Yuan Dynasty mural of Bhaiṣajyaguru's eastern pure land
|Vietnamese alphabet||Phật Dược Sư, Dược Sư Lưu Li Quang Phật|
Bhaiṣajyaguru, formally Bhaiṣajya-guru-vaiḍūrya-prabhā-rāja ("King of Medicine Master and Lapis Lazuli Light"), is the Buddha of healing and medicine in Mahāyāna Buddhism. Commonly referred to as the "Medicine Buddha", he is described as a doctor who cures dukkha (suffering) using the medicine of his teachings.
Bhaiṣajyaguru's original name and title was rāja (King), but Xuanzang translated it as Tathāgata (Buddha). Subsequent translations and commentaries followed Xuanzang in describing him as a Buddha. The image of Bhaiṣajyaguru is usually expressed with a canonical Buddha-like form holding a gallipot and, in some versions, possessing blue skin. Though also considered to be a guardian of the East, in most cases Akshobhya is given that role. As an exceptional case, the honzon of "Kōya-san Kongōbu-ji" was changed from Akshobhya to Bhaiṣajyaguru.
Bhaiṣajyaguru is described in the eponymous Bhaiṣajya-guru-vaiḍūrya-prabhā-rāja 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 pure land of Vaiḍūryanirbhāsa "Pure Lapis Lazuli". There, he is attended to by two bodhisattvas symbolizing the light of the sun and the light of the moon respectively:
- Suryaprabha (Chinese: 日光遍照菩薩; pinyin: rìguāng biànzhào púsà)
- Candraprabha (Chinese: 月光遍照菩薩; pinyin: yuèguāng biànzhào púsà)
A Sanskrit manuscript of the Bhaiṣajya-guru-vaiḍūrya-prabhā-rāja Sūtra was among the texts attesting to the popularity of Bhaiṣajyaguru in the ancient northwest Indian kingdom of Gandhāra. The manuscripts in this find are dated before the 7th century, and are written in the upright Gupta script.
The Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang visited a Mahāsāṃghika monastery at Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in the 7th century CE, and the site of this monastery has been rediscovered by archaeologists. Birchbark manuscript fragments from several Mahāyāna sūtras have been discovered at the site, including the Bhaiṣajya-guru-vaidūrya-prabha-rāja Sūtra (MS 2385).
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.
Dharani and Mantra
In the Bhaiṣajya-guru-vaiḍūrya-prabhā-rāja Sūtra, the Medicine Buddha is described as having entered into a state of samadhi called "Eliminating All the Suffering and Afflictions of Sentient Beings." From this samadhi state he spoke the Medicine Buddha Dharani.
- namo bhagavate bhaiṣajyaguru vaiḍūryaprabharājāya
- tathāgatāya arahate samyaksambuddhāya tadyathā:
- oṃ bhaiṣajye bhaiṣajye bhaiṣajya-samudgate svāhā.
The last line of the dharani is used as Bhaisajyaguru's short form mantra. There are several other mantras for the Medicine Buddha as well that are used in different schools of Vajrayana Buddhism.
Bhaiṣajyaguru is typically depicted seated, wearing the three robes of a Buddhist monk, holding a lapis-colored jar of medicine nectar in his left hand and the right hand resting on his right knee, holding the stem of the Aruna fruit or Myrobalan between thumb and forefinger. In the sutra, he is also described by his aura of lapis lazuli-colored light. In Chinese depictions, he is sometimes holding a pagoda, symbolising the ten thousand Buddhas of the three periods of time. He is also depicted standing on a Northern Wei stele from approximately 500 AD now housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, accompanied by his two attendants, Suryaprabha and Candraprabha. Within the halo are depicted the Seven Bhaiṣajyaguru Buddhas and seven apsaras.
Role in Chinese Buddhism
The practice of veneration of the Medicine Buddha is also popular in China, as he is depicted as one of the trinity of Buddhas, the others being the founder Śākyamuni and Amitabha. He can also be viewed as the healing attribution to Śākyamuni, as he is often called the "Medicine King" in sutras. There are two popular Chinese translations of this sutra: one by Xuanzang  and the other by Yijing both translated in the Tang dynasty. The Taisho Tripitaka and Qianlong Tripitaka (Chinese: 乾隆大藏經) each have three translations of the sutra:
- By Dharmagupta in 615 CE (Taisho: vol. 14, no. 449; Qianlong: no. 166)
- By Xuanzang in 650 CE (Taisho: vol. 14, no. 450; Qianlong: no. 167)
- By Yijing in 707 CE (Taisho: vol. 14, no. 451; Qianlong: no. 168)
These three versions have different titles:
- Dharmagupta: Sutra of the Vows of the Medicine Buddha
- Xuanzang: Sutra of the Vows of the Medicine Buddha of Lapis Lazuli Crystal Radiance
- Yijing: Sutra of the Vows of the Medicine Buddha of Lapis Lazuli Crystal Radiance and Seven Past Buddhas
Chinese: 藥師琉璃光七佛本願功德經 (no. 168, two scrolls).
The version translated by Yijing includes not only the vows of the Medicine Buddha but also the vows of the Seven Past Buddhas.
Like Tibetan Buddhists, Chinese Buddhists recite the mantra of the Medicine Buddha to overcome mental, physical and spiritual sickness. The Bhaiṣajyaguruvaiḍūryaprabhārāja Sūtra, which the Medicine Buddha is associated with and described in great detail in, is a common sutra to recite in Chinese temples as well. Furthermore, much like the nianfo path of Amitabha, the name of Medicine Buddha is also recited for the benefit of being reborn in the Eastern Pure Lands, though this is deemphasized in favor of the Medicine Buddha's role for the living.
Role in Japanese Buddhism
Starting in the 7th century in Japan, Yakushi was prayed to in the place of Ashuku (Akshobhya). Some of Yakushi's role has been taken over by Jizō (Ksitigarbha), but Yakushi is still invoked in the traditional memorial services for the dead.
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 Jūni-shinshō?), who were twelve yaksha generals who had been converted through hearing the Bhaiṣajyaguruvaiḍūryaprabhārāja Sūtra:
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.
Role in Tibetan Buddhism
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.
|Buddha of Medicine Bhaishajyaguru (Yaoshi fo), Smarthistory|
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- Hsing Yun,"Sutra of the Medicine Buddha with an Introduction, Comments, and Prayers", Buddha's Light Publishing, 2005, Revised Edition, ISBN 1-932293-06-X
- Hsing Yun 2005, p 42
- CBETA, retrieved 2012. Main sutra page for Yi Jing Translation: www.cbeta.org/result/T14/T14n0451.htm, Scroll 1: www.cbeta.org/result/normal/T14/0451_001.htm, Scroll 2: www.cbeta.org/result/normal/T14/0451_002.htm. Dharmagupta translation: http://www.cbeta.org/result/normal/T14/0449_001.htm. Xuan Zang translation: http://www.cbeta.org/result/normal/T14/0450_001.htm.
- Chen Li Quan and Zhu Mo. "Sutra of the Medicine Buddha", 1997, Classic Chinese Buddhist Texts in Plain Language, Buddha's Light Publishing, Taiwan (in Chinese). 藥師經/陳利權,竺摩釋譯 佛光,《中國佛教經典寶藏精選白話版》, ISBN 9781932293067, p 101)
- "Buddha of Medicine Bhaishajyaguru (Yaoshi fo)". Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
- Image of Medicine Buddha
- Medicine Buddha Resources
- The Sutra on the Original Vows and Merits of the Medicine Master Lapis Lazuli Light Tathagata (藥師琉璃光如來本願功德經): English Translation by the Chung Tai Translation Committee