“If one meditates on the Medicine Buddha, one will eventually attain enlightenment, but in the meantime one will experience an increase in healing powers both for oneself and others and a decrease in physical and mental illness and suffering.” ~ Lama Tashi Namgyal
Bhaiṣajyaguru (藥師佛 Ch. Yàoshīfó, 薬師 Jp. Yakushi), more formally Bhaiṣajyaguruvaidūryaprabharāja (“Medicine Master and King of Lapis Lazuli Light”), is the buddha of healing and medicine in Mahayana Buddhism. In the English language, he is commonly referred to as the “Medicine Buddha” or the “Medicine King Bodhisattva”. The use of the analogy of a Buddha being depicted as a doctor who cures the illness of suffering using the medicine of his teachings appears widely in Buddhist scriptures.
“His radiant body is azure blue. His left hand is in the meditation mudra and holds a begging bowl full of long life nectar in his lap. As a sign that he gives protection from illness, his right hand is outstretched in the gesture of giving and holds the “great medicine”, the myrobalan plant (a-ru-ra)” ~ Men-Tse-Khang
Bhaiṣajyaguru is described in the eponymous Bhaiṣajyaguruvaidūryaprabharāja Sūtra, commonly called the Medicine Buddha Sutra, as a bodhisattva who made 12 great vows. On achieving Buddhahood, he became the Buddha of the eastern realm of Vaidūryanirbhāsa, or “Pure Lapis Lazuli”. There, he is attended to by two bodhisattvas symbolizing the sun and moon respectively: Suryaprabha and Candraprabha.
The Twelve Vows
The Twelve Vows of the Medicine Buddha upon attaining Enlightenment, according to the Medicine Buddha Sutra are:
- To illuminate countless realms with his radiance, enabling anyone to become a Buddha just like him.
- To awaken the minds of sentient beings through his light of lapis lazuli.
- To provide the sentient beings with whatever material needs they require.
- To correct heretical views and inspire beings toward the path of the Bodhisattva.
- To help beings follow the Moral Precepts, even if they failed before.
- To heal beings born with deformities, illness or other physical sufferings.
- To help relieve the destitute and the sick.
- To help women who wish to be reborn as men achieve their desired rebirth.
- To help heal mental afflictions and delusions.
- To help the oppressed be free from suffering.
- To relieve those who suffer from terrible hunger and thirst.
- To help clothe those who are destitute and suffering from cold and mosquitoes.
Role of the Medicine Buddha
The practice of Medicine Buddha, the Supreme Healer (or Sangye Menla in Tibetan) is not only a very powerful method for healing and increasing healing powers both for oneself and others, but also for overcoming the inner sickness of attachment, hatred, and ignorance, thus to meditate on the Medicine Buddha can help decrease physical and mental illness and suffering.
The Medicine Buddha mantra is held to be extremely powerful for healing of physical illnesses and purification of negative karma. One form of practice based on the Medicine Buddha is done when one is stricken by disease. The patient is to recite the long Medicine Buddha mantra 108 times over a glass of water. The water is now believed to be blessed by the power of the mantra and the blessing of the Medicine Buddha himself, and the patient is to drink the water. This practice is then repeated each day until the illness is cured.
Medicine Buddha in Japan
Starting in the 7th century Yakushi has been the object of a popular cult in Japan, largely supplanting the previous cult of Ashuku (Akshobhya). Some of Yakushi’s role has been taken over by Jizō (Ksitigarbha), but Yakushi still presides over the Japanese Buddhist memorial service to dead.
In Japanese Shingon Buddhism, the following mantra is used:
Om huru huru candāli mātàngi svāhā (Skt.)
Older temples, those mostly found in the Tendai and Shingon sects, especially those around Kyoto, Nara and the Kinki region often have Yakushi as the center of devotion, unlike later Buddhist sects which focus on Amitabha Buddha or Kannon Bodhisattva almost exclusively. Often, when Yakushi is the center of devotion in a Buddhist temple, he is flanked by the Twelve Heavenly Generals (十二神将, junishinshō), who were twelve yaksha generals who had been converted through hearing the Medicine Buddha Sutra:
“Wherever this sutra circulates or wherever there are sentient beings who hold fast to the name of the Medicine Buddha [Yakushi Buddha] and respectfully make offerings to him, whether in villages, towns, kingdoms or in the wilderness, we [the Twelve Generals] will all protect them. We will release them from all suffering and calamities and see to it that all their wishes are fulfilled.”