A Buddha statue is a sacred and symbolic representation of Siddhartha Gautama, a historical figure who was a religious teacher and ascetic. Buddha statues today serve as a symbol of spiritual enlightenment, inner peace, and wisdom.
Artisans create Buddha statues in various postures and with specific hand gestures that hold deep significance in Buddhist iconography. Craftsmen around the world create these statues in various sizes, materials, and styles to reflect the diverse cultural and artistic interpretations that reflect all the regions where Buddhism has spread. Beyond their artistic value, Buddhist statues also hold a significant place in Buddhist practice, meditation, and devotion.
Brief History of the Buddha Statue
Siddhartha Gautama was born in South Asia sometime between the 6th-4th century BCE. He was a royal prince, but he gave up this life to become a wandering teacher and mystic. He taught the ideas that became the basis for Buddhist belief. After he died, his body was cremated and placed into relic caskets and interred in large mounds called stupas. These formed the basis for early Buddhist monasteries.
Artists began decorating these stupas with images of Buddha in symbolic form. As new versions of Buddhism emerged, artists began creating images of the Buddha in human form. The earliest known Buddha statues were made in the 1st century CE. The new artistic representations of the Buddha statue were a recognizable symbol that helped popularize and spread the teachings of Buddhism along trade routes all over Asia.
Over the years, many types of Buddha statues have been created. Some of the oldest Buddha statues show him in a standing posture. Later Buddha statues depict him seated in the lotus position. Other statues feature the Buddha in a reclining position. The particular posture and hand gestures of the Buddha hold deep symbolism. All Buddha statues reflect the history and culture of the group that created or uses the statue.
Buddha Statue Types
There are four main types of Buddha statues that feature a particular posture: walking, standing, seated or reclining. Here is some of the meaning and symbolism attached to each type.
Walking Buddha Statue
The walking Buddha statue features Siddhartha Gautama in a walking posture, with one foot in front of the other. This posture represents the Buddha in his capacity as a wandering teacher. It presents the ongoing journey of the Buddha as he engages with the world and spreads his teachings from place to place. The walking Buddha embodies the ideas of movement, progress, and the dynamic nature of spiritual life. The walking Buddha posture reminds us that spiritual life is an endeavor that requires constant effort and mindfulness.
This is the least common Buddha statue posture and is featured almost exclusively in Thailand. Walking Buddha statues from Thailand feature long limbs, with smooth oval faces. Many feature the Buddha’s right hand extended with the palm facing out in a gesture of reassurance or peace.
Standing Buddha Statue
The standing Buddha statue depicts the Buddha standing with his two feet firmly planted below him. The reason that the Buddha is stopped can be inferred by interpreting his hand gestures, also called mudras. The most common mudras for standing Buddha statues show him granting peace, bestowing favor, and as a teacher and guide.
Reclining Buddha Statue
The reclining Buddha statues feature the Buddha lying on his right side and supporting his head with his hand. This particular posture symbolizes the Buddha’s entry into Nirvana, the ultimate state of liberation and cessation of suffering. The reclining posture shows the moment where he attains final enlightenment and is released from the cycle of birth and death. This posture shows the tranquility that accompanies reaching ultimate enlightenment.
Seated Buddha Statue
The seated Buddha statue is one of the most popular types in art and architecture. This position represents the Buddha in a meditative posture. It represents the enlightenment he attained while seated beneath the Bodhi tree. The exact symbolism of the seated Buddha statue depends on the hand gesture and the seating position.
Buddha Statue Hand Gesture Symbolism
Hand gestures, known as mudras, are an integral part of Buddhist statue iconography. They help to convey the statue’s meaning and display Buddhist teaching and ideology.
- Abhaya Mudra – In this hand gesture, the Buddha is extending his right hand with his palm facing out and his fingers facing upward. This gesture symbolizes fearlessness, reassurance, and peace. This is one of the oldest mudra depicted on Buddhist statues.
- Varada Mudra – The Varada mudra hand symbol signifies the granting of a favor or boon. This symbol features a hand with the palm facing out and the finger pointed toward the ground. Sometimes, the hand gesture will also have the thumb and index finger meeting to create a circle. The Varada mudra is a symbol that is often combined with a mudra on the other hand.
- Vitarka Mudra – The Vitarka mudra or teaching mudra symbolizes the preaching of wisdom. This symbol emphasizes the Buddha’s role as a teacher and guide. In this symbol, the hand is extended at waist level and features a touching finger and thumb. The three other fingers are pointed up.
- Dhyana Mudra – The Dhyana mudra is the meditation gesture. In this gesture, both hands rest in the lap with the right hand over the left hand. Both palms face upward. This mudra represents deep meditation and concentration. This symbolizes the mindfulness that can lead to spiritual awakening.
