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Buddha Statues and Buddhist Symbolism

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Bronze Buddha Statues

Japnese Style Buddha in Dhyana Mudra of Meditative Balance

Japnese Style Buddha in Dhyana Mudra of Meditative Balance

Sukhothai Style Bronze Buddha 24ct Gold Gild, Thailand, Bhumisparsa Mudra - the Buddha touches the ground to bear witness to his full liberation from delusion

Sukhothai Style Bronze Buddha 24ct Gold Gild, Thailand, Bhumisparsa Mudra - the Buddha touches the ground to bear witness to his full liberation from delusion

Sukhothai Style Bronze Standing Buddha - holding the food bowl on alms round

Sukhothai Style Bronze Standing Buddha - holding the food bowl on alms round

Buddhist Art and Symbolism

Buddha statues and other forms of Buddhist art have become popular display pieces in homes throughout the world. Images of the Buddha seek to reflect his peaceful countenance and the great wisdom that was awakened within when desire and fear, the dual obstacles to absolute freedom, were overcome. The word Buddha literally translates to 'awakened one'. An excellent display of Buddhist art can be viewed in this gallery.

Understanding Buddhist art, including the various mudras or postures in which images of the Buddha appear requires a little study. Buddhist art is rich in symbolism and reflects different stages of the Buddha’s life and how he communicated his teaching on how to liberate oneself from the tyranny of the mind.

Buddha images appear in a various forms and may be made of bronze, wood, or stone. They may portray the Buddha sitting, standing or less frequently lying. Styles are often specific to periods in time as well as provenance. Countries in which the tradition of making images of the Buddha exists or has existed include India, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan. Significant differences are evident in Buddha images from different countries within Asia and even within various regions of the same country. Sculptures of the Buddha walking are associated with Sukhothai art in Thailand where the first walking images appeared in the 13th century. They are easily distinguished by their graceful, flowing lines, a fiery protuberance appearing from the top of the head and often the Buddha’s left hand raised in the abhaya mudra, a reassuring gesture - ‘have no fear’. In the former southern capital, Ayutthaya, images of the Buddha bear a distinctive hair fame and 2 small lines carved above the upper lip and the eyes. Unique to Laos is the ‘Calling for Rain’ posture, which depicts the Buddha with hands held straight by his side, with his fingers pointing directly at the ground, and his robes turned up at the hem.

It is recorded that when the Buddha experienced enlightenment, his body shone with a great radiance which is expressed in Buddhist art as a halo or aura of light called prabhamandala. This fiery protuberance arising from the head in many sculptures of the Buddha is sometimes referred to as a flame aureole- a light of spiritual intensity. The long, attenuated earlobes are said to have resulted from the heavy gold earrings that the Buddha wore as a prince before leaving the palace to live a life of austerity, devoted to the pursuit of ultimate truth and freedom from suffering. It is written that after leaving the palace the Buddha cut off his long hair with his sword and his hair formed tight whorls that never grew long again.

The key to understanding Buddhist art is knowing what the placement of the Buddha’s hands indicates, also referred to as mudras. Below is a chart that depicts the various hand positions commonly found in Buddha images and a brief explanation of their symbolic meaning.

Uunderstanding the Hand Gestures of the Buddha

The Mudras or hand Gestures of the Buddha

The Mudras or hand Gestures of the Buddha

Buddhist Symbolism

Buddhist Symbolism

Buddhist Symbols Common in Buddhist Art

Within Buddhist art there exists a rich vocabulary of meaningful symbols including the lotus flower, the wheel, Naga and the stupa.  These ancient symbols are evident in almost every Buddhist temple. Below is a depiction and explanation of the most commonly seen symbols.

Buddhist Symbolism


Buddhist Art in your Home

Mindful attention coupled with meditation are key practices to ‘awakening’ and statues of the Buddha can serve as a source of inspiration on the path as well as being objects of beauty. Buddhist art serves as a wonderful reminder of a profound teaching of great wisdom that has survived two and a half millennium. In Asia, artists are very conscious of the sacredness of Buddha statues, paintings and carvings and seek to imbue their portrayal of the Buddha with a sense of equanimity, wisdom and strength. My wife and I have lived in Southeast Asia for over ten years now and have come to develop a real appreciation of Buddhist philosophy and the art that has flowed from a great teaching of how to realize ultimate truth. The tradition remains very vibrant in Southeast Asia nearly 2600 years after the Buddha walked the earth. In the West, interest in the teachings of the Buddha continues to grow and serve as a vehicle of insight into the true nature of our existence. An interesting collection of Buddhist art can be viewed here.

