Medicine Buddha Altar & Meditation Garden
Medicine Buddha Altar & Meditation Garden
Medicine Buddha Altar & Meditation Garden holds the statues of Bhaiṣajyaguru (Medicine Buddha), arhats, Vajra Kings, vajras, Primordial Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas. First stop for many who have visited Jinyin Temple and as one of the Temple’s main community spaces, this sacred garden has witnessed many friendships and connections formed between people who were here.
In the Mahayana Buddhism tradition, Medicine Buddha is known and venerated for his power of healing. According to the Medicine Buddha Sutra (Bhaiṣajyaguruvaiḍuryaprabharaja Sutra), all diseases are caused by people’s greed, anger, and delusion. Bhaiṣajyaguru is the Unexcelled Trainer who trains us to tame our mind. When our mind is free from mental afflictions, our physical well-being will also receive health benefits.
In artistic representation, similar to Śākyamuni Buddha, Bhaiṣajyaguru is often depicted with the traditional monastic robes with a serene presence. He sits in a meditative posture upon a lotus throne holding a medicine jar in one hand and shuni mudra in the other, exuding an aura of tranquility and compassion. (What is Shuni Mudra?)
At Jinyin Temple, we hold Bhaiṣajyaguru in deep reverence. We strive to create an environment where individuals can connect with the healing presence of the Medicine Buddha and explore the transformative power of compassion and wisdom in their lives. Everyone is welcome to come to Medicine Buddha Altar & Meditation Garden to practice for wellbeing and awareness. The Medicine Buddha’s practice involves meditation, visualization, and recitation of his mantra, which is believed to carry powerful healing vibrations. Engaging in these practices enables individuals to tap into their own innate capacity for healing and to develop greater empathy and care for others.
One can evoke Bhaiṣajyaguru to receive blessings by chanting the Medicine Buddha Mantra focusing on one’s afflictions and visualizing the Buddha. Visualization practice can be done to alleviate physical and mental pain by visualizing a small form of the Buddha in the actual part of your body or mind where healing is needed. One can practice chanting and visualization for oneself as well as others to receive the blessing of the Medicine Buddha.
The Five Tathāgatas (五方佛), also known as the Five Dhyani Buddhas, are a central concept in Vajrayana Buddhism. Each Tathāgata represents a different aspect of enlightened consciousness and serves as a meditation focus for practitioners. Here are the five Tathāgatas:
Vairocana: Vairocana, the central and primary Tathāgata, represents the wisdom of the Dharmadhatu (the realm of truth). He embodies the all-pervading nature of ultimate reality and the realization of emptiness.
Akshobhya: Akshobhya, also known as “Immovable,” represents the transformation of anger and aggression into mirror-like wisdom. He is associated with the purification of negative emotions and the cultivation of inner stability and equanimity.
Ratnasambhava: Ratnasambhava embodies generosity, abundance, and the transmutation of pride into the wisdom of equanimity. He represents the richness and preciousness of all phenomena.
Amitabha: Amitabha, also known as “Infinite Light,” is associated with the transformation of desire and attachment into discriminating wisdom. He symbolizes compassion, pure perception, and the aspiration to be reborn in his Pure Land.
Amoghasiddhi: Amoghasiddhi represents the transformation of jealousy and envy into all-accompanying wisdom. He embodies fearlessness, decisive action, and the ability to accomplish positive actions without obstacles.
The practice of meditating on the Five Tathāgatas allows practitioners to cultivate these qualities within themselves, purify negative mental states, and attain realization of the nature of mind. Together, the Five Tathāgatas symbolize the totality of enlightened qualities and provide a comprehensive framework for spiritual development in Vajrayana Buddhism.
Commonly seen in depictions and iconography, Bhaiṣajyaguru is accompanied by two main attendants or disciples — Chandraprabha (月光菩薩) and Sūryaprabha (日光菩薩).
