mind in a positive state of health.

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