- Bhumisparsha Mudra – This hand gesture signifies the Buddha’s moment of enlightenment as he sat beneath the Bodhi tree and his victory over the forces of delusion. In this symbol, you see the Buddha’s right hand reaching down to the ground with his fingers pointed toward the earth.
- Anjali Mudra – The Anjali mudra is also known as Namaste or the Prayer mudra. In this hand gesture, the palms are positioned near the heart and pressed palms together. The Anjali mudra symbolizes gratitude, respect, and homage. It signifies our universal connection to each other.
- Dharmachakra Mudra – The hand gesture symbolizes the first sermon that Buddha gave when he set the wheel of dharma in motion. In this gesture, the hands are near the chest with both thumbs and index fingers touching to form a circle.
Buddha Statue Seated Posture Symbolism
Seated postures, or asanas, are another way to understand a Buddha statue’s meanings. These postures convey different aspects of Buddha’s teaching, state of mind, and spiritual journey.
- Padmasana – The Padmasana posture, or the Lotus position, symbolizes purity, enlightenment, and spiritual growth amidst challenges. In this posture, the legs are crossed with the feet resting on the opposite thigh. The hands are in the lap.
- Vajrasana – Vajrasana, or the Diamond position, features the Buddha sitting with legs folded and the knees touching the ground. This position represents stability, strength, and the unshakability of an awakened mind.
- Rajalilasana – In this position, also known as the Royal Ease posture, the Buddha sits with one leg crossed over another with one hand resting on the raised knee. This posture symbolizes ease, relaxation, and the royal nature of the Buddha’s teachings.
- Adamantine Pose – This position represents unwavering determination and the immovable nature of enlightenment. For this pose, the figure sits cross-legged on a throne, with both hands resting on his lap.
Other Popular Buddhist Statues
Some Buddhist statues depict other important figures in Buddhist history rather than Buddha, himself. Some of the most popular Buddhist statues are Bodhisattvas. These are enlightened figures who delay their own enlightenment to help others. One of the most popular of these statues is the Laughing Buddha. This figure is popular in eastern practices such as feng shui. Other Buddhist statues include arhats, deities and protectors, and guardian lions or foo dogs.
Optimal Locations for a Buddha Statue
The location of a Buddha statue will vary based on personal preference, goals, and cultural practices. There are some good guidelines to keep in mind when considering an ideal location for a Buddha statue.
Respect and Reverence
In whatever area you choose to display your Buddha statue, choose a location that shows the proper respect as Buddha is a revered figure in many cultures. Some may opt to place the statue at a higher level such as a shelf or raised platform as a way to show honor to his enlightened teachings.
Clean and Without Clutter
Choose a location that is clutter-free to create a serene and peaceful atmosphere. This helps you to ensure that it is a good place for meditation and contemplation.
Avoid Inappropriate Locations
Do not place your Buddha statue anywhere that is associated with impure or mundane activities. This means that locations like kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, and laundry rooms are not suitable for Buddhist statues.
Indoors or Outdoors
Both indoor and outdoor locations are suitable for Buddha statues. Choose an indoor location with bright, natural light to enhance the ambiance around the statue. Use a specifically crafted outdoor Buddha statue to create a meditation space in a garden area.
Enhance a Bagua Area
Buddha statues can enhance bagua areas of your home to help you achieve your aims and goals. Choose a Laughing Buddha statue for your wealth corner as these are traditional symbols of prosperity and abundance, or place a seated Buddha in your study area to symbolize your commitment to improving your mind. Another optimal place for a Buddha statue is opposite your front door at your home’s entrance. This is an ideal way to welcome good energy and protect your home from negative energy.
Where to Buy Buddha Statues
You can find Buddha statues at many kinds of stores, including both at large retail and craftsmen studios. Here are some of our favorite picks.
- Outdoor Meditation Buddha Statue – This Buddha statue features Buddha in a meditation posture. We like this statue because it is suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. It has a lightweight resin body with antique brass coloring.
- Brass Sri Lankan Buddha Statue – The Lotus Sculpture features Buddhist statues from all over the world in various forms and materials. This Sri Lankan Buddha Statue is cast in Thai brass. It features the Buddha in a half-lotus position with his hands in his lap to signify meditation.
- Laughing Buddha Statue – This Laughing Buddha statue incorporates five children, which symbolize the five elements of feng shui. This is the ideal statue to create balance in your home.
- Blue Porcelain Medication Buddha – This striking blue porcelain Buddha works in both indoor and outdoor spaces.
- Outdoor Buddha Statue – The statue features Buddha in a lotus position with his hands resting quietly in his lap. This statue is large enough to create a focal point in your garden.