As written in the Sutra of the Merits of the Fundamental Vows of Bhaisagyaguru Tathagata of Lapis Lazuli Crystal Radiance (藥師琉璃光如來本願功德經 Yaoshi Liuli Guang Rulai Benyuan Gongde Jing) (Taisho Tripitaka, Vol. 14, No. 450), the buddha realm or the Pure Land of Bhaisagyaguru is described as follows:
In this land, the ground is made of lapis lazuli, the boundaries are demarcated with golden cords, the towns, towers, palaces, pavilions, as well as the balconies, windows and draperies are all made of the Seven Treasures. The merits, virtues and adornments of this realm are identical to those of Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land in the west. In this land dwell two great bodhisattvas, Universal Solar Radiance and Universal Lunar Radiance. Among the countless bodhisattvas, they are the leaders. Each in turn will serve as successor to the Medicine Buddha and as the able guardian of His True Dharma treasury.
Chandraprabha’s name translates to “Radiant Moon,” symbolizing the purity and luminosity of his enlightened consciousness. In paintings, Chandraprabha is usually portrayed as a bodhisattva with a shining silver or white complexion, representing the gentle radiance of the moon. He embodies the soothing qualities of compassion and healing. Chandraprabha is usually depicted on Bhaiṣajyaguru’s left side. Votive practice towards Chandraprabha allows practitioners to seek inspiration and seek his blessings for spiritual growth and protection.
The observance of Chandraprabha’s sacred day is on the same date as the Mid-Autumn Festival, the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar, when the moon is at its fullest.
The name Sūryaprabha (日光菩薩) combines “Sūrya,” meaning “sun” in Sanskrit, and “prabha,” which translates to “radiance” or “brilliance.” This name reflects Sūryaprabha’s association with the illuminating wisdom that dispels ignorance and brings forth clarity.
Statues of Chandraprabha and Sūryaprabha closely resemble each other. Sūryaprabha is often depicted or placed on Bhaiṣajyaguru’s right side. In artistic depictions, Sūryaprabha is often depicted with a radiant golden complexion, symbolizing the brilliance of the sun as well as the radiance of wisdom and the transformative effects it can have on individuals seeking healing and spiritual awakening.
Sūryaprabha’s role as an attendant to Bhaiṣajyaguru signifies the importance of wisdom in the context of healing and spiritual well-being. As an embodiment of wisdom, Sūryaprabha represents the transformative power of understanding, insight, and discernment.
Together with Chandraprabha, these two attendants of Bhaiṣajyaguru symbolize the qualities of wisdom and compassion, which are essential in the practice of medicine and healing. Their presence signifies the power of light, both literal and metaphorical, in dispelling darkness and alleviating suffering. Their presence also emphasizes the holistic nature of healing, serving as reminders of the inseparable connection between spiritual well-being and physical health.
Acalanātha (不動明王) is a deity revered in Vajrayana Buddhism. He is considered a wrathful manifestation of either Vairocana, the buddha Akṣobhya, or the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī. The name “Acalanātha” translates to “Immovable One” or “Unshakable Lord,” reflecting the deity’s steadfastness and unwavering nature. Acalanātha is often depicted with a fierce and wrathful appearance, symbolizing his power to overcome ignorance, delusion, and negative forces.
As a protector deity, Acalanātha guards the teachings of the Buddha and assists practitioners in overcoming obstacles and hindrances on their spiritual path. He is associated with subduing inner and outer disturbances, purifying negative energies, and transforming them into enlightened qualities.
Acalanātha’s wrathful appearance shows his bulging eyes and an angry gesture. He stands on a rock that represents the golden Mount Meru. In one hand, he holds a cable, representing the catching of negative energies, and in the other hand, he holds a sword, representing the cutting through of ignorance and afflictions. Acalanātha’s fierce appearance serves as a reminder of the inherent power within individuals to overcome inner obstacles and transform negative emotions into wisdom and compassion. The deity’s teachings and practices are a means to awaken these qualities and realize the true nature of reality.
Devotion to Acalanātha involves mantra recitation, visualization practices, and rituals performed by practitioners seeking protection and guidance. The practice of Acalanātha is aimed at cultivating fearlessness, inner strength, and the ability to overcome adversity and obstacles on the path to enlightenment.
Yamāntaka (大威德明王), also known as Vajrabhairava, is a fierce and wrathful deity in Vajrayana Buddhism. The name “Yamāntaka” combines “Yama,” the lord of death in Hindu and Buddhist mythology, and “antaka,” meaning “destroyer” or “conqueror.” He is thus known as the “Destroyer of Death” and for his power to conquer death, evil and ignorance. Yamāntaka is considered a manifestation of wisdom and compassion in their most wrathful and transformative forms and the wrathful manifestation of Mañjuśrī.
