The dark blessing of chronic illness

A guest article by Gen Samten Kelsang.

(Para leer este artículo en español utilice este link.)

It was Manjushri Centre in 1983. I had just moved in, and this was to be my first meeting with Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. I was 18 years old, fresh out of college, and trembling in earnest anticipation of meeting someone I believed would lead me to enlightenment. In that meeting he agreed to be my Spiritual Guide. In the following decades he became a father to me.

All my life I have suffered from epilepsy (drug-resistant). Also other neurological conditions — restless legs and ADHD. In the early days when I first met Geshe-la he gave me some treasured advice about how to approach epilepsy from a Dharma angle. I have never forgotten this, and would like to write about it now in the hope that it may help some people.

Geshe-la told me to regard my seizures as my teacher. This can be applied to any health conditions. I would now like to share what I have learnt from this priceless advice over the past 40 years.

Cultivate mental strength. Weakness is not an option.

I lived almost all of my life without hope of health. For a few short moments hope for a cure might arise, then it would swiftly be quenched. If you suffer from chronic illness you are probably intimately familiar with despair. Please turn to a deeper and true source of hope. You must. Your back is against the wall and you have no choice. Choose whatever it is in Buddha’s teachings that touches your heart. This is your source of hope. For me, it started out as emptiness but over several decades seemed to morph into compassion and bodhichitta. That becomes our true source of hope.

We cannot gain deep, experiential realization of our source of true hope through book-learning alone.

There is only one way — we have to suffer. We all have to suffer in order to develop the psychological depth to realize the liberating truth of Buddhadharma. You will be able to help people progress forward in their path of Dharma. You will lead people to the true happiness of liberation. And most importantly, you can protect people from suffering and pain, not just in this life but in life after life. Your illness and pain have spiritual meaning and purpose. Yes, I know how hard it can be, but it is your dark and painful blessing.

People whose minds are weak need hope from some worldly belief that their body of this life will get well again. Be strong. People need you.

Chronic illness cannot be argued with. In that psychological act of giving up there is great strength, if guided with wisdom. It makes you strong. But it is a strength the worldly cannot see. Standing up and trying to lead a normal life, whilst every atom of your disease wants you to give up. This battle gives you an immense yet hidden strength that most people cannot even perceive or comprehend.

Always remember emptiness during your daily activities

My advice on emptiness is threefold if we have chronic sickness:

1) Focus on the emptiness of your body
2) Focus on the emptiness of your self or ‘I’
3) Frequently recite The Heart Sutra

1) We need to meditate on the emptiness of our body because in emptiness there is no body. Therefore, there is no disease. During nights I have spent lying in bed unable to sleep due to the restlessness in my legs, meditating on the emptiness of my body has been a great soother. Emptiness and bodhichitta have been the only things that have helped.

2) We need to meditate on the emptiness of our self. Whether we have illness or not, we accumulate many painful memories around our sense of self. But illness strikes at the heart of one’s self-concept and inflicts a special sort of pain. It shapes you, creates you. We have to meditate on the emptiness of our self to discover the panacea of the peace of emptiness.

3) We need to recite and reflect on The Heart Sutra. This is one of the most powerful ways to improve our understanding of emptiness, yet so blessed, intuitive, and beyond my ability to explain.

We must remember emptiness during those dark times when we need it most. This occurs not in the meditation session, but during our daily activities. This is when help is needed most, when we can be pushed to the utmost, and when the world can seem darkest. Please remember emptiness at these times. We do not have a choice. We need to deepen our understanding of emptiness now, while we have the opportunity. Alternatively, we can put emptiness off to another day. We will probably die before that day. It is always ‘today’ when we die, and ‘tomorrow’ is the day we put spiritual practice off to. We do not have a choice.

If it were not for the suffering and pain I endured through illness, I would not think of emptiness so much. This is the first dark, painful blessing that disease gave me.

Abandon fear and embrace death. Become a traveler.

Epilepsy is pervaded by fear. Fear and I are old friends. Whenever I walk into a room, I immediately look around for the presence of any piece of furniture that may cause injury. Nowadays I do this automatically and unconsciously. It happens without me choosing to do it. Sharp corners, hard edges, hot space-heaters, glass, the list goes on. Even familiar rooms. Fear of injury has been with me since I was 5 years old. Over the past 50 years, fear multiplied as I became more aware of how seizures affect all the other worldly things I care about — where I live, what I do, how it affects my physical and cognitive health. How the medication I take to prevent my seizures is rotting my brain and inner organs away. How every seizure devastates my brain. Fear is a part of epilepsy. Now the fear is gradually reducing as I dwell on my mortality and consider that the only reason for being alive is to help others.

I no longer fear death. For the worldly, fear of death is really fear of loss. We fear losing our friends, losing the places we are familiar with, losing the reassuring facade of security. During a long, painful, or traumatic chronic illness one comes to know loss intimately. There may come a time when illness makes us lose so much that we no longer fear loss. At that time we lose fear of death.

However, I do fear rebirth. Geshe Potowa said: 

It is not death I fear so much as rebirth. 

Rebirth in samsara. Rebirth as an insect. Rebirth in hell. Lifetime after lifetime, endlessly. Yes, this I fear.

