Text: T1331(12); Guanding bachu zui'e shengsi de du jing 灌頂拔除過罪生死得度經; Bhaiṣajyaguru-sūtra


Identifier T1331(12) [Strickmann 1990]
Title Guanding bachu zui'e shengsi de du jing 灌頂拔除過罪生死得度經; Bhaiṣajyaguru-sūtra [Strickmann 1990]
Date 457 [Strickmann 1990]
Author Huijian, 慧簡, 惠簡 [Strickmann 1990]


Preferred? Source Pertains to Argument Details


[Strickmann 1990]  Strickmann, Michel. "The Consecration Sutra: A Buddhist Book of Spells" in Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha, edited by Robert E. Buswell, Jr., 75-118. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1990.

Sengyou considered the Guanding jing 灌頂七萬二千神王護比丘咒經 1331 to have been composed on the basis of an original collection of nine books/chapters, to which the last three books/chapters had been added later. The first eleven books he considered to be anonymous but “authentic” translations. The present text (= "book 12" in Strickmann's terms) is a special case, “a version of the Bhaiṣajyaguru-sūtra made in 457”. Sengyou treated this work in a category apart, and regarded it as an apocryphon in its own right. Sengyou held that this text had been composed by Huijian 慧簡 in 457 at Luye 鹿野 monastery, on the basis of an earlier, authentic translation of the Bhaiṣajyaguru-sūtra (90-91). Strickmann suggests that although Sengyou only took Huijian for the author of this single book, "it seems probable...[that] Sengyou has really named, dated and localized the author-compiler of the whole work [viz. T1331]" (91). Strickmann notes that it was common for texts regarded as anonymous by earlier catalogues to be ascribed to name translators by later catalogues, and in line with this trend, by the time of the next major catalogue, LDSBJ, Huijian had been made the author of many texts that Sengyou had considered anonymous.

Entry author: Michael Radich


  • Title: Guanding bachu zui'e shengsi de du jing 灌頂拔除過罪生死得度經; Bhaiṣajyaguru-sūtra
  • People: Huijian, 慧簡, 惠簡 (author)
  • Date: 457
  • Identifier: T1331(12)


[Funayama 2013]  Funayama Tōru 船山徹. Butten wa dō Kan’yaku sareta no ka: sūtora ga kyōten ni naru toki 仏典はどう漢訳されたのか スートラが経典になるとき. Tokyo: Iwanami shoten: 2013. — 90

Funayama notes that the Shi shuo xin yu 世說新語 asserts that Śrīmitra could not speak any Chinese. This would obviously call into question all attributions that claim he "translated" any text, at least in any ordinary sense in which the word "translate" is understood in modern contexts.

Entry author: Michael Radich



[Birnbaum 1989]  Birnbaum, Raoul. The Healing Buddha. Boston: Shambhala, 1989. — 55-60

Birnbaum claims that the origins of the Bhaiṣyaguru-sūtra are most likely Central Asian, rather than Indian. He writes that the Sanskrit version of the Bhaiṣajyaguru-sūtra is “written in such a manner as to indicate Central Asian or Northwest Indian authorship.” Along with this textual evidence, Birnbaum notes the absence of any early Indian images of Bhaiṣya-guru. Further, none of the Chinese pilgrims mention Bhaiṣya-guru worship in the records of their travel in India.

According to Birnbaum, the only mention of the Baiṣajyaguru-sūtra in an extant text of known Indian authorship is in Śāntideva’s Śikṣā-samuccaya. Here Śāntideva includes a number of quotes from the Hsüan-tsang/Gilgit version of the sūtra, “thus indicating that the sūtra achieved some popularity in India ca. the seventh century.” Though it is possible that the text was circulated in India during the preceding centuries, Birnbaum hypothesised that the text was transmitted to India from Kashmir or Central Asia, “thereby coming to Śānti-deva’s attention.”

The Bhaiṣyaguru-sūtra was translated in several versions to China (T449, T450, T451, cf. T1331[12]). The most popular version is Hsüan-Tsang’s. Birnbaum presumes Xuanzang brought the Sanskrit manuscript to China himself. The sūtra constitutes the twelfth and final chapter of Guanding bachu zui'e shengsi de du jing 灌頂拔除過罪生死得度經; Bhaiṣajyaguru-sūtra T1331. Birnbaum writes of T1331 that there are “many intrusions of a Chinese nature in the first eleven chapters of the text, indicating that if the origin of the text is indeed Indian or Central Asian, it was adapted by the translator to fit the circumstances he found in the Eastern Chin period in China.”