In artistic representations, Yamāntaka shows a fierce expression with his multiple heads, arms, and legs, and rides a water buffalo. He roars to command the evil to stop sinful acts which create obstacles and harm sentient beings. Yamāntaka’a wrathful form represents the powerful force required to cut through the root of ignorance and delusion, paving the way for the realization of enlightenment. The presence of the buffalo underneath Yamāntaka serves as a powerful visual metaphor for the triumph over ignorance, the destruction of delusion, and the realization of enlightened wisdom and compassion.
Yamāntaka’s practice is associated with the transformation of aggression, anger, and ignorance into enlightened qualities, and is aimed at generating inner transformation, fearlessness, and the destruction of all obstacles on the path to liberation. Through practicing, practitioners aim to overcome their fears and negative emotions, attain wisdom, and achieve liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
The votive practice to Yamāntaka involves complex visualization practices, mantra recitation, and ritual ceremonies performed by advanced practitioners. It is considered an advanced tantric practice that requires proper initiation or empowerment, guidance and training from qualified teachers within the Vajrayana tradition.
Hayagrīva (馬頭明王), also known as Hayagrīva Mahakala, is a deity revered in both Hinduism and Vajrayana Buddhism. In these traditions, Hayagrīva is associated with knowledge, wisdom, and protection. The name “Hayagrīva” translates to “Horse-Necked” in Sanskrit, referring to the deity’s distinctive iconography.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, Hayagrīva is one of the thousands of transformation bodies of Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. He is believed to possess the power to dispel ignorance, grand insight, and protect against spiritual disturbances. He is often depicted with a fierce expression which symbolizes the courage required to confront and overcome the forces of ignorance and delusion in order to attain higher levels of understanding and realization. His anger derives from his compassion, rather than resentment, for all sentient beings.
The practice of Hayagrīva involves mantra recitation, visualization, and ritual ceremonies performed by practitioners seeking protection, knowledge and the removal of obstacles. Devotional practice to Hayagrīva helps with intellectual pursuits and spiritual growth.
Aparājita (無能勝金剛明王) is the wrathful manifestation of Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva. He is known as “Undefeated,” and often depicted as a wrathful and fierce figure representing the unconquerable nature of enlightened wisdom. Aparājita is associated with the subjugation of negative forces, the removal of obstacles, and the cultivation of fearlessness. As a wisdom king, Aparājita embodies the transformative power of wisdom and compassion. His wrathful form symbolizes the swift and decisive action required to overcome ignorance and delusion.
In visual representations, Aparājita is depicted with multiple heads and arms, each holding various weapons and ritual implements. These attributes represent his ability to engage skillfully with different aspects of existence and to protect practitioners on their spiritual path.
Devotees may call upon Aparājita for guidance, protection, and the removal of obstacles that hinder spiritual progress. By connecting with Aparājita’s enlightened qualities, practitioners aim to cultivate fearlessness, wisdom, and compassionate action in their own lives. To invoke Aparājita, bring your palms together to form the prayer mudra and bow three times to the wisdom king, and recite: om, aparājitah, dhrim, dhrim, rim, rim, jrim, jrim, hūm, phat for as many times as you would like. May the merit of this practice remove your physical and mental burdens.
Mahācakra (大輪明王), also Mahācakravajri (大輪金剛), is one of the eight main wisdom kings in Mahāyāna Buddhism. He is the wrathful manifestation of Maitreya Bodhisattva.
As a wisdom king, Mahācakra embodies the transformative energy of enlightened awareness and is associated with purifying negative energies and protecting practitioners from obstacles. Devotees may invoke Mahācakra to remove spiritual hindrances, purify negativities, and facilitate spiritual progress.
Mahācakra is often depicted in a wrathful form with multiple heads, arms, and legs, symbolizing his ability to swiftly and skillfully overcome obstacles on the path to enlightenment. The horse underneath Mahācakra’s feet signifies the swift and decisive action required to subdue negativities and cultivate transformative wisdom. The rendering of the wisdom king trampling upon a horse conveys the message that the enlightened qualities embodied by the wisdom king are powerful, unstoppable, and victorious over obstacles. It represents the ability to swiftly transcend limitations and ride the energy of transformation towards spiritual realization. The horse also serves as a symbol of taming and harnessing the mind’s wild and untamed aspects. By subjugating the horse, the wisdom king demonstrates mastery over one’s thoughts, emotions, and mental states, guiding them towards the path of awakening.
