Monday, March 30, 2009

Buddha's 32 Marks of a Great Man

These "marks" (lakkhana) are not a Buddhist invention. Rather, they have a long history in Vedic Brahmanism.
The amalgam of Eastern philosophy from India is now called "Hinduism," although there was never any such term in India, nor was there the idea of a "religion" separate from life. There were various dharmas (schools of thought). But almost all were centered around traditions handed down in the great epics, Aryan writings, and great commentaries.

The Buddha inadvertently contributed that by revolutionizing thought on stagnant traditions, reviving a great deal of "Hindu" scholarship. Buddhists went on to found a remarkable new Dharma rooted in Indian fundamentals but radically breaking from many traditions with a universal message.

Part of the old tradition were these "marks of a great man." The Buddha was remarkably facile with incorporating widespread beliefs and re-purposing them towards enlightened ends. Therefore, his use of an old tradition, imbuing it with new significance, does not necessarily mean he was condoning the belief.

Instead, he was often utilizing skillful means to teach. These marks were a convention well known among leading philosophers and nobles. The Buddha explained them to reinforce the teaching of karma, which contrary to modern opinion was neither well known, thoroughly understood, nor universally accepted among his contemporaries and their followers.

The Major Marks (lakkhana) and their significance

  1. Well-supported feet. Firm undertaking
  2. Wheels beneath the soles of the feet. Great retinues
  3. Projecting heels. Long life
  4. Long fingers and toes. Long life
  5. Soft and tender hands and feet. Well-united with people
  6. Net-like hands and feet. Well-united with people
  7. Ankles raised like conch shells. Becomes the best
  8. Lower part of the leg is like an antelope's. Gets the best things quickly
  9. Can touch and rub around his knees with both palms, while standing without bending.
    Great wealth
  10. The part concealed by garments is covered by a hood. Many sons
  11. Skin shines like gold. Get finest furnishings and garments
  12. Subtle skin such that dirt and sweat do not adhere to body. Great wisdom
  13. Single hairs, one to each pore. Well-respected
  14. Hair pointing upwards, black, ungraying, turning in rings to the right. Becomes the best
  15. Body frame is straight like Brahma ("supreme one"). Long life
  16. Seven outflows on his hands, feet, at the tips of the shoulders, and at the top of the back.
    Obtains excellent foods
  17. Upper part of the body is lion-like. No loss
  18. The hollow between his shoulders is filled. No loss
  19. Proportional with a body as long as the span of the arms. Great wealth
  20. Shoulders evenly rounded. No loss
  21. Releases the highest of tastes. Very healthy
  22. Jaw is lion-like. He cannot be overthrown.
  23. Forty teeth. His assemblies cannot be divided.
  24. Teeth are even. Pure retinues
  25. Teeth are undivided. His assemblies cannot be divided.
  26. Visible teeth are very white. Pure retinues
  27. A long and mighty tongue. His words are heeded.
  28. The voice of Brahma, mellifluous, resembling the song of a karavika bird. His words are heeded.
  29. Very blue eyes. Attractive look
  30. Eyelashes like those of a cow. Attractive look
  31. The filament between the eyebrows is white like soft cotton. Well-respected
  32. Head is turban-crowned. Many followers

1 comment:

Jayarava said...

"These marks were a convention well known among leading philosophers and nobles."

Not sure about this. The 32 marks are attributed to Brahmins in many Pāli texts, but I have yet to locate any Brahmanical source which is aware of them. Have you got any references outside of the Pāli texts?