Yakushi-ji (Nara, Japan)

By Rashan Shamsher

Yakushi-ji is one of the most celebrated Buddhist temples in Japan, affiliated with the Hossō sect. Dedicated to the main deity Bhaisajyaguru (Yakushi Nyorai), or the Medicine Buddha, Yakushi-ji temple was commissioned by Emperor Tenmu in the year 680 with the direct purpose of recovery from illness for his personal consort, who later in 686 became, Empress Jitō. The temple finished its construction around 698 and soon became renowned as one of the “Seven Great Temples” in Japan after its relocation from the Fujiwara Capital to then the new capital of Heijō-kyō, or known today as Nara.

In 973 a fire razed most of the buildings at the temple, and another in 1578 destroyed the main hall and left the temple in a ruined state. It was not until 1995 that the entire temple was completely rebuilt. The East Pagoda standing at 112 ft. tall, is one of the only original structures left of Yakushi-ji temple, and among the most beautiful pagodas in Japan. Historically, Yakushi-ji provided rituals to grant the Japanese empire protection from epidemics, ceremonies towards health, recovery from illness, and prevention of disease, and these are still on-going today.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, a statue of Jinja Daisho, one of the Twelve Heavenly Generals in the retinue of the Medicine Buddha was dedicated in a hall of the Toindo Hall on temple grounds. Many rituals were offered for the victims of the Covid-19 pandemic, which were performed by placing a jar of medicine at the foot of the Bhaisajyaguru statue, and reciting daily prayers for an end to the pandemic. Additionally, in reverence towards good health, a ceremony to read the Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra is performed on the 8th of every month. Various other healing rituals and ceremonial methods involve sutra copying, talismans, and goma (fire sacrifice) rites. Furthermore, the Yakushiji temple is often visited by Shugendo practitioners who wish to perform health practices in presence of the Medicine Buddha.


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Scholarly Sources

  • Brock, Karen L. “Japan, Buddhist Art in.” Encyclopedia of Buddhism, edited by Robert E.Buswell, Jr., vol. 1, Macmillan Reference USA, 2004, pp. 391-396.
  • Suzuki, Yui. Medicine Master Buddha. Brill, Leiden, 2011.
  • Miyake, Hitoshi, and 宮家準. “Religious Rituals in Shugendo: A Summary.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, vol. 16, no. 2/3, 1989, pp. 101–16.
  • Schumacher, M. 12 divine generals of Yakushi Buddha – Japanese Buddhism. https://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/12-generals.shtml.