New Member of the Family: the Medicine Buddha

No, we haven’t had another baby yet; that’s still a work in progress. Instead, I have a new statue in the makeshift collection / Buddhist altar on my bookshelf:

Medicine Buddha

This is a statue of the Medicine Buddha, or Yakushi Nyorai (薬師如来) in Japanese. Previously, for an image of the Medicine Buddha, I used this pamphlet I got from when I visited Kofukuji Temple in Nara, Japan and its Eastern Golden Hall, which houses an image:

Kofukuji Pamphlet

It’s nice in a way, since it does remind me of that day with my little girl and I (and her blowing a kiss to the Medicine Buddha for some reason), but as it’s only a side profile, and hard to see. So, I figured I should get something more appropriate for a home altar. Images of the Medicine Buddha in the West usually follow the more Tibetan style imagery, such as that depicted here. In Japan, the imagery is somewhat different. In fact, one time long ago, when I visited a certain out of the way Shingon Buddhist temple in Japan, and received a helpful English guide on Shingon Buddhism, I initially mistook the central figure as Amitabha Buddha because of the gold skin and rays of light behind his head, but it was pointed out to me that in Japanese Buddhism, the Medicine Buddha typically holds a bowl or jar of medicine while Amitabha does not. Second, the Medicine Buddha in Japan is almost always surrounded by the 12 Heavenly Generals, or jūni shinshō (十二神将), which are mentioned by name in the Medicine Buddha Sutra. This is the only sutra to mention the Medicine Buddha in fact.

So, since I wanted to maintain the Japanese Buddhist theme, I went to to browse for any Medicine Buddha figurines, but couldn’t find them. So, then I decided to try Rakuten instead. I read about how Rakuten has sought to expand overseas and make English its official language, and so I thought I would put their website to the test. A quick search, and I found some excellent Buddhist Art, but all the product descriptions were simply machine-translated (via Google translate) from Japanese to English, so they were barely readable. However, I did find an excellent and small statue sold by Tenjiku (天竺) through Rakuten. The Medicine Buddha statue sold for ¥1500, plus ¥1200 in shipping, for a total of ¥2700 (about $30 US).

I set up an account and placed an order, but I was surprised because the email confirmation I got back from Rakuten was in Japanese only. Thankfully, I knew just enough to understand the email.1 They wanted me to write my address in English again, which I did, but the mailing address was in backwards order, since in Japan it’s usually expressed that way. Unfortunately, I could clearly see they were unfamiliar with mailing to customers in the US.

Meanwhile, the nice people at Tenjiku wrote a separate and very polite email in Japanese explaining that my order would be shipped in about 3 business days. I was quite stunned when I received a package in the mail, from Japan, three business days later. Japanese are well respected for being punctual, but this was impressive.

I was even more impressed by the excellent packaging, containing a nice hand-written letter (in Japanese), some extra Buddhist postcards (including one of Benzaiten, who’s more of a general deity in Japanese religion), and even a small card that talks about the Medicine Buddha and a popular mantra for him, written in both Sanskrit and Japanese Katakana:2

Medicine Buddha mantra

As for the statue, it is very small as you can see here (it’s on the left, Benzaiten postcard toward the right):

Buddhist "Shrine"

But the detail was amazing for something so small. You can’t find good quality Buddha statues like this in the US easily, so to be honest I felt it was worth buying something from Japan of such quality and care. Tenjiku’s service was excellent and the product, while small, was cheap and very nice. I definitely have some ideas in mind for my next purchase.

Rakuten’s website is somewhat frustrating as their English services are quite limited, but Tenjiku itself definitely sells some very nice Buddhist art. If you’re willing to try and stretch your language skills, you might be pleasantly surprised. :)

P.S. As usual, apologies for the bad photography. It’s a poorly lit room, and though the camera is better than my iPhone used previously, I don’t have the patience to learn to use it right. My wife, on the other hand, is becoming a little photography nerd. :)

P.P.S. One might also notice the large number of “religious” books on my shelf. I tend to be meticulous (to put it nicely), so different shelves on my bookshelf reflect different subjects. I have a Japanese-language study material shelf, a shelf-devoted to subjects of history and culture, a shelf devoted to Roger Zelazny and Frank Herbert science-fiction books, a shelf devoted to computer books and so on.

1 I like to think I know just enough Japanese to be dangerous. By “dangerous” I mean do really stupid things. I recently asked an acquaintance of my wife’s about where she was from (goshusshin ご出身), but mispronounced it so everyone thought I said “husband” (goshujin, ご主人). The poor lady looked surprised and awkward and I found out later she was in the middle of a divorce. DOH! I felt pretty awful afterward as I didn’t realize my faux-pas until it was too late to apologize.

2 In Japanese Buddhism, mantras are almost always expressed in Katakana, though I am not sure why. Perhaps because they’re originally foreign words from India?

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2 Comments on “New Member of the Family: the Medicine Buddha”

  1. kaspalita says:


    Lovely story – and what a beautiful rupa. Although a Pureland Buddhist now, long ago I had a medicine Buddha empowerment from a Tibetan teacher, and have felt an affinity and great gratitude to that Buddha for his blessings. Will bookmark Ratuken for a look, but don’t know if I’m brave enough to order with my Zero Japanese!

    I’m also writing because I recognise most of the books on your shelf and wanted to shout “me too”. My teacher David Brazier has a chapter in Never Die Alone.

    All the best


  2. Doug M says:

    Hi Kaspalita and welcome to the JLR. I am not familiar with empowerment ceremonies in Tibetan Buddhism as I have no experience, but at least in lay Japanese Buddhism, people often pray to the Medicine Buddha in a variety of ways. The mantra mentioned is a well-known and public mantra, though I imagine other practices devoted to the Medicine Buddha require proper esoteric initiation and training under a well-trained teacher in good standing. As I have no experience as such myself, I cannot speak to it though. I am happy with what I know as it is.

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