The Lotus Flower, One of the Eight Auspicious Symbols

pinklotusflower.jpgThe Indian lotus (Sanskrit: Padma, Kamala), which grows from the dark watery mire but is unstained by it, is a major Buddhist symbol of purity and renunciation.  It represents the blossoming of wholesome activities, which are performed with complete freedom from the faults of cyclic existence.  The lotus seats upon which deities sit or stand symbolize their divine origin.  They are immaculately conceived, innately perfect, and absolutely pure in their body, speech, and mind.  The deities manifest into cyclic existence, yet they are completely uncontaminated by its defilements, emotional hindrances, and mental obscurations.

As a sacred symbol the lotus was adopted by many of the world’s great civilizations, from Egypt to Japan, and widely incorporated into their arts and architecture.  The lotus opens and closes with the sun, and in ancient Egypt the sun was conceived as of rising from an eastern lotus at dawn, and setting into a western lotus at sunset.  Similarly Surya, the Vedic sun god, holds a lotus in each of his hands, symbolizing the suns path across the heavens.  Brahman, the Vedic god of creation, was born from a golden lotus that grew from the nave of Vishnu, like a lotus growing from an umbilical stem.  Padmasambhava, the ‘lotus born’ tantric master who introduced Buddhism into Tibet, was similarly divinely conceived from a miraculous lotus, which blossomed upon Danakosha Lake in the western Indian kingdom of Uddiyana.  The lotus as a divine womb or vagina is a potent sexual metaphor in both Hindu and Buddhist tantra.  Padma and kamala are synonymous Sanskrit terms for the ‘lotus’ of the female vagina, which is soft, pink, and open.  Likewise the vajra is synonymous with the male penis, which is hard and penetrative.  The union of vajra and padma is a sexual symbol for the union of form and emptiness, or skillful means and wisdom.  On an inner level this union symbolizes the penetration and ascent of the psychic winds into the subtle body’s central channel, which pierces and opens the ‘lotuses’ of the channel-wheels or chakras.

The lotus is the emblem of Amitabha, the red Buddha of the west and the ‘Lord of the Padma or Lotus Family’.  Amitabha’s qualities are indicative of the redness of fire, vital fluids, evening twilight, the summer season, and the transmutation of passion into discriminating awareness.  Amitabha’s consort is Pandara, whose attribute is also a red lotus.  Amitabha’s presiding bodhisattva is Padmapani Avalokiteshvara, the ‘Holder of the Lotus’, and the Bodhisattva of great compassion.

The Buddhist lotus is described as having four, eight, sixteen, twenty-four, thirty-two, sixty-four, a hundred, or a thousand petals.  These numbers symbolically correspond to the internal lotuses or chakras of the subtle body, and to the numerical components of the mandala.  As a hand-held attribute the lotus is usually colored pink or light red, with eight or sixteen petals.  Lotus blossoms may also be colored white, yellow, golden, blue and black.  The white or ‘edible lotus’ (Sanskrit: pundarika) is an attribute of the Buddha Sikhin, and a sixteen-petaled white utpala lotus is held by White Tara. The yellow lotus and the golden lotus are generally known as padma, and the more common red or pink lotus is usually identified as the kamala.  The Sanskrit term utpala is specifically identified with the blue or black ‘night lotus’, but its transliterated Tibetan equivalent (Tib. ut-pa-la) may be applied to any color of lotus.

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Dvarapala, Temple Guardian

dvarapala

Dvarapalas (temple lions) traditionally stand guard outside the gates of shrines, Buddhist temples and porticos of homes.  In Japan, they are referred to as Shishi (or Jishi) and can also refer to a deer or dog with magical properties and the power to repel evil spirits.  In China they are referred to as Foo Dogs and are traditionally depicted in pairs.  In Thailand they are referred to as Singha, the true king of the forest.  His roar echoes to great distances, terrifying all forest animals, great and small, and stand at the entrance of Thai temples, guarding the sacred Buddhist teachings.  In Indonesia and Cambodia they are referred to as ‘Dvarapalas’ and are generally armed with lances and clubs and can often times have a bulky physique, while the Dvarapalas in Thailand are leaner and are portrayed in standing straight position holding the club downward in the center.  Dvarapala sculpture in Thailand is made of a high-fired stoneware clay covered with a pale, almost milky glaze known as celadon. Ceramic sculptures of this type were produced during the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods, between the 14th and 16th centuries.  This is process still exist today and the pieces are produced at several kiln complexes located in northern Thailand.  The main function of Dvarapalas is to protect the temples.  Dvarapalas in Cambodia may be seen, for example, at various temples in and around Angkor Wat.

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Buddhist Customs & Traditions: Giving Alms

Buddha Statue Giving AlmsThe act of giving alms to monks has been practiced by Buddhists for thousands of years.  It’s equated with doing good things and the belief is that this will bring about peace and happiness.

There are many ways in which Buddhists can make merit and among them are giving alms, living life according to religious precepts and praying.

Alms giving is very common practice and usually done at the break of dawn when Buddhist monks begin their alms rounds.  Laypeople are required to prepare food and water and wait for the monks to approach them with their alms bowl.

It is important to note that women are prohibited from physical contact with a monk regardless of her age, nationality or religion.  Every female alms donor must take care not to touch a monk when she is offering food to him.

Once food and water have been placed inside the bowl, the monk will place the lid on top of his alms bowl and recite a prayer as a blessing to his donor after which the merit-making will be considered as officially over.

