63 Days – Understanding Statues

In Japan, I will be visitng many temples and shrines. As a westerner, all the statues can be confusing for someone raised in a different cultural context. But, rest assured, everything has meaning.

For example, when a Buddha statue depicts the hand in a downward position, it typically symbolizes the act of “earth touching” or “calling the earth to witness.” This gesture is known as the “Bhūmisparśa Mudrā” in Sanskrit, and it represents the moment when the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. In this moment, he called upon the earth to witness his enlightenment, and this gesture is meant to symbolize the attainment of spiritual understanding and the connection to the earth and nature.

Buddhist statues often depict the Buddha or other important figures with different hand positions, known as mudras. These hand positions are symbolic gestures that convey specific meanings or messages. Each mudra has its own unique symbolism, and the specific mudra used in a statue can indicate the specific event or moment that is being depicted. Mudras can also convey different states of mind or emotions. For example, the Bhūmisparśa Mudrā, as I mentioned earlier, symbolizes the moment of enlightenment, while the Abhaya Mudrā (the gesture of “no fear”) is meant to convey a sense of protection and reassurance. There are many different mudras used in Buddhist iconography, and each one has its own unique meaning and significance.

The number of statues in Asia may make the west seem iconoclastic, so it is important to understand what all those statues mean. It is important to note, the statues aren’t worshiped as many often think.

Statues of the Buddha and other important figures in Buddhism are used as a focus for meditation, devotion, and worship. They serve as a visual representation of the Buddha and his teachings, and are often used as a tool to help practitioners connect with the Buddha’s presence and teachings. Many Buddhists believe that by making offerings to the statue, such as flowers, incense, and light, they can accumulate merit and good karma. Additionally, statues can serve as a reminder of the Buddha’s teachings and the ultimate goal of achieving enlightenment.

Statues are also used in various rituals, such as consecration ceremonies, which are performed to dedicate or bless the statue and the altar upon which it is placed. They are also used during religious festivals and other ceremonies.

Statues can also be used as a study aid for learning about the Buddha’s teachings and the different aspects of Buddhism. Many statues depict the Buddha in different postures and with different hand gestures (mudras), each of which has its own meaning and significance.

In addition to statues, Buddhists may also use other forms of art, such as paintings, mandalas and other forms of visual representation of the Buddha and other important figures as well as teachings in Buddhism.

Phrase of the Day:

“Buddha” (仏 or 佛) (ぶっだ or ぶつ): The term “buddha” refers to a person who has achieved enlightenment and become a spiritual teacher.

“Butsuzō” (仏像) (ぶつぞう): This term refers to a statue or image of the Buddha.

“Kannon” (観音) (かんのん): This term refers to the bodhisattva of compassion, who is often depicted in statues and paintings.

“Jizō” (地蔵) (じぞう): This term refers to the bodhisattva of children and travelers, who is often depicted as a protector of children and travelers.

“Nyorai” (如来) (にょらい): This term refers to the Tathagata, a term for the Buddha.

“Rakan” (羅漢) (らかん): This term refers to an arhat, a Buddhist monk who has attained enlightenment.

“Shaka” (釈迦) (しゃか): This is a title of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama.

“Zō” (像) (ぞう): This term means “statue”.

“Jōgyō” (成行) (じょうぎょう): This term means “performing the act of becoming a buddha”, often used to refer to statues that depict the Buddha during the moment of enlightenment.

“Enma” (閻魔) (えんま): This term refers to the king of hell, who is often depicted in statues and paintings.

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