“What does this Buddha statue mean?”
Buddhism is a religion originated in Indian subcontinent back in 5th and 6th centuries BC by Gautam Buddha. From there in centuries this religion spread across Asia and became a dominant religion in places like Tibet, Japan, Thailand and northern parts of Nepal and India. Now after almost 2500 years later, teaching of Buddhism has gained widespread popularity around the globe making it one of the major religions in the world.
Due to this popularity today many queries comes forward. About the origin of Buddha, his birth place, method of his teaching and most about the meaning of different Buddha statues we see now days. If you have noticed, not all the Buddha statues are the same. Different Buddha statues have different gestures, poses and style of presentation. This variation is not just to make variations for selling purpose or for decoration. Each of those pose or gesture has entirely different meaning and origin. In this post we will try and cover most of the things about different types of Buddha statues and their meaning. In this article, we’ll to answer various kinds of questions like “What does this Buddha statue mean?”, “What does a particular posture of a Buddha statue mean?” and “What are the origin, inspiration or knowledge of different Buddha statues are?”
Talking about different type of Buddha statues, the very base of the categorization can be varied. For an example Buddha statues can be categorized according to the very materials they are made of (wood, clay, stone and different metals). But there are more important factors that should be considered than what material is the statue is made of, if Buddha statues are to be classified. No matter how many ground there are to classify Buddha statues the fundamental standards of Buddha statues always remains the same.
In this article we will be taking a few of the very important factors to classify Buddha statues and discuss the meaning of each of the categorization of Buddha statues.
a. Mudra or attitude of Buddha in Buddha statues
b. Aasana or the way Buddha is seated.
c. Buddha statues in different cultures.
Mudra: Mudra in Sanskrit means sign or seal, which usually stand for a hand gesture or posture. Every hand gesture and figure postures means something in Buddhism. And these gestures or mudras are portrayed in Buddha statues. The sole purpose of these gestures is to remind particular notions of Buddhist philosophy in the mind during meditation. These kinds of gestures are also seen in Hindu paintings and statues. Some of the mudras are portrayed by simple hand gestures, whereas other uses full body to do so.
Among hundreds of Buddha statue mudras in Buddhism, there are five of very important mudras of “Dhyani Buddhas” also called “Pancha Buddhas”. Here are five of different kind of Buddha statues in different mudras and their meanings.
1. Dharmachakra Mudra - Vairochana:
Vairochana is widely regarded as the first Dhyani Buddha in Nepalese-Tibetan Buddhism who represents the cosmic element or RUPA (form). In his statues, his two hands are held against his chest and the tips of his forefinger and thumbs are united. This type of statues also contains a wheel with eight spokes. This mudra is called the Dharmachakra Mudra. And this gesture reflects teaching. If you go through the name of this mudra “DHARMACHAKRA”, the first part of the name “DHARMA” means “LAW” and second part of the word “CHAKRA” means “WHEEL”, and hence suggests “WHEEL OF LAW”. This is supposed to be the gesture used by Lord Buddha while lecturing his first homily at Sarnath.
This gesture can be taken as a symbolic representation of Buddha teaching about dharma. The very spokes of the wheel in these statues have meaning of their own. These eight spokes represents Right View, Right Action, Right Speech, Right Intention, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration respectively which are the noble eightfold path of the Buddhism which are the part of the Buddhist philosophy of pursuit of Ethical conduct, wisdom and mental development.
2. Bhumisparsa mudra - Akshobhya:
Akshobhya is regarded as the second Dhyani Buddha in Nepalese/Tibetan Buddhism. He represents the primodal cosmic element or RUPA of Vijnana (consiouness). Many times Akshobhya statues can be found in the form of riding an elephant, which symbolizes unwavering character of his Bodhisattva vows. Generally these statues consist of Buddha’s hands touching the earth, hence named bhumisparsa. Here, “BHUMI” means “EARTH” and “SPARSA” means “TOUCH”.
According to the legend, the origin of this gesture or mudra is related to Sakyamuni Buddha. At the verse of enlightenment, Buddha had to face both external and internal maras. It is believed that right before lord Buddha was about to attain the enlightenment, Devaputra Mara (Mara is viewed differently by different group of people. Description of Mara varies from an all powerful daemon to a small gremlin like nuisance) questioned him on the legitimacy and perfection of his enlightenment. So lord Buddha asked mother earth to be his witness of legitimacy and perfection of his enlightenment. In order to do this Buddha touched the earth with his right hand making the earth his witness to the attainment of his enlightenment.
