Yakushi is the Buddha of Medicine & Healing, and in Japan, is often shown holding a small jar of medicine in the left hand, while the right hand forms the "Fear Not" mudra, which signifies the granting of protection to those who follow the Buddhist teachings. When Buddhism came to Japan in the 6th century AD from Korea and China, Yakushi was among the first to arrive, and was soon revered throughout Japan as a powerful deity who could cure earthly suffering, especially eye ailments. Even today, Yakushi is one of the most cherished Buddhist figures -- among the 88 temples on the well-trodden Shikoku Pilgrimage (Shikoku Island), 23 are dedicated to Yakushi, second only to the 29 sites dedicated to Kannon Bodhisattva (Sanskrit = Avalokitesvara; English = Goddess of Mercy).
Sanskrit Seed Syllable
for Yakushi Buddha
Bei in Japan
In Japanese sculpture, Yakushi is often surrounded by the Juni Shinsho (12 Celestial Generals), ferocious warriors said to represent the 12 Vows of Yakushi. Statues of Yakushi are also often flanked on the left by Nikko Bodhisattva (Skt. = Suryaprabha) and on the right by Gakko Bodhisattva (Skt. = Candraprabha), the Bodhisattvas of Sunlight and Moonlight respectively. See Learn More section for details.
Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, & Other Spellings
HISTORICAL NOTES. Statues of the Yakushi Buddha often look similar to those of Shaka Buddha (the Historical Buddha), for both are typically unadorned, portrayed with simple clothing and posture, with the right hand held outward in the "Fear Not" Mudra, also known as the Mudra of Fearlessness. Nonetheless, some rules of thumb can help to overcome most confusion when trying to identify the image. First, the fingers of Yakushi's right hand are sometimes curled slightly (a gesture that represents the granting of wishes). Second, in some Japanese sculpture, Yakushi's right hand forms the "Yakushi Triple World Mudra," known as the Yakushi Sangai-in in Japanese, in which the thumb touches either the index finger or middle finger. Third, unlike images of Shaka Buddha, Yakushi usually holds a sacred jewel or a jar of medicine in the left hand. In some traditions, the jar is said to contain a miraculous emerald that is capable of curing all sickness. Indeed, many Yakushi statues still extant in Japan were commissioned by sick people who were healed. Some of the most famous sculptures of Yakushi are at Horyu-ji Temple and Yakushi-ji Temple in Nara, and at Ganko-ji, Kofuku-ji, and Toshodai-ji.
JAPANESE FOLKLORE, RUBBING TRADITION
Statues of Yakushi within easy reach of believers are rubbed smooth. People rub part of the statue (knees, back, head), then rub the same part of their body, praying for Yakushi to heal their ailments (e.g., cancer, arthritis, headaches). Many Japanese believe that Yakushi is especially adept at curing eye ailments. The same "rubbing tradition" exists for Daikokuten, one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Japan, and for Binzuru (Pindola Bharadvaja), the most widely revered of the Arhat in Japan. Statues of both are usually well worn, as the faithful rub the part of the effigy corresponding to the sick part of their bodies, as both are reputed to have the gift of healing.
Japanese Mantra for Yakushi Buddha
On Korokoro Sendari Matougi Sowaka
According to Kodo Matsunami, a noted Buddhist scholar and one-time chairperson of the Japan Buddhist Federation: "Because a mantra associated with Bhaishajyagura (Yakushi) refers to a daughter of a clan that lived in northern Asia, it has been suggested that this Buddha originated, not in India, but among nomadic tribes and was later incorporated into Buddhism. A major textual resource for this Buddha is the Sutra of the Master of Medicine (Bhaishajyaguru-vaidurya-prabha-raja-sutra)."
Above quote from "Essentials of Buddhist Images: A Comprehensive Guide to Sculpture, Painting, and Symbolism" by Kodo Matsunami; first English edition March 2005; published by Omega-Com.
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A-TO-Z PHOTO DICTIONARY (SISTER SITE)