Vajrahāsa (大笑明王) is the wrathful manifestation of Akasagarbha Bodhisattva, who is known as the “Boundless Space Treasury,” a bodhisattva associated with the great space and universe, wisdom, emptiness, and the accumulation of merit.
In this artistic representation, Vajrahāsa is shown with a fierce appearance holding various ritual implements and stumbling upon a dragon. In the iconography of Chinese Vajrayana Buddhism, the dragon underneath the feet of a wisdom king symbolizes various aspects. The dragon is a majestic spiritual being and is often seen as a symbol of power, representing the subjugation of negative forces and obstacles. The wisdom king, with the dragon under his feet, signifies his dominion over these forces and his ability to overcome and transform them. Dragons are also associated with primal energy and elemental forces. They embody the fierce and potent energies of the natural world. The dragon beneath Vajrahāsa represents the harnessing and channeling of this raw energy towards spiritual transformation and enlightenment. Moreover, dragons are considered guardians of esoteric knowledge and hidden teachings. Their presence signifies the preservation and protection of sacred wisdom. With the dragon under his feet, Vajrahāsa embodies the mastery of these teachings and their transformative power. Last but not least, dragons are often seen as creatures of metamorphosis and change. They can shed their old forms and emerge in new and more powerful manifestations. The dragon beneath Vajrahāsav represents the ability to undergo profound inner transformation and transcend limitations on the path to enlightenment.
Trailokyavijayarāja, Xiángsānshì míngwáng in Chinese (降三世明王), is considered a fierce and wrathful deity associated with the transmutation of negative forces and the subjugation of obstacles and a manifestation of Akṣobhya, the Primordial Buddha of the eastern quarter. He is one of the Five Wisdom Kings in Vajrayana and the one who “conquered the three worlds.” His mission is to protect the eastern part of the world. The “three worlds” represent the entire world of cyclic existence consisting of the world of desire, the world of form and the formless world. The three worlds also denote the three poisons of Buddhism: greed, hatred and ignorance. Trailokyavijayarāja is worshiped because of his ability to help people eliminate and conquer the three poisons of their minds during the past, present and future time.
Trailokyavijayarāja is often depicted with multiple heads and arms, symbolizing his ability to perceive and act in various dimensions simultaneously. He carries various weapons and implements, representing his power to overcome ignorance and obstacles on the path to enlightenment.
As a wisdom king, Trailokyavijayarāja embodies the wisdom aspect of enlightened awareness, and his fierce form signifies his ability to transform and purify negative emotions and delusions into wisdom. Devotees may invoke Trailokyavijayarāja for protection, removal of obstacles, and the attainment of spiritual insight.
Arhats, also known as Arahants, are esteemed figures in Buddhism who have liberated themselves from the cycle of life and death. The term "arhat" translates to "worthy one" or "perfected one" in English. In Buddhist teachings, arhats are considered to have achieved the highest goal of the Theravada tradition.
Arhats are considered to be fully awakened beings who have eradicated all defilements, attachments, and ignorance that bind them to the cycle of samsara—the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
The attainment of Arhatship signifies the complete realization of the Four Noble Truths taught by the Buddha—the truth of suffering, the truth of the origin of suffering, the truth of the cessation of suffering, and the truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering.
Arhats are renowned for their wisdom, compassion, and ethical conduct. They have transcended the cycle of rebirth and achieved liberation from the cycle of suffering, freeing themselves from the rounds of birth and death. As enlightened beings, they serve as role models and sources of inspiration for practitioners on the Buddhist path.
Kuṇḍali Vidyārāja (軍荼利明王) is the wrathful manifestation of Ratnasambhava, the Primordial Buddha of the southern quarter. He is a fierce deity associated with fire and purification and known for his ability to remove obstacles created by the five skandhas, aggregates of clinging (Pañcupādānakkhandhā). Kuṇḍali helps to remove impurities and obstacles that hinder spiritual progress.
Kuṇḍali Vidyārāja is often depicted with a wrathful expression, multiple heads and arms holding various implements and weapons. The deity’s name “Kundali” is associated with the concept of Kundalini, which represents the dormant spiritual energy residing within an individual.
