Buddha Shakyamuni - the Enlightened One

Buddha Shakyamuni (Tibetan: sha kya tu pa, sang gye, English: the Enlightened One, Sage of the Shakya Clan). The Sage of the Shakya clan was born in India and underwent hundreds of austerities to bring his meditative experience and undestanding to consummation. He is considered to be the first in this human world to attain buddhahood and the first promulgator of the tradition of the Buddhist teachings. He is the sublime being who opened our eyes with his enormous compassion and blessings.

Fine Nepalese buddha seated in earth witness mudra The Buddha Shakyamuni, at the moment of enlightenment, invoked the earth as witness, as indicated by the fingers of his right hand, which spread downward in the bhumisparsha mudra, the "gesture of touching the earth" or "earth witness gesture." As the Buddhist Sutras relate, the sun and moon stood still, and all the creatures of the world came to offer obeisance to the Supreme One who had broken through the boundaries of egocentric existence. All Buddhist art celebrates this supreme moment and leads the viewer toward the Buddha's experience of selfless and unsurpassed enlightenment.

The earliest forms of Buddhist art were semiabstract: bodhi-trees, wheels, stupas, and even the Buddha's stylized footprints served as supports for contemplating what was ultimately beyond words or forms. As the Buddha himself continually taught, it was not he who was continually revered but the possibility he presented. "Don't look to me," he said, "but to the enlightened state."

The first anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha are said to have been drawn on canvas from rays of golden light emanating from his body. Later Buddhist art pictured the Buddha in numerous manifestations, but always as an archetype of human potential, never as a historically identifiable person. All forms of the Buddha, however, are commonly shown seated on a lotus throne, a symbol of the mind's transcendent nature. As a lotus rises from the mud to bloom unsullied in open space, so does the mind rise through the discord of its own experience to blossom in the boundlessness of unconditional awareness.

Buddhism is not a static doctrine, but a creative expression of the interdependent nature of all things. It is a means by which we can discover in the heart of experience, not ourselves, but a luminous and unfolding mystery. Buddhism envisions the universe as a net of jewels, each facet of reality reflecting every other facet. Our calling is not to escape this web of interdependent origination, but to awaken to our indwelling Buddha nature, to see the world for what it is, and to become Buddhas in our own right - beings of infinite awareness and compassion.

"Be a light unto yourself," Buddha Shakyamuni declared at the end of his life. Become a Buddha, an awakened being, he urged, but never a blind follower of tradition. Indeed the image of the Buddha, transcending time and place, centers us in our innermost being.

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