It is only the understanding of death that begins to resolve the fear. When you have looked death in the face several times, that grim teacher will finally reveal that fear of death is about fear of loss. The loss of everything one holds dear.

I regard myself as a traveler passing through this life, and from life to life. When illness is severe it begins to teach us that we are just passing through, we will die soon. Buddha said: 

The end of meeting is parting.

I try to help people as best I can whilst loving them unconditionally, and being willing to leave them behind to move on to the next life. You will leave behind everybody you know, even the people you love most. Please understand this. A traveler loves people unconditionally because they know they will leave them behind.

Epilepsy taught me how to understand people’s suffering. How to melt this cold, hard heart. Selfish people need to learn to combine their chronic illness (if they are lucky enough to have one) with Dharma. Otherwise that cold, hard heart will remain frozen in a perpetual state of selfishness.

Make compassion your main practice

People discover compassion in many different ways. Mine was through chronic sickness. Yours might be another way. Put in the simplest terms, compassion is the wish to protect people from pain and suffering. If you are severely ill, please make compassion your main practice. Without compassion we are lifeless and dead. Don’t run from the suffering of your illness. Turn around and look it in the eye. Look carefully. Look closely. Over time, instead of seeing our own pain we start to see others’ pain, others’ sickness, others’ tears, others’ loss. Their suffering becomes our suffering. In this way, our Buddha nature starts to grow. But not without pain.

Please practice compassion. It is the most powerful method to transform your painful illness into something good. You cannot be free from physical sickness. As long as you have a body, that will be your burden, your pain, your tears, and your misery. However, compassion awakens your heart. We realize illness is not about us — there are millions of people out there with worse. When compassion blesses our mind it does not remove our chronic condition, but it helps us realize that our suffering is insignificant. In that realization we discover a purpose to our suffering. We discover meaning.

There are so many people out there in chronic pain. If we don’t help each other, then who will? 

The value of friends

I consider myself blessed to have had the supportive friends and family I have. The degree of kindness and help I have received has been enormous and deeply moving.

Please understand. People with chronic illness are incredibly stoic and strong, but there is still one bitter pain that is so hard to bear. When people disbelieve or doubt you are struggling with chronic illness, this pierces the heart. It makes you secretive about your ailment, angry, depressed, and eventually bitter and cynical. Even a little understanding helps enormously.

This article may seem heavy. I may talk about death too much, or other hard subjects. But this is the reality of someone with chronic and serious sickness. These dark heavy thoughts are what they wake up to. They live with this reality every day. It is a hard burden to endure — a heavy burden and a lonely one. Sometimes, the health issues (physical or mental aspects) have been too strong for me to endure alone. My mind is strong, but sometimes even that has not been enough. This is when the dark blessing of chronic illness teaches the value of wise friends and caring family. I have only made it this far in life because of the people who were willing to help me during the difficult times. If any of these people are reading this article, thank you — I owe you everything.

Even a little understanding from trusted friends is a ray of sunshine that can penetrate through the dark and ominous clouds of the heaviest painful thoughts that accompany sickness. Understanding from a sympathetic and knowledgeable friend helps bring back mental fortitude that was waning. When people show understanding, it brings hope and optimism into the suffering mind. And a will to live returns. We think understanding is just about knowledge. But understanding is also about love, and caring, and acceptance, and empathy. It is these qualities that gives our ability to understand sickness the power to start the healing process.

Over the past 40 or 50 years I have sometimes let a friend down. Maybe I didn’t consider that friend important enough, or maybe I was trying to follow the path of expediency. I now understand with crystal clarity that I would be dead if not for my friends. Friendship becomes something rare and sacred for anyone with chronic disease. It has become sacred to me. I will never harm a friend. Ever.

The only way to realistically commit to this ideal is to cultivate equanimity. This means cultivating a caring heart that is free from fickle and partial states of mind, and that embraces everyone with warmth and friendliness. This also comes from the dark and painful blessing of chronic illness.

The spiritual meaning and purpose of our life

I used to believe I was a meditator, a yogi. I have come to realize that I am not. My purpose in this life is not so much to meditate as to teach. It is teaching Dharma that gives me meaning and (I believe) maintains my life. I cannot explain how this happened but it is the dark and painful blessings of chronic illness that revealed to me what my vocation is and what it is not. At least in this lifetime. As long as there is purpose and meaning to my life, and vocation, then there is value in my living. Protecting other people from their suffering through helping them realize emptiness is the only reason I have for living. It is the only reason for me to have the privilege of being alive and drawing another breath.

We will have different conditions. Maybe bedbound, or exhausted with chronic fatigue, or tormented with extreme fibromyalgia. It may feel that we have nothing to lose because we have already lost everything. This is a good feeling and we must cultivate it. Having lost everything, we are free to be a Bodhisattva. 

Why do people practice Dharma for years with no real change? Because Buddhadharma is frightening to our selfishness and ego-grasping. Buddha’s teachings demand change, and our foolish, petty, selfish, egocentric mind is terrified of change. But when the dark, painful, blessings of chronic illness takes away everything, there is nothing left to lose. On a material level we may still have things. But psychologically everything is gone. Empty. Nothing. Then we can start to be the person Buddha wants us to be. A Bodhisattva.