As a wisdom king, Kuṇḍali Vidyārājaembodies the transformative power of wisdom and the purifying force of fire. He is associated with the transmutation of negativity and the purification of defilements, allowing practitioners to attain purity of mind and ultimate spiritual liberation. Devotees may engage in practices and rituals such as fire ritual to invoke the deity’s assistance in purifying negativities, removing obstacles, and attaining spiritual insight.
Piṇḍola Bhāradvāja / Deer-Riding Arhat
Piṇḍola Bhāradvāja (Chinese: 賓度羅跋囉惰阇; Pinyin: bīndùluóbáluōduòdū) is an Arhat in Buddhism.
Piṇḍola was of noble caste from the Indian city of Kauśāmbī and became one of the ministers to the Indian King Udayana, a contemporary of Gautama Buddha. It is said that Piṇḍola was a very persuasive and capable man, yet with all the power and talent to help rule the kingdom, Piṇḍola aspired to be a follower of the Buddha. So he left the court and remained in the forest to cultivate spirituality and practice meditation. One day, a deer-riding bhikkhu appeared in front of the palace in Kauśāmbī. The guard recognized him as the former minister and immediately reported to King Udayana. The king came out to invite him into the palace and asked if he would come back as an official. Piṇḍola said that he wanted to guide the king to follow the Buddha and used various metaphors to illustrate the mental afflictions and suffering caused by various desires. As a result, the king abdicated his throne and went with him and became a monk. Piṇḍola is therefore known as the “Deer-Riding Arhat.” (騎鹿羅漢)
In the process of his spiritual cultivation, Piṇḍola has attained various supernatural powers, which are commonly referred to as “siddhis” in Sanskrit. He is said to have excelled in the mastery of occult and psychic powers, and misused them to impress and manipulate simple, ignorant people out of greediness. The Buddha then taught him to lead a life without ego or greed. According to the earliest Indian Buddhist sutras, Pindola was one of four Arhats asked by the Buddha to remain in the world (住世 zhùshì in Chinese) to propagate Dharma.
Kanāka-Vatsa / Joyous Arhat
Kanāka-Vatsa (Chinese: 迦諾迦伐蹉; Pinyin: jiānuòjiāfácuō) was an Indian known as a great debater. It is said that he was well-versed about all systems of thought and was the most well-spoken in explaining them, which was a very useful skill during a time where many were seeking truth in Buddhism and other schools of thoughts.
With his vast knowledge, Kanāka-Vatsa is able to distinguish the true from the false and what was wise from what was unwise. The former allowed him to live in peace and the latter allowed him to live in joy.
Once he was asked to explain what happiness is, and he explained that happiness is the pleasant sensations felt by all sensory faculties. Another time he was asked to explain what Dharma happiness is. He said, “The happiness that you feel without those sensory faculties is Dharma happiness. It is the feeling you embody when you are sincere to the Buddha and your mind is with the Buddha.”
Therefore, he is known as “The Joyous Arhat.” (喜慶羅漢)
Kanāka-Bhāradvāja / Alms Bowl-Raising Arhat
Kanāka-Bhāradvāja (Chinese: 迦諾迦跋厘惰阇; Pinyin: jiānuòjiābálíduòdū), also known as “Alms Bowl-Raising Arhat,” (舉缽羅漢) was a beggar bhikkhu replying on the charity of virtuous and generous people. He has a unique manner of begging which was to raise his begging bowl above his head and chant instead of asking for gifts. Some people grew tired of his chanting and gave him food so he could leave while some found his chanting soothing and gave him food because they recognized him as someone spiritual and unordinary.
Kanāka-Bhāradvāja was a compassionate being who used his begging to benefit many people. The practice of generosity is the first of the Six Paramitas, or Six Perfection, the foundational virtues or practices in Buddhism. They are considered essential for those seeking to cultivate wisdom and compassion on the path to enlightenment. By giving people the opportunity to give, Kanāka-Bhāradvāja helped them practice dāna paramita and accumulate merits through the act of giving. He exemplified the qualities of a true practitioner.
Suvinda / Pagoda-Holding Arhat
Suvinda (Chinese: 蘇頻陀; Pinyin: sūpíntuó), also known as the “Pagoda-Holding Arhat,” (托塔羅漢) was the last of the disciples recruited by the Buddha in this life.
