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Jīvaka (Pali: Jīvaka Komārabhacca; Sanskrit: Jīvaka Kumārabhṛta)[3] was the personal physician (Sanskrit: vaidya) of the Buddha and the Indian King Bimbisāra. He lived in Rājagṛha, present-day Rajgir, in the 6th–5th century BCE. Sometimes described as the "Medicine King" (pinyin: yi wang),[4] he figures prominently in legendary accounts in Asia as a model healer, and is honoured as such by traditional healers in several Asian countries.

Jīvaka Komārabhacca/Kumārabhṛta
Thai image of Jīvaka, in a white robe and bearded, wearing prayer beads around his neck
Thai image of Jīvaka, wearing prayer beads and a white robe
Other namesMedicine King, Thrice-crowned Physician, Kumārabhūta[1]
Rājagṛha, Magadha
Rājagṛha, Magadha
ParentsFather: Unidentified (Pāli tradition), Prince Abhaya (Dharmaguptaka tradition) or King Bimbisāra (other textual traditions); mother: Salāvatī (Pāli tradition) or Āmrapāli (other textual traditions)[2]
Alma materTakṣaśilā
Known forIndian traditional medicine, Thai massage
Other namesMedicine King, Thrice-crowned Physician, Kumārabhūta[1]
ProfessionPhysician, healer
Senior posting
GuruThe Buddha, Ātreya Punarvasu
ProfessionPhysician, healer
PostPersonal physician to the Buddha, King Bimbisāra, and King Ajātaśatru

Accounts about Jīvaka can be found in Early Buddhist Texts in many textual traditions such as the Pāli and Mūlasarvāstivāda traditions, as well as later Buddhist discourses and devotional Avadāna texts. Textual traditions agree that Jīvaka was born as a foundling child of a courtesan, but the texts do not agree who this courtesan was, nor who the father was. Regardless, Jīvaka is found and raised by people from the royal court of King Bimbisāra. As he grows up, Jīvaka decides to travel to Takṣaśilā, to learn traditional medicine from a well-respected teacher. He turns out to be a promising student, and after seven years, starts his healing profession in Rājagṛha. His medical feats gain him a reputation and he is quickly appointed as the personal physician of King Bimbisāra and the Buddha. As he gets more into contact with the Buddha, he develops faith in Buddhism and becomes an important supporter of the religion, building a monastery in the process. Later, Bimbisāra is killed by his son Ajātaśatru, who usurps the throne. Eventually, Jīvaka is instrumental in bringing him to see the Buddha, to whom the new king repents his evil deeds.

In the texts, Jīvaka is depicted performing complicated medical procedures, including procedures that could be interpreted as brain surgery. Scholars are in debate to which extent these depictions have historical value. Regardless, Jīvaka is honoured throughout Asian history by Buddhists, and to some extent by healers outside of Buddhism, as a model physician and Buddhist saint. Several medieval medical texts and procedures in India and China are attributed to him. Up until the present day, Jīvaka is honoured by Indians and Thai as a patron of traditional medicine, and he has a central role in all ceremonies involving Thai traditional medicine. Furthermore, Jīvaka's legendary persona has had an important role in helping to proselytise and legitimise Buddhism, as some of the details of Jīvaka's accounts were adjusted to fit the local milieus in which they were passed on. Jīvaka's monastery was identified by the Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zang in the 7th century, and it was excavated in the 19th century. Presently, it is one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries with archaeological remains still in existence.



In the Chinese canon of Buddhist scriptures, numerous texts can be found about Jīvaka.

The life of Jīvaka exists in several early Buddhist textual traditions, that is, in Pāli language, Chinese (from the Dharmaguptaka, Mahīśāsaka and Sarvāstivāda traditions, all translated from Indic texts in 5th century CE), Tibetan (Mūlasarvāstivāda) and Sanskrit texts.[note 1] Jīvaka's story can be found in the texts of monastic discipline (Pāli and Sanskrit: Vinaya) of which the oldest stratum can be dated back to the first half of 4th century BCE. This stratum includes rules and regulations about medicine, also relating the life and work of Jīvaka, and can be found in various textual traditions.[6]

