By Amy Underdown, London, UK
There is no one answer when it comes to what owning a Buddha statue really means. In fact, there are countless interpretations of this question that may impact which kind of Buddha statue you think would suit you as an individual. Yes, it really can be that specific!
But, let’s take a big step backwards and look at the broader picture – what does bringing any kind of Buddha icon into your home mean? Firstly, Buddha statues do not just simply represent the physical nature of the true Buddha but are also intended to incarnate his teachings. Said artefacts therefore embody all we can learn from Buddha and the positivity that these teachings emanate. As a result, having a Buddha statue in the house impacts its entire surroundings, which is why it’s so critical to keep Buddha statues in the right place (but that’s a whole other story…..'Where Should I Put My Buddha Statue') This is particularly true in cases where Buddha statues have been authentically created and sourced, as opposed to replicas, due to the fact that authentic statues are created in the essence of Buddhism and thus fashioned in the aim of bringing true peace and serenity.
However, this is not to say that Buddha statues do all the hard work for you. If that were the case, their appearance would likely be far more commonplace in the average household. Instead, Buddha statues represent an opportunity to practice meaningful and regular meditation. Meditation is a crucial element of the religion, reinforced by a strong Buddhist belief that having a Buddha statue is one of the best ways to lead this practice and nurture self-discipline. As any good tour guide would ensure that you were able to see all the best bits of a country on an all-inclusive holiday, a Buddha statue guides the spiritual journey by cultivating a positive aura in which to meditate.
But here’s where it gets really interesting. Buddhism is not a one-size fits all deal, and the varying forms of statue directly reflect this. Different body and hand positions (mudra) all represent different paths of Buddhism, focusing on areas that individuals may wish to prioritise when it comes to their meditation. Understanding what the different poses of the Buddha represent can shine a new light on what it means to have a Buddha statue.
Our comprehensive list below of what each of the Buddha’s poses mean will hopefully demonstrate why there is not just one answer to the question, ‘what does having a Buddha statue mean?’ It is all about the individual, and this is what is makes Buddhism and its artefacts so unique and important. The key is in the understanding and respect of these important details, as it means we can truly strive for peaceful spirituality and benefit from the positivity that Buddhism has to offer.
The Teaching Buddha is intended for anybody who wishes to focus on their spirituality. The position of the Teaching Buddha is said to represent the instance of Buddha’s first sermon following his enlightenment.
The Teaching Buddha uses the Dharmachakra mudra which symbolises the spinning wheel of dharma. The right hand is held with the palm facing outwards and the index finger touching the thumb. It is significant that the right hand is at chest-level, communicating that this message comes straight from the heart. The left hand faces inward, similarly creating a circle with his index finger and thumb, with the two hands joining to create an infinite symbol of prayer.
The famous Laughing Buddha, also known as Prosperity Buddha, is actually based on a Chinese Monk from the 10th Century ACE known as ‘Budai.’ Sometimes he is seen holding a sack over his shoulder or with his arms towards the sky, but other times he is simply sat and doing what he does best… laughing. The Laughing Buddha is said to bring happiness and wealth, which is brought about when you rub his abundant belly.
Meditation Buddha is always found in a double or single lotus pose, a position that has come to represent a meditative state across the world. This kind of statue is ideal for those who are looking to introduce peace and calm into their lives, mirrored in both the triangular silhouette of the statue, reflecting balance and stability, as well as the usually half or fully closed eyes of the Buddha.
Whilst the meditative pose is instantly recognisable, the Dhyana mudra makes this position distinctly Buddhist. In this mudra, both hands are placed in the lap facing upwards, with the right hand resting on the palm of the left. The top of the thumbs touch in order to form another triangle shape. This geometry is not an unintentional nod to the world of mathematics, but rather a recognisable symbol in Buddhism, with the triangle representing the unity of the triple gem: the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha, as well as holding a mystic fire within.
As the name suggests, this position depicts the Buddha lying on his right side, said to represent the Buddha in his last few earthly hours prior to his entry into Nirvana. This state is called ‘paranirvana’, a condition reserved only for enlightened beings at the end of their life. Usually, the Buddha is seen to support his head on a pillow with his right hand, but this is not a specific Buddhist mudra. Its representation of the Buddha in his final earthly moments should encourage a strive for harmony within the self.
The Medicine Buddha is said to bring good health and medicinal knowledge. The right hand faces both outward and downward, with the outstretched fingers reaching for the ground, said to represent the Buddha giving a blessing to humankind, and sometimes holding the stem of a healing plant. The left hand rests in the lap whilst holding a bowl of herbs. Every so often the Medicine Buddha is depicted as having beaming blue skin, referencing the legend in which he transformed himself into a radiant blue light before a group of people in order to convey the wisdom of medicine.
Calling the Earth to Witness Buddha
This pose, also called the Earth Touching Buddha, portrays the Buddha on the cusp of Enlightenment. It relays the moment in which Siddhartha Gautama was meditating beneath the famous Bodhi tree, when a demon named Mara emerged and attempted to persuade him to give up his goal and instead indulge in incomprehensible wealth and material pleasures. Siddhartha Gautama used meditation to overcome these enticements. Upon reaching Buddhahood, the Buddha performed the Bhumiparsha mudra to summon the earth goddess so that she could witness his success in enlightenment. In order to wash away Mara, the earth goddess wrung out her hair to create a flood which the demon could not fight off.
As well as being seated with his legs crossed, the Earth Touching Buddha is thus associated with the Bhumiparsha mudra, and considering the nature of this backstory, is unsurprisingly an extremely popular representation of the Buddha, especially in Thai temples. The left hand is placed in the lap, with the right hand pointing to the earth with an inward facing palm.
The Contemplation Buddha can be seen both sitting and standing. It is distinguishable by the position of the hands, with both arms crossed against the chest. The right arm should always be above the left and the palms faced into the chest. This creates a sense of contained confidence and is intended to symbolise determination, humility and tolerance, especially for those seeking to heighten their spiritual resolve.
The least common of the positions and almost exclusive to Thailand, the Walking Buddha is rare in that it shows the Buddha in physical motion. This movement is communicated through the shifting of his robe to one side, and his left food placed behind the right. The right hand is raised forward and facing outward. It is often said that he is travelling to or from Heaven in order to deliver a sermon, though he is occasionally depicted wearing shoes, which would mean that he has not yet reached Nirvana otherwise he would not be engaging with such earthly and materialistic desires.
As we have seen, the sitting position of the Buddha is most common throughout these statues. There are two main sitting poses. The first, known as the half lotus, hero’s pose, or Virasana, features the legs crossed over each other, with the sole of one foot turned upward. The second, called the lotus, diamond, adamant posture, or Vajrasana, is the same but with both soles of the feet upturned. However, there are also instances where the Buddha is granted the luxury of sitting upright in a chair, called the European Sitting Pose or Pralambanasana.
Speaking of gifts, the most common standing Buddha poses are the gift-giving (Varada) and protection (Abhava) Buddhas. The standing Buddha is thus intended to encourage generosity and fearlessness. With both feet resolutely planted, this pose is not expected to invigorate movement and motion, but rather the intentions and ambience of the statue can be derived from the mudra. The downward-facing soles of the feet are important to note, as they contrast with the upturned soles during meditation.
The poses of the Buddha are therefore critical to what kind of influences and encouragements you wish to cultivate in your space. The positions and mudra capture a moment which in turn can be outwardly reflected into your chosen environment.
So, there you have it. These are the first exciting steps into understanding what it means to have a Buddha statue and how to resonate with it on an individual level.