“If one meditates on the Medicine Buddha, one
will eventually attain enlightenment, but in the
meantime one will experience an increase in
healing powers and a decrease in physical
and mental illness and suffering.”
- Lama Tashi Namgyal
Of all the many and sometimes elaborate representations of the Buddha, the image of the Medicine Buddha is one of the most revered. While there are other healing representations of the Buddha, tradition and ancient Buddhist teachings note that just gazing upon an image of the Medicine Buddha, or even hearing or chanting the name of the Medicine Buddha can transmit great benefit and healing.
For well over two millennia the presence of the Medicine Buddha has been a source of comfort, teaching and healing for countless people. Certainly, now, at a time of great and growing economic disparity, war, greed, terrorism, spiritual disconnection, environmental stress and shifting cultural conflicts, the need for the healing compassion of the Medicine Buddha for all the world’s beings is as great as ever.
During the spring and summer of 2003, while studying and teaching with the Tibetan refugee community in Dharmsala, India, Seth Taylor arranged for the commission of the painting of a traditional Tibetan “Golden Medicine Buddha” thangka for the RoundRiver Institute LLC, of Genoa, WI. A traditional Tibetan thangka is a sacred scroll painting mounted on lavish embroidered cloth and framed with rich silk curtains. Traditionally thangkas featured various dieties or other imagery important to Buddhist teachings and were used by traveling monks as a classroom tool to bring religous teachings to those living in isolated, mountainous communities.
Unlike the more common thangkas painted in vivid primary colors and featuring bold poses, the thangka created by Tibetan artist Tashi Dhondub for RoundRiver, is a beautifully subtle creation with pigments made from a liquid gold paint mixture. The image can change dramatically with shifting light, revealing an almost three-dimensional shimmering depth. One pigment used to outline various features on the thangka is an actual traditional Tibetan medicine created from the distillation of a tree fungus.
Works by artist Tashi Dhondub are included in the collections of several western European museums and Buddhist centers. Tashi was one of the lead artsists responsible for decoration of the new temple at Deer Park, near Madison, Wisconsin.
Whatever the version of the Medicine Buddha, or other Buddhist dieties, a very precise geometry – like the example marking the end of this essay – underlies each thangka image. The creation of thangkas and sand mandalas follow specific formulas that honor classical proportions and ancient imagery and are part of elaborate spiritual visualizations of other realms.
Significantly, in traditional Tibetan representations of the Medicine Buddha, the outstretched right hand rests on the right knee in a gesture called “supreme generosity”. The right hand offers a blooming myrobalan plant (a-ru-ra). In the Tibetan medical system, illness and “dis-ease” is the result of three basic types of illness, which spring from the root cause of the three basic conflicting emotions: passion, aggression and ignorance. Of the many hundreds of plants and herbs used by Tibetan physicians, the treasured myrobalan plant is the only medicinal herb that can heal all three of these types of illness.
Just as the myrobalan plant can be part of the aid for all illness, the Medicine Buddha can see through to the true nature of any afflcition, be it physical, psychological or spiritual. And like the precious plant generously offered to the world, the Medicine Buddha will do whatever is necessary to relieve suffering.
The Medicine Buddha’s left hand rests in his lap, palm up as a representation of meditative calm and certainty. The clear view of the meditative state is the pathway to cutting through the very roots of samsara – the cycle of challenging successive rebirths – that marks our passage through the world and across time. From a Tibetan medical view, the underlying cause of all suffering and “dis-ease” is a lack of contentment and the compulsive, addicitve nature of samsara. The Medicine Buddha’s left hand holds a small begging bowl filled with “long life” necter. Yet another gift for the world.
There are many different versions of the Medicine Buddha, which are associated with various healing and empowerment ceremonies and different meditations. Whatever the incarnation, as an embodiment of great compassion, vigorous health and clear vision, the Medicine Buddha is truly a gift for our time.
Mark L. Taylor
RoundRiver Institute LLC
P.O. Box 35
Genoa, WI 54632-0035
For more information on the Medicine Buddha explore the following links:
For those interested in Tibetan medicine contact (608) 583-5311 or 583-4241.