May 10, 2012

All the Better to Hear You With, My Dear

I walked into yoga last night to find that the aready-too-small room now had an almost life-like sized Buddha sitting in the front of the room. Well, maybe not life-like in the adult sense, more of a ten-year-old sized Buddha statue. I obviously understand the why of putting a Buddha in a yoga studio, but still, it seemed a little out of place in the center of the room, where the teacher usually begins class. 

"I really hope that was a gift," my friend said. "I really hope he didn't pay for that."

Each time I'd catch sleeping Buddha out of the corner of my eye, I'd think it was a person, and it made me jump a little each time, so I decided to just keep my eye on him...which made me wonder two things: why are his ears so long, and is that his hair or is he wearing some sort of cap?

As far as the ears go, it seems interweb users have different ideas about what the significance is. Some say it is a symbol of wisdom in Asian cultures, others claim that it show that he abandoned his former wealth. seems to sum it up by saying:

A short answer to that would be: Nobody knows for sure!

The Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha, in Lumbini, and grew up in Kapilavastu, modern day Nepal. Going by the recorded cultural practices of that time, might not the Prince have worn the chunky ear ornaments favored then by men? In time, these heavy jewelry pieces would have resulted in long earlobes. This is perhaps the most prosaic explanation available.

There is also a symbolic significance to the Buddha’s elongated earlobes. In Eastern cultures, large ears are associated with wisdom and revered by others (think Lord Ganesha and in more modern times, Mahatma Gandhi). These are ears that are big enough to listen to all our tales of suffering. Magnanimity and compassion therefore are also qualities linked to such physical features and the Buddha was certainly the embodiment of these virtues.

Finally, there is perhaps, a message to Buddhists in those ears. Every human is a potential Buddha; as such we should remain open to the suffering of others.

And as for the hair? Shravasti Dhammika writes:

It may come from the 32 Signs of a Great Man (mahapurisalakkhana), a rather strange idea introduced into Buddhism at a later period. One of these signs pertain to the hair.
According to the sutta, the Great Man’s hair was black and curled upwards and to the right. It was probably thought to curl the right because the right has been, in nearly all cultures, considered more auspicious.
When the first sculptors made Buddha statues they tried to depict at least some of the 32 signs. It is thought that the first Buddha statues were made in Gandhara under Greek influence, and in Mathura, in around the 1st/2nd centuries CE. Greek or Greek-influenced sculptors in Gandhara, perhaps more rooted in reality, depicted the Buddha’s hair naturalistically as, not exactly curling to the right, but waving to the right. The first Mathura-manafactured Buddhas show him with a single bun spiraling to the right. The Gandhara style never penetrated into India proper and eventually died out. The spiraling Mathura style eventually evolved into many spiraled curls and the Buddha’s hair has been depicted in that manner ever since.

Courtesy of

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