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The Buddha Statue — Symbolism and History

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Siddhartha Gautama was the founder of Buddhism and is the figure represented by the Buddha statue. He was an Indian prince who lived from 563 to 483 B.C. Buddhism is a religious philosophy that, unlike many other traditional religions does not believe in a personal God that punishes our wrong-doings and rewards our good deeds individually. It was originally begun as an atheistic philosophy. It is based on the Noble Eightfold path and the Four Truths. The Buddha statue represents the “Enlightened One.” The Four Noble Truths are: that suffering is part of life, craving is what causes suffering, the suffering stops when the craving stops, and that the only way to conquer the cravings and suffering is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path Is:

Right views, right aspiration, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right contemplation. As the Enlightened One the Buddha statue represents other values as well. The individual is not recognized in Buddhism. All that happens to individuals is based on an impersonal moral “karma.” Once an individual follows all of the steps on the Noble Eightfold path they reach an enlightened pure non-existent state called “nirvana.”

The First Statue

It is believed that the first Buddha statue was not created until four or five hundred years after the death of Buddha out of respect. Therefore, the statues are not an exact replication of the person and there is no “right way” to represent him. The artist had artistic freedom of expression in that area. But, there are certain characteristics and symbolic elements that you will find at least one of in every Buddha statue.

o If the hands are resting in the lap this represents meditation.

o The hands crossing over the chest are a symbol of Dharma-or a state of “being.”

o In the earliest Buddha statue, the figure has both hands raised with the ring finger on the left hand touching the thumb and the index finger on the right hand is touching the thumb to make a circle with the three other fingers held aright. It is not certain what this symbolizes.

Buddhism Exists In Three Forms Today

The first is Mahayana, which reveres Buddha as a God like figure and still uses the Buddha statue to represent him. It is called “the Greater Vehicle” and is the most practiced form of Buddhism in the world today. The second is practiced by just over a third of the Buddhists in the world and is called Theravada, or the “Doctrine of the Elders.” It is atheistic in nature and philosophy but still reveres the Buddha statue. Vajrayana is the least common type of Buddhism and uses the occult and shamanism. It is practiced by just 6 percent of the Buddhists.

Many people looking on the Buddha statue find it a source of happiness and serenity. It is a symbol of the end of suffering and true peace. The Buddhist philosophy that we must strive for perfection and control over our personal cravings to work for the good of all is not a bad philosophy. If society as a whole would adopt at least some of these concepts there would be much more peace and tolerance in the world-we could begin to come to a state of nirvana.