The myriad forms of Buddha – Inspiring Life, Art and Sculpture for Centuries

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The myriad forms of Buddha – Inspiring Life, Art and Sculpture for Centuries

In Theravada Buddhism, 'Buddha' denotes to the one who has become enlightened through their own labours, perception, vision and awareness. A Buddha is someone who has comprehended the enlightenment that ends the cycle of birth and death and which fetches liberation from suffering. In the Pali canon, it is stated that Buddhas have appeared in the past and will also appear in the future. There were also numerous enlightened Buddhas who arose in earlier world-cycles and who preached the very same Dhamma that gives deliverance from suffering and death to all mature beings. The names of various Buddhas are religiously preserved by Buddhists, together with their age, their stature, the names of the trees under which they obtained Enlightenment, their country, and the names of their father and mother. They all have two chief disciples to assist them in their mission. Every Buddha has always obtained the supreme intelligence under the shadow of a certain tree.

Large Size Buddha

Vipassi Buddha


In Buddhist tradition, Vipassi (Pali) is the twenty-second of twenty-eight Buddhas described in Chapter 27 of the Buddhavamsa. The Buddhavamsa is a Buddhist text which describes the life of Gautama Buddha and the twenty-seven Buddhas who preceded him. It is the fourteenth book of the Khuddaka Nikaya, which in turn is part of the Sutta Pitaka. The Sutta Pitaka is one of three pitakas which together constitute the Tripitaka, or Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism.’ For eight thousand years he lived as a householder in three palaces: Nanda, Sunanda and Sirima. His body was eighty cubits in height. His wife was Sutanā and his son Samavattakkhandha.  He left the household in a chariot and practised austerities for eight months. Just before his enlightenment, the daughter of the millionaire Sudassana gave him milk-rice, while a grain-watcher (yavapalaka) named Sujata gave grass for his seat. His Bodhi was a patali tree. He taught his first discourse in Khemamigadaya to his step-brother Khandha and his chief priest’s son Tissa; these two later became his chief disciples. His constant attendant was Asoka; Canda and Candamitta were his chief women disciples. His chief lay patrons were Punabbasummitta and Naga among men, and Sirima and Uttara among women. He died in Sumittārāma at the age of eighty thousand, and his relics were enshrined in a thupa seven leagues in height. The Bodhisatta was a Naga king named Atula.

Three reasons are given for the name of this Buddha:

1) Because he could see as well by night as by day;

2) because he had broad eyes;

3) because he could see clearly after investigation. Vipassi held the uposatha only once in seven years, but on such occasions the whole Sangha was present. The construction of a Gandhakuti for Vipassi brought Mendaka great glory in the present age. Mendaka’s name at the time was Avaroja. Annata-Kondanna was then known as Culakala, and nine times he gave Vipassi Buddha the first fruits of his fields.

Sikhī Buddha

Sikhi Buddha is the twentieth Buddha as known in the Pali tradition. The name of his father was Arunava and the mother was Pabhavati. The place, where he was born is called Arunavati. The name of his wife was Sabbakama. He had a son named Atula.

He lived in the palaces of Suchanda, Giri and Vehana for seven thousand years until he renounced the house-hold life riding on an elephant. He practised austerities for eight months. Just before the Enlightenment he accepted the milk-rice from Daughter-of-Piyadassi-Setthi; and sat on the seat prepared by Anomadassi. The tree of his Enlightenment was Pundarika (lotus). He delivered his first sermon in the Migachira Park and demonstrated his twin-miracle at a place near Suriyavati under a Champaka tree. Abhibhu and Sambhava were his chief monk disciples; and Akhila (or Makhila) and Paduma were his principal female disciples. His chief attendant was Khemankara. Sirivaddha and Chanda (or Nanda) were his chief male patrons; and Chitta and Sugutta were the chief among the women.

He lived for seventy thousand years and died in Dussarama (Assarama) in Silavati. He was called Sikhi because his turban (unhisa) looked like a sikha (flame). During his Age the Bodhisatta was born as king Arindama and ruled the kingdom of Paribhutta.

