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Medicine Master Buddha: The Iconic Worship of Yakushi in Heian Japan

CJRC Lecture Series

A book talk by Professor Yui Suzuki of the University of Maryland on her monograph, Medicine Master Buddha: The Iconic Worship of Yakushi in Heian Japan (Leiden: Brill, 2012).
The book explores the primacy of icons in disseminating the devotional cult of the Medicine Buddha, and analyzes surviving examples of wood Medicine Buddha statues from the Heian period (794-1185 CE) and contends that many were symbolically and ritually linked to Saichō (766-822 CE), the founder of the Japanese Tendai Buddhist school. Worship of the Medicine Master Buddha (J. Yakushi) became most influential during the Heian Period (794-1185), when Yakushi's popularity spread to different levels of society and locales outside of the capital. The large number of Heian-period Yakushis statues found all across Japan demonstrates that the worship of this deity was an integral component of Heian material practice.
Medicine Master Buddha focuses on the ninth-century Tenda master Saichō (766-822 CE) and his personal reverence for a standing Yakushi icon. Suzuki proposes that, after Saichō's death, the Tendai school played a critical role in popularizing the cult of the Medicine Buddha as a way of memorializing its founding master and strengthening its position as a major school of Japanese Buddhism. This study offers a fresh perspective on sculptural representations of the Medicine Buddha, and in doing so, reconsiders Yakushi worship as foundational to Heian religious and artistic culture.