Soon after Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment the four great Great
Guardian Kings of the four directions each presented him with an
alms-bowl, the most beautiful of which was made of precious gems and the
simplest from common clay. Shakyamuni was said to have either
chosen the simple clay bowl or to have accepted all four bowls and
miraculously convert them into one plain bowl that was sufficient for
the needs of a humble mendicant.
The traditional alms bowl of a Buddhist monk or bhikshu is shaped like
the inverted head protuberance (Skt. ushnisha) of the Buddha, a symbols
of the highest attainment of Buddhahood, as the wisdom the directly
realizes emptiness. The alms bowl is generally held in the left
"wisdom" hand of seated Buddhas and their disciples, the sangha.
This left hand often rest upon the lap in the
gesture of meditation, with the
alms bowl indicating renunciation and
the hand gesture meditation upon emptiness.
Three fruits or gems, representing the trinity of Buddha, dharma and
sangha, are also commonly depicted in an alms bowl. The specific
attribute of a particular Buddha may also be shown in his alms bowl.