Vessabhu Buddha

Going by the Buddhavamsa, Vessabhu is believed to be the twenty fourth Buddha. He was born in the pleasance of Anoma (Commentary, Anupama), his father being the khattiya Suppatita (Supatita) and his mother Yasavati. He is acclaimed by the Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana traditions. He is believed to have lived for six thousand years he lived in the household in three palaces: Ruci, Suruci and Vaddhana (Rativaddhana); his wife was Sucitta, and their son Suppabuddha. He left home in a golden palanquin, practiced austerities for six months, was given rice milk by Sirivaddhana of Sucittanigama, and grass for his seat by the Naga king Narinda, and attained Enlightenment under a sāla tree. He preached his first sermon at Anurarama to his brothers, Sona and Uttara, who became his chief disciples

Kakusandha Buddha

Kakusandha Buddha is the first Buddha of the present Kalpa, Bhadrakalpa. He is the fourth Buddha among seven Buddhas of Antiquity (saptatathagata). Seven Buddhas bridges between the past Kalpa, Vyuhakalpa (Glorious Aeon) and present Kalpa, Bhadrakalpa (Auspicious Aeon). First Buddha among Seven Buddhas of Antiquity is Vipassi Buddha. He is the 998th Buddha of Vyuhakalpa. The Seventh one is Gautama Buddha.

Kakusandha Buddha is called as Khorvadjig in Tibetan and in Sanskrit, he is called as Krakucchanda. In Vietnamese, he is called as Phat Cau Luu Ton and in Japanese is Kurusom. His history is mentioned in chapter 22 of the Buddhists Scripture, Buddhavamsa. This scripture is also important because it has included the life of not only Gautam Buddha, but also all other Buddhas who have lived on this earth in the past. After enlightenment, Kakusandha Buddha stayed in the Sirisa Maha Bodhi tree for forty-nine days. He then went to Isipatana Deer Park, near the town of Makila where he delivered his first discourse to the assembly of eighty-four thousand monks in a park. Later, when Kakusandha was preaching the knowledge under a Sal tree close to the city gate of Kannakujja, he displayed Twin miracle. He at the same time taught Dhamma to thirty thousand crores of Devas and humans as well.

Legends say that Naradev, an ogre was giving trouble to the people residing at the Khemavati. He would catch people who go through the middle of the huge forest to fetch various species of lotus. If there was no human passing by in the forest, then he would go to nearby and catch the people and then devour them. At one time, people were discussing how to get through the forest. At that moment, Kakusandha Buddha heard the people's concern and then surveyed the place. He saw orge Naradeva who was giving pain to the innocent human beings. So, he traveled through space displaying various forms of the miracle, then he landed into Naradev's mansion and took a seat on the ogre's splendid couch. Seeing this Naradeva became delighted and with his companion, he went to the Himalayas and brought back aquatic and terrestrial flowers. He paid homage to the Buddha with those beautiful flowers. The people were excited and they came to the Buddha and encircle him. Then the Buddha explained that every deed is related to the outcome, then after he taught the Four Noble Truths. At that moment. Devas and humans came there to listen to the Kakusandha Buddha to learn about the truths.

Shwedagon Pagoda, another sacred Buddhists pilgrimage site located in Myanmar has a religious importance. The pagoda is 99 m tall and is situated on Singuttara Hill to the west of Kandawgyi Lake. It is believed that this Pagoda contains relics of the four previous Buddhas of the present Kalpa. These are the staff of Kakusandha, water filter of Konagamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa and eight strands of hair from the head of Gautama. On the premises, we can find stupas of Four Buddhas of present Kalpa, Bhadrakalpa. At the eastern directional shrine, there is a statue of Kakushandha Buddha, the first Buddha of the present Kalpa. At the southern directional shrine, there is a statue of the second Buddha of the present Kalpa, Konagamana Buddha. At the western directional shrine, there is the third one of Kassapa Buddha and finally, at the northern directional shrine, there is the fourth one of Gautama Buddha.

Konagamana Buddha

According to Theravada Buddhist tradition, Konagamana is the twenty-sixth of the twenty-nine named Buddhas, the fifth of the Seven Buddhas of Antiquity, and the second of the five Buddhas of the present kalpa. Konagamana is said to have been born in Subhagavati Park in Sobhavati (now known as Araurakot, located about 3 kilometres southwest of Nigalihawa) on Wednesday; because of this Konagamana is placed on the Wednesday pedestal. The Konagamana Buddha is mentioned in a 3rd-century BCE inscription by Ashoka at Nigali Sagar, in today's Nepal. There is an Ashoka pillar at the site today. Ashoka's inscription in Brahmi is on the fragment of the pillar still partly buried in the ground.

