Asian Art Museum
- Introduction to Buddhism
- How a prince became the Buddha
- The main branches of Buddhism
- Bodh Gaya: center of the Buddhist world
- How to identify a Buddha
- Development of the Buddha image
- The Buddha Shakyamuni
- The stupa
- Railing pillar with female figure beneath a tree
- Conception of the Buddha-to-be in Queen Maya’s dream
- Seated Buddha
- Bodhisattva Maitreya
- The Buddha triumphing over Mara
- The Buddha triumphing over Mara
- Standing crowned Buddha with four scenes of his life
- Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
- Korean Buddhist art
- Seated Amitabha Buddha (Amida Nyorai)
- Zen Buddhism
How to identify a Buddha
The earliest surviving representations of the Buddha date from hundreds of years after his death, so they are not portraits in the usual sense. Buddha images vary greatly from place to place and period to period, but they almost always show these conventional features:
- Symbols of radiance. Among these may be a halo around the head or whole body, a flame at the top of the head, or a gold-covered surface.
- Superhuman physical characteristics such as very large size, a lump on the top of the head sometimes said to indicate extraordinary wisdom, fingers all the same length, or special markings on the palms and on the soles of the feet.
- Long earlobes, stretched during the years when the Buddha-to-be, as a prince, wore heavy earrings.
- Monk’s robes. Monks wore a sarong-like lower garment and one or two upper garments, each made of a sheet of cloth wrapped around the upper body, sometimes leaving the right shoulder bare.
Special positions and gestures
The most common position is seated with the legs crossed or interlocked. Common hand positions are:
- right hand over right knee (symbolizing the Buddha’s calling the Earth as a witness during his victory over negative forces)
- right hand held up with palm out (symbolizing giving reassurance)
- hands held at chest with fingers turning invisible wheel (symbolizing setting in motion the “wheel of the doctrine”—that is, preaching)
Want to join the conversation?
- What is the name of the standing position taken by the Buddha's in Afghanistan that were tragically destroyed by the Taliban?(9 votes)
- I think it has two names paang harm samoot is from Thai land and or prehaps Ryuuzou. That is what is seems would be my best guess(3 votes)
- How is the lump on its head not just a bun which is a type of hairstyle?(1 vote)
- Perhaps that is how it started out, but maybe over time people attached a spiritual connotation to it. Take another example - the Crucifix was a Roman method of execution and nothing else. Christianity has now added the spiritual symbolism to this, when in fact it was something much more mundane in the first place; so, maybe it is possible that the lump /is/ a hairstyle, but with symbolism attached by Buddhists over time.(5 votes)
- Why is the right shoulder often uncovered?(2 votes)
- why is it that sometimes the right arm is exposed from the Buddhist monk robes?(1 vote)
- One of the easiest ways to wear a single piece of cloth and cover the torso is to drape it over one shoulder. So, if you are right-handed, which most people are, you will naturally fold the cloth over your left shoulder which leaves the right shoulder bare. https://awakeningvisions.com/buddha-art-on-canvas/(1 vote)
- Was it Alexander of Macedon who, being a Greek and preferring gods to be represented as humans, who started the tradition of representing the Buddha as a person as opposed to what had been the tradition of more abstract symbolic representation? My understanding is that it was more usual to represent him as a stone similar to a lingham stone.(1 vote)