This cast-bronze, gilded Buddha is known as Bhaisajyaguru or Medicine Buddha, who is associated with healing and medicine. In the 7th century, the Chinese monk Yijing (635-713), traveled to India and translated into Chinese the Sanskrit scripture Bhaisajyaguru Sutra-a major textual source for understanding the Medicine Buddha. Since that time, worship of Medicine Buddha has expanded enormously in China.
Here, the Medicine Buddha seated in the meditation pose holds a myrobalan fruit or healing aruna fruit in his right hand. This fruit is native to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and southwestern China, and is referred to as a “medicine pill” in oral tradition. Other representations of the Medicine Buddha sometimes show the deity with a medicine pot or bowl in his left hand.
When Sallie Casey Thayer purchased this Medicine Buddha from the dealer Yamanaka in 1920, it may have been a part of a sculptural triad. The other two, identified as Sakyamuni (the historical Buddha) and Amitabha (the Buddha of the Western Paradise) are now located in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden in Maine. In the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) tradition of Buddhism, Sakyamuni, Amitabha, and the Medicine Buddha stand supreme, respectively representing the founder, consoler, and healer. This sculptural assemblage of three Buddhas is commonly found on the principal altar of the main assembly hall in Chinese Buddhist temples; however, the original location of this triad remains unknown.