Furthermore, in the Chinese canon of Buddhist scriptures, two separate discourses (Sanskrit: sūtra) can be found that are not part of the Vinaya, titled the Āmrapāli and Jīvaka Sūtra (known as T. 554) and the similarly titled Āmrapāli and Jīvaka Avadāna Sūtra (T. 553). The latter two discourses originate from before the 5th century CE and between 7th and 10th century respectively, both translated from a Sanskrit or Central Asian source. Traditionally, the two translations were attributed to An Shigao (148–180 CE), but this was probably an attempt to make them look more ancient and legitimate. Salguero argues that they were probably based on a translation made by Zhu Fahu (233–±308 CE), as well as early Vinaya and 5th-century apocryphal material. Whereas the Vinaya accounts are intended for a monastic audience, the two Jīvaka Sūtras appear to be more popular versions of the account, meant for a wider lay audience. The T. 554 sūtra most likely incorporated and sometimes replaced the early Vinaya accounts in the Mahīśāsaka and Sarvāstivāda canons, some of which have hardly been passed down as part of the Vinaya, and can therefore only be found within that sūtra. The other T. 553 sūtra is most likely based on the T. 554, but has been expanded using material from the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya.[7]

Besides these sources, several Avadāna texts also contain accounts about Jīvaka. There are also numerous references to him in Indian literature that is not Buddhist, such as the Māṭharavṛtti, a commentary to the Sāṃkhyasūtra, and the satirical poems of Kṣemendra, the 11th-century Kashmiri poet.[8]

Historians Kenneth Zysk and C. Pierce Salguero have compared the different recensions of the story and have argued that none of them are the original text, and thus the original narrative cannot be known. Instead, they argue that the different narratives were adjusted to fit with local traditions.[9][6] For example, Salguero argues that the medieval Jīvaka Sūtras that are not part of the Vinaya were written based on much indigenous knowledge of Chinese medicine: some of the healing methods Jīvaka uses, both in the Jīvaka Sūtras and the Vinaya texts, are more Chinese than Indian,[10][5] and many motifs in his biography are drawn from legends of other famous Chinese physicians.[11] Zysk notes that the Pāli recension is more practical, whereas the traditions influenced by Mahāyāna teachings deploy more magical and miraculous motifs. He also observes that the Tibetan and Sanskrit accounts depict more treatments that appear traditional Indian (Āyurveda) in nature. Each recension has its own regional character in understanding the diseases and having Jīvaka heal them, although there are also many similarities.[12]


King Bimbisāra welcoming the Buddha. Carved ivory tusk in the National Museum, New Delhi, India.

There are significant differences in how Jīvaka's early life is rendered according to the different textual traditions. In what appears to be the earliest version of the narrative, Jīvaka is described as a foundling discarded by a courtesan with no royal blood, and is later found and raised in the court by Prince Abhaya. In later versions, the story has been embellished to appeal to a wider audience, as Jīvaka's mother is identified with the courtesan of divine origin and Buddhist disciple Āmrapāli, and the previously unnamed father becomes none other than King Bimbisāra.[13] Furthermore, some versions of the story, the Sanskrit and Tibetan version and the Jīvaka Sūtras, attempt to show that Jīvaka is the real "Medicine King", a title used for other legendary healers such as the Chinese healers Bian Que and Hua Tuo. Many motifs in these accounts point in this direction: for example, the Jīvaka Sūtras state that Jīvaka is born with acupuncture needles and herbs in his hand, which is used as proof that Jīvaka is superior above other Chinese healers.[14] In the Sanskrit and Tibetan version, Jīvaka is recognised and named the "Medicine King" by the court up unto three times, whenever he performs a miraculous feat of medicine.[15][16] He is therefore also described as the "Thrice-crowned Physician".[17]

The foundlingEdit

Texts from the earliest, Pāli tradition,[1][6] as well as the Chinese Dharmaguptaka Vinaya and the T. 553 sūtra,[18] describe that Jīvaka is born in Rājagṛha (present-day Rajgir) as a child of a courtesan (Sanskrit: gaṇikā; in the Pāli and Dharmaguptaka canons this is not Āmrapāli, but Salāvatī), who has him discarded on a trash heap by a slave.[note 2] He is later seen by a prince called Abhaya, son of King Bimbisāra, who asks whether the child is still alive (Pali: jīvati). When the people respond that it is, he decides to raise him and names him "he who is alive", for having survived the ordeal.[1][21] The Pāli, Tibetan and Sanskrit traditions explain that his second name becomes Komārabhacca, because he is raised by a prince (Pali: kumāra), but scholars have suggested the name is more likely related to the Kaumārabhṛtya: ancient Indian obstetrics and pediatrics,[5][22] one of the eight branches of the Āyurveda.[23] As he grows up, Jīvaka learns about his humble origins, and determines to find himself good education to compensate for his background.[21] Without Prince Abhaya's awareness, he goes to learn medicine at an ancient place of learning called Takṣaśilā (what the Greeks called Taxila),[24][1] presently identified with a city in Islamabad, Pakistan.[21]

The princeEdit

Ivory tusk depicting Āmrapāli saluting the Buddha.

