Who is Bhaisajyaguru?
Commonly called Yakushi Nyorai in Japan, and “Medicine Buddha” in North America, the Sanskrit is usually translated as Lapis Lazuli Radiance Tathagata. In Tibet, where this title is often taken quite literally, tankas and even statues representing him are frequently painted in a breathtaking tint of lapis. Almost invariably, he is shown holding a branch of myrobalan* in his right hand. In Japan, where it is generally understood that Yakushi is a personalization of Kaji or Reiki, figures intended to represent him are distinguished only by a jnana (instruction) mudra of the right hand and a relatively small covered medicine jar in his left hand. Notwithstanding the Sanskrit title, Toshiyori never chanced to see a lapis-colored Yakushi figure in Japan.
It is told in scripture that Sakyamuni (the historical Buddha) twice manifested as Bhaisajyaguru, but what does that mean? Did his monks recognize him by his lapis lazuli radiance, by the branch of myrobalan or jnana mudra of his right hand, and the medicine jar in his left? The sutras do not explain.
Toshiyori has read five of the so-called “Medicine Buddha” sutras, and assuredly does not assume there are no others (some of which have yet to be translated from the Chinese). It seems grossly improbable that all of this material could have been delivered orally in the course of two Dharma talks, except they were given outside conventional time. But, in such a case, it would seem obvious that Bhaisajyaguru is a being — or a force — beyond our everyday understanding of the world.
Indeed, it is the teaching of Shingon mikkyo that the Lapis Lazuli Radiance Tathagata is a manifestation in personalized form of the energy which sustains Maya, our dream of the universe. Understood and relied upon as such, it effortlessly accomplishes every gross “material” change desired of it. This, of course, includes (but is by no means restricted to) the healing of so-called incurable diseases.
In countless Mahayana Buddhist homes throughout the Northern hemisphere, one may encounter a wide variety of statues and/or tankas representing Yakushi. When viewed as a reminder of the healing potential inherent in the power underlying our every illusion, it scarcely matters whether one chooses a painting or statue of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tibetan or Mongolian design. As an object of meditation, aesthetics may be a major consideration; so, too, its placement and supplementary offerings (candles, incense, food, water, etc.). Bear in mind that tankas and statues are symbols for meditation, not mere “decorations.” Accordingly, you may wish to cover them in a Butsudan when not in use.
For those new to meditation, fifteen minutes per day is ideal. You need not sit in the seiza (Japanese) position, nor in the lotus (cross legged) position. Meditation is not meant to add to your sufferings. By all means, be comfortable; but, to avoid falling asleep, keep your spine straight! It is not important whether your attention is devoted to the appearance of the Buddha figure before you, or whether you conceive of it as a symbol of the Universal “autoimmune system.” But it must be one or the other, not both.
Your task, then, is to fix your attention on the physical object in front of you. As soon as you realize that you are thinking about something else (e.g., the day’s news, something your M.D. said, a childhood experience, etc.), bring your attention back to the physical object before you. It is perfectly normal for this to occur several times during an interval of fifteen minutes.
So, who is Bhaisajyaguru? “He” can be your true self (if you so desire); “he” is potentially the essence of every Buddhist, and even of those who practice such secular healing methods as Reiki and Qigong. Moreover, to the extent that you serve as a conduit for the power of the Lapis Lazuli Radiance Tathagata, so too does it become apparent that all who endure the pain of various diseases here in Samsara are, latently, Bhaisajyaguru.
*Myrobalan is a tree fruit common to northern India which, when dried, powdered, and mixed with honey, was renowned — even well into the 20th century — for its curative properties. In modern India, where the pharmaceutical industry has experienced colossal growth, herbalism and Ayurvedic medicine may have experienced a corresponding decline. Readers desirous of further information should visit: