The assembly known as the 'Eight Medicine Buddhas' traditionally shows the central form of the Medicine Guru (Skt. Bhaisajyaguru), or Medicine Buddha (Tib. Sangye Menla), surrounded by his 'Six Brothers' and Shakyamuni Buddha. All eight of these figures wear the three red monastic robes of a nirmanakaya Buddha, and sit in vajra-posture upon a moon disc and lotus, with only their specific colours and right hand gestures differentiating them.
Bhaisajyaguru, who appears at the centre, is also known as Vaiduryaprabharaja, the 'King of vaidurya light', on account of the bright sapphire-blue rays that emanate from his divine form. These rays dispel the darkness of ignorance, attachment and aversion, which are the causes of imbalances in the three corresponding humors (Skt. doshas) of phlegm, bile and wind. Bhaisajyaguru is also recognized as the aspect that Shakyamuni Buddha assumed in order to reveal the Four Tibetan Medical Tantras. His meditation practices, the recitation of the Bhaisajyaguru Sutra, and the chanting of praises to the Eight Medicine Buddhas are performed in order to help cure physical diseases, alleviate mental or emotional disorders, and to eliminate the obstacles to health, happiness, longevity and harmony.
The Medicine Buddha's Pure Land is known as Sudarshana, meaning 'Beautiful to Behold', which may be identified with Indra's heavenly realm of the 'Thirty-Three' at the summit of Mt Meru. Within this natural paradise are found precious minerals, healing waters, fragrances, balms and all varieties of medicinal trees, plants and herbs, especially the Chebulic Myrobalan tree (Skt. haritaki; Tib. arura). Different parts of this tree, especially its plum-like fruits, are used as panaceas to treat all manner of afflictions in both the Indian Ayurvedic and Tibetan Medical traditions.
In this painting by Sunlal Ratna Tamang the Medicine Buddha appears at the centre of this eight-deity composition. He is sapphire blue in colour and his palms and soles are marked with golden eight-spoke wheels. With his right hand making the varada-mudra of supreme generosity he gracefully holds the stem of a myrobalan plant that bears three ripe fruits. While his left hand rests upon his lap in the dhyana-mudra of meditative equipoise as he supports an alms-bowl made from blue-beryl (vaidurya) gemstone that contains three other myrobalan fruits.
At the top centre is Shakyamuni Buddha, who is golden-orange in colour and makes the earth-touching gesture with his lowered right hand, and the dhyana-mudra with his left hand. And surrounding Bhaisajyaguru are his 'Six Brothers', each of who is able to cure a variety of different illnesses or afflictions of body, speech and mind.
(1) Supari Kiritita Nama Sri Raja (top left), the 'Glorious King with the Renowned Name', who is also known as Sunaman, the 'Good Name'. He is golden-yellow in colour and makes the abhaya-mudra of protection with his lowered right hand, and the dhyana-mudra of meditative equipoise with his left hand.
(2) Svaraghosa Raja (top right), the 'King of Melodious Sound', who is golden-yellow in colour. He makes the boon-granting varada-mudra with his lowered right hand, and the dhyana-mudra with his left hand.
(3) Suvarna Bhadra Vimala (middle left), the 'Golden, Excellent and Stainless', who is orange-red in colour. With his right hand in front of his heart he makes the gesture of teaching the dharma, and the dhyana-mudra with his left hand.
(4) Asokottama Shri (middle right), the 'Gloriously Supreme without Sorrow'. He is light red in colour and sits with both hands resting upon his lap in the dhyana-mudra of meditative equipoise.
(5) Dharmakirti Sagara Ghosa (bottom left), the 'Dharma-proclaiming Sound of the Ocean'. He is white in colour and with his right hand in front of his heart he makes the gesture of teaching the dharma, and the dhyana-mudra with his left hand.
(6) Abhijna Raja (bottom right), the 'King of Supreme Knowledge', who is coral red in colour. He makes the boon-granting varada-mudra with his lowered right hand, and the dhyana-mudra with his left hand.
Below Bhaisajyaguru's multicoloured lotus seat is an offering of the five sense objects: a mirror (sight), cymbals (sound), fruit (taste), a conch filled with perfume (smell), and a silk ribbon (touch). Various auspicious offerings, jewels, trees and medicinal herbs appear in the lower landscape of this thangka.
© text by Robert Beer