The history and symbolism of Buddha
Though we associate the Buddha and Buddhism more with countries like China, Thailand, and Tibet now, the history of the Buddha actually began in the Kosala realm of ancient India, in what is now modern-day Nepal.2600 years ago, before he was known as the Buddha, he was a prince named Siddharta Gautama. Though he was born a man of means and wealth, he discovered in early adulthood that material possessions and conditioned experiences could not provide true lasting happiness.
A Master of Meditation & Lifelong Learner
He fled his royal life in secret and ventured into the forest seeking spiritual guidance and enlightenment. He spent six years studying under various spiritual teachers and mastering the art of meditation. Though he mastered the various meditation techniques, he still felt that he was missing something. The meditation gave him the ability to see his mind’s potential but not the mind itself.
Reaching a State of True Enlightenment
So he travelled to a place called Bodhgaya where he decided to remain in a state of meditation until he could unlock his mind’s true nature. He sat in meditation for 6 days and 6 nights. A week before his 35th birthday, on the night of a full moon, he finally broke through all his mind’s obstacles and reached a state of true enlightenment. This state allowed him to become fully aware of the here and now, allowing him to truly live in the moment. A practice we now more commonly referred to as mindfulness.
Travelling and Teaching
After this, the Buddha spent 45 years travelling through northern India on food teaching his methods of meditation and enlightenment to anyone who wished to learn, regardless of social caste, profession, or wealth. Buddha always encouraged his students to question his teachings and confirm them through their own experience, this attitude still characterizes Buddhism to this day.
Buddha in art: Stylistic differences throughout Asia
If you’re a fan of Asian and Buddhist art, you’ve likely noticed that the image of Buddha greatly varies throughout Asia. Most of the images we see of the Buddha in art are either in the jolly, round form of the laughing Buddha or the more peaceful and serious form of medium build, lost in meditation atop a lotus flower. Some depictions of Buddha even show him thin and serious, sometimes even clad in warrior garb.Many of these stylistic differences sprung about due to different forms of Buddhism becoming prevalent in different parts of Asia. While there are several forms of Buddhism practised today, Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana (or esoteric Buddhism) are the most common. Theravada Buddhism is seen most often in Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka and follows the teachings of the original Buddha, Shakyamuni, as closely as possible. Mahayana is practised mostly in China, Korea, Japan, and Tibet. They believe that anyone may reach a state of enlightenment through bodhisattva to essentially become a Buddha. Esoteric Buddhism is practised in India and parts of Tibet and incorporates other practices such as yoga and mantras to reach enlightenment. Esoteric Buddhism also often incorporates gods and mythologies from other religions such as Hinduism. Some stylistic approaches to Buddha’s depiction can be seen across the different sects, however, such as his elongated earlobes, shaved head, lotus flowers, or snails covering his shaved head (believed to have come to protect the Buddha’s head from the sun during his long meditation)
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