Medicine Buddha statues depict the popular Mahayana Buddhist deity with the power to cure all suffering. Indeed, the eponymous Medicine Buddha Sutra reveals the healing powers of Medicine Buddha practice. Additionally, in Northern Afghanistan archeologists uncovered the ancient origin of the blue Medicine Buddha statue.
Although Medicine Buddha first emerged in India, he would undergo some major changes as the Buddhist texts traveled along the Silk Road to China. As a result, following the path of the Medicine Buddha Sutra reveals all of Medicine Buddha’s secrets. Join me on a journey down the ancient Silk Road to find the true origin of the Medicine Buddha.
Blue Medicine Buddha Statue
Origin of Medicine Buddha Statues
Evidence of birch bark manuscripts containing the Medicine Buddha Sutra were first discovered at a Mahasamghika Monastery near Bamiyan, Afghanistan. These texts dated back to the 7th century ACE at the time of the ancient silk road.
Indeed, the Chinese monk Xuanzang had traveled the ancient Silk Road near this location while bringing the Buddhist texts to China. Additionally, Xuanzang was translating the texts into Chinese during his travels. As a result, archeologists identified Xuanzang as the source of the Medicine Buddha manuscripts found there.
As a result of his strenuous efforts, the popularity of Medicine Buddha practice would spread throughout Asia. Additionally, the appearance of auspicious blue Medicine Buddha statues and paintings would soon follow. Indeed, Xuanzang’s travels through Afghanistan certainly influenced the Medicine Buddha Sutra.
The Blue Medicine Buddha Statue
While traveling the Silk Road, the Medicine Buddha image became affiliated with a mysterious blue stone called “lapis lazuli”. Indeed, the world’s richest source of lapis lazuli is in Northern Afghanistan near the Mahasamghika Monastery.
Evidence of the first lapis lazuli mines in the area date back to the 7th century BCE, over 1000 years before Xuanzang traveled there. Strange coincidence? Yes indeed, the introduction of lapis lazuli into the Medicine Buddha Sutra occurred somewhere along the ancient silk road. Furthermore, the location of the lapis lazuli mines clearly indicates where this may have happened.
It is not inconceivable that during the translations, Xuanzang may have first associated Medicine Buddha with the lapis lazuli color. Indeed, when Xuanzang left India with the original text, the Medicine Buddha was a king, “raja”. However, when he arrived in China the “raja” was a Buddha. Therefore, we can point to at least one alteration made during the translation.
Perhaps while practicing meditation in the mountains around Bamiyan, Xuanzang had powerful visions of blue Medicine Buddha. Indeed, secluded mountain caves make ideal places for deep meditation practice. Additionally, lapis lazuli could have tinted the caves with their deep blue color. As a result, lapis lazuli became deeply integrated into the Medicine Buddha Sutra.
Crowned Medicine Buddha Statues
The Pure Land of Medicine Buddha
After achieving Buddhahood, the Medicine Buddha received his own Pure Land called “Pure Lapis Lazuli”. In Medicine Buddha’s pure land, the ground is made from the pure lapis lazuli stone. As a result, the deep blue light of lapis lazuli radiates over tall buildings, palaces and pavilions made of the seven treasures.
Indeed, Medicine Buddha vowed that after he attained supreme enlightenment “my body, inside and out, will radiate far and wide the clarity and flawless purity of lapis lazuli. This body will be adorned with superlative virtues and dwell peacefully in the midst of a web of light more magnificent than the sun or moon. The light will awaken the minds of all beings dwelling in darkness, enabling them to engage in their pursuits according to their wishes.”
Lapis Lazuli Pure Land
Attributes of Medicine Buddha Statues
The primary Medicine Buddha mudra is the Varada or “gift giving” mudra. The Varada mudra is depicted by placing the right hand over the right knee with palm open and facing outwards. As a result, it acknowledges that Medicine Buddha has given his healing power to sentient life.
