Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Medicine Buddha

སངས་རྒྱས་སྨན་ལྷ། 药师佛
(item no. 68869)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1400 - 1499
Lineages Gelug and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Interpretation / Description

Medicine Guru Buddha (Tibetan: sang gye men la. English: the Buddha - Guru of Medicine). (See the Medicine Buddha Main Page and the Outline Page).

Tibetan: Sang gye men la

The Guru of Medicine (Sanskrit: Bhaishajyaguru) is also known by the name Vaidurya Prabha Raja, the 'King of Sapphire Light.' Dark blue in colour, with one face and two hands he holds in the right hand a myrobalan fruit (Latin: terminalia chebula. Skt.: haritaki). The left hand is placed in the lap in the gesture of meditation supporting a begging bowl with the open palm. Adorned with the orange and yellow patchwork robes of a fully ordained monk, the left arm covered, he appears in the nirmanakaya aspect of a fully enlightened buddha. In vajra posture above a moon disc, he sits on a lotus and ornate lion supported throne with a back rest. At each side of Medicine Buddha stand the two principal bodhisattva attendants. To the left is the orange bodhisattva Suryabhaskara (Rays of the Sun) and to the right is yellow Chandrabhaskara (Rays of the Moon).

At the top center is the female personification of wisdom Prajnaparamita. Below to the left is an Indian teacher likely to be Shantarakshita the man responsible for establishing the monastic system in Tibet in the 8th century and introducing the meditational system of Medicine Buddha in Tibet. Surrounding him on the left and right sides are nine figures dressed in the garb of Tibetan kings. These kings are also found in the early lineage of teachers. In the larger circle to theb left is a Tibetan figure wearing monastic attire and wearing a yellow pandita hat while holding the attributes of a sword and book on two blue utpala flowers. This figure is likely to be Tsongkapa Lobsang Dragpa (1357-1419) the founder of the Gelug Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism in the 14th century. On the right side in the larger circle is another Tibetan teacher wearing monastic garb and a black hat. This figure is likely to be either the direct student and founder of Sera Monastery, Shakya Yeshe, or possibly the 5th Karmapa, Deshin Shegpa (1384-1415). Both of these teachers received the gift of a black hat from the Chinese Yongle emperor.

In the top register are eight Buddhas. On the far right of these is Amitayus followed by the seven Buddhas that accompany Medicine Buddha in the large mandala arrangement. Amitayus has been added here to likely fill out the register with an even number of four Buddhas on the left side and four Buddhas on the right side. Starting with the last two figures on each side of the top register and descending at the sides are fourteen bodhisattvas - also belonging to the mandala. Below those, on the left and right, are two of the twelve Yaksha Generals. The other ten Generals are in the upper register below the throne of Medicine Buddha. Still descending on the right and left are two each of the Four Guardian Kings with Shadbhuja Mahakala at the bottom of the left register and Yama Dharmaraja at the bottom of the right register. In the middle horizontal register below the throne are the twelve worldly gods with two of the figures placed in the bottom register on the right side. The Twelve Yaksha Generals, Twelve Worldly Gods and the Four Guardian Kings are all included in the Fifty-one Deity Mandala of Medicine Buddha.

At the bottom center is Green Tara accompanied by the Eight forms of Tara removing the eight fears: lions, elephants, snakes, ghosts, fire, water, false imprisonment, and robbers. (See Eight Fears Outline Page). Tara has been added by the patron or artists to form part of the composition of the painting. She is not associated with the Medicine Buddha literature.

At the bottom left is Shadbhuja Mahakala with six arms, in a standing posture. From there moving to the right is the donor figure, Vaishravana Riding a Lion and Yellow Jambhala. On the other side of the Tara and retinue are Yellow Vasudhara, Black Jambhala and two of the worldly gods belonging to the Medicine Buddha mandala. At the bottom right is Yama Dharmaraja with a buffalo head and riding a buffalo. As with Tara, none of these protector and wealth deities are associated with Medicine Buddha and have been added by the donor or artist.

Three of the protector deities in the bottom register are the principal guardians of the Gelug Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism: Shadbhuja Mahakala, Yama Dharmaraja and Vaishravana Riding a Lion. These deities correspond to the Gelug teaching of Lamrim - Stages of the Path - and relate to the three types of practitioners, greater, middling and lesser.

It can be concluded that this painting is most likely a product of a Gelug patron based on the image of Tsongkapa (although without an inscription) and the iconographic program of the three standard Gelug protectors in the bottom register. The figure in the upper right wearing the black hat cannot be identified for certain but is most likely to be Shakya Yeshe or the 5th Karmapa.

See other paintings with all of the figures of the Medicine Buddha Mandala contained in one composition.

Jeff Watt 9-2010

Numbered List:
1. Medicine Buddha
2. Suryabhaskara (bodhisattva)
3. Chandrabhaskara (bodhisattva)
4. Prajnaparamita
5. Buddha (Medicine)
6. Shakyamuni Buddha (Medicine)
7. Buddha (Medicine)
8. Buddha (Medicine)
9. Buddha (Medicine)
10. Buddha (Medicine)
11. Amitayus Buddha
12. Buddha (Medicine)

Sixteen Bodhisattva:
13. Bodhisattva
14. Bodhisattva
15. Bodhisattva
16. Bodhisattva
17. Bodhisattva
18. Bodhisattva
19. Bodhisattva
20. Bodhisattva
21. Bodhisattva
22. Bodhisattva
23. Bodhisattva
24. Bodhisattva
25. Bodhisattva
26. Bodhisattva

Twelve Yaksha Generals & Four Guardian Kings:
27. Yaksha General
28. Yaksha General
29. Yaksha General
30. Yaksha General
31. Guardian King
32. Guardian King
33. Guardian King
34. Guardian King
35. Yaksha General
36. Yaksha General
37. Yaksha General
38. Yaksha General
39. Yaksha General
40. Yaksha General
41. Yaksha General
42. Yaksha General

Ten Worldly Gods:
43. Worldly God
44. Worldly God
45. Worldly God
46. Worldly God
47. Worldly God
48. Worldly God
49. Worldly God
50. Worldly God
51. Worldly God
52. Worldly God

Miscellaneous Lineage Teachers, Wealth Deities & Protectors:
A. Tsongkapa
B. Shakya Yeshe or 5th Karmapa
C. Shantarakshita
N. Shadbhuja Mahakala
O. Vaishravana Riding a Lion
P. Yellow Jambhala
Q. Vasudhara
R. Black Jambhala
S. Yama Dharmaraja

Front of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: No inscriptions.

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Subject: Mahayana Buddhism Main Page
Buddhist Deity: Medicine Buddha Main Page
Tibet: Painting (West Tibet)
Buddhist Deity: Medicine Buddha Iconography
Buddhist Deity: Medicine Buddha (Early Paintings)
Exhibition: The Art of Tibetan Medicine
Buddhist Deity: Medicine Buddha (All 51 Figures)
Buddhist Deity: Medicine Buddha, 药师佛, སངས་རྒྱས་སྨན་ལྷ། (Masterworks)