Bhaisajyaguru (Medicine Buddha) Mantra

The Medicine Buddha, or Bhaiśajyaguru, is as his name suggests connected with healing. His mantra exists in both long and short forms. In its long form it is:

namo bhagavate bhaiśajyaguru vaidūryaprabharājāya tathāgatāya arhate samyaksambuddhāya tadyathā: oṃ bhaiśajye bhaiśajye bhaiśajya-samudgate svāhā.

The short form is:

(tadyathā:) oṃ bhaiśajye bhaiśajye mahābhaiśajye bhaiśajyarāje samudgate svāhā.

“Bhaisajya” means “curativeness” or “healing efficacy,” while “guru” means “teacher” or “master.” Thus he’s the “master of healing.” He’s also known as Bhaisajyaraja, “raja” meaning “king.”

The short form of the mantra could roughly be translated as “Hail! Appear, O Healer, O Healer, O Great Healer, O King of Healing!” The optional “tadyathā” at the beginning means “thus,” and it’s not really part of the mantra, but more of an introduction.

The long version could be rendered as, “Homage to the Blessed One, The Master of Healing, The King of Lapis Lazuli Radiance, The One Thus-Come, The Worthy One, The Fully and Perfectly Awakened One, thus: ‘Hail! Appear, O Healer, O Healer, O Great Healer, O King of Healing!’ ”

In Tibetan pronunciation, the mantra comes out as:

(Tad-ya-ta) Om Be-kan-dze Be-kan-dze Ma-ha Be-kan-dze Ra-dza Sa-mung-ga-te So-ha

Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru

(Tibetan is from an entirely different language group from Sanskrit, and so it’s even harder for Tibetans to approximate Sanskrit pronunciations than it is for English speakers).

Bhaiśajyaguru is one of a set of eight healing Buddhas, which includes Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha. Bhaiśajyaguru is the head Buddha of the group.

He is Lapis Lazuli blue in color, although sometimes he’s depicted as golden-skinned. He is dressed in the robes of a bhikśu (monk). His left hand rests in his lap in the mudra (hand gesture) of meditation, while in his right hand, held palm upwards at the right knee, he holds a branch of the healing myrobalan plant.

In his left hand, which rests in his lap in the dhyana (meditation) mudra, he holds a bowl of amrita — the nectar of immortality.

The idea of the Buddha as healer goes back — as a metaphor — to the days of the historical Buddha. It’s said, in fact, that the formula of the Four Noble Truths is based on a medical model of diagnosis, etiology, prognosis, and therapy. The Buddha demonstrates in the historical teachings a good knowledge of anatomy and physiology, at least by the standards of his time, and although he almost certainly wasn’t trained in the medical arts he seems to have had some knowledge of them.

Later texts, like Santideva’s “Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life,” take up the notion of the Enlightened ones being healers, referring to the Buddha as “the Omniscient Physician who removes every pain.” He also expresses the aspiration, “May I be the medicine and the physician for the sick. May I be their nurse until their illness never recurs.”

Click below to hear an MP3 version:

Pronunciation notes:

  • The h in “bh” is lightly aspirated, similar to the English “abhor”
  • ā is like a in father
  • e is ay in lay
  • v is pronounced halfway between English v and w. If in doubt, then a w sound will do
  • ś represents the “sh” sound in the English word “shine”
  • In Tibetan pronunciation “svāhā” becomes “soha.” This is technically incorrect from a Sanskrit point of view, but it also has many centuries of tradition behind it, and in any event few Westerners pronounce Sanskrit correctly either! Still, outside of the Tibetan tradition it’s probably best to revert to the best approximation possible of the Sanskrit, where both a’s are long (as in father), and the v comes close to being an English “w” sound.

The following essay, written by Srivandana, was originally published in Dharma Life magazine, and is reprinted here by generous permission of the author.

The Healing Buddha, by Srivandana

Medicine Buddha, BhaisajyaguruMy connection with Bhaiśajyaguru, the Medicine Buddha, goes back many years. Sometimes it feels as though he has been there all my life, waiting for my emergence as a Buddhist, but there was also a natural evolution of the connection. From an early age my life has been marked by ill health, and this seems to have increased as time has gone on. The challenge has been to make sense of this, without being overwhelmed by the sensations of physical and mental pain; to live with the adversity but not to be consumed by it.

In the course of my working life I moved from the superficiality of the “rag trade” (the fashion industry) into the caring professions, and ultimately trained as an art therapist. Working in art therapy meant I could use both my love of art and my desire to help people make sense of the huge range of emotional experiences and responses that characterize life. I wondered, though, where the “spiritual” fitted in with the analytical approach I took in my work.

Then I discovered a book called The Healing Buddha by Raoul Birnbaum, which introduced me to a Buddha of whom I had never heard. My response was immediate: an enormous sense of excitement and relief that this Buddha existed within the vast pantheon of Buddhist deities. My teacher, Sangharakshita, told me he had a painting of the Medicine Buddha that had been given to him when he lived in India. He kindly had it photographed, and a copy was sent to me — the first of many images I was to collect. I fostered this feeling for Bhaisajyaguru as I wanted to be physically and spiritually healed and, more importantly, I wanted to heal others.

