Saturday, December 20, 2008

Buddha's Feet

We run into many different representations (statues and paintings mainly) of Buddha and the life of Buddha here in Thailand. For me it is something relatively new and something that leads me to ask questions. Questions like "What is the difference between the Chinese Chubby Buddha and the skinnier image that the Thais and much of S.E. Asia revere?"

To answer these questions, my first source of knowledge is always Pae and then random people at school who can either bring their Thai explanations down to my level, or who feel comfortable trying to explain to me in English. When I want to learn even more, I turn to the trusty internet! (Before you ask, No, I don't read books!)

The most recent question that popped in my head, as we took pictures of reclining Buddha on a recent weekend excursion, was "What is the significance of the symbols on the bottom or Buddha's feet?" As you can see from the pictures we took (the gold one taken in Kanchanaburi and the bottom one in Prae, Northern Thailand) there is a pretty good deal of action going on down there! Pictures of animals, actual toe prints, a wheel, etc. I found the following short explanation on It refers to the actual imprint made of the Buddha's foot, which I have not run into yet in my time here. I have usually only seen the bottom of the Buddha's foot which is adorned with the same symbols.

The footprints of the Buddha (Buddhapada) are one of the early
representations of the Buddha in the anticonic (no statues) stage of Buddhist art. The Buddhapada are highly revered in all Buddhist countries, especially in Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Symbolizing the grounding of the transcendent, feet have been objects of respect in India long before Buddhism. According to Buddhist legend, after the Buddha attained enlightenment, his feet made an imprint in the stone where he stepped. In another tradition, the infant Buddha took seven steps after his birth to symbolize his spiritual domination of the universe.

The footprints of the Buddha symbolize the Buddha's presence, as they are believed to be the imprints where the Buddha actually touched the ground. At the same time, the Buddhapada signify the Buddha's absence now that he has entered nirvana, and thus are a reminder of the Buddhist ideal of nonattachment.

The Buddha's footprints are usually depicted with the toes of all one length and with a dharmachakra (wheel) in the center. Other early Buddhist symbols also appear on the heels and toes, such as the lotus, the swastika and the triratna (Three Jewels).
Some Buddhapada can be very large and detailed, displaying the 32, 108 or 132 distinctive marks of a Buddha in a checkerboard pattern. These symbols are also seen on the bottom of the feet of large statues of the reclining Buddha.

Sculptures of Buddha's footprints are usually protected in a special temple structure, where the faithful bring flowers and other offerings to them. The Buddhapada image can also be found on Tibetan thangkas.


Manda said...

Your posts are always so interesting and loaded with great cultural information. Maybe Thailand needs to be the next place that I visit :) You and Pae would show me around right? I'd love to meet your beautiful Pae.

waldemar Sailer said...

See: The World of Buddha Footprints. I deal with identification of the symbols, assigning the Pali terms to them. Meaning is NOT my area. The top picture is not a typical or traditional Buddha Footprint. The second, the one below, is. k There are hundreds of them in the Theravada Buddhist world.

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