How to Identify a Buddha

Nothing is more evocative of Southeast Asia than the serene beauty of a Buddha.  The expression of the face, the gaze, the hand position, or a combination of any of these elements, is what speaks to both the collector and the practicing Buddhist.

Buddhas are first religious images and second works of art.  As with all religious imagery, the artist attempts to convey a spiritual truth.  In the case of Buddha images, the religious message is the encouraging example the Buddha gives his followers on their personal spiritual journey:  although you must make this journey alone, I can show you the way to reach our goal. 

How do you recognize a Buddha image from other types of Buddhist images?  Thai and Burmese

Buddhas will have the following characteristics:

  • the ushnisa or wisdom bump on the head
  • curls on the head going from left to right.
  • 4 fingers of the hand of equal length
  • Elongated earlobes recalling the princely jewelry the Buddha wore as a young man.
  • An androgynous look to the body indicating that the Buddha has progressed beyond sexual desire.

Often, the Buddha is seated on a lotus-shaped throne or base.  The image can be made of bronze, wood, dry lacquer, even silver and gold.  The Buddha is most often depicted seated with his legs in the half lotus position.  But the most famous Buddha in Thai art, from the Sukhothai period (14-17th c) is striding gracefully forward.