Although Ven. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni is a fully ordained nun in the Thai tradition of Theravada Buddhism, she has constructed a temple to house a majestic brilliant-blue statue of the Medicine Buddha, a Mahayana figure. As Dhammananda explains, she may have found the Medicine Buddha through the influence of her mother, Ven. Ta Tao Fa Tzu, a Buddhist nun in Thailand (ordained in Taiwan) who founded an all-women’s monastery.
My mother strongly manifested the bodhisattva path, acting as a teacher and healer for thirty years. She was already known as a spiritual healer before her ordination, and was trained in healing by her spiritual master, keeping this as part of her bodhisattva’s commitment. I sat at my mother’s side to interview people who came with complaints—sometimes physical, sometimes simply life struggles. She would ask questions, and in some cases it was very clear to her that this particular person had done something wrong to another in a previous lifetime. She would work as mediator to help the two come to an agreement. She might recommend that the person follow the eight precepts for a week and avoid eating meat. She would advise, “Keep your mind pure, to not cause any harm mentally, verbally and physically. Then dedicate this merit to the person whom you have harmed.” Later, as she spoke to both parties, she would be sure to consult the spirit on the other side as to whether the deal was acceptable.
In 1994, before I became a nun, I saw the blue Medicine Buddha during meditation. He made a deep imprint on my inner vision. He was huge, carved out of monolithic rock, sitting in a valley. There was an entrance on his right knee, and people walked in through that entrance to be blessed by him. Seven years later, after I was ordained, it dawned on me that it might be my mission to bring this Healing Buddha or Medicine Buddha to actuality.
I studied various sculptural techniques, and chose one that allowed me to create a Buddha identical to the one in my vision. When he was cast, we had 486.4 grams of melted gold poured into the head. The gold was donated by laypeople who value the chance to contribute precious materials to the creation of a Buddha image. He sits almost eleven feet high, with a width of 108 inches at the crossed knees, and weighs more than two tons. Because of the Medicine Buddha’s size, he had to be brought into the temple before the building was completed.
Some Thai Theravadin people have objected that this Buddha is Mahayanan in origin. It is true that we often see the blue Buddha in connection with Tibetan Buddhism. And in Chinese and Japanese Mahayana Buddhism, there are other medicine buddhas which are not necessarily blue. In Cambodia, statues of healing or medicine buddhas have been discovered in over one hundred hospitals built by a famous Khmer Mahayana king in the twelfth century. I offer this in response to objections from my fellow Theravadins, and believe that I remain faithful to my Theravada background, with an understanding that the Medicine Buddha is nothing but the healing aspect of the Buddha.
Our temple is open for people to come and pay respects to the Medicine Buddha and to get blessings for their well-being. Some who are ill stay for a week, hoping to receive healing from his image. For the official blessing, the person must keep the eight precepts for a week, and abstain from eating meat, as a way to learn respect for the life of all beings. We do regular chanting of bodhisattva vows, coordinated with the waxing and waning of the moon, and we offer water blessed by the Medicine Buddha to the households visited on our almsrounds.
In the sutra devoted to him, the Medicine Buddha made it explicitly clear that more than healing the body, he is interested in healing the mind. This is a key concept in Buddhism and the goal of our bodhisattva path. When ordinary people face illness, they are often motivated to seek spiritual help, so they come to be with the Medicine Buddha. Some of them are more ready than others to awaken to the realization that a deeper illness exists within them, caused by their clinging to the self. They are drawn, then, to listen to the message, to awaken and to follow the teachings of the Buddha.