Entry author: Sophie Florence



[Fang 2014]  Fang Guangchang 方广锠. "Yaoshi Fo tanyuan: dui 'Yaoshi Fo' Hanyi Fodian de wenxianxue kaocha 药师佛探源——对"药师佛"汉译佛典的文献学考察" Zongjiaoxue yanjiu 宗教学研究 2014, no. 4, 90-100.

Fang Guangchang argues that T1331(12) is the first solidly datable text in China to mention Bhaiṣajyaguru Buddha. He argues further that this text is the origin of the image of this Buddha, and his cult. He claims that Sanskrit versions of the text originate from "back-translation" of this Chinese text into Sanskrit in the Western regions.

Fang first sets aside a handful of supposedly earlier texts that mention Bhaiṣajyaguru Buddha, arguing that each is in fact later than its canonical ascription would suggest, and/or a Chinese composition. See these separate CBC@ entries:


Fang then supports his argument by citing CSZJJ, which states that the text was composed by Huijian 惠簡 in 457. Fang argues that Sengyou is too close to Huijian in time, and too good a bibliographer, for this information to be doubted. He also notes that manuscript evidence from Dunhuang shows that T1331(12) circulated independently before it was later incorporated into the longer, twelve-fascicle Guanding jing that we see today. Here Fang refers to the PhD dissertation of Wu Xiaojie 伍小劼, who has studied the formation of the text and argued that it was the crucible in which the character of Bhaiṣajyaguru was shaped. Wu reportedly discerns Chinese cultural elements in the text.

Fang examines a handful of texts in which Baiṣajyaguru is mentioned in passing between Huijian and the Sui, to suggest that by the time of the Sui, this Buddha was still a shadowy or marginal figure in various dubious texts, with the sole exception of T1331(12).

Fang cites from the Sixi canon the preface to Dharmagupta's 達摩笈多 translation in T616, 藥師如來本願功德經 T449. He argues that the wording of this preface implies that the translation team were aware that the tradition that Huijian had composed rather than translated the earlier version of the text cast it in disrepute, and notes a passage that also emphasises the "terrible sin" incurred if one doubts the authenticity of the text. The preface also claims that the translators were working from two separate manuscripts, and had hesitated to undertake their translation work until they had assembled this rigorous basis for a correct version.

Fang also discusses briefly the versions ascribed to Xuanzang, 藥師琉璃光如來本願功德經 T450, and Yijing, 藥師琉璃光七佛本願功德經 T451. He voices no doubts about the authenticity of these texts.

Fang does not dispute that T449, T450 and T451 were translated into Chinese from Sanskrit. His thesis, rather, is that the Sanskrit from which these translations was produced must have been a "back translation" from T1331(12), produced in the "Western regions" 西域 between Huijian and Dharmagupta.

Fang bases his argument in part on generalisations and a priori assumptions. For instance, he states that Buddhism aims at "not being born" 不生, whereas Daoism aims at "not dying" 不死, so that the cult of Bhaiṣajyaguru is more explicable if it emerges in a Chinese context, rather than an Indic context. He is also convinced that traffic along the Silk Roads cannot have been one-way, and thinks it more plausible that "reverse" traffic existed. Apparently his study of this text is part of a larger programme to substantiate this hunch. He also cites an anecdote from the Luoyang qielan ji about Bodhiruci translating a Dasheng yi zhang 大乘義章 by Tanmozui 曇摩最 into "Hu" 胡 as (circumstantial) evidence that such "reverse" transmission indeed took place.

In a follow-up, shorter article:

Fang Guangchang 方广锠. "Guanyu Han, Fan Yaoshi jing de ruogan wenti 关于汉、梵《药师经》的若干问题." Zongjiaoxue yanjiu 宗教学研究 2015, no. 2, 80-84.

Fang responds to criticisms from Yang Weizhong 楊維中, and an editorial note appended to his first article, which stated that the thesis of the Chinese origin of both Bhaiṣajyaguru Buddha and T1331(12) had been "fundamentally disproven" by the discovery of the Sanskrit in Gilgit and subsequent work by Western and Japanese scholars on that basis. This discussion adds nothing of substance to the arguments summarised above.