Sanskrit texts and early Tibetan translations in the Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition state that Jīvaka is born as an illegitimate child of King Bimbisāra and a merchant's wife,[21][19][18] who in the Chinese Jīvaka Sūtras is identified with the courtesan Āmrapāli. In the Sanskrit and Tibetan recension however, the wife of the merchant remains unnamed, whereas Āmrapāli is considered to be the mother of Prince Abhaya instead of Jīvaka.[18] The Sanskrit and Tibetan texts, as well the T. 554 sūtra, explain that the king has had an illicit affair with the wife and later she informs him that she is pregnant. The king tells the mother that if the child should turn out male, she should bring it to him to be raised in the court. When it is born, she has the child placed in front of the palace in a chest. The king has the chest brought in and asks whether the child is still alive. When his servants respond that it is, he calls it "he who is alive" (Sanskrit and Pali: jīvaka).[19][18] The king has the child raised in the court by a certain Zho-nu Jigmed, and in the court the child's interest in medicine is sparked when he sees some vaidyas (physicians) visit. He therefore decides to train as a physician in Takṣaśilā.[25] In the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya and the Chinese Jīvaka Sūtras, Jīvaka considers his medical teachers in the court inferior and demonstrates his superior medical knowledge, after which he decides to further his studies in Takṣaśilā.[26]

The heart-exposing discipleEdit

Texts in the Chinese tradition relate that Jīvaka is a crown prince in a kingdom in Central India. When the king dies, his younger brother prepares an army to battle Jīvaka. But Jīvaka says to his brother that he has not much interest in the throne, because his mind is focused on the Buddha instead. He exposes his chest, showing a Buddha image engraved on his heart. The younger brother is impressed and calls off his army. Because of this story, Jīvaka is called the 'Heart-exposing Arhat' (pinyin: Kaixin Luohan).[22]

In all versions of the story, Jīvaka gives up his claim to the throne to study in Takṣaśilā.[26] He is probably sixteen when he goes there.[23]

Life in TakṣaśilāEdit

Ruins of Achaemenid city of Taxila, Bhir Mound archaeological site, 6th century BCE.

He is trained for seven years in Takṣaśilā by a ṛṣi (seer) called Ātreya Punarvasu,[27][26][note 3] which Tibetan texts say used to be the physician of Bimbisāra's father.[25] During that time, Takṣaśilā was under Achaemenid rule, following the Achaemenid conquest of the Indus Valley circa 515 BCE.[29][30]

Jīvaka learns the classical Āyurvedic medical treatises of the time, such as the Caraka Saṃhitā (attributed to Ātreya)[31] and the Suśruta Saṃhitā,[32] although some later treatments of Jīvaka also point at other medieval traditions of knowledge.[33] Ātreya helps Jīvaka build up his observation skills.[21] Jīvaka becomes known for his powers of observation, as depicted in many stories. In one account, Jīvaka looks at the footprint of an elephant and is able to describe the rider of the elephant in great detail, just basing himself on the elephants's footprint.[21] Tibetan texts do state that Jīvaka suffers from jealous fellow-students, however, who accuse Ātreya of favouring him, because he is from the court.[25] In the Pāli and Chinese version of the story, Ātreya then sends Jīvaka and his fellow pupils to look for any plant in the forest that does not have medicinal qualities. Jīvaka returns disappointed, however, telling Ātreya that he could not find a single plant of which he did not recognise its medicinal qualities.[23][34] When Ātreya is satisfied with his progress, he gives him a bit of money and sends him off,[24][1] but not before acknowledging him as his next successor.[35]

The remains of the Piplan site at Taxila.

