Question: How tall was Śākyamuni Buddha?
Answer: In Chinese Buddhist texts, the Buddha is usually described to be ‘丈六八尺’ in height, which is ‘one zhàng and six chǐs or eight chǐs. How tall are both measurements? As the Buddha’s birth in India was recorded in China during the Zhōu Dynasty’s (周朝), that era’s measurement system is referred to below, for converting to today’s metric system.
丈六 = 一丈六尺 = 1 zhàng and 6 chǐs
1 chǐ (尺) = 17cm
6 chǐs = 6×17cm = 102cm
8 chǐs = 8 × 17cm = 136cm (1.36m) = ordinary persons’ height
1 zhàng (丈) = 10 chǐs = 10 × 17cm = 170cm
1 zhàng and 6 chǐs = 170cm + 102cm = 272cm (2.72m) = the Buddha’s height
According to the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya Vibhāṣā《萨婆多毘尼毘婆沙》, ‘The Buddha’s body is of zhàngs six, that ordinary persons are half of.’「佛身丈六，常人半之。」The above calculation fits the translation and ratio exactly, as ordinary persons’ height of 8 chǐs (1.36m) is half of 1 zhàng and 6 chǐs (2.72m). ‘One zhàng and six chǐs is the Buddha’s usual manifested height, and eight chǐs is that when manifested to be like an ordinary person to fit in.
While the Buddha’s actual height might seem incredible, according to Guinness World Records, the tallest man ever recorded is Robert Wadlow (1918–1940), who happened to have the exact same calculated height (2.72m) as the Buddha: guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/tallest-man-ever. Although the Buddha’s height is meritoriously and prominently tall to skilfully gather attention with his presence when teaching, different beings in our world perceived him differently, according to their karma, with some even seeing him to be like an ordinary person.