In neither article does Fang attempt to determine whether the content of Sanskrit versions of the text corroborates his thesis. Neither does he directly address or give examples of supposed "Chinese cultural content" in T1331(12) (referring for such matters to Wu Xiaojie), nor whether T1331(12) can be shown to have earlier Chinese textual sources.

Entry author: Michael Radich



[Loukota 2019]  Loukota, Diego. "Made in China? Sourcing the Old Khotanese Bhaiṣajyaguruvaiḍūryaprabhasūtra." JAOS 139, no. 1 (2019): 67-90.

Loukota argues that the Khotanese fragments of the Bhaiṣajyaguru-sūtra represent a version of the text translated from the version now incorporated in the Consecration Sūtra as T1331(12). Loukota notes and summarises former studies, classical and modern, of the provenance of this text, including Strickmann, and the treatment of the text by Sengyou (CSZJJ) and Fei Zhangfang (LDSBJ). As he notes, Strickmann regarded the text as the probable kernel out of which the entire Consecration Sūtra evolved. Sengyou states firmly, and in detail, that the text was a composition rather than a translation, made by Huijian 惠簡 in 457. Fei, by contrast, treated the text as a genuine translation, and ascribed it to *Śrīmitra—the ascription still borne by T1331 in its entirety in T.

Loukota illustrates the affinity he perceives between T1331(12) and the Khotanese fragments by analysing in parallel the Chinese and Khotanese of the longest and most substantial passage still preserved in the Khotanese corpus. For the same passage, he also presents Schopen's translation from Sanskrit. Loukota argues that the sequence of events is similar in Khotanese and Chinese, in a way that departs from the "mainstream" version represented by Sanskrit; and also, that Khotanese and Chinese share many details. At the same time, he notes that in other respects, Khotanese seems closer to the "mainstream" version, e.g. in a fuller list of afflictions that might overcome a dying person. He also identifies what he regards as Chinese cultural elements paralleled in Khotanese, such as a reference to acupuncture and moxibustion, or a reference to specifics of astronomy in a description of black magical methods (76-77).

Loukota discusses critically, and in detail, the question of whether the Khotanese fragments can all be regarded as belonging to the same text. He cites and agrees with Skjærvø, who groups the corpus into six different manuscripts. He holds that T1331(12) underlies them all. He dwells most upon Manuscript F, which is most divergent, and speculates that it represents a version of the text still ultimately deriving from T1331(12), but later updated. In some places, he identifies details that he believes show that this revision was made with reference to Sanskrit; and he likens this to the apparent process by which later Chinese versions were produced, and their relation to T1331(12) itself.

Loukota proposes that two alternate explanations might explain this pattern in the textual evidence (81 ff.). The first is that the "Old Khotanese" based upon T1331(12) was updated on the basis of a Sanskrit text, which, in accordance with the pattern usual in history, had been transmitted from points further West, and perhaps ultimately India. The other, however, is that the Sanskrit text was itself produced in Sanskrit "more as a revision than strictly a translation of the Khotanese text". This would make the Sanskrit a rare and significant case of a text produced by transmission processes operating in a direction opposite to the norm. He believes that this second, more radical hypothesis is supported by the relative dates of the Chinese and Sanskrit materials (all extant Sanskrit evidence is later than Huijian); and also some details, such as the possibility that the name of the Bodhisattva Trāṇamukta (Tib. Skyabs grol) is better explained as a back-translation from 救脫 than the reverse; details of the description of the "nine untimely deaths", which Schopen had already noted is not well integrated with the remainder of the text in the "mainstream" version; the fact that questioning about means of prolonging life would (supposedly) be unusual in India, but expected in China; that a system of training for bodhisatvas (bodhisattvasaṃvaram ... śikṣāpādānāṃ) would be more at home in China, where we find an emphasis on bodhisattva precepts; and that details of a critique of blood sacrifice in honour of ancestors also sounds more at home in Chinese religion than Indian. Loukota concedes that none of this evidence constitutes conclusive proof that the Sanskrit was ultimately derived from the Chinese, rather than the reverse, but that it makes his hypothesis plausible (83).

In an Appendix, Loukota lists further words and phrases shared by T1331(12) and Khotanese to the exclusion of other versions of the text.

Entry author: Michael Radich