Our only job is to protect others from suffering and pain. If we are very sick we need to be radical. Be more extreme than normal people. Give up selfish behaviors and ways of thinking. You have already lost everything anyway, and have nothing of worldly worth left to lose. Become a Bodhisattva and learn the 6 perfections. Hard times and illness — this alone is what makes life worthwhile. The world needs Bodhisattvas. The world needs us. You are strong, like a superhero. Please do not allow your sickness to simply strengthen your samsara or make you feel weak. We must become Bodhisattvas. There is no choice. People need us. 

When we become Bodhisattvas, we are inspired to make solemn and sacred vows about how we will benefit others when we become enlightened. For example, the 35 Confession Buddhas or 7 Medicine Buddhas have different and distinctive powers. I am far from being a Bodhisattva but I make this promise now: When I become a Buddha I will free those with neurological illnesses from their pain. This is not a sentiment, it is a promise.

We are Mahayana Buddhists. Soon we will die and lose our opportunity to develop bodhichitta. We need to understand others’ suffering now. We need to understand others’ sickness now. There is no time to wait. This is my message.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

97 thoughts on “The dark blessing of chronic illness”

  1. Thank you dear Gen Samten your words are pure nectar for my mind. I will put these wise words into practice.

  2. Thank you Gen Samten for sharing such a deeply personal experience and the lessons you have learned throughout the journey of your chronic illness. This is so helpful for all of us including those who may not YET be suffering a chronic illness. Having recently learned of a friend who has cancer, I hesitate to contact them because I don’t know what to say. However, you’ve inspired me to just have compassion and to listen. I’ve been trying to be more compassionate with my coworkers and I think it’s working because recently a few people have reached out to confide in me when they have a problem with another coworker and I practice listening with empathy while remembering my Guru at my heart. I can’t solve everyone’s problems but I can listen and try to interject some dharma wisdom. This is also a practice of patience so that’s two things that can warm up this cold, selfish heart of Gina. Lastly, I must disagree with one point that you made. “I am far from being a Bodhisattva…” You are already a Buddha and we are so very fortunate to have met you.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Gina. Your loving kindness and genuine affection is a gift. You may be surprised at the difference it makes. One thing is true….when we hit rock bottom really hard, it is only the good hearts of our friends that keep us afloat.

  3. Que profundo y útil me ha parecido este articulo! Infinitas gracias!🧡

  4. I am in Tears and deeply touched by this article. Is incredibly helpful for us who suffer from chronic illness. In my case fibromyalgia. Also very helpful for the family and friends to read. Sometimes we need to hear how is like from someone else. Especially when we admire them. So is less lonely and incredibly supportive and meaningful. I can’t thank you enough for posting this article. I hope it helps others as it helped me.

    1. Coincido contigo! Me llegó como un regalo de este Maestro tan querido! Tambien atravieso enfermedades crónicas y me ha dado una nueva visión!👏🧡

  5. Dear Gen Samten, what a beautiful gift you have given in this article. There are so many people with ongoing physical and mental conditions that can relate, myself included. Like you I have grown to see these conditions as necessary reminders to my my self cherishing mind to practice Dharma so I don’t have to experience these things again but mainly so I can help others to be free from these chains of suffering.

    You thought you were going to be a yogi and learned you were to be a teacher. I thought I was going to be a teacher and learned I was to a chopper of vegetables, or on reception greeting people. This was a hurtful journey but when you are truly relying and have Faith you understand that your Guru gives you what you need, not what you think you want. I am a joyful chopper of vegetables and greeting newcomers is such a privilege.

    Your teachings are so wonderful we are all selfishly grateful you are not in a cave somewhere. Geshe La knew we needed his son to be out in the world sharing his experience and knowledge, teaching us resilience through your example.

    May no sharp or hard objects ever harm you again. May the Buddhas always cushion your fall, May your suffering in this life fully purify all your negative Karma may you reach everlasting peace and happiness quickly ❤️

    1. Hi Jan,
      Yes, it is a hurtful journey. But one quality I have learnt along the way is Surrender. I don’t mean that word in an ordinary sense. But in the sense of a spiritual practice, and a spiritual victory. Stay focused in the present with a happy mind, and focus on surrendering to the service your Guru wants you to do. Joyfully. Feeling the presence of your Guru in your chest, and compassion, and emptiness. All at once.
      There may be pain which adds another level of challenge/complexity for another discussion.

  6. Am I the only one who feels Gen Samten’s post and all these incredible responses are having a cathartic effect? Because in addition to the stigma that was discussed on kadampa turtles instagram, I have felt a bit alone…. and now I feel like my heart is overflowing with love for everyone on here, and I feel so encouraged and empowered, even privileged ( though I don’t like that word too much) to have this illness… thank you Gen Samten, thank you Luna, thank you all, and above all, thank you Ven. Geshe-la!

  7. Thank you, Gen Samten for writing this down and sharing it with all of us. I was diagnosed with ADHD two years ago, and it felt like the worst thing that could happen to me as a Dharma practitioner. I also have CPTSD and a thyroid condition that further throws me into mental and emotional turmoil. My mind feels like it’s on fire a lot of the time. However, without it and all the suffering I’ve had in relation to it, I wouldn’t have been remotely interested in Dharma, much less finding refuge in the Three Jewels. I thought these illnesses prevented me from having a true seat at the Kadampa table. That’s a lie that my self-cherishing is telling me, I know. But it just helps so much for you, of all people, to relay your story and tell me that it’s okay, that I’m okay, and there is room for me at the table, too.

