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Yakushi Nyorai: Buddhist Gods Explained for Modern Seekers

Yakushi Nyorai, also known as Bhaisajyaguru, is a significant figure in Japanese Buddhism. Revered as the Buddha of healing and medicine, Yakushi Nyorai extends his grace to those suffering from ailments of the mind and body. With his medicine container held in his left hand, this powerful deity demonstrates a commitment to curing both mental and physical illnesses.

The Origin of Yakushi Nyorai

Historical Context

Yakushi Nyorai, also known as Bhaisajyaguru, is a significant figure in Japanese Buddhism. During the late Heian period (794-1185), the devotional cult of Yakushi Nyorai emerged, following the introduction of Buddhism to Japan in the mid-sixth century. Its worship by ruling sovereigns and court elites can be traced back to the late seventh century, during Emperor Tenmu’s reign.

Etymology and Translations

The term Yakushi Nyorai comes from the Sanskrit word Bhaisajyaguru. This name is typically translated as the “Medicine Guru” or “King of Lapis Lazuli Light.” In Japanese Buddhism, Buddhas are referred to as Nyorai and hold the highest position within the Japanese Buddhist pantheon, termed as Nyorai-bu.

Yakushi Nyorai is commonly associated with healing and medicine. As a compassionate Buddha, Yakushi Nyorai offers relief to people suffering from illnesses and nourishes both their minds and bodies. This connection reinforces the figure’s role as a protector and physician in the spiritual realm.

Iconography and Symbolism

Depictions in Art

Yakushi Nyorai, also known as Bhaisajyaguru, is an important figure in Buddhist traditions as the Medicine Buddha. He is portrayed with a deep blue, lapis lazuli color, which symbolizes the healing properties of the dharma. In Japanese art, Yakushi is often depicted seated, with his right hand raised in a gesture of reassurance and protection.

Attributes and Representations

Yakushi Nyorai is frequently shown holding a *Bhaiṣajyaguru-*name, an important sutra associated with his teachings. The *name itself is translated as “Medicine Guru, King of Lapis Lazuli Light”. In his left hand, he often carries a jar of healing nectar, representing his ability to alleviate suffering and cure ailments.

Yakushi Nyorai is associated with 12 great vows, which are promises made in regard to healing and helping sentient beings. These vows serve as guiding principles for his role as a healer and teacher. A few of these vows include:

  1. To eliminate illness and suffering for all beings
  2. To ensure that those in need can access medicine and medical assistance
  3. To help individuals overcome spiritual and emotional distress

Through his iconography and symbolism, Yakushi Nyorai embodies the compassionate healing aspect of Buddhist teachings, offering solace and relief to those in need.

Role in Buddhist Teachings

Healing and Medicine

Yakushi Nyorai, also known as Bhaisajyaguru, plays an important role in Buddhist teachings as the Medicine Buddha or the Healing Buddha. Yakushi Nyorai is believed to offer medicine to those suffering from illnesses while also nourishing their mind and body. As a Buddha who performs the functions of a physician, Yakushi Nyorai is depicted holding a medicine container in his left hand, symbolizing his vow to cure mental and physical ailments.

Teachings and Sutras

A significant text associated with Yakushi Nyorai is the Bhaisajyaguru Sutra. This sutra discusses Yakushi’s vows and his abilities to help those in need. According to the teachings, Yakushi Nyorai made twelve vows, including curing the sick and healing the injured, as well as guiding beings toward enlightenment.

Yakushi Nyorai is said to reside in the Eastern Pure Land, a place where sentient beings can be reborn and progress on their path to enlightenment. Devotees who follow the teachings and invoke the name of Yakushi Nyorai hope to attain rebirth in this pure land and benefit from his healing powers. Throughout Japanese Buddhist history, emperors and court elites often worshiped Yakushi Nyorai, seeking his blessings for health and protection.

Cultural Influence

Impact on East Asian Buddhism

Yakushi Nyorai, also known as Bhaishajyaguru or the Medicine Buddha, has made significant contributions to the practice of Buddhism across East Asia. In Japan, the late Heian period (794-1185) was marked by a devotion towards this serene and healing figure1. The presence of Yakushi Nyorai extended beyond Japan as it surfaced in other religions throughout Asia, carrying the Sanskrit title “Tathāgata” as a term of respect2.

Festivals and Pilgrimage Sites

The worship of Yakushi Nyorai led to the development of various festivals and pilgrimage sites in Japan. One example is Yakushi-ji, a temple dedicated to the healing powers of Yakushi Nyorai, which was completed in the 7th century3. Another famous location is the Eastern Pure Land (Lapus Lazuli), where Yakushi Nyorai is believed to grant relief from illness4.

A few notable events tied to Yakushi Nyorai are:

  • Yakushi-e (薬師会): A traditional annual ceremony to pray for health and healing.
  • Yakushi-no-Hi (薬師の日): A special day to pay respect to the Medicine Buddha and receive blessings for physical and mental well-being.
  • Yakushi Pilgrimage Route (薬師巡礼): A journey through various sites dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai, encompassing temples and healing springs.

The devotion to Yakushi Nyorai has undoubtedly left its mark on the region’s spiritual landscape, providing followers with a sense of solace and support in times of need.

Worship and Veneration

Ritual Practices

Yakushi Nyorai, also known as Bhaisajyaguru, is a significant figure in Buddhism, known for healing mental and physical illnesses. As a physician-like figure, Yakushi holds a medicine container in his left hand. Believers participate in various rituals to seek blessings and relief from ailments. His compassionate nature and healing powers have made him popular among followers seeking nourishment for their mind and body.

Modern Devotion

In Japan, Yakushi Nyorai holds a sacred place in Buddhist beliefs as the master of the Eastern Pure Land, known as Lapis Lazuli, and is cherished for offering relief from illness. Many temples and shrines are dedicated to the worship of Yakushi, built as sites for devotees to connect with the healing powers of this deity. Examples of modern devotion practices include chanting mantras, meditating, and offering incense and other ritual items to strengthen their connection to the Medicine Buddha.

Legends and Myths

Miraculous Healing Stories

Yakushi Nyorai, known as Bhaisajyaguru in Sanskrit, is a revered figure in Japanese Buddhism. The Medicine Buddha is known for his abilities to heal illnesses and provide nourishment to both mind and body. Throughout history, numerous miraculous healing stories have been attributed to Yakushi Nyorai.

For instance, the Twelve Great Vows of Yakushi Nyorai center around his commitment to help sentient beings achieve enlightenment. They illustrate his extensive healing powers, capacity to illuminate realms with his radiance, and the promise to awaken the minds of sentient beings through his divine light. Many Buddhists believe that praying to Yakushi Nyorai can help ease their physical and emotional pain.

Folklore and Oral Traditions

Yakushi Nyorai’s presence is not just felt in Buddhist scriptures but also in local folklore and oral traditions. His image, holding a medicine container in his left hand, can be found across different Japanese temples. People often share tales of his compassion and healing abilities, inspiring hope and faith in his divine intervention.

Japanese culture has a long history of storytelling, which has allowed these legends of Yakushi Nyorai to be passed down through generations. Both Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike share a deep appreciation for his powerful role as the bringer of health and spiritual nourishment. This strong connection to local communities continues to solidify Yakushi Nyorai’s place as a central figure in Japanese Buddhist tradition.


  1. Yakushi Nyorai | The Art Institute of Chicago

  2. Nyorai – Wikipedia

  3. Visions of Bhaishajyaguru, the Healing Buddha – Buddhistdoor Global

  4. Yakushi Nyorai, Medecice Buddha – Japanese Buddhism