Suvinda came to the Buddha when the Buddha was dying. Disciples of the Buddha tried to protect the Buddha from more seekers hoping to receive a last bit of teaching from him. But Suvinda was very persistent as he was desperate to find the right path to enlightenment. Eventually he was allowed to see the Buddha and became a disciple. Being the very last disciple of the Buddha on this earth, he carried a pagoda with him wherever he went to honor the presence of the Buddha.
Therefore, in artistic representations, Suvinda is often shown holding a pagoda, and being known as the “Pagoda-Holding Arhat.”
Nakula / Meditating Arhat
Nakula (Chinese: 諾距羅; Pinyin: nuòjùluó) was at first a warrior who was extremely strong, large and without bodily ailments. Because of this, he had formed brutal and murderous habits from being a natural fighter. It is said that in all of India there was none to rival him.
Slowly, however, he grew to become tired of killing as he began to ponder on the mystery of life and have some misgivings. After he discovered the teachings of the Buddha, he realized that he could easily take lives but could not give lives, and by taking other’s lives he selfishly intervened in the destiny of others. He must repent for what he had done. So he stopped killing and began to dedicate his life to meditation, in which he gradually grew to have the wisdom on the true nature of the universe and eventually attained awakenment.
Back in the time of Nakula, it was odd to see someone with Nakula’s physique meditating while meditating is practiced by all of the Buddha’s disciples. That is why people called him “The Meditation Arhat.” (靜坐羅漢) The intentions behind people calling him this name varied, but what matters was the attainment of wisdom for Nakula through the transformative power of meditation.
Bhadra / River-Crossing Arhat
Bhadra (Chinese: 跋陀羅; Pinyin: bátuóluó) means virtue. It is said that Bhdra was born under the bhadra tree, which means “tree of virtue,” so his parents called him by that name. When he was a child, his parents sent him to be a monk to follow the Buddha. Because of karma and his connection with the Buddha, Bhadra was pleased to leave home and became Buddha’s disciple.
As a practitioner, he was very convinced of the wisdom in the Buddha’s teachings and filled with desire to spread the teachings and show the way to avoid suffering to as many people as possible. He set out to eastern India to spread Dharma. It is said that he has crossed rivers effortlessly, thus he is also known as “The River-Crossing Arhat.” (過江羅漢)
Bhadra has accumulated a lot of merits from helping and guiding others on the path towards enlightenment. In the journey of his spiritual cultivation, Bhadra guided and helped many of his disciples attain enlightenment. After he attained some siddhis, he also manifested supernatural powers with his parents to guide them to the way of the Buddha. It is said that his parents have also become arhats.
Karika / Elephant-Riding Arhat
Karika (Chinese: 迦力迦; Pinyin: jiālìjiā) was an elephant tamer who became a monk and through cultivation has attained enlightenment.
Karika was born with unique eyebrows, of which the hairs were extremely long. As he grew, the hairs of his brows kept growing as well and became so long that his brows hung down before his body. However, people mostly associated him with elephants because he was able to connect with powerful and large animals like elephants.
Vājraputra / Lion-Playing Arhat
Vājraputra (Chinese: 伐阇羅弗多羅; Pinyin: fádūluófúduōluó) was a very skilled hunter who had killed many animals. He ate the animals’ meat and made things from their fur and bones. Yet killing troubled Vājraputra as he reflected on what it would be like if others hunted him to have his body eaten and made into things. He did not know how to change or stop hunting until he encountered the Buddha’s teaching and was greatly relieved and eager to quit his profession and become a Buddhist practitioner.
After the animals in the forest learned that Vājraputra had stopped hunting and would no longer harm them, they often came to Vājraputra to thank him for this change, hoping other hunters would follow his decision. Two lion cubs came often to play with Vājraputra as he sat in the forest practicing meditation. Vājraputra decided to keep them as his companions, therefore he is known as “The Lion-Playing Arhat.” (笑獅羅漢)
In his cultivation, Vājraputra has attained several kinds of supernatural powers, yet he still practiced silent meditation diligently as he always did. He was also eloquent, erudite, proficient in the scriptures, and able to speak about the Dharma. Yet, he rarely spoke, and often stayed in his meditation all day long. His Dharma brother Ānanda asked him out of surprise regarding opening up and sharing with people the wisdom and supernatural abilities he had attained. Vājraputra replied that the Dharma worked in mysterious ways, and the timing mattered; when Dharma was spread at the wrong time, it would cause negative consequences. Instead, the Dharma bliss he felt and the wisdom he received in his silent meditation would transform him so that he would be able to truly embody wisdom and compassion. This is a way that, to him, was more convincing than talking to sentient beings.
