In some Buddhist denominations, The Twelve Yakṣa Generals or Twelve Heavenly Generals are the protective deities, or Yakṣa, of Bhaiṣajyaguru also known as Medicine Buddha, the buddha of healing. They are introduced in the Bhaiṣajyaguruvaidūryaprabharāja Sūtra also commonly known as Medicine Buddha Sūtra.
In sūtras it is said that by reciting Amitābha’s name, will one to be reborn in his Western Paradise the Land of Ultimate Bliss. But for others who become severely ill and have affinity with Bhaiṣajyaguru or the Medicine Buddha as he is often referred to, reciting his name while you are still alive, will help you recover and come to higher spiritual realization, to suffer less and will also help prepare you to be reborn in either Buddha realms of your choice, either Medicine Buddha’s Eastern realm of Vaiḍūrya Light or Amitābha Western realm of Sukhāvatī.
Medicine Buddha on achieving Buddhahood, became the Buddha of the Eastern pure land of Vaiḍūryanirbhāsa “Pure Lapis Lazuli”. There, he is attended to by two bodhisattvas symbolizing the light of the sun and the light of the moon respectively. Their names are:
1. Suryaprabha Bodhisattva (Sunlight)
Translated Vietnamese name: Nhật Quang Biến Chiếu Bồ Tát
2. Candraprabha Bodhisattva (Moonlight)
Translated Vietnamese name: Nguyệt Quang Biến Chiếu Bồ Tát
When Śākyamuni Buddha revealed the Medicine Buddha Sūtra, there were twelve Yakṣa generals in the assembly at that time. According to Indian tradition, Yakṣa are fierce spirit-beings who often cause diseases through demonic possession. These warrior generals, each having 7000 Yakṣas in his troop all took refuge in the Three Jewels, aspiring to aid all sentient beings. They vowed especially to aid all who circulate Bhaiṣajyaguru-sūtra and all who accept and hold to the name that Buddha of Healing. They and their troops pledged to and protect such persons, freeing them from pain and suffering and easing their path. They also recommended a simple ritual invoking the Buddha of Healing, in order to cure disease.
The Medicine Buddha mantra is held to be extremely powerful for healing of physical, mental illnesses and purification of negative karma. One form of practice based on the Medicine Buddha is done when one is stricken by disease. The patient is to recite the long Medicine Buddha mantra 108 times over a glass of water and blow on it. The water is now believed to be blessed by the power of the mantra and the blessing of the Medicine Buddha himself, and the patient is to drink the water. This practice is then repeated each day until the illness is cured.
Medicine Buddha Dhāraṇī in Tibetan:
༄༅ༀ་ནམོ་བྷ་ག་བ་ཏེ་བྷཻ་ཥ་ཛྱ་གུ་ཪུ་བཻ་ཌཱུརྻ་པྲ་བྷ་ཪ་ཛཱཡ། ཏ་ཐཱ་ག་ཏཱ་ཡ། ཨརྷ་ཏེ་སམྱཀྶཾ་བུདྡྷ་ཡ། ཏདྱ་ཐཱ། ༀ་བྷཻ་ཥ་ཛྱེ་བྷཻ་ཥ་ཛྱེ་མ་ཧཱ་བྷཻ་ཥ་ཛྱ་ས་མུ་ངྒ་ཧེ་སྭཱ་ཧཱ།
OM NAMO BHAGWATE BHEKANDZYE / GURU BEDURYA PRABHA RADZAYA TATAGATAYA / ARHATE SAMYAKSAM BUDDHAYA / TADYATHA OM BHEKANDZYE BHEKANDZYE / MAHA BHEKANDZYE BHEKANDZYE / RADZA SAMUGATE SOHA
Namo Bhagavate Bhaiṣajyaguru Vaidūryaprabharājāya Tathāgatāya Arhate Samyaksambuddhāya Tadyathā: Oṃ Bhaiṣajye Bhaiṣajye Bhaiṣajya-Samudgate Svāhā
In the Medicine Buddha Sūtra, The twelve Yakṣa Generals all raised their voices together and addressed the Buddha: “O Lord, we now, having received the Buddha’s awesome force, have been granted the hearing of the name of the Master of Healing, the Lapis Lazuli Radiance Tathāgata. Never again will we have the fear of sinking into a woe-some path. Together, we all have the same thought: we will take utmost refuge in the Buddha, the Teachings, and the Order. We aspire to bear responsibility to do acts of righteous benefit, enrichment. peace and joy for all sentient beings, no matter in what village, town, capital, or forest grove of retirement they dwell.”
As to those who circulate this sutra or who further accept and hold to the name of the Master of Healing. the Lapis Lazuli Radiance Tathāgata and revere and worship him, we will cause them to be freed from all suffering and difficulties. All the desires of these persons will be caused to be fulfilled. Those who seek release from the distress of illness should also read and recite this sutra. Taking a five colored rope, they should knot our names into it, untying the knots when their wishes are fulfilled.”
At that point, the Śākyamuni Buddha praised all the Great Yakṣa Generals saying: “Excellent, excellent, Great Yakṣa Generals! When you think of repaying the merciful blessings of the Lord Master of Healing, the Lapis Lazuli Radiance Tathāgata, you should ever serve all sentient beings in the way you have described, bringing to them blessings and benefits, peace and joy.”
Many say the twelve Yakṣa Generals represent the twelve vows of Medicine Buddha; The 12 were present when the Historical Buddha introduced the “Healing Sutra.