Kasyapa Buddha

Kassapa Buddha is the twenty-fourth Buddha of the Pali tradition; and one of the seven Buddhas mentioned in Pali canons. Besides, he is also reckoned as the third Buddha of the present aeon (Bhadda Kappa).

Kassapa was born in Varanasi, in the Deer Park at Isipatana – India for his Brahmin parents Brahmadatta and Dhanavatī, of the Kassapagotta. Kassapa lived for two thousand years in the household in three different palaces. They are Hamsa, Yasa and Sirinanda. His chief wife was Sunandā and had a son called Vijitasena. Kassapa gave up his worldly life traveling in his palace (pāsāda). He practiced austerities for only seven days. Just before attaining enlightenment, he had accepted a meal of milk-rice from his wife and grass for his seat from a yavapālaka named Soma. His bodhi (the tree under which he attained enlightenment) was a banyan-tree and he preached his first sermon at Isipatana to an assembly of monks who had renounced the world in his company. Kassapa performed the twin miracle at the foot of an asana-tree outside Sundaranagara. He held only one assembly of his disciples; among his most famous conversions was that of a yakkha, Naradeva. His chief disciples were Tissa and Bharadvaja among monks, and Anulā and Uruvelā among nuns, his constant attendant being Sabbamitta. Among his patrons, the most eminent were Sumangala and Ghattikara, Vijitasena and Bhadda. His body was twenty cubits high. Kassapa dies at the age of forty thousand years, in the Stavya pleasance at Setavya in Kasi. Over his relics was raised a thūpa one league in height, each brick of which was worth one crore.

Gautama Buddha

The life of Buddha is a romantic tale. Buddhist legends recount that, before his advent in this world, Gautama Buddha was a Bodhisattva or Buddha potential in the Tushita heaven. It was at the request of Tushita gods that he agreed to descend to earth to preach the Dharma for the salvation of sentient beings. According to the tradition, Gautama the Buddha was the son of Suddhodana who was the chief of Sakya clan. Siddhartha was born in Lumbini. He was nurtured in the midst of all royal luxuries. Special attention was taken to attract his mind towards the material pleasures as ascetic Asita prophesized that he would be universal teacher. However, his contemplative mind and boundless compassion did not permit him to enjoy the material pleasures of the royal household for long. Brought up in the lap of luxury, receiving an education befitting a prince, he married and had a son named Rahula. However, his contemplative mind did not permit him to enjoy the mundane pleasures though special care was taken to attract his mind towards worldly pleasures as the sage Asita prophesized that the boy would renounce the household life and be a great teacher. Amidst comfort and prosperity, he realized the universality of sorrow. With the intent of discovering the means of overcoming worldly pleasures, he left his home one night with the charioteer Chandaka whom he sent back with a message to his father and wife.

Superfine Gautam Buddha Preaching Under Bodhi Tree

From Rajagriha Siddhartha went in search of spiritual teachers and took instruction from two renowned masters Uddara Kalama and Rudraka Ramaputtha and in a very short time he mastered whatever they had to teach, however, there teaching could not satisfy his quest of mind and left them to find a path of deliverance through his own exertions and came to Uruvilva (later known as Bodhgaya as it was associated with the attainment of Bodhi by Siddhartha). There he selected a spot near the river Niranjana for his meditation. After six years austerities and meditation he attained bodhi and became supremely enlightened being. He was not born a Buddha but he became a Buddha by his own striving. Then began a ceaseless effort to help mankind for salvation.

He preached his first sermon at deer park Sarnath to five mendicant who had left him at Gaya. This event is known as Dharmachakrapravartanasutta. Buddhism or the religion preached by Gautama the Buddha in the sixth century B.C ranks as one of the greatest religions of the world. The teachings of Buddha points to very fundamental truths of life. The teachings of Buddha may be divided into two groups: Philosophical and Moral. Another important theory of the Buddha concerns with the four noble truths. He said earthly existence is full of suffering. Suffering has a cause; Suffering can be eliminated. One must know the right way leading to the cessation of suffering. The right way is the avoidance of two extremes: extreme indulgence and extreme hardships. Piety consists in resorting to a Middle path. By following the noble eight paths (Right views; right intention, right speech; right action; right livelihood; right effort; right mind fullness and right concentration) one can eradicate the suffering or pain. Self-discipline was the essence of Buddha’s teaching. Throughout his life Buddha emphasized that one should seek deliverance through one’s own effort.