In the Sanskrit and Tibetan recensions, however, the test of the forest is done before accepting Jīvaka in Takṣaśila, as opposed to the exam at the end of his studies. After Jīvaka passes the test, is admitted and learns at the centre for several years, he starts to demonstrate his medical superiority and is recognised as such by Ātreya.[36][37] He finishes his studies with Ātreya and continues his studies at the city of Bhadraṅkara in Vidarbha, where he studies the textbook called the Sarvabhūtaruta, which may refer to a book about magical chants and dharanis.[38] After that, he travels further and comes in possession of a miraculous object that helps him to see through the human body and discover any ailments. In this account, which can also be found in the Jīvaka Sūtras, Jīvaka comes across a man carrying wooden sticks. In some accounts, the man seems to suffer terribly because of the effect of the wooden sticks, being emaciated and sweating; in other accounts, the wooden sticks which the man carries allow any by-passers to see through his back.[39][40] Regardless, Jīvaka buys the sticks and finds that, according to most of the Chinese texts, one of the sticks originates from a miraculous "Medicine King Tree" (pinyin: yao wang shu):[35] the tree of Bhaiṣajrayājan, who later Mahāyāna texts would describe as a bodhisattva, a Buddha-to-be, focused on healing.[34] The Tibetan and Sanskrit version, however, relate that it is a gem hidden between the sticks which is the source of the miracles.[39] Regardless, the miraculous object enables him to see through his patients' bodies and diagnose their illnesses, as the object "illuminates his inside as a lamp lights up a house".[36] These accounts may have led to a myth about an ancient "ultrasound probe", as imagined in medieval Buddhist kingdoms of Asia.[40]

Life as a healerEdit

Observation skills
"Jivaka remarked, 'Those are footprints of an elephant, not male but female, blind of the right eye, and about to bring forth young today. On it a woman was riding. She too is blind of the right eye, and she will bear a son today.' Asked by Atreya and his astonished students to explain, Jivaka mentioned, 'being brought up in a royal family, I know that footprints of male elephants are round, whereas those of female elephants are oblong'. He explained further that, 'she had eaten grass only from the left side of the road, and that she was pressing hardest towards the right side, suggesting that the foal would be a male'. Lastly, he explained, 'the woman riding the elephant was blind in the right eye because she picked flowers that grew on the left side upon descending, and the heels of her feet made deeper than usual impressions, the backward lean suggested that she was pregnant.'"

Quoted in Singh, J.; Desai, M. S.; Pandav, C. S.; Desai, S. P., 2011[21]

According to the Pāli texts, on his way back to Rājagṛha, Jīvaka needs money for his travelling expenses, so he is forced to start working in Sāketa. A rich merchant (Pali: seṭṭhī) asks for help for his wife, but since many physicians failed to heal her, Jīvaka is reluctant and states that he will ask for no fee if his treatment is unsuccessful. He successfully treats her though, and is rewarded generously. After his return in Rājagṛha, he gives his first earnings to Prince Abhaya, who refuses these but has Jīvaka work in the palace.[23][41] He quickly becomes wealthy because of his service to influential patients, including King Bimbisāra.[42] Although he receives good payments from his wealthy customers, the texts state he also treats poor patients for free.[22] When King Bimibisāra suffers from an anal fistula, he calls upon the help of Jīvaka. As the king was bleeding through his rectum, his female servants made fun of him, saying that he was bleeding "like us women".[43] After curing the king of his fistula, Jīvaka is appointed by the king as his personal physician and as a personal physician to the Buddha.[44][23]

Jīvaka is depicted healing a misplacement of intestines, performing an operation of trepanning on a patient,[1][45] removing an intracranial mass[45] and performing nose surgery.[46] In T. 553, as well as in the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya, he heals a "disease of the head" by treating the patient with ghee through the nose,[note 4] and he is depicted in Pāli texts as performing laparotomy, removing post-traumatic volvulus and a cesarean section on patients under some form of anaesthesia.[44][48] This and some other descriptions of Jīvaka's medical procedures follow the protocol of the Suśruta and Charaka Saṃhitās closely.[49][33] The Jīvaka Sūtras describe that he also performs acupuncture, but this must have been a Chinese interpolation in the narrative, since this was Chinese, not Indian practice.[50]

Painting of Jīvaka (pictured left) by Jin Dashou, Song Dynasty (10th–13th century), China

In a more psychological case, Jīvaka treats another seṭṭhī, this time with a brain condition. After having performed brain surgery, he tells the patient to lie still on the right side for seven years, on the left side for another seven years and on his back for yet another seven years. The patient lies on each side for seven days and cannot lie still for longer, standing up from his sleeping place. He confesses this to Jīvaka, who reveals to him that he ordered him seven years on each side just to persuade him to complete the full seven days on each side.[51][23]