Gobaka / Heart-Rrevealing Arhat
Gobaka (Chinese:戌博迦; pinyin: xūbójiā) was a crown prince who did not wish to become the future king of his small state but instead wanted to become a recluse and practitioner following the Buddha to find enlightenment. However, he understood his responsibilities to his kingdom and had a younger brother who wanted to be on the throne.
Knowing that his younger brother was preparing an armed rebellion against him in order to claim the throne, Gobaka called his brother and explained that he had no desire to rule the kingdom and all he wanted was finding his Buddha Nature. His brother did not believe him as he could not understand how anyone could refuse the joy of having the power to rule a kingdom and have people obey one’s commands. He suspected that Gobaka was merely trying to fool him and would then get rid of him in order to secure his kingship. In response, Gobaka pulled open his gown to reveal his chest, on which the face of a buddha was showing at the center. This was the Buddha nature in his heart and was the only thing in his heart. Thus he was called “The Heart-Rrevealing Arhat.”
Panthaka / Stretched-Arm Arhat
Legend has it that Panthaka (Chinese: 半託迦; Pinyin: bàntuōjiā) was the prince of a small Indian kingdom called Kinota. When he became a monk, he usually meditated sitting in the half-lotus position. Upon coming out of his practice, he would raise his hands and let out a deep breath, hence the name Stretched-Arm or Raised-Arm (探手羅漢). He was the elder brother of Cūḍapanthaka, and they both attained arhatship.
The twin brothers were born beside the road while their mother was traveling, so they were named Big Born-Beside-the-Road (大路邊生) and Little Born-Beside-the-Road (小路邊生). Both brothers grew up strong and very tall. Big Born-Beside-the-Road’s arms grew longer and longer and actually developed a supernatural ability that they could become as long as he wanted them to be. Big Born-Beside-the-Road was also very intelligent and wise from a young age. He was able to understand situations and things that those who were much older than him could not make sense of. It is said that he also had the ability to pass through solid walls, or produce natural elements, such as fire and water, as well as changing his body size so that he became invisible. Compared with his elder brother, Little Born-Beside-the-Road seemed like just an ordinary being. He had not the insightful mind nor supernatural abilities that his brother possessed.
Despite the difference, Big Born-Beside-the-Road treated his brother very well, and they worked together to help take care of their widowed mother. After their mother died, the two brothers became monks. Big Born-Beside-the-Road was given the Dharma name Panthaka while Little Born-Beside-the-Road’s Dharma name is Cūḍapanthaka. While Panthaka used his remarkable abilities to do good work that required long arms, Cūḍapanthaka became a gatekeeper, therefore he was also known as “the Gatekeeper Arhat.”
Rāhula / Contemplating Arhat
The name Rāhula, meaning obstacle, is the name of an Asura in India. It is said that his head was beheaded by the gods and turned into an evil star. Ancient Indians believed that the eclipse was caused by the evil star that shielded the sun and the moon. (What Is an Asura?)
Rāhula (Chinese: 羅睺羅; Pinyin: luóhóuluó) is also the name the Historical Buddha gave to his son. It is said that Prince Siddhārtha fathered a son before he set out on his quest for enlightenment. When the news reached him he was in meditation battling difficult thoughts and obstacles that prevent one from attaining enlightenment. So when a servant asked him for a name for the newborn, Siddhārtha gave the name “obstacle” — Rāhula.
When Rāhula turned fifteen years old, like his father, he set out on his quest for enlightenment and became a monk. Like many practitioners who are determined to find truth on their own, Rāhula had explored many different paths of spiritual cultivation and in the end, as his insight deepend, he realized the boundlessness of the Buddhadharma and became a follower of the Buddha, diligently and strictly following the Buddhist way of life.
