Physical Characteristics Of The Buddha
What did Buddha look like?
Although Gautama Buddha was not represented in artistic form until around the 1st century CE, the physical characteristics of the Buddha are described in one of the central texts of the traditional Pali canon, the Digha Nikaya, in the "Discourse of the Marks" (Pali: Lakkhana Sutra), and are also enumerated in the Brahmāyu Sutra of the Majjhima Nikāya.
These characteristics comprise 32 signs - "The 32 signs of a Great Man" (Pali: Lakkhana Mahāpurisa 32) - and were supplemented by another 80 secondary characteristics (Pali: Anubyanjana). These traits are said to have defined the appearance of the historical Gautama Buddha and have been used symbolically in many of his representations.
In the traditions of esoteric Buddhism the 32 greater and 80 lesser marks are held to be energetic qualities of the subtle body of the Sambhogakaya.
The first statues and busts of the Buddha were probably made in the Gandhar (now Kandahar or Qandahār now the second largest city in Afghanistan,) region of modern day Afghanistan. The sculptors were either descendants of Greeks who settled in the region after Alexander the Great's arrival or were influenced by Hellenistic traditions. Before any such statues were made, the Buddha was symbolised by the Dharma Wheel or simply a Stupa. The Dharma Wheel also appears on the Sarnath pillar of Ashoka.
The first representations of the Buddha were made nearly 300 years after his death. Although the holy texts and canons do contain some information about his looks, their exact authorship and time of writing is debatable.
Many statues and busts exist where the Buddha and other Bodhisatwa have a moustache (left). This is in keeping with the view that a man of significant stature must have a big moustache. Later versions however do not show any moustache and the Buddha is always shown clean shaven without beard. In the Pali Canon a paragraph appears many times recording the Buddha describing how he began his quest for enlightenment, saying:
So, at a later time, while still young, a black-haired
young man endowed with the blessings of youth in the first stage of life — and
while my parents, unwilling, were crying with tears streaming down their faces — I
shaved off my hair & beard, put on the ochre robe and went forth from the
home life into homelessness.
The 32 Signs of the Great Man
Buddha had all the physical characteristics of 'a great man' - Of which there are 32 main characteristics:
He has feet with a level sole - "feet with level tread, so that he places his foot evenly on the ground, lifts it evenly,and touches the ground evenly with the entire sole." (Lakkhana Sutra) ~ He has the mark of a thousand-spoked wheel on the soles of his feet ~ He has projecting heels ~ He has long fingers and toes ~ His hands and feet are soft-skinned ~ He has netlike lines on palms and soles ~ He has high raised ankles ~ He has taut calf muscles like an antelope ~ He can touch his knees with the palms of his hands without bending ~ His sexual organs are concealed in a sheath ~ His skin is the colour of gold - "His body is more beautiful than all the gods." (Lakkhana Sutra) ~ His skin is so fine that no dust can attach to it ~ His body hair are separate with one hair per pore ~ His body hair is blue-black, and curls clockwise in rings ~ He has an upright stance like that of brahma ~ He has the seven convexities of the flesh - "the seven convex surfaces, on both hands, both feet, both shoulders, and his trunk." (Lakkhana Sutra) ~ He has an immense torso, like that of a lion ~ The furrow between his shoulders is filled in ~ The distance from hand-to-hand and head-to-toe is equal - incidentally, these are also the ideal proportions according to Vitruvius, and depicted in Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man ~ He has a round and smooth neck ~ He has sensitive taste-buds ~ His jaw is like that of lion's ~ He has a nice smile ~ His teeth are evenly spaced ~ His teeth are without gaps in-between ~ His teeth are quite white ~ He has a large, long tongue ~ He has a voice like that of Brahma ~ He has very blue eyes - "very blue eyes" is the literal translation. A sapphire blue and the colour of the sea, but also the colour of a rain cloud ~ He has eyelashes like an ox - "His lashes are like a cow's; his eyes are dark. Those who know such things declare 'A child which such fine eyes/ will be one who's looked upon with joy. If a layman, thus he'll be/ Pleasing to the sight of all./ If ascetic he becomes, Then loved as healer of folk's woes.'" (Lakkhana Sutra) ~ He has a white soft wisp of hair in the centre of the brow (Pali: una loma bhamukantare jata). - this became the symbolic urna ~ His head is like a royal turban - that this denotes his cranial protrusion, visible on Buddhist iconography.
The 80 secondary characteristics determine what Buddha images look like - Buddha's physical characteristics.
Prince Siddhartha Gautama as a Bodhisatwa, before becoming a Buddha (Left).
He has beautiful fingers and toes - He has well-proportioned fingers and toes - He has tube-shaped fingers and toes - His fingernails and toenails have a rosy tint - His fingernails and toenails are slightly upturned at the tip - His fingernails and toenails are smooth and rounded without ridges - His ankles and wrists are rounded and undented - His feet are of equal length - He has a beautiful gait, like that of a king-elephant - He has a stately gait, like that of a king-lion - He has a beautiful gait, like that of a swan - He has a majestic gait, like that of a royal ox - His right foot leads when walking - His knees have no protruding kneecaps - He has the demeanour of a great man - His navel is without blemish - He has a deep-shaped abdomen - He has clockwise marks on the abdomen - His thighs are rounded like banana sheaves - His two arms are shaped like an elephant's trunk - His skin is thick or thin as it should be - His skin is unwrinkled - His body is spotless and without lumps - His body is unblemished above and below - His body is absolutely free of impurities - He has a protruding nose - His nose is well proportioned - His upper and lower lips are equal in size and have a rosy tint - His teeth are unblemished and with no plaque - His teeth are long like polished conches - His teeth are smooth and without ridges - His five sense-organs are unblemished - His four canine teeth are crystal and rounded - His face is long and beautiful - His cheeks are radiant - The lines on his palms are deep - The lines on his palms are long - The lines on his palms are straight - The lines on his palms have a rosy tint - His body emanates a halo of light extending around him for two meters - His cheek cavities are fully rounded and smooth - His eyelids are well proportioned - The five nerves of his eyes are unblemished - The tips of his bodily hair are neither curved nor bent - He has a rounded tongue - His tongue is soft and has a rosy-tint - His ears are long like lotus petals - His ear holes are beautifully rounded - His sinews and tendons don't stick out - His sinews and tendons are deeply embedded in the flesh - His topknot is like a crown - His forehead is well-proportioned in length and breadth - His forehead is rounded and beautiful - His eyebrows are arched like a bow - The hair of his eyebrows is fine - The hair of his eyebrows lies flat - He has large brows - His brows reach the outward corner of his eyes - His skin is fine throughout his body - His whole body has abundant signs of good fortune - His body is always radiant - His body is always refreshed like a lotus flower - His body is exquisitely sensitive to touch - His body has the scent of sandalwood - His body hair is consistent in length - He has fine bodily hair - His breath is always fine - His mouth always has a beautiful smile - His mouth has the scent of a lotus flower - His hair has the colour of a dark shadow - His hair is strongly scented - His hair has the scent of a white lotus - He has curled hair - His hair does not turn grey - He has fine hair - His hair is untangled - His hair has long curls - He has a topknot as if crowned with a flower garland.
Text adapted from 'History of Buddhism'
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