Unveiling the Hidden Symbolism of Buddha

a stone Buddha statue under a tree main

Siddhartha Gautama was a prince who found enlightenment. He became the “enlightened one” (Buddha). Buddha symbols come in four different postures, each having special meanings.  The “fat Buddha” is a Chinese symbol of good tidings.  Buddha’s hand gestures have a range of meanings.  “Buddha’s hand” is also the name of a fruit.  

Siddhartha Gautama

Siddhartha Gautama was a prince who lived sometime around 600 BCE in the area now bordering the countries of India and Nepal.  Siddhartha was concerned about the suffering in the world.  

In time, he was “enlightened” regarding the proper way to obtain a happy life.  Siddhartha was given the honorary title of the “enlightened one” or Buddha.  

Buddhism is a religion based on Buddha’s teaching on how to live a happy life and obtain true happiness.  The teachings of Buddha are known as “dharma.”  Dharma can also mean the nature of existence, “how things are.”   Buddhism now has worldwide popularity.    

Four Postures of Buddha 

Buddhism like all belief systems has a range of symbols.  One basic symbol is a wheel with eight spokes that represent each of the duties of the “eightfold path” to happiness.  

A representation of Buddha himself did not become common for hundreds of years.  Buddha taught the way of enlightenment.  He did not believe in the worship of himself as some sort of a god or special personality cult.  Nonetheless, as Buddhism spread, Buddha icons became popular.

Buddha is portrayed in four postures (reclining, sitting, standing, and walking) each of which has a separate meaning. The icons (symbols) are not meant to be simple realistic representations of Buddha.  They each are intended to promote certain spiritual meanings.  

The reclining Buddha represents his final days.  He might be seen resting, his head propped up by a pillow.  This image represents someone who has reached enlightenment, true happiness.  

The sitting Buddha is the most common.  This symbolizes Buddha or a Buddhist in meditation, contemplation, peacefulness, and calmness.  It can also mean teaching others.  The Buddha can be in a range of poses, including the familiar “lotus pose” often used in yoga.  

The standing Buddha represents Buddha fixed in one place. The standing Buddha is often trying to keep the peace.  It can also mean giving blessings.  The position of the feet can symbolize the exact activity of being represented, including Buddha on the way to teach others. 

The least common, seen particularly in Thailand, is the walking Buddha.  He is often said to be walking back from heaven.  This means he has reached true nirvana, a state of grace and inner peace.  The walking Buddha can also mean a person on the journey toward enlightenment.  

Fat Buddha 

The original representations of Buddha portray a normal or “skinny” body type.  

Many, however, associate Buddha symbols with a fat laughing figure.  This “fat” or “laughing” Buddha with a large stomach originated in China.  In China, a fat belly symbolizes good health and fortune.  Fat Buddha is often portrayed as happy and laughing, pleased with his good tidings.  

Buddhism originated in India but soon spread all over Asia.  The fat Buddha is an example of how beliefs and symbols can develop, including taking on aspects of local cultures.  

Buddha Hand 

Hand gestures (mudras) are an important aspect of Buddha symbolism.  

Each gesture has a separate meaning, including representing different periods of Buddha’s life.  For instance, the “gesture of fearlessness” represents peace and protection.   

Buddha’s hand is also a type of fruit that is said to look like the hand of Buddha.  They are sometimes given as religious offerings.  In China, they represent happiness and good fortune.  Buddha’s hand is also used as decoration and medicine.  

Final Thoughts 

Christianity has various symbols that immediately bring to mind the religion, including a cross and representations of Jesus Christ and his mother, Mary.  

The Buddha symbol likewise brings to mind Buddhism as well as in a wider sense Asia and Asian cultures, religious and otherwise.  The fat Buddha symbol is a bit different.  The fat Buddha is more of a symbol of fun, less serious than other Buddhas.  He is a bit of an Asian Santa Claus.

A lot to take in. I need something to eat.  Does anyone have any Buddha’s hand fruit?

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