In another case described in the Mūlasarvāstivāda texts, King Bimbisāra lends Jīvaka to King Pradyota (Pali: Candappajjoti), the King of Ujjeni, to heal his jaundice.[52] Jīvaka knows through the power of his magical wood that Pradyota is poisoned by a snake and can only be healed by using ghee, which Pradyota hates.[53][54] Praydyota is prone to anger and Jīvaka is in doubt whether he should try to heal him. Consulting the Buddha, the Buddha says that Jīvaka took a vow in a previous life that he would heal people's bodies, whereas the Buddha had taken a vow that he would heal people's minds—Jīvaka then decides to attempt to heal the king.[54] Therefore, Jīvaka gives a decoction to the king containing ghee, without him being aware. Anticipating the king's response, Jīvaka flees the palace on one of the king's elephants. When King Pradyota becomes furious as Jīvaka expected, he sends one of his servants to catch and bring back Jīvaka. The servant catches up with Jīvaka, but as they are eating, Jīvaka secretly serves him a strong purgative. By the time they manage to get back to the palace, King Pradyota is healed and no longer angry, rewarding Jīvaka generously for healing him.[1][23][note 5] In the Pāli version, he rewards him by giving him an expensive cloth, which Jīvaka then offers to the Buddha;[1][55] in the Mūlasarvāstivāda version, the king rewards Jīvaka by listening to the teaching of the Buddha, the only payment Jīvaka accepts.[56]

Accounts in medieval Japanese and Chinese literature depict Jīvaka offering baths to the Buddha and dedicating the religious merit to all sentient beings. The story was used in East Asian societies to promote the medicinal and ritual value of bathing, emphasizing the benefits of offering such baths to the monastic community as a form of "medical karma".[57][58]

Some scholars have pointed to accounts about Jīvaka as evidence of ancient medical practices,[55][59] with medical historians Thomas and Peter Chen stating that "[i]t is likely that the salient events of Jivaka's life and his medical feats are authentic" and analysing some of Jīvaka's procedures from a viewpoint of scientific medical practice.[60] Salguero is more skeptical, however, and argues that "[m]edical legends simply cannot be considered evidence of medical practice".[61]

Role in BuddhismEdit

Relief depicting Jīvaka treating the Buddha's foot (below), after the unsuccessful murder attempt by the monk Devadatta (depicted holding a boulder above, right).

Pāli texts often describe Jīvaka giving treatments to the Buddha for several ailments, such as when the Buddha has a cold,[62][63] and when he is hurt after an attempt on his life by the rebellious monk Devadatta.[22][1] The latter happened at a park called Maddakucchi, where Devadatta hurls a rock at the Buddha from a cliff. Although the rock is stopped by another rock midway, a splinter hits the Buddha's foot and causes him to bleed, but Jīvaka heals the Buddha. Jīvaka sometimes forgets to finish certain treatments, however. In such cases, the Buddha knows the healer's mind and finishes the treatment himself.[64] Jīvaka tries to heal the Buddha using only objects that are regarded as reverential, such as parts of the lotus flower instead of herbs from trees.[65] Tibetan texts state that Jīvaka very often checks up on the Buddha, up to three times a day.[17] Jīvaka not only cares for the Buddha, but also expresses concern for the monastic community, at one point suggesting the Buddha that he has the monks exercise more often.[22]

Apart from his role as a healer, Jīvaka also develops an interest in the Buddha's teachings. One Pāli text is named after Jīvaka: the Jīvaka Sutta. In this discourse, Jīvaka inquires about how to be a good lay devotee.[66] He also specifically asks why the Buddha eats meat. The Buddha responds that a monk is only allowed to eat meat if the animal is not killed especially for him—apart from that, meat is allowed. He continues by saying that a monk cannot be choosy about the food he is consuming, but should receive and eat food dispassionately, just to sustain his health. The discourse inspires Jīvaka, who decides to dedicate himself as a Buddhist lay person.[67][55] The Tibetan tradition has another version of Jīvaka's conversion: Jīvaka's pride that he thinks he is the best physician in the world obstructs him from accepting the Buddha. The Buddha sends Jīvaka to legendary places to find ingredients, and finally Jīvaka discovers there is still a lot he does not know yet about medicine, and it turns out that the Buddha knows a lot more. When Jīvaka accepts the Buddha as "the supreme of physicians", he is more receptive to the Buddha's teachings and the Buddha starts teaching him. Jīvaka takes upon himself the five moral precepts.[68]

