Medicine Buddha statues depict the popular Mahayana Buddhist deity with the power to cure all suffering. But how is this possible? The eponymous Medicine Buddha Sutra holds the secrets to Medicine Buddha’s special healing powers. Indeed, in Northern Afghanistan archeologists uncovered the source of the healing Buddha’s power. Additionally, the sacred Medicine Buddha Sutra introduces devotees to the mystical blue color called lapis lazuli.
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.
Theological Origin of Medicine Buddha Statues
Evidence of birch bark manuscripts of the Medicine Buddha Sutra were first discovered at a Mahasamghika monastery near Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Additionally, these manuscripts and evidence of other Mahayana Sutras found there date back to the 7th century.
Indeed, the Chinese monk Xuanzang had traveled the ancient Silk Road near this location while bringing the Buddhist texts to China. As a result, archeologists identified Xuanzang as the source of the Medicine Buddha manuscripts found there.
Furthermore, the reason Xuanzang was in remote Afghanistan was because he was translating the sutras into Chinese. As a result of his strenuous efforts, the popularity of Medicine Buddha would spread throughout Asia. Additionally, the appearance of auspicious Medicine Buddha statues and paintings would soon follow. Indeed, the travels of Xuanzang through Afghanistan certainly influenced the translation of the Medicine Buddha Sutra.
Medicine Buddha Statue
12 Great Vows of Medicine Buddha
The eponymous Medicine Buddha Sutra tells the story of the Medicine Buddha back when he was still a Bodhisattva. 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”.
Therefore, Medicine Buddha devotees who recited his name or mantra would invoke the power of Medicine Buddha. As a result, Medicine Buddha would cure all forms of physical, mental and spiritual suffering. However, the Medicine Buddha goes on to make promises beyond the vows. Indeed, Medicine Buddha promised devotees riches and even redemption for use of witchcraft with evil intent.
The Power of Lapis Lazuli Light
While traveling the Silk Road, Medicine Buddha became strongly affiliated with a mysterious semi precious stone called “lapis lazuli”. Additionally, the world’s richest source of lapis lazuli is in Northern Afghanistan.
Indeed, evidence of the first lapis lazuli mines in the area date back as far as the 7th century BCE. Additionally, archeologists had discovered traces of the ancient birch bark manuscripts near these same lapis lazuli mines. Strange coincidence? Yes indeed, the introduction of lapis lazuli into the Medicine Buddha Sutra occurred somewhere along the ancient Silk road. 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. When the ancient Buddhist texts left India the Medicine Buddha was a king, “raja”. However, by the time he got to China he was a Buddha. As a result, we can point to evidence of at least one alteration that he made. Did Xuanzang also insert Medicine Buddha’s affiliation with lapis lazuli? It is certainly possible.
Perhaps while practicing meditation in the mountains around Bamiyan, Xuanzang had powerful visions of Medicine Buddha. Indeed, secluded mountain caves make ideal places for deep meditation practice. Certainly, the large deposits of 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.
Description of “Pure Lapis Lazuli”
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
Medicine Buddha statues depict him using 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. So much so, that it is still used as a potent herbal remedy in modern times.
In the left hand of a healing Buddha statue there is commonly found the lapis lazuli medicine bowl filled with the three nectars. These three lapis lazuli 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.
Medicine Buddha Statue
The Medicine Buddha Mantra
The faithful use the Medicine Buddha mantra to invoke the healing powers of the Medicine Buddha. As a result, if recited properly devotees can transfer the karma of Medicine Buddha to themselves or others.
However, in order to release his healing powers the practitioner must fulfill all of the requirements. Therefore, repeating the Medicine Buddha mantra is only one aspect of effectively removing bad karma or sickness. The Medicine Buddha Mantra as provided in the sutra is:
“oṃ bhaiṣajye bhaiṣajye bhaiṣajya-samudgate svāhā.”
As outlined in the Medicine Buddha Sutra, the devotee must enter a “de facto state of samadhi” (deep concentration). Therefore, devotees must repeatedly recite the mantra with absolute sincerity, faith and selflessness. As a result, they will enter a state of deep concentration.
The key to the Medicine Buddha mantra is – “efficacy lies in the complete absence of doubt on the part of the practitioner.” 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 Mantra Recitations
In the Medicine Buddha Sutra, it instructs the practitioner to recite the mantra over the patient’s food or water “108 times on his behalf”. As a result – “Once he has consumed the food or drink, his illness and suffering will at once disappear.”
The recommended method is to recite the Medicine Buddha mantra over a glass of water 108 times. Additionally, each recitation must be completed with utmost sincerity, in complete absence of doubt. Afterwards, the practitioner gently blows a wisp of their breath onto the glass of water.
As a result, the good karma derived from the mantra recitations will transfer to the glass of water. Next, the patient drinks the glass of water with the hope of removing spiritual, mental or physical ailments.
Indeed, testimonials of the efficacy of this mantra meditation abound. Additionally, mantra recitations completed by groups of people can enhance the mantra’s potency. If so, then the karma effects are amplified proportionally.
Medicine Buddha Statues Trinity
Each statue in the trinity has a special symbolism. The Buddha Shakyamuni statue represents the “basic Buddha principle”, and he is the Buddha of our time. Additionally, Medicine Buddha statues portray Bhaisajyaguru as the protector of the eastern direction (paradise).
As the protector of the eastern realm, he guards sentient life, strengthens their health and protects them from untimely death. The Amitabha statue 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