Buddha's skin colour

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.

Buddha's skin colour

Postby Stephen K » Fri Jul 09, 2010 11:50 am

Was it dark like that of modern Indians or white as he is usually portrayed?
My philosophy is simple: saying 'yes' to the positive and 'no' to the negative; because the positive is so much better than the negative.
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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri Jul 09, 2010 12:02 pm

Its a tricky question Stefan. Its difficult to be sure. He was actually born in what is now Nepal. Then as now Nepal was a confluence of many ethnic groups. he was a Prince of the Sakya clan. The precise ethnic origins of the Sakyas is not clear. Although advances in ethnology and DNA testing and so on might mean that this picture has changed.
It is complicated by a number of issues. One is that national boundaries were far less clear 2500 years ago. Another is that Indian historians routinely downplayed the role of anyone with a dark complexion or who were a difference race..Mongoloid for example. Because for the most part they were Brahmins.
There are contemporary-ish descriptions of the Buddha, but its all relative to a very different culture with different norms.
Last edited by Sanghamitta on Fri Jul 09, 2010 12:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby Annapurna » Fri Jul 09, 2010 12:07 pm

:smile:

Stefan, from the 32 excellent signs (marks) of a Buddha
(14) His skin is luminous and golden in color, from his having offered soft and comfortable seats to others.

(15) His skin is likewise as fine and unblemished as purified gold free from all taints. This results from his having accommodated others in need of lodging and his having always provided excellent housing. In the Pali tradition, this sign is that a Buddha’s skin is delicate and smooth.


In the Theravada tradition, the list of thirty-two excellent signs appears in The Sutta of the Excellent Signs (Pali: Lakkhana Sutta) in the Long Discourses (Pali: Digha Nikaya).

Also found:

there is an expectation in India that higher caste people will have lighter skin -- although there are plenty of exceptions (especially in the South of India). This all probably goes back to the original invasion of the Arya, who came from Central Asia and so were undoubtedly light skinned. The people already in India were quite dark, even as today many people in India seem positively black. Apart from skin color, Indians otherwise have "Caucasian" features -- narrow noses, thin lips, etc. -- and recent genetic mapping studies seem to show that Indians are more closely related to the people of the Middle East and Europe than to anyone else.


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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby Stephen K » Fri Jul 09, 2010 12:13 pm

Thank you. :smile:
My philosophy is simple: saying 'yes' to the positive and 'no' to the negative; because the positive is so much better than the negative.
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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri Jul 09, 2010 12:21 pm

Sigh...The whole Aryan Invasion theory has now been pretty much disproved. The whole idea of the pre Aryan Invasion dark skinned natives and the light skinned invaders has been effectively traduced as myths invented by Europeans.
Many subgroups of Indians are Caucasian in origin. Many are not.

The descriptions from The Suttas are Iconographic , not literal.this iconography has its origins in the caste system and is inherently flawed as a literal description. See Ambhedkar et al.
See also The Myth of The Aryan Invasion http://www.archeologyonline.net and for its origin Who Were The Aryans ; Hitlers Persistant Aryan Myth http://www.archeology.about.com.
If the first link does not work google The Myth Of The Aryan Invasion and several pages will come up on the subject, look for archeologyonline. Although as i say there are lots of articles to choose from.

The description of being Golden Skinned and The various Marks of the Buddha are common to all religious leaders from the Indian Subcontinent. They are indicators of status rather than literal. The 32 Marks Of A Buddha are identical to the 32 Marks of a Jain Tirthankara. The founder of Jainism who was a contemporary Of The Buddha was also described as Golden Skinned. In more recent times The Vaisnav saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu ( 17th century ) was also described as having the 32 Marks and Golden Skin.
In modern times Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharishi were described as ..guess what.
In fact there exists a contemporary description of the Buddha which avoids the Iconography and is more literal, and I'm blowed if I can lay hands on the source at the moment. It describes him as tall and imposing with a pleasing expression and manner, but does not mention his skin tone.
Last edited by Sanghamitta on Fri Jul 09, 2010 1:30 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby Annapurna » Fri Jul 09, 2010 1:23 pm

Stefan wrote:Thank you. :smile:


You're welcome. :hug:
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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby cooran » Fri Jul 09, 2010 8:51 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:Sigh...The whole Aryan Invasion theory has now been pretty much disproved. The whole idea of the pre Aryan Invasion dark skinned natives and the light skinned invaders has been effectively traduced as myths invented by Europeans.
Many subgroups of Indians are Caucasian in origin. Many are not.

