In Northern Buddhism set of eight Medicine Buddhas are popular. These Buddhas, who are particularly venerated for healing powers, are led by the Buddha Bhaishajyaguru. Bhaishajyaguru means “Supreme Healer”, “the Lord Who Has a Healing Effect.”
He is shown here seated in vajraparyankasana on a moon disk on lotus flower on a throne that is held by two snow lions. The complexion of his body is deep blue and radiates healing rays of energy. He has curly hair with a jewel on the top of his head. He wears monastic robes with inner garments, profusely decorated with floral motifs in gold. There is a brilliant aureole behind him with floral gold border. Large jewels are set into the border of the aureole. Graceful leaves and flowers are around his aureole. Dragon and phoenix are depicted on each side of the head of Bhaishajyaguru. The dragon generally represents the strong male yang principle of heaven, energy and creativity. Moreover Dragon is also the guardian of treasure, while phoenix symbolizing longevity. The Medicine Buddha holds myrobalan (arura), a medicinal plant in his right hand and a bowl containing medicinal nuts and leaves in his left hand. Two monks, holding alms bowls and jingling beggar’s staffs are standing either side of the Medicine Buddha’s throne that usually is identified as chief disciples of Shakyamuni (Sariputra and Maudgalyayana). Auspicious peaceful offerings are depicted on two altar tables in front of the throne.
The cult of Medicine Buddha is very popular in Tibet, China, Mongolia, Korea, and Japan. He is also called Bhaisajyaraja, Healing Buddha, Manla, and the Lord of the Physicians. The Medicine Buddha is said to dispense spiritual medicine when properly worshipped. It is popular belief in all these countries that an efficacious cure may be accomplished by merely touching the image of Medicine Buddha. The Bhaishajyaguru dharani emphasizes the healing value of creating an image of the Medicine Buddha as well as chanting the text.
It is said that illness occurs when the balance among the three bodily fluids comprising the human – air, bile, and mucus – is disturbed. Such a disturbance can arise when there is an imbalance in the component parts of fluids, the five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether (prana). According to Buddhism, hatred, wanting (desire), and ignorance are the main ailments that torment and poison the body and soul. They disturb the balance of bodily fluids so that illness arises. There are also external influences at work that can negatively impact the body, such as evil spirits, a particular position of the planets, negative karma, improper food, and irreligious behavior. The religious cure is right thinking and acting. Tibetan healthcare comprises a combination of somatic and psycho-philosophical healing. In regard to the former healing method, the doctor gives nutritional advice and administers pills made from minerals and herbs. Moreover meditation is also the part of therapy.
Historically Tibetan medicine is a confluent trinity of Indian Ayurvedic, Hellenic and Chinese traditions of medicine wherein the spatial tangents have met and harmonized.
The Tibetan physicians take initiations to practice the sadhana of the Medicine Buddha, study and memorize many complex medical texts and thangka and concentrates on restoring the balance within the body and the mind. They learn to diagnose of the patient through pulse taking and urine analysis, by learning herbal pharmacology and other treatments, also by studying psychology and apprenticing many years before he or she can practice.
The extended border of this thangka is woven with flowers and Chinese auspicious symbols. This painting of Medicine Buddha is very much suitable for sadhana by laities, physicians, sadhaka and also for suffering beings.
This description is by Dr. Shailendra K. Verma, whose Doctorate thesis is on “Emergence and Evolution of the Buddha Image (From its inception to 8th century A.D.)”.