This mudra is performed by placing the hand touching the earth with the palm facing inward and all fingers touching the ground. This pose is called ‘Summoning Goddess Earth to Witness.’ This gesture is probably the most common gestures people see in Buddha statues.
This mudra is characterized by Buddha’s arm resting in his right knee with his fingers extended downwards. His left hand rests in his lap and palm up in mudra of meditation ( mudra of mediation is also called dhyan mudra). This mudra symbolizes the ultimate combination of wisdom, Nirvana and Samasra.
Apart from the legendary tales of how Buddha called for mother earth, this gesture represents how one can resist against the temptations and distractions of life, when one is searching for the enlightenment of a spiritual life.
3. Varada Mudra - Ratna Sambhava:
Ratna Sambhava is considered as the third dhyani Buddha in Nepalese/Tibetan Buddhism.
His statue represents the cosmic element of vedana (sensation). His statues always bear jewels and exhibit varada mudra. In this posture, his right hand lies open near his right knee. His left hand is always holding an alms bowl. The name of this posture, i.e. varada means ‘granting a boon’. This gesture is normally characterized by the posture of right palm turned upwards, towards the receivers of the boon, with fingers pointed downwards.
4. Dhyana Mudra - Amitabha Buddha:
Ambitabha Buddha is considered the most ancient Buddha among the Dhyani Buddhas. He is believed to be residing in the Sukhabati heaven in a peaceful meditation. His statues are seated in a meditation position. This gesture or mudra is called Dhyan Mudra, where “DHYAN” means meditation and “MUDRA” means “GESTURE”. In this mudra his hands are joined together, placing the right hand with left, and two fingers touching each other. There lies an alms bowl between his two palms. In this gesture the meditating hands gesture exhibits the unity of wisdom and compassion.
Displaying this statues of Buddha is often used as a tool for meditation. This symbolize Siddhartha gautam’s path towards enlightenment, which is the basis for the Buddhist faith. The sole goal of the meditation is achieve nirvana, a state where a life’s cycle of rebirth and death ends and all the suffering also comes to an end. To achieve nirvana, Buddhism focuses on mental discipline and a person’s ability to follow the right fold path namely; Right View, Right Action, Right Speech, Right Intention, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
In this mudra Buddha is seated on top of a lotus, which symbolizes purity and divines. Many Buddhist believe that a good man’s spirit is clean and spotless of lively things like a lotus that blooms midst of muddy places and still remains clear of all the mud in its surrounding.
A typical lotus Buddha’s statue in Dhyan Mudra has buddha’s hand positioned in a way so that the right is on the top of the left one, while both hands are rested on the lap and legs are crossed. In these statues legs are crossed and left foot is placed on the right one with balls and heel of both feet visible. This position or posture is widely used in modern days for meditation and relaxation and is popular in the name of lotus position.
Plus this is a very popular in statue making, if you have a Buddha with legs crossed and left foot placed on the right one with balls and heel of both feet visible, you’be bought a lotus Buddha in Dhyan Mudra.
5. Abhaya Mudra - Amoghasiddhi:
fifth Dhyani Buddha in order is the Amogsiddhi Buddha, with the Abhaya Mudra. The statue of Amogsiddhi Buddha in Abhaya Mudra depicts the cosmic element of Samskar (i.e. confrontation). He is the last of the five Dhyani Buddhas who represent five core qualities of life in Buddhist Philosophy. They also represent as the cardinal directions namely East, West, South, North and the centre. This is a gesture of fearlessness and protection. And this mudra is exhibited by the gesture of the left hand with palm in outward direction and all fingers in the hand extended upward.
Buddhist mythology refers to buddha’s use of dispelling fear to pacify the enemies who use to threaten him. This pose is a rear one as this mudra is only useful to those people or saints who have attained enlightenment. This mudra’s statue is found in both standing and sitting position, unlike other statues which are normally in seated position. In Laos, Thailand, which is also a center for Buddhist religion, statues of this mudra are most found in the standing posture.