    1. Hi, thanks for sharing. ADHD is different for everyone, but I am grateful for it because without it I think my mind would be really boring 🥸 You might find your mind is particularly disposed to exploring relationships between things. For example, with the 21 lamrim meditations, what is the relationship between death and bodhichitta, or between equalizing self/others and the spiritual preciousness of our human life. Try emphasizing analytical meditation, but with a very calm peaceful state of mind. And try to explore the relationships between the different Lamrim meditations.

  8. Agradecida y tocada en el corazón de lo que dices y sientes.
    Profundamente, me siento feliz de leerte.
    Mis perturbaciones mentales, que me llevan a acciones perjudiciales, mi estimación propia, egoismo e ignorancia, me hacen sufrir, pero al escuchar tu corazón, siento que tu dolor y empaque para con él, me ayudará a mi y a mí a ayudar algún día a los demás, es lo que más deseo, pero no sé hacerlo todavía conmigo misma. Todavía no.
    Agradezco tu vida y tu ejemplo, guardaré el enlace para releerlo.
    Gracias por tu humildad y por la sencillez con la que te expresas…. En comparación con lo que cuentas, a mi no me pasa nada , pero deseo el vacío, la vacuidad, la compasión, la bodhichita…. Puede ser que me queden décadas, solo ruego llegar a donde y desde donde tú hablas. Eres un corazón supremo.
    Millones de gracias.

  9. With his most ebullient wit and improvised humor Gen Samten has just raised the roof with his excellent example of how to share and make a profound difference already by doing so. I am not sure which touched my heart more. His drive for enlightenment, enduring suffering with grace, the courage to share his story or the drive to help others. Each in itself is mind blowing. Thank you sharing this. I feel like I got just a tiny peek of an incredible journey and story which when shared becomes a healing force and inspires us to open up as well.

  10. I appreciate this so much. When I first started studying dharma, I read somewhere that Buddhist monasteries would not accept children with epilepsy and I almost turned away from studying dharma because of that. My niece has epilepsy and I felt that if she would be excluded from practicing dharma, then that was not my path. At that time someone told me about a senior teacher in our tradition with this condition and that in our tradition, this type of discrimination does not exist. It gave me faith in dharma and in Geshela and I really appreciate your kindness in sharing this story. We are all very fortunate to have you as our kind teacher 💕

    1. Hi Cris, In America, after the second world war, there was one state that had laws preventing marriage if someone had epilepsy. Now that attitude has gone overtly, but not covertly. People I knew and liked (and we were getting on great) backed off from becoming a friend when they found out I had epilepsy. This tradition is free from bias against illness, but the people who are trying to practice it are simply people, with all their flaws and imperfections. I am a bit more uncharitable. Some people are just ignorant.

  11. Dear Gen Samten,

    Thank you so much for your openness, enthusiasm, and wisdom. Your example has inspired me to assess how much my practice has deepened my compassion and how much further I must go.

    As a kid, I thought a good thing to do with my life would be to save the world. Having failed miserably, I finally found the path exactly seven years ago tomorrow when I walked into KMC NYC and was greeted by Julian and rocked by Kadam Morten. I am so fortunate not to have had chronic illness as my teacher but instead so many others (including you) since that day. I, like you, bathe in the blessings of teaching (and my teachers) and, having read your story, understand it now as an expression of compassion: “I want you to know what I know because it might help relieve you of your suffering.”

    I started crying half way through your story and haven’t stopped. Thank you. It feels wonderful.

    Please smile from as much love and compassion as I can muster.

    1. Hi Chuck,
      Thank you for your kind thoughts.
      Please do not spend as much time as I did waiting for the teachings to enlighten me.
      People are in pain and need you. Nobody else is going to help them for you. And you are going to die soon. You do not have much time, figure out what is the smallest, easiest step you can do to develop bodhichitta in this life, and take it today.

      1. Thank you. You are the gift that keeps on giving. I accept the virtuous charge and will take it to heart and do my best to honor it. You help set the priorities of my precious human life. With great appreciation and love.

  12. Oh , How joyfull I feel reading these special teachings.I wish I could write like you and Kadam Lucy or say the words, but they are in my happy heart ❤, and I come away with such strong faith that I can become a Buddha and continually experience limitless wisdom.
    Love & Blessing Bruce Matters

  13. Hi again, Gen Samten: One of the chronic conditions that I have suffered from (but has actually improved over the last 25 years) is chronic nightmares. One of my precious teachers suggested that I go to sleep holding a small Buddha statue in one of my hands. I know this is unorthodox, but it has helped enormously. It really feels as though I have tangible protection during the night and it brings me a lot of comfort. I’m literally holding hands with Buddha.

  14. Gen Samten, thanks so much for this. I’ve had a chronic illness for 25 years and your advice is priceless and timeless. May everyone everywhere receive the precious medicine of Dharma.