The descriptions from The Suttas are Iconographic , not literal.this iconography has its origins in the caste system and is inherently flawed as a literal description. See Ambhedkar et al.
See also The Myth of The Aryan Invasion http://www.archeologyonline.net and for its origin Who Were The Aryans ; Hitlers Persistant Aryan Myth http://www.archeology.about.com.
If the first link does not work google The Myth Of The Aryan Invasion and several pages will come up on the subject, look for archeologyonline. Although as i say there are lots of articles to choose from.

The description of being Golden Skinned and The various Marks of the Buddha are common to all religious leaders from the Indian Subcontinent. They are indicators of status rather than literal. The 32 Marks Of A Buddha are identical to the 32 Marks of a Jain Tirthankara. The founder of Jainism who was a contemporary Of The Buddha was also described as Golden Skinned. In more recent times The Vaisnav saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu ( 17th century ) was also described as having the 32 Marks and Golden Skin.
In modern times Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharishi were described as ..guess what.
In fact there exists a contemporary description of the Buddha which avoids the Iconography and is more literal, and I'm blowed if I can lay hands on the source at the moment. It describes him as tall and imposing with a pleasing expression and manner, but does not mention his skin tone.


a little more:

The 32 Signs of a Great Man (mahā purisa lakkhaṇa) are auspicious marks that are supposed to be present on the bodies of all Buddhas. Although only incidental to Buddhism, this idea is the theme of three discourses (D.II,142; M.II,133; Sn.103) and is mentioned briefly in several others. The idea of the Signs has its origins in Brahmanism and was incorporated into Buddhism at a later period for reasons that are not clear. Some of the Signs, like the long tongue, the blue eyes, the golden complexion and the ensheathed penis, were probably connected with the ancient Indian concept of idealized physical beauty.
Others are so strange, grotesque even, that it is difficult to know what to make of them.

When the seer Asita came to visit the new born Buddha-to-be, Siddhattha Gotama, he mentions that he sees the signs or marks of a great man and lists some of them. This confirms that this concept is a pre-Buddhist idea.

It is very clear from the Tipitaka that the Buddha's physical appearance was normal in every way.
When King Ajātasattu went to meet him he was unable to distinguish him from the disciples surrounding him (D.I,50). If the Buddha had any of the 32 Signs the king would have recognized him immediately. Pukkasāti sat talking to the Buddha for hours before realizing who he was (M.III,238). If the Buddha had any of the Signs the young man would have soon noticed it and known that he was someone unusual. When Upaka encountered the Buddha walking along the road to Gaya the thing he noticed most about him was 'clear faculities and radiant complexion' (M.I,170). He did not mention seeing any of the 32 Signs.

In the Buddha's teachings, the external and the physical are always subordinate to the internal and the psychological (S.I,169).

The Buddha was aware of the Brahmanical concept that a ‘great man' could be known by his physical characteristics and he rejected this notion.

Someone once asked him: ‘They talk about a ‘great man,' a ‘great man.' But what is it that makes a great man?' The Buddha replied: ‘It is by freeing the mind that someone becomes a great man. Without freeing the mind one cannot be a great man' (S.V,157).
http://www.dhammawiki.com/index.php?tit ... _great_man

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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat Jul 10, 2010 3:19 am

The Buddha probably had the typical color of any Asian Indian living back then, which would be somewhat similar to the color seen today. He certainly was not white and certainly not black, as some (on other sites) have suggested (or hoped):

http://www.essaysbyekowa.com/Black%20Buddha.htm

Although, it is possible that he may have been more toward a medium to dark brown, since he spent much time outdoors in meditation and teaching and the sun would certainly darken the color a little. The following image may not be that far off:

Image

But most importantly, the color is meaningless and the Buddha was perhaps the first known religious teacher to teach against slavery, caste, racism, and nationalism.
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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Jul 10, 2010 3:33 am

:goodpost:
Even more succinctly:
The Buddha did not care about skin colour and neither should we.
:namaste:
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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby Kenshou » Sat Jul 10, 2010 3:41 am

Yerp, probably fairly brownish. Okie dokie.
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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby Sanghamitta » Sat Jul 10, 2010 8:54 am

Kim O'Hara wrote::goodpost:
Even more succinctly:
The Buddha did not care about skin colour and neither should we.
:namaste:
Kim

True...and its entirely appropriate that the Chinese depict him as Chinese , Thais as A Khymer type and the FWBO depict him as a modern Caucasian.
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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby Annapurna » Sat Jul 10, 2010 9:59 am

cooran wrote:
a little more:

The 32 Signs of a Great Man (mahā purisa lakkhaṇa) are auspicious marks that are supposed to be present on the bodies of all Buddhas. Although only incidental to Buddhism, this idea is the theme of three discourses (D.II,142; M.II,133; Sn.103) and is mentioned briefly in several others. The idea of the Signs has its origins in Brahmanism and was incorporated into Buddhism at a later period for reasons that are not clear. Some of the Signs, like the long tongue, the blue eyes, the golden complexion and the ensheathed penis, were probably connected with the ancient Indian concept of idealized physical beauty.
Others are so strange, grotesque even, that it is difficult to know what to make of them.