The Twelve Aspirations of the Medicine Buddha
1. In my pure land, may all beings exhibit the 32 major marks and the 80 minor marks of a buddha. If this does not come to pass, may I not reach enlightenment.
2. May all sentient beings born in my pure land radiate glowing light – a light that dispels all dwelling in dark- ness. If this does not come to pass, may I not reach enlightenment.
3. Whoever is born in that pure land, may they always enjoy material abundance and be free of all worldly concerns. If this does not come to pass, may I not reach enlightenment.
4. May the beings in that pure land possess a stable vision of the pure view. If this does not come to pass, may I not reach enlightenment.
5. May those born in my pure land pay utmost attention to the purity of their conduct. May the results of negative karma due to previous actions be deferred to the time of most benefit to spiritual growth. If this does not come to pass, may I not reach enlightenment.
6. May they all emanate health and growth in body and mind. May they be relieved of any discomfort or disorder that hinders spiritual growth. If this does not come to pass, may I not reach enlightenment.
7. May my name become a mantra that heals all ailments. May the sound of my name and the image of my nirmāṇakāya be a balm that eases all pain. May the sound of my name or visualization of my image cure physical troubles and sickness. If this does not come to pass, may I not reach enlightenment.
8. May those who wish to change gender have that wish be fulfilled. May that choice lead directly to enlightenment. If this does not come to pass, may I not reach enlightenment.
9. May those who hold wrong views or beliefs regarding dharma immediately develop right view when they hear my name. As a result, may they engage in bodhisattva activities. If this does not come to pass, may I not reach enlightenment.
10. May those who live in fear and are easily controlled, who feel threatened with incarceration and punishment, leave behind their fears of catastrophe. If this does not come to pass, may I not reach enlightenment.
11. May those whose subsistence has depended on predation and the killing of other beings have all their material needs met upon hearing my name. May their freedom result in the recognition of their innate bodhisattva nature. If this does not come to pass, may I not reach enlightenment.
12. Upon hearing my name, may those who suffer from any kind of hunger, thirst, or cold have all their needs provided for. May their food, drink, and clothing free them from mundane concerns so that they may begin to benefit others. If this does not come to pass, may I not reach enlightenment.
After the great Medicine Buddha made these bodhisattva vows, he kept these promises throughout all his lifetimes as a bodhisattva. When we practice the Medicine Buddha, we should remember these commitments and aspire to do the same, for the sake of all living beings. If we do this with love, compassion, and bodhichitta, it will benefit us and all other living beings.
While interpretations differ, the Yakṣa Generals are usually depicted with fierce facial expressions and menacing martial stances. They usually wear armor, topped off with a helmet or spiked hair. Their main function is to protect Medicine Buddha, to protect those who read and believe in Buddhist writings that expand faith in Medicine Buddha, to fight the enemies of Buddhism, and to wage war on sickness. They are said to command the 84,000 pores of the skin in defending the health of the faithful. Their ferocious expressions represent their anger with evil deeds and evil people.
The twelve Yakṣa Generals are named as follows with depiction in skin color along with their weapon ornament:
1. Kumbhīra is depicted yellow in color; armed with vajra; leader of the twelve generals
2. Vajra is depicted white in color; armed with sword; the one who protects mankind, bringing people’s aspirations to fruition
3. Mihira is depicted yellow in color; armed with vajra
4. Aṇḍīra is depicted green in color; armed with mallet or fly-whisk
5. Anila is depicted red in color; armed with trident or arrow
6. Śāṇḍilya is depicted gray in color; armed with sword or conch shell
7. Indra is depicted red in color; armed with staff or halberd
8. Pajra is depicted red in color; armed with mallet, a bow or arrow
9. Mahoraga is depicted white in color; armed with axe
10. Kinnara or Sindura is depicted yellow in color; armed with rope or fly-whisk, pilgrim’s staff (khakkara)
11. Catura is depicted blue in color; armed with mallet or sword
12. Vikarāla is depicted red in color; armed with a three-pointed vajra
It is believed yet that they offer protection during the 12 daylight hours, or that they represent the 12 months, 12 cosmic directions emanating from either a Buddha or Bodhisattva or the 12 animals of the 12-year Chinese zodiac.
Kumbhīra is an emanation of Maitreya Buddha, guardians of people born in the year of the Pig.
Vajra is an emanation of Mahāsthāmaprāpta Bodhisattva, guardians of people born in the year of the Dog.
Mihira is an emanation of Amitābha Buddha, guardians of people born in the year of the Rooster.
Aṇḍīra is an emanation of Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva, guardians of people born in the year of the Monkey.
Anila is an emanation of Marīci Bodhisattva, guardians of people born in the year of the Goat.
Śāṇḍilya is an emanation of Ākāśagarbha Bodhisattva, guardians of people born in the year of the Horse.
Indra is an emanation of Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva, guardians of people born in the year of the Snake.
Pajra is an emanation of Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva, guardians of people born in the year of the Dragon.
Mahoraga is an emanation of Medicine Buddha, guardians of people born in the year of the Cat.
Kinnara or Sindura is an emanation of Samantabhadra Buddha, guardians of people born in the year of the Tiger.
Catura is an emanation of Vajrapāṇi Bodhisattva, guardians of people born in the year of the Ox.
Vikarāla is an emanation of Śākyamuni Buddha, guardians of people born in the year of the Rat.
By the late Heian period, or early Kamakura era, the twelve become associated or sometimes confused with the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, and sculptures thereafter often show an animal in the head dress of each general. The general named Kumbhīra is the leader of the twelve.