I am about to give an interview to a video production on the Medicine Buddha. His full name is “Bhaisajyaguru Vaiduryaprabha” which means something like “The Medicine Teacher whose Light is that of Lapis Lazuli.” There is a big difference between a Buddha like Medicine Buddha, and the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. Buddha Shakyamuni was a historical person who was born as a prince and later abandoned his princely and very luxurious life to pursue the life of a wandering ascetic. He founded Buddhism, which became one of the world’s greatest religions. He lived between the 5th and 6th centuries before Christ and died (or “entered Parinirvana”) when he was 80 years old.
Medicine Buddha, on the other hand, is completely different. He is an embodiment of the wish to free all beings from all illnesses, not only physical ones, but also mental and spiritual ones. He does not, strictly speaking, live among us in flesh and blood; however, it is neither the case that he lives in heaven like the gods. After all, gods in heaven belong to samsara and they also have to die and be born again so long as they have not attained nirvana.
Medicine Buddha is a completely enlightened Buddha. When he was a bodhisattva practicing to achieve Buddhahood, he made twelve vows to alwalys help sentient beings to be free from all kinds of illness once he became a Buddha. This is why he is now Medicine Buddha. It is said in the Medicine Buddha Sutra that those who recite his name will never be reborn in the lower realms of animals, hungry ghosts or hell beings. Even those who are now suffering in hell or other lower reams will be immediately reborn in the higher realms once they recollect having recited his name.
Medicine Buddha resides in a Buddha realm in the East. This is an opposite direction from the Buddha realm of Amitabha Buddha which is in the West. A Buddha realm, or Buddhaksetra in Sanskrit, is the place where there is a Buddha. Thus our world today is a Buddha realm, presided by Buddha Shakyamuni, only that his physical body perished more than two thousand years ago in northern India, but he told his disciples that his teachings will be their Master after he passed away.
I told the interviewer that there are many merits in practicing Medicine Buddha, one of which is that one will be free from illnesses. This is not only a matter of faith, but there is ample scientific evidence showing that meditation is a very effective way to combat a variety of diseases, such as stress, eating disorders and so on. One scientist concluded that meditation is at least as effective as stopping smoking or regular exercises as a way to stay healthy. One can meditate on Medicine Buddha by reciting his name, or his heart mantra:
Om Bekandze Bekandze Maha Bekandze Radza Samudgate Soha
This is the Tibetan pronunciation. The Sanskrit version is perhaps harder to pronounce:
Om Bhaisajye Bhaisajye Mahabhaisajye Raja Samudgate Svaha
May the power of the twelve vows of Lord Medicine Buddha protect all sentient beings from illnesses and may all beings be free from sickness and death! May they realize Buddhahood in a short time!
(The interview is part of a video production on Medicine Buddha by Wat Songthamkalayani, who is about to consecrate a large statue of Medicine Buddha on April 6th.)