The Buddha is often depicted within art and sculpture holding many different poses or postures. A lot of times these poses include specific hand gestures as well as positioning of the legs. Many people wonder the meanings behind these certain hand gestures and seated positions. The Buddha is often seen with either his ankles tucked, called the Double Lotus position, or with one leg resting atop the other which is called a Single Lotus position. These seated positions are in combination with certain hand gestures called Mudras.
One such posture that is commonly seen is the Buddha sitting with crossed legs (Double Lotus) and both hands resting palms up upon his knees. This stance represents meditation and is the most common posture due to the Buddha’s enlightenment through meditation underneath the Bodhi Tree. This stance, called the Meditation Buddha, represents inner wisdom, emotional stability, and clarity of the mind.
Another important posture is that of the Buddha with legs crossed (Double Lotus), left hand resting face up within his lap, and right hand pointing to the ground with his palm facing towards him. This pose is regarded as the Buddha calling the earth as witness to the moment he reached enlightenment. This stance, called the Enlightenment Buddha, signifies gaining insight, achieving great character, and having self-discipline.
Here are a few more common postures of the Buddha:
Protection Buddha: The Buddha sits in either Double or Single Lotus position with right hand raised facing outward and left hand in the lap. This position represents having courage and offers the bearer protection against fear, delusion, and anger.
Teaching Buddha: The Buddha sits in a Double Lotus position with hands up at chest level. His hands form a circle by joining thumbs and index fingers with the right palm facing in and the left facing out. This position brings about wisdom, understanding, and finding the truth behind your life’s path.
Contemplation Buddha: The Buddha stands with legs together and both arms against the chest, palms in, and right hand on top of the right. This pose represents patient understanding.
Many do not know that there are two major schools of thought within Buddhism. Just as Christianity is split into different sects such as Catholicism and Protestantism, so too is the Buddhist Religion. These two differing schools are known as Theravada and Mahayana.
Theravada Buddhism is a school of thought that stresses the need to follow the teachings of elders. They believe that the longer practicing monks have gained more wisdom; therefore their teachings should be very highly regarded. Younger Theravada monks are passed on with teachings of those that came before them. The main goal of those who practice Theravada Buddhism is to become free of suffering. Shedding the chains of suffering is the ultimate attainment in their eyes. Typically Theravada is practiced in more eastern areas of Asia such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Burma.
Mahayana Buddhism on the other hand stresses the importance of following the Buddhas teachings to go out into the world and spread the Dharma to others. They are much more teaching oriented, believing that one’s own worship is just as important as spreading wisdom on to others. Mahayana literally translates to mean ‘the Great Vehicle’ which is metaphor for the spreading of Buddhist teachings throughout the world. Mahayana monks are a vehicle for knowledge, passing that knowledge unto others. These monks are known as Bodhisattvas. Mahayana Buddhism is mostly practiced in countries such as China, Tibet, Vietnam, and Japan.
Although these schools of thought originate and are practiced widely in the Far East, both schools have made their way into the west. Many westerners may choose one school over the other in their practice, or take principles and examples from both. Both schools are centered around the same teachings but hold special importance on ways to live and practice, one focusing more on individual practice, and the other more on teaching to others.
After leaving his Fathers kingdom behind him in renunciation of his former plentiful life as a prince, Siddhartha Gautama began to drift from place to place as a devoted wanderer. In search of the ultimate meaning of life he found and studied with the wisest men of the time. But to his disappointment, no matter how far he traveled, not one knew the answer to ending the suffering that had so greatly affected him.
As his frustration grew, Siddhartha turned to asceticism, an extreme life of deprivation, in hopes that he might find the answers he was looking for. For six years Gautama starved and deprived his soul in search for meaning, hoping that these extreme measures may hold the truth. But soon he found that this new extreme, a life of complete scarcity, nor his previous life of opulence held the answers he was so determined to find. Gautama then decided to take the middle ground. He began to eat and nourish himself again but sought a new path to enrich his soul.
One full moon day within the month of May, Gautama sat beneath a Bodhi tree in a state of deep and unhindered meditation. He decided he would not leave his position beneath the tree until he was able to find the answers he had spent so long seeking.
He was tested constantly by the evil Mara who tried to steer him from his concentration and ultimate goal. Mara sent upon him the temptation of women, the torment of torrential rain and lightning, and armies of weapon clad warriors. But not one was able to sway him from his mission. As he sat beneath the Bodhi tree, Gautama eventually realized the cause of suffering and how to remove it from one’s life. It was then that he became the Buddha, or the Awakened one.
After reaching enlightenment, the Buddha sought to teach his ultimate wisdom to others so that they too may be free of suffering. He went to five holy men and explained his realization, making them his most devoted disciples in spreading his knowledge upon the world. For the next forty five years the Buddha and his disciples traveled throughout India teaching the Dharma to all those who would listen.
After achieving enlightenment, one of the first teachings of the Buddha was what he referred to as the Noble Eightfold Path or the Wheel of Dharma. For those not yet familiar, this concept can be envisioned as a great wheel containing eight distinctive spokes. All 8 spokes lead into one central hub in the middle just a a wheel on a bike. The spokes represent the teachings and practices that will lead to this one central core, or enlightenment, and therefore the end to suffering. These 8 central teachings are as follows:
1- Right View- One must try to see the world through the same lenses of the Buddha, with compassion and deep rooted wisdom.
2- Right Thought- One must live by the notion that every thought affects our well-being. We must train our minds to think clearly and with the intention of doing good in order to build strong and resolute character.
3- Right Speech- We must speak kindly and lovingly to every living being. We must speak to every living being with respect and trust, regardless of their position or current state.
4- Right Conduct- We must conduct ourselves in a manner of extreme integrity. Our behavior should stand as mirror to our character and our intentions must match our actions.
5- Right Livelihood- We must choose a profession that does good upon others, not harm. We must not engage in activities that do not benefit the greater good of society.
6- Right Effort- We must put our best foot forward at all times and make a sincere effort to do our best in everything that we aim to accomplish
7- Right Mindfulness- We must make it a constant habit to be aware of all our thoughts, words, and actions.
8- Right Concentration- We must try to put our full attention on only one thing at a time, paying undivided attention to everything we do.
It is said that if one follows these eight noble truths we may learn the way to enlightenment just as the Buddha once did. By doing so we have a chance at everlasting and complete happiness.
“However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?” Buddha
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