Yakushi 薬師
KEY WORD : art history / iconography
The name of the Buddha associated with healing. Sino-Japanese rendering of Sanskrit Bhaisajyaguru, meaning Medicine Master or Master of Healing. His full name is Yakushirurikou 薬師瑠璃光 (Sk: Bhaisajyaguru vaiduryaprabha) or Medicine Master of Lapis Lazuli Radiance, and he is also known as (Dai)iou (大) 医王 or (Great) King of Healers.
In the early Pali Canon dating from the 1c BC the historic Buddha Sakyamuni *Shaka 釈迦 is portrayed as an unparalleled healer of both mental and physical ills. With the rise of Mahayana Buddhism (beginning ca 1c BC) this aspect of his activities came to be expressed in the form of various Buddhas and bodhisattvas *bosatsu 菩薩, one of them Yakushi, who eventually superseded all others in the role of healer. His name is mentioned in some 15 texts translated into Chinese from the 3c to 5c, and his cult appears to have been especially popular in Central Asia. According to the main sutra, YAKUSHIKYOU 薬師経 (Sk: Bhaisajyaguru sutra, or Scripture of the Master of Healing), while still a bodhisattva he made 12 vows (two dealing specifically with physical healing), and upon the fulfillment of these vows he became the Buddha of the realm known as Joururi 浄瑠璃 (Sk: Vaiduryanirbhasa) or Pure Lapis Lazuli in the eastern quarter. There, Yakushi is attended by the two bodhisattvas *Nikkou Gakkou 日光・月光 (Solar Radiance and Lunar Radiance), together forming a triad known as the Yakushi sanzon 薬師三尊. This text also mentions the Twelve Divine Generals *juuni shinshou 十二神将 who vow to protect all devotees of Yakushi and his scriptures. The last Chinese translation of his sutra (707 version) also mentions a further six Buddhas of healing who, together with Yakushi, are collectively known as *Shichibutsu Yakushi 七仏薬師. Another Buddha with a paradise in the east is *Ashuku 阿しゅく, whose popularity declined in part as Yakushi's grew. In Chinese art one of the more common triads of Buddhist deities consists of Shaka with Yakushi to his left (east) and *Amida 阿弥陀 to his right (west), and the latter two are believed to preside over the living and the dead respectively.
The history of Yakushi's cult in Japan goes back at least to the late 7c, although it would appear to have had a stronger following at the imperial court and among the nobility than among the populace. From around 14-15c his healing functions were assumed by the increasingly popular *Jizou 地蔵. But Yakushi has continued into the modern period to figure among the so-called Thirteen Buddhas *juusanbutsu 十三仏, presiding over the all-important memorial service on the 49th day after a person's death. Although not described in the sutras, his iconographical characteristic has come to be the medicine jar held in the left hand. However, early images made in Japan are almost indistinguishable from those of Shaka, with the right hand raised, palm out, in the gesture of bestowing fearlessness *semui-in 施無畏印 and the left hand lowered, palm out, in the gesture of granting wishes *yogan-in 与願印. The early popularity of his cult in Japan resulted in the production of many fine images including those at Houyruuji 法隆寺 (gilt bronze, ca 990), Yakushiji 薬師寺 (gilt bronze, late 7c or 718-726), Shin'yakushiji 新薬師寺 (wood), Daigoji 醍醐寺 (wood), Gangouji 元興寺 (wood), Jingoji 神護寺 (wood) and Murouji 室生寺 (wood). There are relatively few paintings, however. The earliest date from the Kamakura period. He appears in neither the *Taizoukai mandara 胎蔵界曼荼羅 nor the *Kongoukai mandara 金剛界曼荼羅. But there is a mandala depicting him flanked by eight bodhisattvas, known as the Yakushi hachibosatsu mandara 薬師八菩薩曼荼羅 , which is used in the rites of the Shingon 真言 sect. His seed-syllable shuji 種子 in Esoteric Buddhism mikkyou 密教 is bei 佩 (Sk: bhai) and his symbol sanmayagyou 三昧耶形 a medicine bowl or jar .


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