Spiritual use of the Placebo EffectBardor Tulku Rinpoche in Rest for the Fortunate said 'For any and all of these benefits to be accrued what is of the greatest importance is having confidence and freedom from doubt about this. If you have the slightest doubt about the benefit of the virtuous action or practice it will not lead to any benefit whatsoever.... the most important thing is lack of doubt' (page 153). To me, this seemed a virtually impossible requirement as I have periods of doubt no matter how confident I am. However, on reflection the comments made more sense to me. The benefits that were being described were generally what sort of future lives we would be born into. For these sort of beneftis, it really is a matter of faith as there is no way to prove what sort of future life anyone gets. The benefits for this life were mostly things like that we would begin to acquire the qualities of the Buddha such as kindness and compassion. This particular requirement of faith is absolutely perfect. It has been my experience that what happens in the world is partly controlled. For me, prayers (or deeply held desires) are very powerful influences in my life, but they seem to act indirectly, through coincidences, never actually violating any physical law. To me the placebo effect, where our beliefs and expectations impact our body and health, is one of the most amazing miracles. From the perspective of the physical laws, it is really incredible that our beliefs could have such a huge impact on almost every aspect of our body. However, the placebo effect does not ever seem to violate any physical law. It only acts within the realm of possibilities. So with respect to different events, there seems to be a spectrum of possibilities with the balance between the physical laws and the impact of our beliefs and expectations (and prayer). The placebo effect will have virtually no effect on the after effects of a guillotine (that is well into the realm of physical laws), but which direction cancer takes is more of a balance, could go either way. With things that are intrinsically unpredictable such as allergies and emotional problems like depression, the physical laws have less impact and our beliefs and expectations have a huge effect. Now, if we assume that our consciousness is just as enduring as the components of our physical bodies, all of which are at least four billion years old, constantly being reused in the continuous cycle of life on Earth, then it is reasonable assume that our consciousness continues on in some altered state after our death (just as every other part of us does). However, when we get into the realm of what lives we have after this one, the physical laws have virtually no control (especially future lives which are more like a continued dream state). Our beliefs and expectations would likely be the controlling factor determining almost absolutely what our future lives. In that sense, what could be better than developing an absolute conviction that in this life we will start to develop the qualities of the Buddha (such as kindness and compassion) and that in future lives we will continue this process until we are totally enlightened and beyond the ilusions of this physical realm. This is exactly the domain where these expectations have the most impact and do the most good. While I personally find it hard to imagine anyone ever completely overcoming their doubts, this is exactly the area where there is the greatest good from developing as firm a conviction as possible. The teachings cited by Bardor Tulku Rinpoche are exactly right. We should make a conscious effort to develop a firm conviction that our practices to enhance our spiritual growth will be effective because that belief alone will have great beneficial results. Click here to see the next rambling tale.
This page was last updated on January 29, 2009