Buddha Gestures – Part One

When I visit Buddhist countries, I enjoy visiting Buddhist monastery and temples to admire the artwork of the Buddha statue. Here’s sharing some of my personal insights.

I believe Sakyamuni Buddha did not want his followers to worship his images. He said that those who understand his teachings, truly see him.

Buddha statue started to appear much later after the Buddha passes into parinirvana. Therefore Buddha statue are created by man out of their yearning to have a physical reminder that Buddha was once physically present amongst us. It is important that artwork of Buddha be rendered in accordance to written description of the Buddha. (as closely as possible)

The Buddha statue usually depicts a man with unusual physiques sitting calmly in a cross legged position. However, the artwork may depict the statue with hands in different gestures. I will try share my limited knowledge on what they mean and how I interpret them personally.

Before that, we should 1st examine the Buddha’s physiques as commonly portrayed in Buddhist art.

如来佛1

Buddhist believe that the unusual physiques portrayed in a Buddha statue is common to all Buddhas (past or future)

In another word, a potential Buddha is born with those unique physiques. The Buddha explained that he was born with those special features due to his past karma of practicing perfections (ie. patience, charity, compassion etc) To be a Buddha like Sakyamuni Buddha, one has to complete their practice of perfections.

Therefore any subsequent person claiming to be Buddha after Sakyamuni Buddha would not be taken seriously by an educated Buddhist. This is because they do not possess the mark of perfections on their body.

In the above picture as an example, people may mistaken that Buddha was a man with a unique head dress like a helmet or a turban.

The artist is actually trying to depict some of the unique features on the Buddha’s body. (So please note: The Buddha is not wearing a helmet or turban)

  1. it depicts the unique shape of the Buddha’s skull. There is a raised bump on top of his head, known as ushnisha. Artwork varies from culture to culture. Therefore the size of the ushnisha differs too. So it’s pretty much up to artist interpretation.
  2. Although the Buddha shaved his hair like his monks, the artwork usually depicts the Buddha with short hair on his head like the picture above. This is because the Buddha had curly hair and they all curled in a clockwise direction. (Every strand of hair!) So those tiny knobs are meant to depict the uniqueness of Buddha’s hair.
  3. The Buddha’s hair is a dark color that has a tint of dark blue. That’s why on some statue, the hair is painted blue by the artist.
  4. between his eyebrow, on his forhead is a dot. That dot is meant to depict another unique characteristic. Buddha is born with a single strand of white color hair on his forehead, centred near his eyes. This strand of hair is quite long when pulled to full extension. Upon release, it coils up tightly in a clockwise direction into a tight knob. Under strong light, it reflects light as if a little gem is resting on the Buddha’s forehead. That’s why in some statue, the artist simply place a diamond on the forehead.

It was recorded that the Buddha was extremely good looking and both man and woman became infactuated with him.

Different culture interpreted handsome according to their own background. As a result , we see Buddha statue that looks like Chinese, Tibetan, Caucasian, Siamese, Burmese and recently I saw one that has some African features. I think this is good because it reminds us that anyone can become a Buddha.

End of part one.

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