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Buddha, The Ninth Avatar of Vishnu

Though a much more popular and having more physical representation within Buddhism than Hinduism, Buddha is a figure that originated in Hinduism, and is still somewhat well known to Hindus.  Viewed by Hindus as one of the avatars of Vishnu, Buddha is actually said to be the next to last avatar (sometimes called the ninth avatar, in other traditions he is referred to as the twenty-fourth), preceding what will be Vishnu’s final incarnation yet to come.

To Buddhists, Buddha–a title denoting that he is enlightened–was the founder of Buddhism.  Buddha’s original name was Siddhartha Gautama, and the religion that stemmed forth from his philosophies is now widespread and has caused a cultural revolution throughout Asia. Within Buddhism, Buddha is a supreme Dharma King possessing great wisdom. 

Because some of Buddha’s teachings denied the authority of the Vedas, orthodox Hindus often disregard the modern representations and teachings associated with Buddha and Buddhism.  Because Hinduism has a range of traditions with diverse viewpoints, there is not a consensus among Hindus on Buddha’s exact nature, but he is described as very important in nearly all of the sacred Hindu scriptures such as the Puranas.

Within Hinduism, Buddha is often described as a yogi, known for great powers of meditation.  Those who wish to dedicate their entire life towards spiritual pursuits like Buddha may place statues of Buddha in their homes for worship.  Statues of Buddha that show him in the mudra, or position, called Dhyana are symbolic of his quest for spiritual perfection through meditation, or concentration on the Good law.

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Buddha Statues

Buddha’s father is usually called Śuddhodhana, one of the facts which typically remains consistent between Hinduism and Buddhism.  In modern times, to Buddhists and to some Hindus, the characteristic of nonviolence and purity of thought prevail when gazing upon a statue of Buddha.

Typically, statues of Buddha are regarded as beautiful.  Statues of Buddha will often show him in significant positions, or mudras, such as the Dharma chakra, where he is preaching his first sermon after being enlightened, and setting into motion the famous ‘Wheel of Dharma.’  Other mudras include Vitarka, which is a gesture of protection to his devotees.  The face of Buddha is a beauty to gaze upon.  In the Hindu tradition, the hair on a Buddha statue is often coiled tightly on top of the head.  Buddha’s skin is smooth, and his round face is quite handsome.  Paintings or statues of Buddha may show him with a white or pale-red complexion.

Unlike many other Hindu gods, who are depicted wearing elaborate costumes or greatly embellished, statues of Buddha often show him clothed simply, and carrying nothing in his hands.  When statues of Buddha do show him holding objects, generally they are very symbolic and/or humble, such as a lotus flower or an alms begging bowl.  Typically, statues of Buddha show him wearing brownish red or simple red robes, which are said to have the power to eliminate famine and disease.  Sometimes, Buddha is sitting directly on the ground, in contact with the Earth, showing his connection to humanity. 

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