Jīvaka is conversing with the Buddha. Burma, 1875

Pāli texts relate that Jīvaka later attains the state of śrotāpanna, a state preceding enlightenment. Having accomplished this, he starts to visit the Buddha twice a week. Since he has to travel quite far for that often, he decides to donate a mango grove close to Rājagṛha and builds a monastery there.[42][1] The monastery is used by monks during the yearly rains retreat.[69] Later on, Jīvaka is the first layman recorded to offer robes to Buddhist monks.[70] It was probably out of health considerations that Jīvaka offered the robes, since before that time, Buddhist monks would usually sew their robes together from pieces of rag left behind, or from corpses, which was less hygienic. At the time of Jīvaka's gift of robes, the Buddha was ill and this illness could be related to lack of hygiene. On a similar note, Jīvaka is described to donate robes made of woollen material, to be used in the winter.[71]

At the end period of the Buddha's ministry, King Bimbisāra is imprisoned by his son Ajātaśatru, who usurps the throne.[72] Attempting to starve his own father, Ajātaśatru hears that his mother tries to prevent Bimbisāra from starving. According to the Mūlasarvāstivāda texts, Ajātaśatru nearly kills his mother out of anger, but is stopped by Jīvaka and a minister, who warn him that he will be considered a casteless outcast (Sanskrit: caṇḍala) if he kills his own mother.[73] Later on, Bimbisāra does starve and die. Ajātaśatru develops a tumour after his father's death, and asks Jīvaka to heal it. Jīvaka says he needs the meat of a child to heal the tumour. As Ajātaśatru is planning to eat a child, he remembers that he killed his father. When he thinks about the killing of his father, the tumour disappears.[74] Ajātaśatru becomes ashamed of what he has done.[72] Eventually, Jīvaka manages to bring Ajātaśatru to see the Buddha to repent his misdeeds.[22] In the Mūlasarvastivāda texts, this happens after Jīvaka raises examples of other evil people that could still be saved despite their misdeeds, and after Jīvaka reminds Ajātaśatru that the Buddha is at the end of his life.[75] In the Mahāsaṃghika texts, however, Ajātaśatru consults his ministers about who he should go to look for counsel. Although his ministers recommend to see several other non-Buddhist teachers, eventually Jīvaka suggests the new king to see the Buddha.[76]

In Buddhist texts, the Buddha declares Jīvaka foremost among laypeople in being beloved by people,[22][55] and the Pāli texts name him as example of someone with unwavering faith in Buddhism.[55] Jīvaka is that widely known for his healing skills, that he cannot respond to all the people that want his help. Since Jīvaka gives priority to the Buddhist monastic community, some people needing medical help seek ordination as monks to get it. Jīvaka becomes aware of this and recommends the Buddha to screen people for diseases before ordaining,[22][8] which the Buddha eventually does for five diseases.[66]

Although Jīvaka is depicted as showing great respect for the Buddha and concern and help for the monastic community, there is at least one case in which he fails to show respect. This is the case of Paṇṭhaka, a monk who is considered stupid by many. Jīvaka also shares this opinion, and when he invites the Buddha and the monastic community for a meal, Paṇṭhaka is the only monk he leaves out. The Buddha, arriving for the meal, refuses to start eating, insisting that someone fetches Paṇṭhaka. Jīvaka sends a servant to get Paṇṭhaka, but this servant is surprised to find 1,250 Paṇṭhakas walking around the monastery, as Paṇṭhaka brings about a supernatural accomplishment. Eventually, the real Paṇṭhaka joins the meal, but Jīvaka still does not acknowledge the monk's mental prowess. Jīvaka only changes his mind as Paṇṭhaka shows another supernatural accomplishment and stretches his arm very long to help take the Buddha's alms bowl for him. Jīvaka bows at the monk's feet to request his forgiveness.[77]


Remains of the Jivakarama Monastery in Rajgir

Medieval Chinese accounts about Jīvaka tend be hagiographic in nature, and were used more in the proselytising of Buddhism than regarded as medical biography.[78] Since healing knowledge and the proselytising of Buddhism were closely connected, praise for Jīvaka's medical prowess also meant praise and legitimisation of Buddhism.[79] In Chinese texts about medicine from the Six Dynasties period (early medieval), Jīvaka figures most prominently of all physicians, and his stories influenced the stories about other legendary physicians, as well as being influenced by their narratives.[80] In East Asia, Jīvaka was associated with gynaecology, and the name Jīvaka is related to ancient female pathology and paediatrics.[81][82] Several medieval medical formulas were named after him, and he is referred to in numerous medical texts from at least the 4th century CE onward. In 6th-century texts of Chinese pharmacology, the adage "Everything on earth is nothing but medicine" [sic] is attributed to him.[83][23] In 10th-century Chinese medicine, many treatises were associated with or attributed to Jīvaka.[84] There is also evidence that shows Jīvaka was regarded as an important figure for Indian Āyurvedic medicine:[85] for example, Ḍalhaṇa, an Indian scholar who lived between the 11th and 13th century, wrote in a commentary on the Suśruta Saṃhitā that "Jīvaka's compendium" was regarded as an authoritative text on children's diseases, though this text has now been lost.[23] This does not mean that Jīvaka was revered unanimously by all of Asia; several medieval Indian texts such as the Māṭharavṛtti, and the poems of Kṣemedra, depict him, as well as other physicians, as impostors.[86] Among Indian texts, Buddhist texts tend to stand out in that they give much honour to the occupation of the physician,[86] and medical knowledge was highly respected.[87] The former may be related to the doctrine of salvation of Buddhism, in which the Buddha is often described as a doctor that cures the ills of the human race.[86]

