The Medicine to Heal All Illness

Dharma Discourse by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei
Book of Serenity, Case 11
Yunmen's "Two Sicknesses"

Featured in Mountain Record 29.2, Winter 2010


The Pointer

A bodyless person suffers illness; a handless one compounds medicine; a mouthless person ingests it; a senseless one is well. But tell me, how do you treat a mortal disease?

The Main Case

Great Master Yunmen said, "When the light does not penetrate freely, there are two kinds of sickness.

“One is when all places are not clear and there is something before you. Having penetrated the emptiness of all things, subtly it seems like there is something—this too is the light not penetrating freely. Also, the Dharma-body has two kinds of sickness: one is when you manage to reach the Dharmabody, but because your clinging to Dharma is not forgotten, your sense of self still remains, and you fall into the realm of the Dharmabody. Even if you can pass through, if you let go, that won’t do. Examining carefully, (to think) ‘What breath is there?’—this too is sickness.”

The Capping Verse

The dense web of myriad forms is so precipitous,
Passing through beyond location blocks the eyes.
Sweeping out his garden—who has the strength?
Hidden in a person’s heart, it naturally produces feelings.
A boat crosses a rustic ford, wet with autumn’s aquamarine,
Sailing into the reed flowers shining on the snow, bright.
With a bolt of silk, an old fisherman takes it to market;
Floating in the wind, a single leaf travels on the waves.


Buddhism is a tradition of enlightened masters offering profound medicine for those seeking freedom from the illness of human suffering. The Buddha was the original physician diagnosing the ultimate illness, which is our delusion. He traced its cause to grasping and declared that it is possible to free oneself of the vexations caused by the upside down and unskillful ways we use our minds. He then laid out a path for us to follow. But what is this path? What is the great medicine?

In the Vimalakirti Sutra, the deeply enlightened lay adept Vimalakirti, who lies ill with the sickness of all suffering sentient beings, says, “There is no sickness which can be found.” That’s what the pointer in this koan expresses. Having realized the self and all dualities—medicine and sickness— as empty of any inherent existence, it is a bodyless person who suffers illness; one with no hands who compounds the medicine; one without a mouth who swallows the medicine; and one without any senses who becomes well. But how is a mortal disease treated when there is body, hands, mouth, senses? In other words, what is the medicine when we’re still tethered to the idea of a permanent, self-subsisting body and mind? How do you help someone who sees life as something that is happening to them, and thus stands apart from it?