Yakushi Nyorai (薬師如来)

Yakushi Nyorai, bhaiSajya-guru in Sanskrit, is a Nyorai of Mahayana Buddhism. It is also called Yakushi Ruriko Nyorai or Daiiobutsu.

Its Sanma yagyo (characteristic of the Buddha) is a medicine vase or a bowl containing pills. Its shuji (characteristic one syllable word) (Esoteric Buddhism) (shuji) is bhai, the initials of its name.

Yakushikyo (the Yakusyhi Sutra)

Representative Buddhist scriptures that preach 'Yakushi Nyorai are Yakushi ruriko nyorai hongan kudokukyo (Yakushikyo),' which was translated by Genjo, and 'Yakushi ruriko shichibutsu hongan kudokukyo (Shichibutsu yakushikyo),' which was translated by Gijo.

According to Yakushi hongan kudokukyo, Yakushi Nyorai was a founder of a religious sect in Toho joruri sekai (Eastern Pure Land), and swore 12 oaths when it was Bodhisattva, lengthened people's lives by curing their diseases, removed disasters, provided clothes and food, practiced Buddhist ascetic training and finally became Buddha by attaining Mujo bodai (perfect Buddhist enlightenment). Yakushi Nyorai is believed to cure people's diseases by Ruriko (lazuline light). Unlike other Nyorai, it is the target of worship seeking worldly interests since it is the buddha of medicine which provides medicine to cure avidya disease.

Relations with Esoteric Buddhism

It is a Nyorai of exoteric Buddhism and the Japanese Shingon Sect (Shingon Esoteric Buddhism) basically does not emphasize it. Although it is often treated as chuson (the center statue of three or more statues) in Besson mandara (Mandara of individual deities) of Zo-mitsu (the Mixed Esoteric Buddhism), it doesn't appear in Ryokai mandara (Mandara of the two Realms) of Jun-mitsu (The Pure Esoteric Buddhism). However, in the Tendai Sect (Tendai Esoteric Buddhism) which traditionally had close ties with the Emperor's family, it was sometimes linked with the Emperor, a king of the eastern country, because it was the founder of a religious sect in Toho joruri sekai. Being an eastern Nyorai, he is also regarded as the same Nyorai as Ashuku Nyorai. Further, there exist views that assert it is the same Nyorai as Dainichi Nyorai and such views derive from the interpretation by Tendai Esoteric Buddhism that Shaka Nyorai of Kuon-jitsujo, advocated in Lotus Sutra of exoteric Buddhism, coincides with Dainichi Nyorai of Esoteric Buddhism or Shaka Nyorai appears in the shape of Dainichi Nyorai in order to save people.

The statue form

As for the statue form, there exist both standing statues and seated statues and normally, their right hands make semui in (mudra for bestowing fearlessness), while the left hands make yogan in (wish-granting mudra) and hold a medicine vase. However, many statues produced in ancient Japan, such as the statue in the main hall of the Yakushi-ji Temple in Nara and the statue in the main hall of the Toshodai-ji Temple in Nara, don't hold a medicine vase. It is believed that the production of statues holding a medicine vase started after the introduction of 'Yakushi Nyorai nenju giki' translated by Fuku. Yakushi Nyorai is enshrined not only as a single statue but also as Yakushi Sanzonzo (three statues) with Nikko Bosatsu and Gakko Bosatsu situated on both sides. The statue of Juni Jinsho (the twelve divine generals) is often enshrined together as the followers of Yakushi Nyorai. In the halo of Yakushi Nyorai, 6 or 7 statues of the same size are situated. They are called Shichibutsu Yakushi (to be mentioned afterward) and believed to be Yakushi Nyorai and its avatars.

Temple festival of Yakushi Nyorai is held on the 8th of each month. The above practice is believed to have derived from 'Yakushiko' (religious meeting of worshipping Yakushi Nyorai) at which people learnt and praised the virtue of Yakushi Nyorai.

Most Kokubun-ji Temples enshrine Yakushi Nyorai as their principal image.

Shichibutsu Yakushi

In 'Yakushi ruriko shichibutsu hongan kudokukyo (Shichibutsu Yakushikyo)' translated by Gijo and 'Yakushi Nyorai hongankyo' translated by Daruma Gyuta, original vows and bukkokudo (the land that Buddha has purified) of Shichibutsu, including Yakushi Nyorai, are advocated. Tendai Esoteric Buddhism emphasized Shichibutsu Yakushi ho (praying to the seven Yakushi Nyorai), which was believed to have originated by Ennin, as the one which brings about health and safe delivery, and prayer for safe delivery using Shichibutsu Yakushi ho was conducted at the Fujiwara sekkanke (the families which produced regents) in the 8th -9th century.

