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Tibetan Iconography

Gautama Buddha Shakyamuni

Gautama Buddha Shakyamuni - The enlightened one and The Supremely happy one [Bhagavan]

According to Buddhist tradition, Sakya-muni, after passing through 550 various existences in all realms of sentient beings, was born in the Tushita heaven as Boddhisattva in the kalpa [age] proceeding the present era. When the time came for him to manifest himself on earth and receive Buddhahood, it is believed that he descended to earth in the form of white elephant with six tusks. Certain Buddhist sects, however, claim that Sakya-muni descended from the Tushita heaven on a ladder brought to him by Indra, and that white elephant was only the dream of his mother, Maya; while others believe that he appeared to his mother like a cloud in the moonlight coming from the north and holding in his hand a lotus flower.

After he had circumambulated her three times, 'Maha Maya' discovered that he was lying in her body ' as an infant lies in the womb of its mother'. Different schools have some difference in there believe of Sakya-muni descending from Tushita heaven. Japanese Buddhist in same manner believes that ' Maya saw a golden pagoda on a cloud. The doors opened and she saw a golden Buddha within. A white elephant with red head and six tusks appeared, carrying on its head a white lotus, on which Buddha took his seat. From the white spot [urna] on his forehead shone a brilliant light which illuminated the whole universe, and alighting from the white elephant, he passed into her bosom like a shadow.

Buddha was called 'Tathagata', or 'wheel king ' a King who rules the world and causes the wheel of doctrine everywhere to revolve, was some time represented by a wheel with eight spokes. If the sermon in the Deer Park at Benares was meant, the wheel was flanked on either side by gazelles, symbol which is represented over the door of the entrance of every Buddhist temple in Tibet and Nepal.

According to the Chinese Traveler Hsuan Tsan, the first image of the Buddha was made at the command of King Udayana, while the Tathagata was in the Trayastrima heaven, where he had gone to convert his mother to Buddhism. Upon his return to earth, after ninety days, the statue was completed. It was five feet high and was made from precious sandalwood called gosirsha. It is also believed that the statue lifted itself in mid-air and saluted the Buddha while he appeared in front of it, whereupon the Tathagata prophesied that Buddhism would spread to China one thousand years after his Parinirvana. The Chinese Buddhists claim that Kasyapa Matanga took the sandalwood statue to China when he joined the Emperor Mingti's mission in the first century AD, and that it was presented to the emperor.

According to other legend, King Prasenajit was the originator of Buddhist idolatry. He caused an image of Gautama Buddha to be made in 'purple' gold. It was five feet high. The Japanese Buddhists believe that the Buddha made himself this statue with gold brought from Mount Sumeru. Chinese legend records a golden image of Buddha taken in a warlike expedition 122 BC by the Hiu-ch'u, a people who lived in the Kansu, and sent to the Chinese emperor.

At Lhasa, capital city of Tibet, in the monastery of the Dalai Lama, there is a gilt of the Buddha said to have been brought from China in the seventh century AD by the Chinese wife of the Tibetan king sRong-tsan-sgom-po, who was the daughter of a Chinese prince of Imperial family.

A Chinese priest brought the first image of Buddha in Japan AD 534 and eighteen years later, the Korean king sent to the Emperor of Japan a golden image of the Buddha.

While examining at the pictorial and statutory representation of Sakya-muni Buddha, one may find some difference acquired according to the geological as well as cultural difference among the Buddhists community of different nationality. The Indian image of Buddha represent him with short locks, for, according to Buddhist tradition, Gautama after his flight from the palace, drew forth his sword and cut off his long hair. In the Mahavastu, it is written that the hair was caught by the gods and carried to the Trayastrima heavens, where it was worshiped as a secret relic. Other claims that the gods also carried away turban of Gautama at same time. The Gandhara School seldom portrayed the Buddha, however, with short locks, but depicted the event by his taking off his turban and earrings. The short locks, following in the shape of seashells. In China and Japan, they sometimes took the form of round beads or sharp spikes. The earliest examples, however, in China have the hair drawn up into a round shaped chignon like the Greco-Buddhist statues. Later examples have the short curls, and the ushnisha is either round or pointed, but never high nor ending in a flame symbol.

The representation of the Buddha must always have either the chignon or the protuberance on the skull, which is presumably the seat of manas, or divine mind. It may be terminated by a round ornament [cintamani], or have, as in Nepal, a single flame issuing from it. In Ceylon, the flame is three or five-forked, and in Siam it may be seven forked. The Buddhas, however, in Siam, as well as in Burma, often have the ushnisha covered by an ornate headdress which is tapering in shape and somewhat resembles a stupa. In Burma, he may have three crowns, two of which are posed on the ushnisha, from which rises a flame linga-shaped.

In Tibet, there may be a svastika [but rarely] marked on the breast, or lying on the throne before the Buddha. When the sculptor wished to indicate the sermon in the Deer Park at Benares, a wheel was apparent somewhere on the statue, but in later images, the fact was indicated by a pose of the hands called dharmacakra mudra [turning the Wheel of the Law].

Another mystic pose of the hands of the Buddha is dhyana mudra, representing his meditation [samadhi] under bodhi-tree. In this pose both hands lie on the lap, the right on top of the left, with the palms turned upward, and the figure, with the legs closely locked, formed a perfect triangle [trikona].

Buddha as 'Liberator of the Nagas' or Serpents [kLu-dban-rgyal-po], he may be either the dhyana mudra or special pose of Uttara Bodhi mudra of the hands, held at the breast with all fingers locked except the indexes, which are raised and touch at the tips. Gautama Buddha may be represented either seated on the coils of serpent with its hood of five or seven heads over him, or seated on a lotus throne with only the serpent's hood protecting his head. According to Buddhist scriptures, the Buddha once sat near a lake absorbed in meditation. The tutelary deity of the lake was the Naga [Serpent] king, who 'wishing to preserve him [Buddha] from the sun and rain, wrapped his body seven times around him and spread his hood over his head, and there Buddha remained seven days in meditation.

Buddha in another pose, invoking the earth to witness his resistance of the temptations of the Spirit of Evil, Mara, is represented by the bhumisparsa mudra, the right arm stretched downward, extending all the fingers, touching the earth with the tips, and the palm turned underneath.

Buddha of the Vajrasana [diamond throne] has also the bhumisparsa mudra. He is awakening to the consciousness of Buddhahood from the state of Boddhisattva. He is seated under Bodhi-tree on the 'diamond throne', supposed to be the center of universe and the only spot capable of supporting the weight of a Buddha and his thoughts. The 'diamond' throne is sometimes indicated by a vajra lying in front of Buddha on the lotus throne. This representation of Buddha may find in most of the Buddhist shrines and particularly in the temple of Mahabodhi at Bodh-Gaya, where he is not only worshiped by the Buddhists, but are also by the Brahmans.

The Buddhas of the Gandhara sculptures, in the early images, there is no moustache, but later statues have a slight moustache, which one also sees in Japan, especially in paintings. In fact the Gandhara images of Sakya-muni as Boddhisattva may have both moustache and, when in the ascetic form of Gautama, a beard.

Gautama Buddha is believed to have had thirty-two superior and eighty inferior marks [Lakshana] of beauty. The thirtieth of the thirty-two superior marks is 'Webbed fingers and toes'.

The Buddhist formula is 'Buddha, Dharma, Sangha' [Buddha - the Law - the Assembly], symbolizing Buddha [the generative power], Dharma [the productive power], and Sangha [the active power of creation].