  15. Thank you Gen Samten , my husband has in the last year has lost his job he loved dearly for 15 years , had to move away from myself and our children as our home made him sick, had to stop working for our Dharma centre including giving teachings all due to a chronic illness that not even doctors believed existed. His pain is so great and his prayers for a teaching to guide him during this dark time have been intense. Tonight as we read your article we both shed tears as our hearts have been opened by your words . Our gratitude is immense x

    1. Feel free to get in touch, Debs. Either you or your husband. The easiest way to contact me is on Instagram. I run a site called kadampa.turtles Simply join the site and we can connect

  16. On point! I just read it and every aspect of this article touched my heart and left me light headed. Thank you for sharing this very special teaching. It is exactly what I needed to hear. Gen Samten is an extraordinary example and precious teacher. Wow, an answer to so many prayers for so many people . 🙏🙏🙏❤️❤️❤️ I experience multiple chronic illnesses. These have stolen my former life. Including not being able to teach Dharma currently. It has been a rocky road and left me at times broken and empty. Thank you dear Gen Samten, for the validation of what’s working and the encouragement to do what has to be done. I am sitting at your feet deeply appreciative. 🙏

  17. So touching. I have a chronic illness and the teachings have been tremendously helpful for my accepting that illness and what comes with it. Thank you so much for sharing your experience

    1. Manon, I am so happy, Thank you, I know how hard it can be, and sometimes (depending on the nature of the condition), frightening. Dharma, combined with a higher purpose have been the salvation for me.

  18. with deepest gratitude to G.Sampten for his heartfelt advise in “the dark blessings of chronic illness” so beautiful,so kind ,so inspiring. thank you.

  19. Dear Gen Samten, thank you for writing with such depth about your chronic illness and Dharma, so many important teachings and advice that you have passed on to us from first hand experience. Blessings to you on Tara day.

    1. Thank you Gen Samten and Luna Kadampa for posting this.
      With so much that has happened to me during the last 23 years, during which I haven’t had a single day free of pain or discomfort, your post means so much to me.
      Having stopped taking daily pain killers (only very infrequently now) I can agree from experience that I have no idea how I would have managed without Dharma, without Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

      Many practices have helped – Taking and Giving, Transforming Adverse Conditions, Om Ah Hum breathing, compassion, recognizing Karma, the Power of Promise, moral discipline, Teaching, Medicine Guru, Tara. And especially emptiness … recognizing that every phenomena, every object is mere appearance to mind.

      And your post has given me new inspiration.

      1. Lynn,
        Thank you for your sharing. Pain is a reall tough one, and in a chronic form it assumes a relentless quality. We can all practice mindfulness in the face of pain – when that pain is just for a few hours. But when it lasts day after day, for months and years, when it starts to deprive us of the panacea of sleep, then mindfulness is hard, You seem to have fared well. For the sake of the teachings I give to my students I would be very interested in your thoughts on practicing mindfulness despite chronic pain. If you feel inspired to share your thoughts and reflections, feel free to email me on
        Samten xx

    2. I am glad you found it uplifting and am sure it will inspire you to something higher. I am constantly trying to reach the higher

    1. Hi Paola, Wonderful. Finding purpose and meaning in what I have to go through is the only reason I have not given up

  20. How wonderful!!!
    Thanks for inspiring me.
    Thanks to appear in this world.
    With love 🤍🌷

  21. Thank you for your honesty and sharing whole heartedly your experience.
    I find I can believe what you shared.
    This morning this has helped me to begin to accept my karma. To give up not belonging any where, to any family ,the deep wound of being adopted and then finding your blood family only to never regain the connection.To continually crave affection and love from others has become anxiety and self grasping for me.
    This morning I cried and let that wish go , perhaps I start my journey now , Now.
    I too have a chronic health condition and what you said about the pain of invaludation and non recognition hit a chord. I do try to hear and feel others pain because I know something about the pain of invisibility and the ongoing suffering.I have often thought that Pain is a good teacher, as I tend to learn more in pain. I guess the suffering is more obvious .
    Thankyou for helping me to see the value of my suffering . If especially that suffering can open my cold heart. Actually You could have written that as if you knew me completely. Wow so much here!
    Last night night before going to bed I had an unusual sense that something was changing Dharma wise and
    Although I often pray to Vajradara for blessings at night
    (and then wonder why I wake up at 3.30 unable to sleep.Its then I often turn to Dharma. Maybe I need to hear the fact that I Literally need to Wake up .). I think that it is no coincidence such a clear teaching arrived.
    Thank you much for such a heart written experiential teaching. I cant thank you enough. Something has really shifted for me. Thankyou for your blessing.
    Bless you.

    1. Hi Kaye, thanks for your profound thoughts and reflections. One thing is certain. You will be able to help more people because you have suffered more. I am not saying suffering is good. But with many obstacles we have to develop greater creativity and resourcefulness to make progress on the path. We can therefore help others more. Ensure you nuture your purity of heart. Please get in touch if there is anything I can help with.

  22. Incredibly inspiring on so many levels. Thank you so much for sharing this wisdom .

  23. I have read this having just finished my weekend retreat with you… THANK U for a special insight .. I will do my best to follow your blessed & brave example…

  24. Thank you for sharing your story and being strong and staying on the path. I love how you’ve explained your situation and have more compassion for those in your situation. I have learned so much from you just from the few teachings I have had in the retreat recently. I appreciate your wisdom and understanding of Dharma and rejoice in your teachings. Thank you for being you.

