Medicine King [薬王菩薩] (Skt Bhaishajyaraja; Jpn Yakuo-bosatsu)

A bodhisattva said to possess the power to cure physical and mental diseases. The Sanskrit bhaishajya means curativeness, medicine, or remedy; raja means king.

According to the Meditation on the Two Bodhisattvas Medicine King and Medicine Superior Sutra, in the remote past, in the Middle Day of the Law of a Buddha named Lapis Lazuli Brightness, Bodhisattva Medicine King was a rich man named Constellation Light.

He heard the teaching of the Buddha wisdom from the monk Sun Repository. Rejoicing, he presented beneficial medicines as an offering to Sun Repository and his fellow monks, and vowed that when he attained Buddhahood all those who heard his name would be cured of illness.

Constellation Light had a younger brother Lightning Glow, who also offered beneficial medicines to Sun Repository and others, vowing to attain Buddhahood.

The people praised the two brothers, calling the elder brother Medicine King and the younger brother Medicine Superior. Constellation Light and Lightning Glow, the sutra says, were reborn respectively as Bodhisattva Medicine King and Bodhisattva Medicine Superior and will in the future attain enlightenment as the Buddhas Pure Eye and Pure Storehouse.

Bodhisattva Medicine King also figures prominently in the Lotus Sutra. The “Teacher of the Law” (tenth) chapter is addressed to Bodhisattva Medicine King.

In the “Encouraging Devotion” (thirteenth) chapter, he and Bodhisattva Great Joy of Preaching lead the host of bodhisattvas in vowing to propagate the sutra in the evil age after Shakyamuni’s death.

The “Medicine King” (twenty-third) chapter describes the austerities he performed in a previous lifetime as a bodhisattva named Gladly Seen by All Living Beings, or simply Gladly Seen.

In the remote past, Bodhisattva Gladly Seen heard the Lotus Sutra from the Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue. As a result, he mastered a form of meditation that enabled him to manifest any physical form.

In gratitude, Gladly Seen entered this meditation and caused flowers and incense to rain down from the heav-ens as an offering to the Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue and the Lotus Sutra, but he felt dissatisfied with this offering and decided that it would be more meaningful to offer his own body.

After steeping himself in scents and fragrances for twelve hundred years, he anointed his body with fragrant oil and set himself ablaze in the presence of the Buddha.

The blaze illuminated worlds equal in number to the sands of eighty million Ganges Rivers, and the Buddhas within them praised his act as the supreme offering.

His body burned for twelve hundred years, and after it was consumed, he was reborn in the land of Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue Buddha, whom he found at the point of entering nirvana.

The Buddha transferred his teachings to Bodhisattva Gladly Seen and then died.

Gladly Seen cremated the Buddha’s body and built eighty-four thousand stupas to enshrine his ashes, to which he then made offerings. Not satisfied, he proceeded to burn his arms as a further offering for seventy-two thousand years.

All the bodhisattvas, gods, people, and other beings he had converted grieved to see him without arms, but he declared to them that having offered his own flesh, he would surely attain Buddhahood, whereupon his arms were restored.

Later he was reborn as Bodhisattva Medicine King.

The “King Wonderful Adornment” (twenty-seventh) chapter says that the bodhisattvas Medicine King and Medicine Superior are reincarnations of Pure Storehouse and Pure Eye who converted their father, King Wonderful Adornment, to the correct teaching.

The Biography of the Great Teacher T’ient’ai Chihche of the Sui Dynasty by Chang-an states that T’ient’ai (538-597) was a reincarnation of Bodhisattva Medicine King because he had attained a great awakening through the “Medicine King” chapter of the Lotus Sutra.