According to the Buddhist philosophy, those who have zeal to combat have tendency to be jealous cannot understand the true meaning of own success. Buddhist philosophy says that jealousy is an emotion or feeling; a byproduct of fear. Those who can dispel fear can make sense of his actions and can be true to others and him. There is another symbolic message in the abhaya mudra statues of Buddha; it also means an action of preaching.
Classification of Buddha statues on the basis of Aasana.
Aasana means the way you sit or reside in Sanskrit. Buddha statues are found in many aasanas and hence are classified in many categories. But two of the major aasana is simply a standing position and a sitting position.
Though most of the Buddha statues are found in sitting position and many interpretations are concluded out of the sitting position of Buddha statues, standing position of Buddha is also equally important when we look at the Buddhist philosophy. Standing positions of Buddha statues also signify lot and have meaning of their own. Normally a standing Buddha statue is a symbol of blessing (Buddhist Ritual Items & Symbols) and teaching to his devotees and students. Same goes for the statues of Buddha in reclining position. Some of the popular standing position of Buddha and his statues include statues and images of Dipankar Buddha, Heruka Buddha, Vajrakilla Buddha etc.
Buddha’s statues in sitting position are found in plenty. For some reasons this type of statues sell the most and have many variations. Due to these variations, every other buddha’s statues depict different messages. For example, the statues of Buddha sitting on the lotus flower and in meditative posture or mudra are called Dhyani Buddha. In this famous position, buddha’s statues are seen with buddha’s legs crossed and his hands in various gesture. Every other hand gesture depicts entirely different meaning. For an instance, Amoghsiddhi Buddha is seen with his left hand with palm in outward direction and all fingers in the hand extended upward, which means dispelling fear and overcoming own fear to attain one’s goal. Some of the Buddha statues in sitting position are Vairochana Buddha, Akshobhya Buddha, Ratna Sambhava Buddha, Amitabha Buddha etc.
Buddha statues in different cultures
It’s amazing to know that Buddha statues vary so much in different cultures. In this particular instance, let’s talk about a tradition in Thailand, where different Buddha statues are used in every other day of a week. Not only that one particular day in a week, Thai people or moreover Thai monks worship two different Buddha statues before noon and after noon. This orientation of worshipping different Buddha statues is related to the day you were born. People born on different days of a week worship different Buddha statues with different mudras.
Here are the days and statues of Buddha with different mudras people worship according to their day of birth.
Click on the days to see the Buddha Statues according to your birthday
Sunday: People born on Sunday pray a Buddha statue with his arms crossed over his stomach. Right hand over the left one normally and eyes open, which means mental insight.
Monday: People born on this day pray statue of Buddha with his right hand raised, which means protection from natural calamities and preventing one’s relatives from fighting.
Tuesday: Buddha statue worshipped by the people who were born on Tuesday is laid on his right side with his right hand tucked under his head and left hand lying along his body.
Wednesday (Before Noon): This is interesting. Thai people split this particular day into two halves and pray two different Buddha statues before and after noon. Before noon Buddha statue with a pose of collecting alms and both hands carrying alms bowl is prayed.
Wednesday (After Noon): This day statue of Buddha sitting with a monkey and elephant is prayed, where elephant is giving her offspring to Budhha. This pose is rather unique.
Thursday: People born on Thursday pray statue of Buddha in Meditation.
Friday: People born in this day worship a statue of Buddha with his arms crossed in his chess. This is one of the standing statues of Buddha, with his back of hands facing outward when crossed.
Saturday: On this day, people born on Saturday pray a statue of Buddha which is seated under a Naga (a seven headed Serpent), which is also a statue in meditation. This particular pose depicts the meditation Buddha being protected from falling rain by the Naga’s head.
Some of the trait of this tradition is also found in Nepali and Tibetan Buddhist culture. If you have noticed, Sherpa people from Nepal also name their child according to the days they are born. For example: every child born on Friday, regardless of their gender is named PASANG. This is also related to the tradition of worshipping different Buddha according to the day a person is born. This is not clear whether this tradition emerged from the south Asian region and then followed by the southeast region or vice versa. But as it was south Asia from where the Buddhism emerged, it can be considered that this tradition of naming one’s on the basis of day of birth and tradition of praying different Buddha statues on different days of a week must have started in the south Asian region and then propagated to the Southeast Asian region.
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