Rāhula is also known as “the Contemplating Arhat” (沈思羅漢). In artistic representation, Rāhula is often depicted in contemplation mode with downcast eyes showing he is deep in thought. In his meditative spiritual practice, he had attained extraordinary wisdom and supernatural powers, such as telepathy.
Nāgasena / Ear-Cleaning Arhat
Nāgasena (Chinese: 那伽犀那; Pinyin: nàjiāxīnà) was a Sarvāstivādan Buddhist sage of the second century BCE. According to the Milindapanha, or The Questions of King Milinda, he was born to a Brahman family but chose to enter the Buddhist Order and studied under Rohana. He engaged in intellectual debates on various subjects with the Greek king Menander, who was also known as Milinda in Pali and ruled over northern India. These debates are renowned as one of the earliest recorded encounters between Hellenistic and Buddhist philosophies. It is believed that Nāgasena's persuasive arguments led King Milinda to convert to Buddhism. The Milindapanha is considered an authoritative text on the philosophical aspects of Buddhism during that period. Additionally, a Chinese text exists called the Monk Nāgasena Sutra was translated and produced during the Eastern Qin dynasty (317–420).
In artistic representations, Nāgasena is often portrayed using an “ear rake” to clean out his ears. This symbolizes his desire to free himself of the pollution of the senses which interferes too easily with a person’s insight into the true nature of reality. He is thus called “the Ear-Cleaning Arhat” (挖耳羅漢).
Angida / Calico Bag Arhat
Legend has it that Angida (Chinese: 因揭陀; Pinyin: yīnjiētuó) was an Indian snake catcher whose aim was to prevent the snakes from biting passers-by. After the snakes were caught, he would remove the venomous fangs and then release them in the mountains. It was due to this kindness of heart that Angida was able to attain enlightenment. He carried a bag to put the snakes in. Thus he is also call the “Calico Bag Arhat” (布袋羅漢)
Angida was supposed to have appeared in Fenghua in Zhejiang Province in China during the Five Dynasties period (907 - 960 CE) as a mendicant monk carrying a bag. He was seen for the second time in China in 917 A.D., preaching on a rock next to the Yuelin Temple. In China, he is known as “Budai Monk” which means “Calico Bag Monk.” He is a revered monk associated with happiness, contentment, and good fortune.
Ajita / Long Eyebrow Arhat
Ajita (Chinese: 阿氏多; Pinyin: āshìduō) in Sanskrit means incomparably proper, rightfulness, or of correct proportions in spirit and physique. It is said that Asita was born with two long white eyebrows. So he was known as the “Long Eyebrow Arhat” (長眉羅漢). The story was that in his previous life he was a bhikṣu who, though having tried very hard to cultivate yet could not attain enlightenment even at a very old age that his eyebrows had grown to be white and long. So after his death he reincarnated as a human being again so that he can continue the path of a practitioner.
After Ajita was born, his father was told that Śākyamuni Buddha also has two long eyebrows, therefore his son had the look of the Buddha in him. As a result, Ajita was sent away to a monastery to become a monk and after years of practice Asita eventually attained enlightenment.
Cūḍapanthaka / Gatekeeper Arhat
Cūḍapanthaka (Chinese: 注茶半托迦; Pinyin: zhùchábàntuōjiā) was the younger twin brother of Panthaka, who is also known as the Raised-Arm Arhat. Compared to his elder brother, Cūḍapanthaka was considered dull and ordinary. Yet he gradually developed his intellectual faculties and his religious insight until eventually he developed supernatural powers. His supernatural abilities include shape-shifting and flying.
Nandimitra / Dragon-Taming Arhat
Nandimitra (Chinese: 難提密多; Pinyin: nántímìduō) was a disciple of the Buddha and possessed boundless power. He is also known as the Dragon-Taming Arhat (降龍羅漢). It is said that in ancient India, a dragon king flooded the country and hid the Buddhist scriptures in the Dragon Palace. Nandimitra conquered the dragon king to retrieve the Buddhist scriptures and made great contributions. Thus the name Dragon-Taming Arhat.
After having been practicing for hundreds of years, Nandimitra still had not been able to achieve the right result. He then went to Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva for advice, and learned that he had not completely freed from worldly attachment. He then decided to come down to the human realm to help guide sentient beings to salvation. In practicing out of compassion for all sentient beings, he was able to rid of his own attachment and eventually attained enlightenment.