How Does The Buddha Look Like?

Question: Who created the first physical depiction of the Buddha’s image? How did he or she know how the Buddha looked like?

Answer: It is said that in the Buddha’s time, there was an image made of him during his short absence, to serve as a reminder for his followers. However, it has been lost in time already. It is not known exactly who was the first image thereafter. (Earliest existing images date back to Bactria in the first century.) All that remains as close accounts of the Buddha’s appearances are sutra descriptions of how the Buddha looks like in 32 major ways and 80 minor ways, each of which arose from a corresponding virtue being perfected over immeasurable lives as a Bodhisattva (which can be seen in the Sutra On Upasaka Precepts’《优婆塞戒经》Chapter Six On Cultivation For The Thirty-Two Forms’ Karmas [修三十二相业品]). Here are the thirty-two forms (三十二相):

[1] 足下安平立相: Form of flat soles (and palms)
[2] 手足轮相: Form of palms and soles each with a wheel of one thousand spokes
[3] 指纤长相: Form of fingers (and toes) being slender and long
[4] 足跟广平相: Form of heels being broad and flat
[5] 手足指缦网相: Form of webbed fingers and toes
[6] 手足柔软相: Form of hands and feet being tender and soft
[7] 足趺高满相: Form of dorsals (of feet) being high and full
[8] 伊泥延腨相: Form of calves, (knees and thighs) like a stag king’s

[9] 正立手摩膝相: Form of hands when standing upright touching knees
[10] 阴藏相: Form of male organ hidden within body
[11] 身广长等相: Form of body width (with outstretched hands) equal to height
[12] 毛上向相: Form of all (body and head) hairs upright (and coiling right)
[13] 一一孔一毛生相: Form of each pore with one grown hair
[14] 金色相: Form of golden colour of body
[15] 大光相: Form of great light (aureole)
[16] 细薄皮相: Form of skin being fine, delicate and smooth

[17] 七处隆满相: Form of seven parts of body (two hands, two legs, two shoulders and neck) being full
[18] 两腋下隆满相: Form of both armpits being full
[19] 上身如狮子相: Form of upper half of body (majestic) like a lion king’s
[20] 大直身相: Form of body being broad and upright
[21] 肩圆好相: Form of shoulders being full and well-rounded
[22] 四十齿相: Form of forty teeth
[23] 齿齐相: Form of teeth being level and close
[24] 牙白相: form of teeth being bright white

[25] 狮子颊相: Form of lion’s jaws (cheeks)
[26] 味中得上味相: Form of tongue attaining best of all tastes
[27] 大舌相: Form of broad and long tongue
[28] 梵声相: Form of pure voice like a brahma king’s
[29] 真青眼相: Form of pure blue eyes
[30] 牛眼睫相: Form of bull king’s (orderly) eyelashes
[31] 顶髻相: Form of (flesh) protuberance on crown (like a topknot)
[32] 白毛相: Form of (right-coiling) white hair (between brows that radiates light of blessings)

Part of the beauty of it all is the mystery of exactly how magnificent the Buddha is. It is perhaps more wonderful this way, to leave it up to relatively open interpretation, while based on the above characteristics. It is also such that different beings saw the Buddha differently due to their different merits and levels of spiritual purity. Buddhas can also manifest various forms as skilful means to teach. Also, it is in their Pure Lands that Buddhas can be seen in their true and total splendour, while we lack merits due to impurity as severely defiled beings in this Saha World (of Endurance of Suffering) here.

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