Buddhists give alms for a number of reasons, one example is in honor of deceased loved ones, the belief being that they will not have to suffer from famine in the afterlife.

The common rule when making merit is to ensure that the mind is purified.  Only after that state has been accomplished will the Buddhist proverb of “do good and good will come unto you” ring true.

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Standing Khmer Bronze Buddha Statue

Standing Khmer Bronze Buddha Statue

Lord Buddha is depicted standing holding an alms bowl.

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 symbol of the highest attainment of Buddhahood, as the wisdom that directly realizes emptiness.

Rose & Saffron Tones Khmer Buddha Statue

rose saffron tones khmer buddha statue

This beautiful rose with saffron tones Cambodian Buddha statue was recently carved from an antique piece of wood. Lord Buddha has a wonderful serene expression and a faint smile. He is depicted in the bhumisparsha mudra also known as the earth touching gesture. The ushnisha, protuberance above his head also referred to as a topknot, symbolizes His wisdom and openness as an enlightened being. He has elongated earlobes, a vestige of his life as a prince, when he wore extravagant jewelry. This beautiful wood sculpture is a one of a kind statue, hand carved by the very talented artists of Cambodia!

Parinirvana Buddha Statue

hand carved parinirvana buddha statue

This Buddha sculpture is shown in Parinirvana. In Buddhism, Parinirvana is the final nirvana, usually within reach only upon the death of the body of someone who has attained complete awakening or bodhi. It is the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice and implies a release from the cycle of deaths and rebirths as well as the dissolution of all worldly physical and mental aggregates or skandhas (perception or consciousness). Lord Buddha is shown resting peacefully. His eyes and face have a serene demeanor showing Siddhartha at ease with passing from this world escaping from the cycle of samsara.

Abhaya Mudra Standing Buddha, Balinese Wood Statue

large standing balinese buddha

This beautifully serene Balinese wood Buddha stands on an intricately carved three-tiered lotus base. Lord Buddha’s right hand is raised in the abhaya mudra also known as the gesture of protection. In his left hand he holds a small vessel which in both Buddhism and Hinduism alike is said to contain amrita, the divine nectar of the gods which was also believed to have healing properties.

This Buddha is carved from the trunk of a rain-tree. The natural gradation of the wood from dark to light color throughout this piece is stunning! Only master artisans are experienced enough to carve full tree carvings. The artist must have a very keen eye in order to see the contour and shape of the tree and bring life to it. The back of this sculpture is also fully carved. This sculpture was entirely hand carved in the living postcard island of Bali.

Buddha Vitarka Mudra, Cambodian Wood Statue

teaching-mudra-wooden-buddha-statue

 

This natural color macassar ebony wood Buddha statue is in the vitarka mudra also known as the teaching gesture. Lord Buddha is seated in dhyana asana, the meditative pose also called padmasana. A beautiful Buddharupa, perfect for a home altar or meditation room. This wood sculpture is a one of a kind statue, hand carved by the very talented artists of Cambodia.

Kneeling Buddha Burmese Wood Statue with Glass Mosaic, 13″

Kneeling Burmese Wood Buddha Statue with Glass Mosaic

Lord Buddha’s face exudes an intense sweetness and serenity. A slight, enigmatic smile plays across his lips. Long, pendulous earlobes reach down to touch his shoulders. This beautiful kneeling Buddha is inlaid with red, green and silver glass mosaic. This teak wood sculpture is a one of a kind statue, hand carved by the very talented artists of Myanmar (Burma).

Hevajra and Nairatmya Dancing Statue

Hevajra and nairatyma dancing statue

In this beautiful sculpture the eight-faced, sixteen-armed, four-footed Hevajra is depicted lithely dancing clasping his consort Nairatmya (“selfless one”) in a close embrace.

One pair of legs assumes a powerful stance, the left knee bent (alidha), the other pair assumes a dancer’s pose (ardha pariyanka). Crushed underneath are four corpses representing the four Maras or demons who embody all the active hindering forces within the psyche and in the objective world, that work to deflect us from the spiritual goal. In his eight right hands he holds eight skull cups each containing an animal: an elephant, a horse, a donkey, an ox, a camel, a man, a tiger and a cat. In his eight left hands he also holds eight skull cups with the eight deities of the cardinal directions.

Nairatmya, the consort of Hevajra has two hands and two legs. In her left hand she holds a skull cup while the right hand holds a vajra. Her left leg is bent down along with his, while her right leg is wrapped around his waist. Her expression is also wrathful. They both wear elaborate belts with beaded festoons, garlands of severed heads and skull tiaras.

Carrying skull cups in all of the hands is one of the most distinctive features of Hevajra. The skull cup represents the mind aspect of the body, speech, and mind notion. It also represents death and impermanence, the illusory nature of all the phenomena. The animals and gods in Hevajra’s skull cup may symbolize a universal range of all matter and beings, alive, on earth and in the heavens. Thus, the sixteen skull cups collectively symbolize the sixteen voidness or Shunyata.

Hevajra is a wrathful emanation of the Buddha Akshobhya. He is a popular deity in Tibet, where he belongs to the yidam (tutelary, or guardian, deity) class. His worship is the subject of the Hevajra Tantra, a scripture that helped bring about the conversion of the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan (1215–94). He is one of the more common yet complex deities depicted in Buddhist art!