Culture Spirituality

The Buddha In Various Iconographic Forms

There can be enormous variation between representations of Buddha. In part, this is because while people are most familiar with the historical Gautama Buddha, the various branches of Buddhism believe in the existence of a number of other Buddhas as well. On top of this, it should be mentioned that these branches of Buddhism have come up with a wide range of meanings for each aspect of Buddha statues as well as other representations of Buddha, which possess important meaning but can be very confusing for the unfamiliar. Due to this, those who are interested in learning more about Buddha necklace meaning, Buddha pendant meaning, and other examples of Buddhist jewelry meaning would do well to look up more information on the topic.

What are some examples of the differences between various Buddha representations?

For starters, it is important to note that some of what people call Buddha art isn’t actually Buddha art.

Female form of Buddha

One excellent example would be representations of Guanyin, a Chinese interpretation of Avalokiteśvara who is venerated in a wide range of countries. In short, Guanyin isn’t a Buddha but rather a Bodhisattva, which is a term with multiple meanings. In some branches, a Bodhisattva is someone that a living Buddha has stated will succeed in their intent to become a Buddha. Meanwhile, other branches see a Bodhisattva as someone who is seeking to achieve Buddhahood for not just themselves but also all other living beings. Whatever the case, Guanyin is very popular because of her sense of mercy, which is why she has numerous representations of her own. One of the most spectacular would be the so-called Lady Buddha statue situated outside of Da Nang, Vietnam, which is of spectacular size.

buddha necklace meaningrepresentation of Female Buddha

Sometimes, distinguishing between Buddhas can be pretty simple, with an excellent example being how Tara is sometimes regarded as being a female Buddha.

Characteristics of Buddha. Five Dhyani Buddhas

There are numerous Buddhas with their own particular signs and symbols. For example, Gautama Buddha is the historical Buddha who started up Buddhism. In contrast Maitreya is a Bodhisattva who is expected to become a Buddha at some point in the far distant future when people have forgotten about the Dharma. Moreover, there are figures such as the Five Tathagatas of Vajrayana Buddhism, who are representations of five characteristics of the First Buddha.

Posture, dress, hand gestures

Representations of various Buddhas share a lot of stances, gestures, and other symbolic elements, meaning that figuring out which is which can be something of an art in its own right. Something that is particularly true because Buddha statues, Buddha art painting, and other Buddha representations have continued to change over time, meaning that these differences aren’t just true from Buddha to Buddha but also from place to place as well as time to time.

buddha artThe Nirvana Buddha / Reclining Buddha This statue depicts the Historical Buddha in the last moments of life on earth

To get an idea of the complexities, consider the case of Gautama Buddha. In a lot of cases, his representations are clothed with simple robes, which are a powerful reminder of how he forsook a life of power as a prince to search for enlightenment. However, there are examples of representations of Gautama Buddha in more regal costume, which is rarer but nonetheless something that exists to show his importance as well as the respect that is being paid towards him. Moving on, even something as simple as Gautama Buddha’s positioning can be a matter of huge importance. For example, when he is reclining, that tends to be a representation of his final enlightenment before his passing. Likewise, some of the hand gestures called mudra are much more associated with Gautama Buddha than others, with examples ranging from touching the Earth to the meditation mudra that is common in seated representations.

Further Considerations

Summed up, interpreting the meaning of Buddha statues and other Buddha representations can be frustrating but nonetheless very interesting. Some Buddha representations such as those of the Five Tathagatas have very strict rules about their colors, their positions, and their other symbols. Others are much more varied, thus providing interested individuals with plenty of opportunities to learn as well as to explore.

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