    1. Please believe me, Chandra. I speak truth. When suffering from chronic illness, a good friend who shows understanding, and compassion is tremendously healing. Several times I have almost gone under, and it is people like you who kept me afloat. You are a kind, compassionate, understanding person, and this will be your strength through which you help the world.

  25. Thank you for telling it like it is.. Recognizing the challenge and the gift of our sufferings is the key to freedom from their inherent weight. You have shared your personal journey forward the benefit of others. And for that I am filled with gratitude and aspiring love for your deep devotion. 🙏♥️🙏

  26. Dear Gen Samten,
    Thank you for sharing your personal journey and struggles. Your courage and strength are an example of true bodhichitta. And your teachings are so inspiring and accessible. Thank you for everything that you give. With love and gratitude.

  27. Dear Samten, I have szchoid -bi-affective disorder; dont even know what it means. Feels like Ego and paranoia. Thankyou for explaing who and what a bodisattva is. Sometimes with mental illness you feel a separation; and guilt that you don’t know how or have wish, And Effectiveness to help others. Learning how powerful the buddha^s are. Good at art and poetry. Do they stop suffering if you do them with enjoy ent, to connect, and as an offering.

    1. Thanks Sarah, mental or neurological illness is particularly hard for people to understand or accept. An good overall remedy will be slow, gentle, repetition of the 4 immeasurables. Particularly immeasurable love. Make sure repetition is slow, gentle, and relaxed. And loving

    2. Any neurological or mental disorders are ones that people find hard to understand. I will pray daily, if you wish. I do so for many people….ask them to send me a photo to help concentration, I run a blog on Instagram called “kadampa.turtles” and you can find me there

  28. Gen Samten, thank you for sharing this part of your story along with wonderful words of wisdom 💚

  29. Dearest Gen Samten, thank you so much for this. I’ve suffered from chronic migraines for over 50 years, and I lean on buddhadharma often to continue forward. I have never been able to state my reliance on the teachings and Geshe Kelsang as lovingly and succinctly as you have here. Thank you for sharing your encouraging thoughts.

    1. Sorry to hear that Kevin. Migraine is bad, I hope they do not last for days and days. Pain is a very illuminating thing…. what do you find you learn from physical pain?

      1. I’m learning a couple of things from physical pain, and still have a lot to learn on this path. But the main thing is we, just like others, our pets, and all animals, hide our pain so we don’t appear vulnerable to those who would prey on us. Therefore, we have no idea of the pain being carried by those around us. So I am learning : 1. patience – which I also see as giving. If I can give the gift of patience to one who’s suffering, as I wish others would be patient with me when I’m in pain, I feel I am getting closer to practicing the perfection of giving. Even a little patience is a gift that’s easy to give. 2. renunciation – the pain of the lower hell realms? No thanks. I want out NOW.

  30. This article was pure nectar! So many positive instructions and takeaways! Thank you Gen Samten! ✌🏼🙏🏼

  31. Thank you I have a chronic health issue its hard, but this article made a difference for me!

    1. If you wish me to make healing prayers, I will. I pray daily. What is the matter?

  32. Thank you so much for this beautifull inspiring words. After 20 years of Kadam Dharma, and one year of quarantine time, I felt discouraged and unable to practice dharma correctly. I thought for the first time in my live to let it end before time. Your words made me cry and feel warm blessings in my heart. There is no doubt you will free those with neurological illnesses from their pain, and you already free many people from samsara, including me who do not know you personnaly. I will forget my selfish bad thoughts and try again and again to practice Dharma, for the sake of all those who suffer, life after life. My suffering is ridiculous and billions of beings need very urgent help. Sorry for my bad english, and thank you for your post.

    1. Hi Elie,
      It sounds like you have been through a rough patch. I am so pleased this article lifted your heart. You sound a kind person… I always found loving kindness and compassion gave me strength. You will too. Helping people. But try to keep your compassion soft and gentle, yet firm. But not brittle – I have found that makes my mind weaker

  33. Thank you so much Gen Samten for your words, your courage, your honesty, your compassion — your love. Only words such as these can come one who has profound love for others. I am truly fortunate to have received your teachings, there is no doubt my life has changed. I am indebted and will try to follow your incredible example and to repay your kindness and that of all other mother beings.

  34.  Hi, Luna! Thanks so much for posting this and I don’t know if it was your idea or Gen Samten’s, but what a great idea for him to share this! Have already forwarded to 3 people! Gen Samten was the first of a very small handful of people who did not disbelieve or doubt my condition. I could feel his genuine compassion,and understanding, and it helped enormously and encouraged me on my Dharma path all those years ago ( 25+) . I think one thing he doesn’t mention explicitly is how our own chronic illness allows us to pick up on others’ suffering without any words needing to be said. You just know… and wish for it to stop… This post is a real gift to those of us with chronic illness. I suspect I will be re- reading it often . Always did think of Gen Samten as Shantideva. And I have to say that although I knew about the epilepsy, the adhd was never apparent to me, he always appears to be the very epitome of mindfulness and focus to me! Nor the restless legs, which maybe is more likely to happen at night? I think some of us may be like Million Ear’s butcher in Joyful Path, only in reverse, ie the resembling hell appears at night….

