- Arts and Design
Buddha Statues and Buddhist Symbolism
Bronze Buddha Statues
Buddhist Art and Symbolism
Buddha statues and other forms of Buddhist art have become popular display pieces in homes throughout the world. Images of the Buddha seek to reflect his peaceful countenance and the great wisdom that was awakened within when desire and fear, the dual obstacles to absolute freedom, were overcome. The word Buddha literally translates to 'awakened one'. An excellent display of Buddhist art can be viewed in this gallery.
Understanding Buddhist art, including the various mudras or postures in which images of the Buddha appear requires a little study. Buddhist art is rich in symbolism and reflects different stages of the Buddha’s life and how he communicated his teaching on how to liberate oneself from the tyranny of the mind.
Buddha images appear in a various forms and may be made of bronze, wood, or stone. They may portray the Buddha sitting, standing or less frequently lying. Styles are often specific to periods in time as well as provenance. Countries in which the tradition of making images of the Buddha exists or has existed include India, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan. Significant differences are evident in Buddha images from different countries within Asia and even within various regions of the same country. Sculptures of the Buddha walking are associated with Sukhothai art in Thailand where the first walking images appeared in the 13th century. They are easily distinguished by their graceful, flowing lines, a fiery protuberance appearing from the top of the head and often the Buddha’s left hand raised in the abhaya mudra, a reassuring gesture - ‘have no fear’. In the former southern capital, Ayutthaya, images of the Buddha bear a distinctive hair fame and 2 small lines carved above the upper lip and the eyes. Unique to Laos is the ‘Calling for Rain’ posture, which depicts the Buddha with hands held straight by his side, with his fingers pointing directly at the ground, and his robes turned up at the hem.
is recorded that when the Buddha experienced enlightenment, his body shone with
a great radiance which is expressed in Buddhist art as a halo or aura of light
called prabhamandala. This fiery
protuberance arising from the head in many sculptures of the Buddha is
sometimes referred to as a flame aureole- a light of spiritual intensity. The long, attenuated earlobes are said to have resulted from the heavy gold earrings that the Buddha wore as a prince before leaving the palace to live a life of austerity, devoted to the pursuit of ultimate truth and freedom from suffering. It is written that after leaving the palace the Buddha cut off his long hair with his sword and his hair formed tight whorls that never grew long again.
The key to understanding Buddhist art is knowing what the placement of the Buddha’s hands indicates, also referred to as mudras. Below is a chart that depicts the various hand positions commonly found in Buddha images and a brief explanation of their symbolic meaning.
Uunderstanding the Hand Gestures of the Buddha
Buddhist Symbols Common in Buddhist Art
Within Buddhist art there exists a rich vocabulary of meaningful symbols including the lotus flower, the wheel, Naga and the stupa. These ancient symbols are evident in almost every Buddhist temple. Below is a depiction and explanation of the most commonly seen symbols.
Buddhist Art in your Home
Mindful attention coupled with meditation are key practices to ‘awakening’ and statues of the Buddha can serve as a source of inspiration on the path as well as being objects of beauty. Buddhist art serves as a wonderful reminder of a profound teaching of great wisdom that has survived two and a half millennium. In Asia, artists are very conscious of the sacredness of Buddha statues, paintings and carvings and seek to imbue their portrayal of the Buddha with a sense of equanimity, wisdom and strength. My wife and I have lived in Southeast Asia for over ten years now and have come to develop a real appreciation of Buddhist philosophy and the art that has flowed from a great teaching of how to realize ultimate truth. The tradition remains very vibrant in Southeast Asia nearly 2600 years after the Buddha walked the earth. In the West, interest in the teachings of the Buddha continues to grow and serve as a vehicle of insight into the true nature of our existence. An interesting collection of Buddhist art can be viewed here.