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Bhaiṣajyaguru (भैषज्यगुरु), formally Bhaiṣajyaguruvaiḍūryaprabhārāja (भैषज्यगुरुवैडूर्यप्रभाराज, "Medicine Master and King of 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 suffering using the medicine of his teachings.
Bhaiṣajyaguru is described in the eponymous Bhaiṣajyaguruvaiḍūryaprabhārāja Sūtra (भैषज्यगुरुवैडूर्यप्रभाराज सूत्र), 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 Vaiḍūryanirbhāsa (वैडूर्यनिर्भास), or "Pure Lapis Lazuli". There, he is attended to by two bodhisattvas symbolizing the light of the sun and the light of the moon respectively:
A Sanskrit manuscript of the Bhaiṣajyaguruvaiḍūryaprabhārāja Sūtra was among the textual finds at Gilgit, Pakistan, 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 Bhaiṣajyaguruvaidūryaprabharāja Sūtra (MS 2385).
The Twelve Vows
In the Bhaiṣajyaguruvaiḍūryaprabhārāja 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.
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.
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:
These three versions have different titles:
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.
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.