Buddhist Art

Thai Pays Respect to Buddha at Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand

Thai Pays Respect to Buddha at Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand

Hand Gesture of Teaching the Dharma, Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand

Hand Gesture of Teaching the Dharma, Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand

Buddhist Teppanom Angels / Guardians

Buddhist Teppanom Angels / Guardians

Wood Carving of the Buddha and Monks

Wood Carving of the Buddha and Monks


Scott M (author) on November 25, 2014:

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I recommend that you have a look at the Buddha statues available here and see if there is something that you think would be suitable:

val on November 25, 2014:

i would like to buy a buddha for my sons they lead simple lives a great love of nature and peace can you please help me choose the right one

Aleister888 on January 19, 2013:

Really beautiful post, i enjoyed looking at all the different statues and symbols, particularly the hand gestures guide, that taught me a lot!

Great work,

Vivian on May 14, 2012:

some gave me a Teppanom and I'm trying to learn about them.

Scott M (author) on May 25, 2011:

Many thanks Aris - may we all awaken to our own Buddha Nature without delay! Namaste

Aris Budianto from Lying along the equator Country on May 25, 2011:

Great Hub, shimla, enjoyed your writing about the Great Buddha.

Buddha bless you.

Scott M (author) on May 21, 2011:

Thanks so much for your comment soumyasrajan - I find images of the Buddha very powerful reminders of 'his' teachings and seeing that peaceful countenance has a calming effect. Namaste, shimla

soumyasrajan from Mumbai India and often in USA on May 21, 2011:

Enjoyed your article very much Shimla. Great pictures. I liked those hand mudras very much. Of course biggest pleasure is to see that calm face of Buddha in those statues with infinite bliss on his facial expressions.

Historians say that no body really knows original face of Buddha since all existing statues in India and other places today are at least 300 years after him. But to me in all the statuses his expressions give exactly the same feeling -whether it is in India, Thailand or anywhere. It must be his own and it is amazing that it is preserved for so long and it is so natural that any body can feel it as his own- after all he is Buddha- the enlightened one.

Scott M (author) on May 17, 2011:

Thanks so much John - I just enjoyed your critique on famous piano concertos - familiar with most but you've inspired me to make a playlist of your featured concertos

John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on May 17, 2011:

Great hub and wonderful pictures. Thanks Shimla

Scott M (author) on May 16, 2011:

Thanks so much Ruchira - will check out more of your work right now!

Ruchira from United States on May 16, 2011:

just the title gave out such positive vibes that could not resist skipping this hub :) voted up!

Scott M (author) on May 01, 2011:

Thanks so much Kimberly - glad that you found the hub interesting. I hav been enjoying your hubs also and look forward to reading more. Namaste.

kimberlyslyrics on May 01, 2011:

This is the hub that started me loving your hubs and following. I've saved it so I can truly study and understand meanings names and symbols.

Thank you so much for such an enlightening hub


Scott M (author) on February 28, 2011:

Thanks so much Peggy! For years I admired Buddha images but never really understood the significance of the various expressions and after living in Asia and reading about the subject they hold a lot more meaning for me and my partner. I shall have a look over your hubs now!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 28, 2011:

Very interesting hub about which I know little. Thank you for sharing this information with us. Rated up!

Scott M (author) on February 28, 2011:

Thanks a lot David - glad to hear that you share my enthusiasm for Eastern Wisdom. The subject of Buddhist symbolism deserves an entire book but hopefully the article explains some of the most important symbols of Buddhist art. I have a couple of articles on Sri Anandamayi Ma and Sri Nisargadatta that you may enjoy also. Namaste, Scott

David99999 on February 28, 2011:

Awesome hub, Shimla! I'm fascinated by Buddhism and Hinduism. Thanks!

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