The medicine Buddha (Bhaiṣajyaguru) and Tsongkhapa (1357-1419). Distemper painting by a Tibetan painter.

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In the centre of the painting is the Medicine Buddha (Bhaiṣajyaguru). His body colour can be blue, white or yellow: here it is yellow, and his hands and feet are adorned with henna. His hair is blue, his top knot is surmounted by a yellow crest jewel, his halo is green and his body nimbus is dark blue like lapis lazuli and traversed with golden rays. His right hand forms the meditation gesture and his left hand he holds a blue bowl containing a myrobalan plant with three pieces of fruit growing from it. His embroidered robe is red and yellow. His legs are in full lotus posture

Showing that the art of medicine depends on learning, he is surmounted by the smaller figure of Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), the founder of the Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa) school of Tibetan Buddhism which stresses the aspect of scholarship. This order is recognisable by its yellow hats. His right hand forms the preaching gesture while his left hand holds a white bowl resting on a white scarf. In the bowl is a butter lamp. In the clouds on his right and left are four apsarās or apsārases (offering goddesses). The offering goddess on the right holds a parasol and the one on the left a banner. Flanking Tsongkhapa from the left, starting from the top is Mañjuśrī, the protector of the Gelugpa sect. Below him is the Bodhisattva Rol-pa'i rDo-rje in the form of lCaṅ-skya Qutugtu who belongs to the Gelugpa School, with a golden halo. The halo of Tsongkhapa is green like that of the Buddha

Beneath lCaṅ-skya is Vajrabhairava, a form of Yamāntaka, the fierce aspect of Mañjuśrī, with nine heads, thirty four arms and seventy legs. One component of the symbolism of the fierce form of the deity is the degree of concentration and number of commitments required by the supplicant in order to gain him as a meditational deity. The many heads, arms and legs are sometimes explained as historically going back to several deities who, in the course of migrations of populations and cults, have merged into one. In that case, the mathematics of multiple body parts must not be taken too literally. Vajrabhairava is dark blue and embraces a dark blue consort treading on human beings

On the right hand side of Tsongkhapa, the topmost figure is Amitābha, the smaller figure with a red body colour, in monks' robes, holding a blue pātra (bowl) filled with white nectar. Beneath him is a dark blue Guhyasamāja with three heads (blue, white and red) embracing a light blue goddess. He holds bell and vajra, kaḍga (sword) and wishfulfilling gem. His arms crossed over his chest form the vajrahūmkāra gesture. There is a wheel in his crown. Beneath this couple is Saṃvara with four heads, twelve arms and a ritual wand at his left side. He is treading on a human being. His body colour is blue. Flanking the Medicine Buddha are Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana, bareheaded in monks' robes, holding begging bowls and khakkhara clattering staffs, to warn insects and other animals that they are approaching so that no harm will come to them

Beneath the Medicine Buddha, the Wheel of the Law can be seen which symbolises the teaching of the Buddha. The Theravāda Buddhism of South and South East Asia is symbolised by the first turning of the Wheel; the Chinese, Japanese and Korean Mahāyāna Buddhism, which originated in India but disappeared from there, the second turning, especially the Prajñāpāramitā and Ratnakuta sūtras; and the Tibetan Vajrayāna as an extension of the third turning, which is represented by the Avatataṃsaka and Tathāgatagarbha sūtras. The Vajrayāna is usually regarded as the fourth turning

Beneath the wheel is Yama Phyi-sgrub, the Lord of Death. His cognomen means "the outer attainment". His head is that of a bull. His body colour is dark blue. In his right hand he brandishes a daṇḍa club with a skull at the top end, in his left he holds a pāśa (lasso). His right leg is bent, his left leg is standing straight on a blue bull which is kneeling on a drowning woman. Yama's body is surrounded by flames. He is wearing a skull crown and a skull garland

On the left of Yama is the Yellow Mañjuśrī with a lotus stem by his side. On the lotus flower rests a sword. In his right hand he holds a book and sits in the rājalīlāsana (royal ease posture), that is one leg squatting and the other in meditation posture. On the right of Yama is the White Padmapāṇi. His right hand forms the preaching gesture and his left hand holds a white lotus. His posture is also that of royal ease



Physical description

1 painting : distemper on linen ; distemper 69 x 40 cm

References note

Marianne Winder, Catalogue of Tibetan manuscripts and xylographs, and catalogue of thankas, banners and other paintings and drawings in the Library of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London 1989, pp. 74-76, thankas banners and paintings no. 6
Christof Jänicke, Alternativ Heilen, Munich 2006, p. 202


Wellcome Collection 47100i

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