Jīvaka is regarded by Thai people as the creator of traditional Thai massage and medicine.

Jīvaka was and is for many Buddhists and traditional healers and icon and a source of inspiration.[47] The figure of Jīvaka is presented in ancient texts as evidence for the superiority of Buddhism in both the realm of the spiritual as well as the medical. The Jīvaka Sūtras and the Mūlasarvāstivāda version describe that when Jīvaka meets the Buddha, the latter makes a statement that "I treat internal diseases; you treat external diseases", the word treat (pinyin: zhi) in this context also meaning 'to reign over'.[88][54] Throughout the medieval period, the accounts about Jīvaka were used to legitimate medical practices.[89] In the early Buddhist texts which were translated in Chinese, Jīvaka was deified and described in similar terminology as used for Buddhas and bodhisattvas. He came to be called the "Medicine King", a term used for several legendary Chinese physicians.[90] There is evidence that during the Tang dynasty (7th–10th century), Jīvaka was worshipped along the Silk Road as a patron deity of children's health.[89] Today, Jīvaka is seen by Indians as a patriarch of traditional healing,[91] and is regarded by Thai people as the creator of traditional Thai massage and medicine.[92][78] Thai people still venerate him to ask for assistance in healing ailments,[78] and he plays a central role in nearly all ceremony that is part of traditional Thai medicine.[93] Many stories exist about Jīvaka's purported travels to Thailand.[78]

In the Sanskrit textual traditions, Jīvaka is the ninth of the Sixteen Arhats, disciples that are entrusted to protect the Buddha's teaching until the arising of the next Buddha. He is therefore believed by Buddhists to still be alive on a mountain peak called Gandhamādana, between India and Sri Lanka.[22] The monastery Jīvaka presented to the Buddhist community came to be known as the Jīvakarāma Vihāra, Jīvakāmravaṇa or Jīvakambavana,[24][42][94] and was identified by the Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zang (c. 602–64) with a monastery in Rajgir.[95] The remains were discovered and excavated in the period from 1803 to 1857.[23] The monastery is described by archaeologists as "... one of the earliest monasteries of India dating from the Buddha's time".[96][97]


  1. ^ The texts of the Mahāsaṃghika tradition about Jīvaka are fragmented.[5]
  2. ^ Buddhologist Jonathan Silk [nl] makes note of a passage in the commentary to the Dhammapada, which states that prostitutes had little use for sons, because they passed on their livelihood through their daughters.[19] Singh says that the child would have damaged the reputation of the courtesan and thus her source of income.[20]
  3. ^ The Pāli version of the narrative does not identify who Jīvaka's teacher is.[28]
  4. ^ Analyzing this story from a scientific medical standpoint, medical historians Thomas and Patrick Chen speculate that Jīvaka may have used ghee as an emollient, and decreased the inflammation of the sinuses which caused the headache.[47]
  5. ^ Chen and Chen speculate that when ingested as a fat, ghee can help the gall-bladder to contract and promote choleresis, thereby facilitate the gallstone from passing and causing relief of jaundice.[47]