    I’m not someone who tends to write comments and opinions very often. If you do choose to publish this comment, please could you ensure I am anonymous? And thank you so much for this blog in general, always makes my day when the latest instalment lands in my inbox!


  35. What a beautiful, inspiring message from a very precious teacher! I prostrate to him. I believe chronic illness is what motivated me to find Kadam Dharma and am very grateful. ❤️

  36. Sampten thank you for sharing it is such an honest experience . I prostrate to you. I have no hesitation that the article will help many people. Thank you.

  37. I don’t have the words to thank u properly Gen Samten for sharing this – for describing so clearly and with such wisdom the experience of serious & chronic illness and how Venerable Geshe-la & the Three Precious Jewels have got u through. It’ll help so many people in similar situations and also those around them struggling to understand & help.

    Serious & chronic bodily illness has been my Dharma path too – my realisations are v.small but mostly they wouldn’t have happened without the various illnesses & disabilities I’ve lived with constantly since I found Dharma all those years ago. Externally they’ve taken much from my life & will shorten it too as my body is damaged more & more – and sometimes this is all other people see. But internally they have enriched my mind immensely, massively, and given me the tools to empathise & help others much better. As u say, we have no other choice when we’re up against a wall all day and often all night.

    It was extreme mental pain brought me into Kadam Dharma though and I’ve since been diagnosed with ‘complex’ PTSD. But maybe I wouldn’t have gone for refuge so quickly & so deeply if it wasn’t for this pain and for the fact that I knew Geshe-la and the Three Precious Jewels were literally saving my life. I’d been suicidal for many years before finding them, only carrying on for my daughter & parents. So many others aren’t so lucky – may Geshe-la draw them to refuge too with the hook of his compassion.

    And now my beautiful partner & carer is battling cancer – but again Geshe-la and the Three Precious Jewels have sustained me & kept me strong for him – I wonder where we’d both be now without them and my heart goes out to all those actually in this agonising position.

    I don’t think I’ll ever find the words to thank Venerable Geshe-la, all the Buddhas, Kadam Dharma, all the wonderful teachers I’ve had and the many beautiful & inspiring Sangha I’ve met over the years. And u too Luna Kadampa – I found your site when I was at a very low point and your beautiful wisdom & compassion helped me find my Dharma path again. And it’s inspired & sustained me ever since 😊✨

    Thank u all from the depths of my heart 🙏 ❤️ xxx

  38. I have been doing the retreat with Gen Samten and I felt that I was getting personal advice from Medicine Buddha. Now I understand why. Thank you for your honesty, wisdom and humor during the teachings. I fee that I have increased my experience of emptiness, with more emphasis on compassion and Bodhichitta.

  39. Such a beautifully written, heartfelt, blessed article. Thank you so very much. Having a hidden illness has been indeed such an immense teaching. Your experience gives me great hope.

  40. Thank you so much for sharing your profound experience Gen Samten. I am dealing with chronic fatigue and it moved me deeply to read you. I have seen the enemy and it is within. My illness and your example have shown me this. May we all deepen our understanding that there is nothing to lose by turning our hearts and minds absolutely and totally towards others, in fact we have everything to gain as it will end suffering for each and every sentient being.
    With much love and appreciation. 🙏🙏🙏

    1. Good and very important point, Zopa. Illness can and does cause our thoughts to turn inwards, introvert, and worry. Like you, I have to find a way to prevent that otherwise things go from bad to worse. Meditation on giving the happiness of my future enlightenment to others is what works every time. I also make an effort to be with others and help others

      1. Dear Gen Samten,
        I think I need to understand your message. Last night’s GP teaching by Gen-la Khyenrab was on giving our future enlightenment! There are no coincidences, only appointments. Thanks again, Zopa xx

  41. How profound. What courage to write this and live it. I have quality of life health issues that have led me to a deeper dharma practice. I have always been the energetic type, get the job done, laugh, make others laugh, launch things, create things. Then I started having Afib often, had a mini stroke followed by drugs that lowered my heart rate. Then digestive issues with weight loss, insomnia, bad hips. I withdrew. Stopped working at my Center. Felt sorry for myself. I wanted to hide, felt ugly and boring. I wanted to be my old self; that youthful, energetic woman. Yet I wasn’t. Of course, nothing exists inherently, everything is constantly changing moment by moment. I have an opportunity to learn qualities that I hadn’t learned on my energetic path. Listening. Meditating. Compassion. Cherishing others. Rejoicing in others good fortune. Not being the center of the universe and still be vital.

    Gen Samten’s words are so helpful to me. Thank you for publishing it.

  42. Thank you for the patience and dedication our Guru embodies through you, teachings that are truly inspiring and piercingly effective, like a boat assisting us to shore across such turbulent waters and trying times. I am grateful and will never forget.

  43. A powerful teaching. We never know what others are suffering internally. Thank you so much for sharing.

  44. Thank you so much dear Gen Samten for this incredibly powerful and inspiring article. Hard to read, but just what I need right now.

