Introduction to Buddharupa

Buddharupa means “Form of the Awakened One,” and is used in Buddhism as a term for statues and models of Buddha. While descriptions of Buddha’s appearance vary between traditions, there are some common features seen throughout most Buddharupa.

Appearance

Buddha is typically depicted with a long, aquiline nose, broad shoulders and elongated fingers and toes. His head protuberance represents the loose connection between mind and body of a Bodhisattva, while his long earlobes are remainders of Gautama Buddha’s life as a prince (when he wore elaborate jewelry) before beginning his spiritual journey.

Symbolic Gestures

Buddharupa commonly depicts Buddha seated with legs crossed in the lotus position, symbolic of spiritual growth and wisdom. His hands may be held in different mudras (or sacred gestures) representing concepts such as fearlessness, inner peace, and transmission of knowledge. Buddha may also be seen reclining, recalling his final departure to nirvana.

Misconceptions

People may sometimes confuse Gautama Buddha (Shakyamuni) with the Laughing Buddha (Hotei or Budai), the big-bellied monk who personifies happiness and wealth. However, these figures are vastly different and should not be taken for one another. Gautama Buddha may also be mistaken for Kuan Yin, the female deity or Bodhisattva who is known as the goddess of compassion.

 

What does the reclining Buddha signify?

The statue of the reclining Buddha represents Buddha’s serene and composed posture before leaving this world. The statue of Buddha in a reclining position depicts Buddha in his last hours before his passing. This is that moment when Buddha is enters “Nirvana”, which is a state of enlightenment. According to Buddhist belief, a person who attains this state does not go through the cycle of life, death and rebirth thereafter and is entirely set free from the human confines of destiny and misery. The reclining Buddha signifies tranquility and absolute detachment from the desires of the world, a state obtained on the attainment of Nirvana.Reclining Buddha Statue

In depicting the reclining Buddha, what is the significance of his right hand position?

The statue of the reclining Buddha shows Buddha’s right hand in different positions. Each position has a different significance.

  • A position where the right hand supports the head in the form of a pillow implies that Buddha is resting.
  • The right hand placed alongside the body depicts that Buddha has entered Nirvana – which is a state of enlightenment.
  • In another reclining position, Buddha’s right arm is seen folded along his chest. This is when Buddha revealed that he was going to pass away and preached his last sermon to his disciples before departing from this world.
What are “Eyes of Buddha”?

Visitors to Buddhist stupas in Nepal cannot help but notice the huge pair of eyes painted around the main towers. These are the “Eyes of the Buddha” that stare out in all four directions, a dramatic symbol of the Buddha’s all knowing, all seeing gaze.

Between the Wisdom Eyes, as they are also known, is a curving symbol that resembles a question mark. This is Nepali for the number 1. It symbolizes the oneness of the created universe and denotes the one path towards enlightenment – the teachings of the Buddha. The mark is also the Buddha’s ‘third eye’, a symbol of his wisdom and infinite perception.

Buddha Eyes are a common sight all over Nepal, so much so that they have come to symbolize the country itself.

Why is Buddha shown to have long ears?

A short answer to that would be: nobody knows for sure!

The Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha, in Lumbini, and grew up in Kapilavastu, modern day Nepal. Going by the recorded cultural practices of that time, might not the Prince have worn the chunky ear ornaments favored then by men? In time, these heavy jewelry pieces would have resulted in long earlobes. This is perhaps the most prosaic explanation available.

There is also a symbolic significance to the Buddha’s elongated earlobes. In Eastern cultures, large ears are associated with wisdom and revered by others (think Lord Ganesha and in more modern times, Mahatma Gandhi). These are ears that are big enough to listen to all our tales of suffering. Magnanimity and compassion therefore are also qualities linked to such physical features and the Buddha was certainly the embodiment of these virtues.

Finally, there is perhaps, a message to Buddhists in those ears. Every human is a potential Buddha; as such we should remain open to the suffering of others.