In 1989 I wrote to Dhardo Rimpoche, one of Sangharakshita’s Tibetan teachers, and told him about my interest in and feeling for the Medicine Buddha. I see now that I was looking for “lineage.” I wanted to hear about the Buddha I had come to love from one of my teacher’s teachers.

Dhardo Rimpoche replied, saying he appreciated my work as an art therapist, and that healing people in this way would be a great service if I could do it with an open heart. He believed the Medicine Buddha practice would be a great help to me in my work, and said that Tibetan doctors focus on devotion to the Medicine Buddha as well as prescribing medicines.

Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru

Perhaps a month after I received this letter, I awoke with a start. Something seemed to propel me from my bed and on to my meditation chair. I closed my eyes and immediately saw in my mind’s eye a dazzlingly clear image of Dhardo Rimpoche, clad in everyday robes. He was smiling, his gaze clear, direct and compassionate. Slowly behind him an image formed of a blue Buddha, the form of Bhaiśajyaguru. Dhardo Rimpoche continued to look towards me with his gentle yet strong face. Gradually the body of Bhaiśajyaguru merged with that of his, as he faded or perhaps became Bhaiśajyaguru. It was an overwhelmingly beautiful experience, which reduced me to tears. I heard a short time later that Dhardo Rimpoche had died on that very day.

I was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order in 1993, and leaped into a new phase of my relationship with Bhaiśajyaguru through taking up his sadhana, a meditation practice focusing upon him. This took our relationship into the realm of visualization, symbol and imagination.

Homage to Bhaiśajyaguru, Master of Healing. Lapis Lazuli Radiance Tathagata!

Clear blue space, blue as the sky on a summer’s day, the bright azure blue where white cliff meets sky. Clear blue space above, below, in front, behind, sweeping round. The space that contains all things and to which all things are reducible; the space that transcends time, the space in which all is stripped away, all is still, all is silent. It is a space that is empty yet full of potential, in which all things are possible; a space that is neither hot nor cold; a space of refinement in which only the beautiful can appear. This is the space in which Bhaiśajyaguru, Master of Healing, will appear if the request is made, if our devotion is absolute, our motive pure and our desire wholehearted.

Homage to Bhaiśajyaguru, Master of Healing. Lapis Lazuli Radiance Tathagata!

White. A shimmering, sun-dazzling white lotus appears, perfectly poised, as if suspended in clear blue space. White-heat, petals strong and upright, embodying an integrated male awareness. White so bright that eyes cannot remain fully open, cannot truly see its glory.

Homage to Bhaiśajyaguru, Master of Healing. Lapis Lazuli Radiance Tathagata!

Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru

Soft, quietly glowing, a moon-white mat rests in the calyx of the lotus. The moon is fully integrated femininity, standing by herself, aloof, fearless, noble. She forms a round, whole mat to receive him, ever open to him. There is the unity of the lotus and moon mat, the masculine, the feminine, that prepare to meet him.

Homage to Bhaiśajyaguru, Master of Healing. Lapis Lazuli Radiance Tathagata!

A perfectly formed hand appears, a strong foot, a figure seated in meditation. An overwhelming sense of compassion that brings tears to my eyes. Royal blue eyes set in a beautiful, blue beneficent face. He appears through the blue that transcends space and time. He is deep blue, the color of the finest lapis lazuli. He has a mature male form possessing all the major and minor marks of a Buddha: his deep indigo hair, the indigo curl between his eyebrows, the top-knot surmounting his head, his finely formed limbs — each mark a sign of perfection.

He wears saffron robes, this perfect one, this dweller in the sublime abodes. He holds his left hand as if in meditation, the fingers gently supporting a begging bowl formed from gold-traced lapis lazuli. It contains something mysterious that has the taste of freedom: amrita, sacred nectar.

His right arm stretches downwards, the hand turned outwards in the gesture of giving. In his palm he holds the healing yet bitter-tasting myrobalan fruit, attached to leaves and twigs from its mother tree.

Circling his head is the green halo that marks one who has gone beyond, marks the precious state of Enlightenment. Around his body is a blue aura, for he is the King of Lapis Lazuli Radiance. His mantra resounds:

Om Bhaiśajya Bhaiśajya Mahabhaiśajya Bhaiśajyaraja Samudgate Svaha

Om Bhaiśajya Bhaiśajya Mahabhaiśajya Bhaiśajyaraja Samudgate Svaha

Om Bhaiśajya Bhaiśajya Mahabhaiśajya Bhaiśajyaraja Samudgate Svaha

Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru

I wonder how many hours I have spent lying on my bed contemplating the significance of Bhaiśajyaguru. How many hours have I spent gazing at his form – that strong, expansive blue chest – pondering the significance of the myrobalan and the begging bowl with its amrita, the nectar of immortality? Myrobalan is used widely in both Indian and Tibetan medicine. But what exactly is he offering, and why does there appear to be such strength in his right arm, which holds something so mundane?