Zenmyosho Kichijoo Nyorai
Hogetsu Chigonkoon Jizaio Nyorai
Konjiki Hokomyogyo Jojuo Nyorai
Muusaisho Kichijoo Nyorai
Hokaiun Raion Nyorai
Hokaishoe Yugejintsu Nyorai
Yakushi Ruriko Nyorai

Statues produced in Japan

In Japan where a creed seeking worldly interests was prevalent among people, Yakushi Nyorai scriptures were often produced for the purpose of praying for the healing of diseases. Along with Amida Nyorai which promises peaceful death, Yakushi Nyorai attracted the most worshippers in Japan. Although the year of 607 is seen in the halo of the seated statue of Yakushi Nyorai enshrined at the main hall of the Horyu-ji Temple in Nara, it is said, judging from the terms used in its inscription and casting technology employed in the production of the statue, that it was actually produced in the late 7th century. Further, as it is the rare Nyorai that presides over worldly interests, many typical (in charge of praying to defend and maintain the nation) Esoteric Buddhism temples, such as Enryaku-ji Temple, Jingo-ji Temple, To-ji Temple and Kanei-ji Temple, enshrine Yakushi Nyorai as their principal image.

Famous Yakushi Nyorai statues in Japan

(As there are a lot of statues, only those that are famous from the viewpoint of Buddhist sculpture history and those designated as national treasure are listed.)

The statue at the Shojo-ji Temple in Fukushima (the center statue of Yakushi Sanzon, a seated statue, the early Heian period, a national treasure)

The statue at the Ninna-ji Temple (the former Kita-in) in Kyoto (a seated statue, the early Heian period, a national treasure)

The statue at the Jingo-ji Temple in Kyoto (a standing statue, the early Heian period, a national treasure)

The statue at Yakushido of the Daigo-ji Temple (Kami Daigo) in Kyoto (the center statue of Yakushi Sanzon, a seated statue, the early Heian period, a national treasure)

The statue at the Shishikutsu-ji Temple in Osaka (a seated statue, the early Heian period, a national treasure)

The statue at the main hall of the Horyu-ji Temple in Nara (a seated statue, from the Asuka period to the Nara period, a national treasure)

The statue at the lecture hall of the Horyu-ji Temple in Nara (the center statue of Yakushi Sanzon, a seated statue, the middle of the Heian period, a national treasure)

The statue at the main hall of the Toshodai-ji Temple in Nara (a standing statue, from the Nara period to the early Heian period, a national treasure)

The statue at the Yakushi-ji Temple in Nara (the center statue of Yakushi Sanzon, a seated statue, the Nara period, a national treasure)

The statue at the Shin Yakushi-ji Temple in Nara (seated statue, early Heian period, a national treasure)

The statue at Nara National Museum (seated statue, early Heian period, a national treasure)

The statue at the Ganko-ji Temple in Nara (Shibanoshinya-cho, Nara City) (standing statue, early Heian period, a national treasure)

The faith in Tosho Gongen

In the Tokugawa period, Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, the first Shogun, was deified and was called shinkun. Thanks to the work of Buddhist monk Tenkai, Ieyasu was given the posthumous name of 'Tosho Daigongen' by the imperial court and was enshrined at the Toshogu Shrine. This is the origin of the faith in Tosho Gongen. This faith is the syncretism of Shinto and Buddhism and according to it, Ieyasu TOKUGAWA is assumed as the temporary figure of Yakushi Nyorai who appeared in Japan while religious service is conducted in the way of Jinja Shinto.

As Ieyasu TOKUGAWA was believed to have been born after his mother, Odai no kata, prayed to Yakushi Nyorai enshrined at the Horai-ji Temple (Shinshiro City, Aichi Prefecture) as its principal image, it is also said that Ieyasu TOKUGAWA was the reincarnation of Yakushi Nyorai, a principal image of the Horai-ji Temple, who appeared in the human world.

Mantra of Yakushi Nyorai

As for the mantra of Yakushi Nyorai, its shoshu is 'on korokoro sendari matougi sowaka' and it coincides with that of Muno Shomyoo.

Its taishu is 'noumo bagyabatei baiseija kuro beiruria haraba arajaya tatagyataya arakatei sanmyakusanbodaya taniyata on baiseizei baiseizei sanborigyatei sowaka' and it appears in Yakusi hongan kudokukyo.

Original observations on shoshu

Yakushi Nyorai's shoshu has the meaning which reflects primitive Indian or Asian customs. The translation of this shoshu is 'omu (sacred voice), remove, Candari, Matangi, achieve (subaha)'. Remove' means removing plague and Candari and Matangi are the female names of a clan that was engaged in slaughter work, but originally they were the names of goddesses that were worshipped by people of lower class. Original meaning of 'subaha' is an offering to be thrown into the festival fire. Later, it was deified as the wife of Agni, the god of fire, and became a yell to be used when praying for the achievement of hope while making an offering.

Upper class people despised Candari and Matangi or regarded them as dangerous as the goddesses that were worshipped by dirty people. However, it was generally believed that people were able to escape from plagues presided by such a goddess by daring to pray to them. In terms of the concept of escaping from plague by chanting mantra to aragami which causes such plague, it has a similar nature with 'Somin shorai' in Japan.