Furthermore, Medicine Buddha statues depict him holding a sprig of the myrobalan plant in between the thumb and index finger of the same hand. The myrobalan plant was used in ancient Ayurvedic medicine to cure eye disease, infection and skin disease, including leprosy. Additionally, it clears mind obscurations and it also gives long life. Indeed, the myrobalan plant was an effective cure for these ailments and it is still used in modern times.
In the left hand of Medicine Buddha statues there is a lapis lazuli medicine bowl filled with the three nectars. These three nectars eliminate the poisons of greed, hatred and ignorance. Additionally, Medicine Buddha sits in full lotus pose on a lotus pedestal. He also wears the robes of a monk and has all the signs of a Buddha.
Golden Medicine Buddha Statue
12 Great Vows of Medicine Buddha
The Medicine Buddha Sutra tells the story of the Medicine Buddha as a bodhisattva yearning for enlightenment. As a bodhisattva, Medicine Buddha made 12 great vows to the faithful who only need say his name.
In other words, taken directly from the sutra “Manjushri, when the World-Honored Medicine Buddha was treading the bodhisattva path, he solemnly made 12 great vows to grant sentient beings whatever they desired”.
Indeed, devotees who recited the Medicine Buddha prayer (his name or mantra) could cure all forms of physical, mental and spiritual suffering. Additionally, the Medicine Buddha goes on to promise devotees riches and even redemption for use of witchcraft with evil intent.
The Medicine Buddha Practice
Faithful recitation of the Medicine Buddha mantra invokes the healing powers of Medicine Buddha practice. As a result, if recited properly devotees can transfer the karma of Medicine Buddha to themselves or others. Indeed, it is good karma that has the power to cure all suffering.
However, for Medicine Buddha mantra benefits to be effective the practitioner must fulfill all of the requirements. The Medicine Buddha Mantra:
“oṃ bhaiṣajye bhaiṣajye bhaiṣajya-samudgate svāhā.”
A description of effective Medicine Buddha practice is provided in the Medicine Buddha Sutra. The practitioner enters a “de facto state of samadhi” (deep concentration) by repeating the Medicine Buddha mantra with absolute sincerity, faith and selflessness. As a result, they will enter a state of deep concentration.
However, the key to obtaining the Medicine Buddha mantra benefits is faith – “efficacy lies in the complete absence of doubt on the part of the practitioner.” Indeed, by entering a state of deep concentration the practitioner has entered the realm of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. If so, “How then can disease or calamity defeat him”?
108 Medicine Buddha Mantras
The Medicine Buddha Sutra instructs practitioners to recite the mantra over the patient’s food or water “108 times on his behalf”. As a result – “Once they have consumed the food or drink, the illness and suffering will at once disappear.” Additionally, each recitation must be completed with utmost sincerity, in complete absence of doubt. When the 108 mantra recitations are complete, gently blow a wisp of breath onto the glass of water or food.
Next, the patient drinks the glass of water or eats the food with the hope of removing spiritual, mental or physical ailments. As a result, the good karma derived from the Medicine Buddha practice will be transferred.
Indeed, testimonials of the efficacy of Medicine Buddha practice abound. Additionally, mantra recitations completed by groups of people can enhance the potency of Medicine Buddha practice. If so, the karma effects are amplified proportionally.
Medicine Buddha Statues Trinity
Each statue in the Medicine Buddha statues trinity has a special symbolism. The Buddha Shakyamuni represents the “basic Buddha principle”, and he is the Buddha of our time. Additionally, Medicine Buddha is the protector of the eastern direction (paradise).
As the protector of the eastern realm, Medicine Buddha guards sentient life, strengthens their health and protects them from untimely death. Additionally, Amitabha Buddha represents his Western Pure Land of Bliss – Sukhavati. He waits in his pure land to protect devotees after their inevitable death in the earthly realm.
In Mahayana Buddhism, Medicine Buddha protects devotees in their worldly life and Amitabha protects devotees and offers them a favorable rebirth in Sukhavati. Ideally, the combination of earthly and heavenly peace will result in “ultimate peace, happiness and liberation” – Nirvana.
- Sutra of the Medicine Buddha by Dharma Master Hsuan Jung, Minh Thanh, P.D. Leigh