My quest for healing is slow, taken step by step, but each step produces further clarity and refinement of my views. I have raged against the certain knowledge that there is no physical healing for me in this lifetime. My body is marked by the characteristics of existence — it is impermanent and unsatisfactory and insubstantial. But “mind” is another matter. Mind has potential. I can change how I view and respond to both inner and outer worlds. I do not have to be bound in future lifetimes by the limitations I have brought with me or have created in this life. So what does Bhaiśajyaguru want me to do? The answer is so simple, so obvious, yet so unpalatable. “Take the medicine, Srivandana!” He would like all of us to take the medicine – if we dare!

Medicine tastes nasty and the myrobalan tastes bitter. But if we want to be healed we have to take action, even if that action is difficult and the results are even more so. Imagine being confronted with a bottle labeled “Medicine — Drink Me.” The appearance of the liquid inside the bottle produces a strong feeling of aversion.

But if you know that it is the essence of the great beauty and compassion of Bhaiśajyaguru , if you can see it with the right eyes, the liquid shimmers a lustrous blue. As you remove the cork, a putrid smell assails your nostrils. Perhaps you retch. Yet is there not also the scent of jasmine on a hot summer’s night? Summoning up your courage, you dip a finger into the liquid and taste a drop. Your face screws up in protest. It tastes of everything you do not want to taste. Your stomach recoils, your system rebels. But after a while there comes a sense of ease, release, excitement, joy and — greatest of all — understanding.

The law of impermanence is the most beautiful thing I can possibly imagine. I have made a practice of contemplating impermanence and recognizing that everything is insubstantial and therefore painful and unsatisfactory. Reflecting on impermanence, allowing it to permeate every pore, every particle of my consciousness, rocks me to the core of my being. I feel as though I have been turned inside-out. Yet the law of impermanence is full of potential and is permeated by the beauty of change. The knowledge that this change lies in my hands, and that I can take responsibility for its coming into being, is hugely empowering.

Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru

The medicine of the Dharma has to be drunk by the gallon, bathed in, fully absorbed. The vast sea of Dharma stretches into the distance, but a single drop can go a long way. Bhaiśajyaguru also points out the danger of finding oneself in a void of impermanence, without beauty and without sustenance. I need the beauty that I touch through making art and listening to music, through communicating with spiritual friends; as well as the sustenance gained from meditation, in particular meditation on the sublime abodes of positive emotion, or brahmaviharas.

In the Sutra on the Merits of the Fundamental Vows of the Master of Healing Tathagata, Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, recites the 12 great vows which the Bodhisattva Medicine King made before he attained Buddhahood. One section of the sutra is entitled The Importance of Faith. Faith comes into being at the point where knowledge meets experience. If we choose to accept the gift that Bhaiśajyaguru offers, we naturally experience a genuine desire to acknowledge his compassion and generosity, and in doing so we deepen our faith.

This gratitude can be expressed through the earnest practice of meditation, through recitation of his mantra, and through ritual worship dedicated to the healing of all living beings. In such a ceremony seven images of Bhaiśajyaguru adorn a seven-tiered mandala, and 49 butter lamps are placed before them. A sand mandala is created alongside the three-dimensional mandala. Imagine the colors and sounds of sutra reading and chanting, the depth of practice, this immersion in devotion, which continues for seven days.

An important part of my own devotion to Bhaiśajyaguru takes place at the end of the sadhana when I perform a “healing mala.” Each bead on my mala is dedicated to someone whom I know is experiencing difficulties, and I ask Bhaiśajyaguru to make them all whole.

Some years ago there was a phase when I felt I had entered a bleak state of aloneness, in which I was haunted by dark images of beings sent to annihilate me, twin harpies wishing to devour my being. When this phase reached a peak of intensity, I was faced with a long night, which seemed pitch-black on many levels. I struggled with the desire to flee, and the fear of truly taking the medicine that was held out to me. I offered light to Bhaiśajyaguru. I wanted to survive this experience of suffering, but also to understand it. In this void of psychological suffering, the sustaining force was faith.

Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru

At dawn I recognized I had passed through a metaphysical gateway, and formed a strong bond with Bhaiśajyaguru, my friend, my most passionate and skilled lover, my spiritual guide, my link with the transcendental. A deeper devotion emerged, an absolute conviction in the “rightness” of our liaison. I was learning to dive deep into the dangerous areas of the psyche, to investigate with mindfulness the mental states I found there and to offer them to Bhaiśajyaguru.

I began to see that truly to revere Bhaiśajyaguru is to have cleared away the dark veils of spiritual ignorance and to see with the eye of wisdom. I feel such tremendous gratitude to him that I only aim to worship him more and more, and thereby become him more and more; I want to wrap myself in a cloak of blue and, donning winged boots, kick off into his blue sky, scattering traces of gold, which gently fall as Dharma rain.

SrivandanaSrivandana was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order in 1993 and is devoted to ever deepening her relationship with Bhaiśajyaguru, the Medicine Buddha.

She has experienced this relationship both from a position of relative good health to one of poor health and recognizes that the only true medicine to be found comes from a bottle labeled “The Dharma.” Srivandana lives alone save for 3 feline campanions.