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Buddhist Art: Explained

The Buddha Shakyamuni


The Buddha Shakyamuni (the historical Buddha) can be identified by his thirty-two major characteristics (known as lakshana), including long, slender fingers; an upright and erect body; full, rounded shoulders; a shorn head represented by raised curls (he cut off his long hair when he renounced his princely life); and elongated earlobes (the result of years of wearing heavy earrings as a prince).

Shakyamuni’s right hand reaches down to touch the earth. This gesture represents the moment when he called the earth to witness his transcendence of the realm of Mara, the supreme God of the world (samsara), who had tried to distract him from his meditation. Shakyamuni’s left hand rests in his lap in the gesture of meditation, and holds his alms bowl, or sometimes his hands held at chest with fingers turning invisible wheel .


Amitabha Buddha



He looks similar to the Buddha with the typical ushnisha on the crown of his head, red skin, peculiar blue hair, long earlobes, three horizontal lines on the neck, right arm bare, wearing the robes of a monastic while seated in vajra posture. But He always has his two hands placed in his lap in a gesture of meditation, often holding a black or dark blue begging bowl.

Popular are depictions of Amitabha in front of a great wish-fulfilling tree, atop a peacock supported throne, and at the center of the Western Paradise. Most often, accompanying him at the sides and in front are the eight great bodhisattvas of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, including Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani, Maitreya, and Manjushri.


The Medicine Buddha


The Blue Buddha of Healing

While depicting Medicine Buddha in Buddhist arts, he is depicted with blue skin color with the halo behind the head. The blue color is associated with the master healing stone, Lapis Lazuli.

He holds a Lapis Lazuli colored jar of medicine in his left hand resting comfortably in the lap. The left hand is portrayed with the palm upward which symbolizes meditative stability.


In Chinese iconography, MedicineBuddha sometimes holds a pagoda symbolizing the ten thousand Buddhas of the three periods of time.

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