  45. There is so much power and inspiration in honesty motivated by a pure intention. Thank you, Gen Samten for sharing your path and the heartfelt wisdom advice you have learnt from sincere refuge! May this benefit countless people 🙏💚

    _…People whose minds are weak need hope from some worldly belief that their body of this life will get well again.
    _…We all have to suffer in order to develop the psychological depth to realize the liberating truth of Buddhadharma._ 👌

  46. Thank you for this teaching. Every word in the article touched my heart deeply. Thank you!!!! 💙

  47. Thank you very much, I have been partially following the temple retreats and I was very happy to hear the teacher talk about his life experience. I’m not sure if I liked, impressed or touched this article more. It
    I appreciate a lot.
    From México

  48. This message is pure nectar. These heartfelt inspiring words will be read and re-read often by me and many others as a spiritual wake-up reminding us of our true purpose — growing our compassion for others because others suffer. With the motivation to become a bodhisattva as our real intention we can use our own suffering to develop genuine empathy for all. Deepest gratitude to Geshe-la for revealing Buddha’s ultimate teachings on emptiness, the only panacea to never-ending suffering, and deepest gratitude to Gen Samten for being a living example of embracing Buddha’s teachings fully for the protection and benefit of us all.

    1. This is so valuable.Although we may study dharna for many years we often lose sight of the end game.We are here to help others and very often we are so caught up in our selfish egocentric behaviors that we are resisting the change that we so need in order to walk the walk and not just talk the talk of Budddhadharma.Thank you Gen Sampten for your heartfelt advice and personal story.May we all have your honesty and loving heart.

  49. Thank you very much for this powerful teaching.
    And thank you for your promise.
    It is very encouraging.
    And to think about which is my promise ❤️🌈
    Thank you

  50. I am not my body. This was my mantra when I was told I had breast cancer almost 3 years ago. What ME ?? Then quickly why not me. Telling my family was hard. Fear arises
    I had to work with my mind in many ways. Never wanted that chemo in my body I transformed it into medicine nectar. And when I felt some anger arise i would think these dear doctors & nurses r caring for me like your mother would. I would enter the treatment rooms & see many others much sicker going thru these treatments & I would do taking & giving constantly My Sangha were such good nurses always by my side my family learned a lot about disease & treatment so it was a blessing for them I thought offer of a verse from Shantideva.
    Moreover suffering has good qualities
    Thru experiencing it we can dispel pride
    Develop compassion for those trapped in samsara
    Abandon non virtue & delight in virtue
    After your teaching at the retreat yesterday I read this from shantideva in generating engaging bodhichitta
    And until all those that are sick
    Have been cured of their illness
    May I become their medicine
    Their doctor & their nurse

    Thanks u deeply for sharing this and prayers for all living beings drowning in this ocean of suffering 🙏❤️🙏💙🙏

    1. Very powerful and very practical. I am taking your medicine nectar. Thank you.

    2. Thank you for this advise Sandy. I’m having treatment for Breast cancer . Just done Samten Kelsang retreat on generation stage , I shall do Om Ha Hum meditation whilst having radiotherapy Valuable advise Nancy Walton

      1. Hi Nancy, If you wish me to make healing prayers whilst radiotherapy is happening, please let me know time/date. Unpleasant, but you are strong ( you have no other choice). The easiest way to reach me is via Instagram, where I have a meditation site called kadampa.turtles

      2. Nancy I will b praying no for u & your healing
        Visualize all the dakas & Dakinis caring for u
        May Medicine Buddha full u all with blue healing light

  51. Profound, moving and inspirational. Thank you so much Gen Samten for sharing with us how you have transformed your suffering into the path.

  52. Thank you so much for posting this article by Gen Samten. So heartfelt and inspiring to see how he continues to make his life meaningful. Because of his wonderful teachings, we are also making our lives more meaningful. Thank you, both of you.❤️

  53. Wow
    So powerful
    Thank you for sharing this
    Thank you for living this
    Thank you for inspiring us

  54. Thank you Gen Samten! We are doing it 🙂 and doing it with a lot of smiles and laughter. Sometimes I crack myself up thinking about some of the things you have said and the fun times we have shared. Bodhichitta is where it’s at. Yay! I’m glad I have pain – and that we can say that without being masochistic. Lots of love all the way to enlightenment!

  55. Thank you Gen Samten for your inspiring and holy story. You are always willing to open your heart to us and share your stories. That makes your life meaningful and definitely helps to make our lives meaningful.

  56. Deeply inspired by the wisdom, compassion and truth of Gen Samten’s article and his profound impact on my life living with a chronic illness. Born with asthma, diagnosed with lupus and bedridden at 30. The teacher of illness illuminates the non deceptive panacea of emptiness motivated by compassion and equanimity for others. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form…Dedicating for Gen Samten’s long live! 💎🌈💙

  57. While I have not experienced physical chronic illness, I have experienced PTSD, anxiety and depression. I’ve also encountered other types of profound loss — widowhood, divorce, addicted parents and child, severe mental Inness in children — all of which has created a similar dynamic of nothing left to lose. Thank you, Gen Samten, for sharing your experiences and teaching how to turn these experiences into the spiritual path.

    I do know that without these experiences, I would not have developed faith and gone for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Illness and loss broke me and only the refuge objects and turning my daily experiences into the path in the best ways I can have brought me solace. I’m still struggling with the demon of self cherishing and other delusions, trying to chip away at them. Your profound message will help me in that task.

  58. This did not disappoint. So easy to see the suffering of others, greater always than your own, always. Thank you Gen Samten, and you too Luna.

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