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  2. ^ Salguero 2009, p. 187.
  3. ^ Salguero 2009, p. 183.
  4. ^ Salguero 2009, pp. 183, 186–7.
  5. ^ a b c Zysk 1998, p. 53.
  6. ^ a b c Zysk 1998, p. 52.
  7. ^ Salguero 2009, pp. 186–8, 190, 192.
  8. ^ a b Granoff 1998, p. 288.
  9. ^ Salguero 2009, p. 186.
  10. ^ Salguero 2009, pp. 194, 199.
  11. ^ Salguero 2009, p. 201.
  12. ^ Zysk 1998, pp. 53, 60.
  13. ^ Salguero 2009, pp. 195–6.
  14. ^ Salguero 2014, pp. 126–7.
  15. ^ Zysk 1998, p. 58.
  16. ^ Kapoor 1993, pp. 40–1.
  17. ^ a b Clifford 1994, p. 39.
  18. ^ a b c d Salguero 2009, p. 195.
  19. ^ a b c Silk 2007, pp. 304–5.
  20. ^ Singh 1993, p. 184 n.25.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g Singh et al. 2011.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i Buswell & Lopez 2013, Jīvaka.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Muley, Gunakar. "Great Scientists of Ancient India: Jivaka Kaumara-Bhrtya". Vigyan Prasar. Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. Archived from the original on 22 April 2001.
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  25. ^ a b c Rabgay 2011, p. 28.
  26. ^ a b c Salguero 2009, p. 196.
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  28. ^ Salguero 2009, p. 196 n.50.
  29. ^ Lowe & Yasuhara 2016, p. 62.
  30. ^ Le 2010, p. 50.
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  32. ^ Chen & Chen 2002, p. 88.
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  34. ^ a b Zysk 1998, p. 55.
  35. ^ a b Salguero 2009, p. 197.
  36. ^ a b Zysk 1998, p. 54.
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  39. ^ a b Olshin 2012, pp. 132–3.
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  49. ^ Chen & Chen 2002, p. 89.
  50. ^ Salguero 2009, p. 194.
  51. ^ Braden, Charles Samuel. "Chapter 6: The Sacred Literature of Buddhism". Religion Online. Archived from the original on 24 October 2018. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  52. ^ Zysk 1998, pp. 57, 59.
  53. ^ Salguero 2009, p. 200.
  54. ^ a b c Zysk 1998, p. 59.
  55. ^ a b c d e Perera 1996, p. 55.
  56. ^ Zysk 1998, p. 60.
  57. ^ Moerman 2015, p. 78.
  58. ^ Salguero 2014, p. 77.
  59. ^ Mookerji 1989, p. 468.
  60. ^ Chen & Chen 2002, pp. 88, 91.
  61. ^ Salguero 2009, p. 204.
  62. ^ Rabgay 2011, p. 30.
  63. ^ Salguero 2009, p. 190.
  64. ^ Malalasekera 1960, Jīvaka, Maddakucchi.
  65. ^ Zysk 1998, p. 126.
  66. ^ a b Perera 1996, p. 56.
  67. ^ Buswell & Lopez 2013, Jīvakasutta.
  68. ^ Rabgay 2011, p. 29–30.
  69. ^ Salguero 2006, p. 61.
  70. ^ Brekke 1997, p. 28.
  71. ^ Wijayaratna 1990, pp. 34–5, 51.
  72. ^ a b Malalasekera 1960, Ajātasattu.
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  74. ^ Rabgay 2011, p. 29.
  75. ^ Durt 1997, p. 23.
  76. ^ Bareau 1993, p. 35.
  77. ^ Huber 1906, p. 35.
  78. ^ a b c d Salguero, C. Pierce. "Jīvaka Across Cultures" (PDF). Thai Healing Alliance. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 October 2018.
  79. ^ Salguero 2009, pp. 185, 191, 207–8.
  80. ^ Salguero 2009, pp. 183, 194.
  81. ^ Deshpande 2008, p. 43.
  82. ^ Zysk 1982, p. 79 n.1.
  83. ^ Ming 2007, p. 244.
  84. ^ Salguero 2009, pp. 209–10.
  85. ^ Salguero 2009, p. 210 n. 103.
  86. ^ a b c Granoff 1998, pp. 288–9.
  87. ^ Norman 1983, p. 162.
  88. ^ Salguero 2009, p. 208.
  89. ^ a b Salguero 2009, p. 209.
  90. ^ Salguero 2009, pp. 183 n.2, 191.
  91. ^ "NJ legislature honors Dr Pankaj Naram". India Post. Archived from the original on 17 September 2018. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  92. ^ Thai Massage. Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Thomson Gale. 2005. Archived from the original on 1 October 2018 – via
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  94. ^ "Buddhism: Buddhism In India". Encyclopedia of Religion. Thomson Gale. 2005. Archived from the original on 1 October 2018 – via
  95. ^ Chakrabarti 1995, p. 195.
  96. ^ Mishra & Mishra 1995, p. 178.
  97. ^ Tadgell 2015, p. 498.


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