The Essence of the Bodhisattwa

In Buddhist history, this movement into the heart of the world is associated with the bodhisattva. In early, Theravada, Buddhism the term bodhisattva refers to the earlier lives of Gautama the Buddha. He had lots of them, and in each he practiced and grew in com­passion and wisdom. These are the hallmarks of a bodhisattva: compassion and insight into the interconnectedness of all beings. And he developed those capacities not just in human lives, but also in non-human lives. Many of you probably share my delight in the Jataka stories, where these earlier lives, with wondrous displays of courage and compassion, are re­counted. In some of them the Buddha was a rabbit, or a monkey, or an elephant, or a snake, as well as a merchant and a prince, and a counsellor to kings.

As Mahayana Buddhism comes on the scene, the central doctrine of the Bud­dha, dependent co-arising, is understood with fresh appreciation and vigor. As that happens, a resounding recognition comes: Oh, given that we course together in radical interconnectedness, we belong to each other. We are all bodhisattvas—that is our true na­ture.” That is a major message of the Perfec­tion of Wisdom sutras which inaugurate the Mahāyāna.

Large Size Crowned Buddha

As the tradition ripened over the centu­ries, archetypal forms of bodhisattvahood ap­peared, as celestial bodhisattvas. These you can call on at any time; they are right at hand. You honour your own capacity for wisdom, as you think of the celestial bodhisattva Manjushri, the embodiment of wisdom. Or you experience your own com­passion, as you turn to the Compassionate One who lis­tens, Avalokiteshvara. Or you access your own creativity and courage, as you turn to the bodhisattva of action, Samantabhadra. Or you dis­cover your own fearlessness, as you turn to the bodhisattva Kshitigarbha, who’s not afraid to go down into the deepest level of hell for the sake of those who suffer there.

That’s the gift from these celestial bodhisattvas—to symbolize and evoke the capacities of the human heart and mind, to represent what we all want to expect of ourselves. As we learn to see ourselves and others as potential bodhisattvas, we find more equanimity in our relationship to our world—not to be scared of the messiness and the pain; not to hold back and close off from the world. Instead, we open up and move into it. So, there’s both fearlessness, and a kind of celebration.

Bodhisattva behaviour is actually present in all schools of Buddhism. It abounds in Theravada, the Way of the Elders. Though the term is not used there, bodhisattva behaviour is clearly manifest and called forth.

In modern literature, the term Bodhisattva was only used to refer to the Buddha Gautama’s life before his enlightenment and his previous lives and the six previous Buddhas. The number of Buddhas increased in the commentaries to 24: Every Buddha has been a Bodhisattva up to the time he wins complete Self-Awakening at the root of a Tree. Therefore, every Chronicle in Buddhavamsa gives some details of the life of its Buddha both before as well as after his Awakening.

Eight Buddhas (Dhammamadassin, Siddhattha, Phussa, Vipassin, Sikhin, Kakusandha, Konagamana, Kassapa) that they turned the Wheel in a migadaya (deer sanctuary) and only Gautama is recorded to have turned it in a migadaya in an isipatana (seers’ resort). Another commentary, the Cariyapitaka, introduces for the first time in the Pāli tradition the ten paramitas (perfections) that Gautama Bodhisattva was to fulfil for the attainment of Buddhahood: Buddhavamsa and a number of Commentaries, including the Jatakas prose, are able to name the ten perfections are outstandingly important for the fulfilment of them all and further practice for fulfilling after he had heard the Buddha’s declarations that he would be a Buddha at some future time.

Tibetan Buddhist Green Tara with Superfine Colorful Inlay Work

These stories are divided into three vaggas or Divisions. The first the perfection of dana; the second the perfection of sila; and the third the perfection of nekkhama, the one following with the perfection of resolute, determination, adhitthana, the next six with the perfection of truth, sacca, the next two with the perfection of loving kindness, metta, and the final one with the perfection of equanimity, upekkha.

The Bodhisattva’s characteristics found in the Buddhavaṃsa and the Cariyapitaka developed the term in its usage of application. The next commentary is the Milindapanha. Here, the word Bodhisattva is used mainly as a term denoting the former existences of Gautama Buddha. This is a book that describes a dialogue between King Milinda and Venerable Nagasena about the Buddha’s teaching.Milindapanha, in its own way, contributes to the concept of Bodhisattva. Some important issues discussed in Milindapanha, “Gautama Bodhisattva, when he was residing in the Tusita heaven, had eight investigations (vilokana) to determine the proper place and time of his descent therefrom.” Gautama Bodhisattva had five teachers when he was trying to find nibbana detail, “before the Awakening, and while he was not yet fully awakened the bodhisattva had these five teachers.”

Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is a famous Bodhisattva image in some well-known Mahayana Suttas, ‘karuna is said to be embodied in the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.’ Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is also referred to as enlightened, ‘the enlightening being Avalokitesvara’. His skill in resources is infinite through it he takes whatever form will help living beings. He manifests as a Buddha, a Bodhisattva, gods, a monk, a nun, a layperson, an asura, even a dragon and so on and speaks Dharma for individuals in their particular needs. Therefore, he possesses all virtues and is especially rich in loving kindness and compassion. The Buddha praised Avalokiteśvara for having obtained very well the Dharma-door of perfect penetration through contemplation and listening to the sound of the world and said that this Dharma-door was appropriate to being in the Saha world.

Superfine Four-Armed Avalokiteshvara (Super Large Chenrezig) - Tibetan Buddhist Brocadeless Thangka

Bodhisattva Manjusri

Manjusri is a Bodhisattva who is first referred to in early Mahāyāna texts to symbolize the embodiment of paññā (wisdom). The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara said to Sudhana:

“Welcome you who have set out on the incomparable, lofty, inconceivable great vehicle... you are filled with the energy of great compassion, determined to liberate all sentient beings... born of the ocean of knowledge of Manjusri.”

The last chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutta details the pilgrimage of the youth Sudhana taken  on  at  the  behest  of  the Bodhisattva. Sudhana would converse with fifty-two masters in his quest for enlightenment. The penultimate master that Sudhana visits is the Manjusri Bodhisattva, “Manjusri, who was together with a great host of transfigured enlightening beings, turned with the gaze of an elephant.”

The Contemplative Bodhisattva Manjushri

Superfine Four-Armed Avalokiteshvara (Super Large Chenrezig) - Tibetan Buddhist Brocadeless Thangka

Bodhisattva Vimalakīrti

A famous laity Buddhist named Vimalakīrti who, despite being engaged in worldly activities through his livelihood as a banker, manages to lead an exemplary life as a Bodhisattva:

“There was a rich man name Vimakakirti. Already in the past he had offered alms to immeasurable number of Buddhas... he observed all the rules of pure conduct laid down for monks, and though he lives at home, he felt no attachment to the threefold world. He had wife and children, yet he was at still times chaste in action; he had kin and household attendants, yet he always delighted in withdrawing from them.”

To sum up the Bodhisattva’s characters appear in famous Mahayana suttas as Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, Maitreya and laities’ bodhisattvas; they are celestial beings or enlightenment beings, Bodhi-beings who bring happiness for sentient beings or choose to postpone release to show others attaining nibbana.

Tibetan Buddhist Deity Eleven Headed Avalokiteshvara

The sole objective of a Bodhisattva is to serve all beings. The virtues that one cultivates are aimed at doing good for others without selfishness. On this basis, we can evaluate the Bodhisattva ideas as well as the ethical system related to it as the highest moral discipline in Buddhism which gives the greatest happiness to all beings in the world.

The different ideas of the Bodhisattva as an unenlightened one, Gautama Bodhisattva in Theravada tradition and Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism both state that the Bodhisattva is a celestial being or Bodhi-being. The path of enlightenment in Theravada Buddhism towards Arahantship, which the Buddha required his disciples  practice,  is  quite  different  from  the  Bodhisattva  path  or  Bodhisattvahood. The Bodhisattva doctrine was originated and gradually developed in Theravada period and completed in Mahayana period.

All of these paths show the way of attaining enlightenment. Likewise, Arahant or Bodhisattva cultivates loving kindness and compassion for the world, for the good, welfare, and happiness of all. It is the basis of the Buddha’s teaching.

References and Further Readings

Burton, Watson (tr.). The Vimakirti Sutra. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2008.

Nanamoli, Bhikkhu and Bodhi, Bhikkhu (tr.). The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2009.

S. Prebish, Charles and Keown, Damien. Introducing Buddhism. New York: Routledge Published, 2010.

Woodward, F.L. (tr.). The Book of the Gradual Sayings (Anguttaranikaya). vol I. Oxford: Pali Text Society, 1995.

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