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anybody know what ‘the buddha’ looked like?

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This question arose when Jen’s mother went to buy her a Buddha statue. Somehow she made reference to an illustration on our Zendo blog, where I’d used (but not explained) an image of Hotei (the jolly Chinese monk of a 1000 years ago associated with prosperity and contentment, also guardian of children and patron of bartenders). That’s not the Buddha, the knowledgable staff told Jen’s mom. Is that true? Jen asked me.

They’re right, I replied, or maybe not. Fact is, we don’t really know what Prince Siddhārtha Gautama Shakyamuni (the ‘sage of the Shakya tribe’), who became known as The Buddha (‘enlightened one’), looked like. Not even when he lived: most historians say 563 to 483 BCE, others disagree. Because of his ascetic and itinerant lifestyle, it’s safe to assume that he was a slim fellow.

The standing figure on the left (Tokyo National Museum, ca. 1st-2nd century) hails from Gandhara, an ancient kingdom located in northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. Looks about right to me. Not that it matters all that much. What are your thoughts?


8 responses »

  1. Oh my, Peter.
    You do like to instigate! 😉

    Hope you are feeling at the peak of your apex again.
    And recovered.
    Sure seems like it.


    Back to the topic in hand.
    It doesn’t matter a twopenny fig to me what the Buddha or Jesus or any other of these teachers looked like. Or even, in the end, whether they actually lived or not.
    I suspect their appearance and the myths associated with them are an accretion of political and religious power-plays anyway, since the artists that created them were likely influenced – rebelliously or orthoxidocally – by the social conventions of their time.
    What matters to me is whether what ‘they’ said resonates and can be confirmed by my own experience. And whether what they said and taught transcends the conventions of any time and so become ‘true’ for any generation. Seems to me that our survival as a species relies heavily on this ability to live socially and to adapt. And these teachings appear to support that need.

  2. Malcom – I don’t know you (pleased to meet you, my name is Laurie), but I agree with you, wholeheartedly. I couldn’t have said it better myself, and didn’t even try in light of the way you’ve phrased it — thank you.

  3. Peter,
    Maybe “gets me thinking’ is less pejorative or aggressive than ‘instigates’?
    Because certainly your posts get me thinking – on third thoughts, perhaps ‘reflecting’ works better for me. 😉

    And yes, ‘tupenny fig’ likely dates me! The local produce store sells them at $1 or more apiece, when they can get them.

    Thank you for your kind comments.
    And I’m not sure I even know myself.

  4. I could add that I often look on these ‘religious’ images as symbols or ‘mnemonics’
    My quiet room, for example, has a picture of Kwan Yin (Qwan Yin) in what is sometimes known as the Regal Pose.
    To me it acts as a reminder of all-seeing or all-aware Compassion – for self, for others.

  5. An interesting perspective on this topic (an a great show altogether):

  6. What did Jesus look like? how tall was Buddha?

    Mother Teresa said that the poor gathered from the streets of Calcutta into the House of the Dying looked like Jesus… each one, looked like Jesus… Muslim, Hindu, Christian didn’t matter… to her heart and hands, each one was Jesus.

    And the dying, whether Muslim, Hindu or Christian… saw in her face…
    the Face of Compassion…

    Compassion… is known by the heart, and is heard in the language of the heart

    St. Francis gave his cloak to a beggar… who looked just like Jesus…

    And I still remember being kissed on the lips by a bag lady, she was panhandling in the rain on the shoulder of a highway exit ramp…. I reached in my bag and gave her some money… she leaned through the window ….
    looking just like Jesus… yeah, just like Jesus…


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