When the seer Asita came to visit the new born Buddha-to-be, Siddhattha Gotama, he mentions that he sees the signs or marks of a great man and lists some of them. This confirms that this concept is a pre-Buddhist idea.

It is very clear from the Tipitaka that the Buddha's physical appearance was normal in every way.
When King Ajātasattu went to meet him he was unable to distinguish him from the disciples surrounding him (D.I,50). If the Buddha had any of the 32 Signs the king would have recognized him immediately. Pukkasāti sat talking to the Buddha for hours before realizing who he was (M.III,238). If the Buddha had any of the Signs the young man would have soon noticed it and known that he was someone unusual. When Upaka encountered the Buddha walking along the road to Gaya the thing he noticed most about him was 'clear faculities and radiant complexion' (M.I,170). He did not mention seeing any of the 32 Signs.

In the Buddha's teachings, the external and the physical are always subordinate to the internal and the psychological (S.I,169).

The Buddha was aware of the Brahmanical concept that a ‘great man' could be known by his physical characteristics and he rejected this notion.

Someone once asked him: ‘They talk about a ‘great man,' a ‘great man.' But what is it that makes a great man?' The Buddha replied: ‘It is by freeing the mind that someone becomes a great man. Without freeing the mind one cannot be a great man' (S.V,157).
http://www.dhammawiki.com/index.php?tit ... _great_man

with metta
Chris



Thank you for providing this.

I hope the following thoughts are not perceived as nitpicking, it's just what came to mind while reading and perhaps it is somehow useful...'

When the seer Asita came to visit the new born Buddha-to-be, Siddhattha Gotama, he mentions that he sees the signs or marks of a great man and lists some of them. This confirms that this concept is a pre-Buddhist idea.


So is the notion of multiple lives... :smile:

It is very clear from the Tipitaka that the Buddha's physical appearance was normal in every way.


When Upaka encountered the Buddha walking along the road to Gaya the thing he noticed most about him was 'clear faculities and radiant complexion'


A "radiant complexion" could well become a metaphor:

"golden skin", depending on who speaks.
A metaphor is an analogy between two objects or ideas; the analogy is conveyed by the use of a metaphorical word in place of some other word. For example: "Her eyes were like glistening jewels".


King Ajātasattu was unable to distinguish him from the disciples surrounding him.-snip-
Pukkasāti sat talking to the Buddha for hours before realizing who he was


It could have to do with the perception of the 2.
It could also have to do with the disciples of the Buddha being of a similar lighter brown. Can it be assumed that they too were far advanced in their accomplishment?,.

I know some(many/most?) here view the Jataka tales as rather folkloristic tales, and perhaps there's much truth in it, who am I to tell, but the Buddha often described how he was involved with his disciples in previous lives, and I think many of them were simply "ready" for walking to the final destination with him. So they too could have possessed certain physical attributes like 'radiant complexion' and/or 'beauty', the latter being in the eye of the beholder anyways.

The Buddha was aware of the Brahmanical concept that a ‘great man' could be known by his physical characteristics and he rejected this notion.


And why not, on the other hand, he also explained how beauty was a part of kamma

"But then there is the case where a woman or man is not ill-tempered or easily upset; even when heavily criticized, he/she doesn't grow offended, provoked, malicious, or resentful; doesn't show annoyance, aversion, or bitterness. Through having adopted & carried out such actions, on the break-up of the body, after death, he/she reappears in a good destination... If instead he/she comes to the human state, then he/she is beautiful wherever reborn. This is the way leading to beauty: not to be ill-tempered or easily upset; even when heavily criticized, not to be offended, provoked, malicious, or resentful; nor to show annoyance, aversion, & bitterness.


:shock:

So beauty and inner world would be mirrors of each other, I'm sorry that I can't think of another way to say it just now.

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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby vesuyul » Sun Jan 16, 2011 2:56 am

The 32 marks of a great man are a result of the bodhisattva's extensive and perfected trainings in the fields of parami. Among them, the Buddha had 40 teeth, was extremely tall, hands which reached the knees without bending etc.

I had seen one such person whose hands reached up to his knees without bending his body.....and he looked in great proportion, nothing strange at all.

Some of the Buddha's disciples too had some of these marks.....as a result of training as well...

These marks are not some fictional thing to embellish the life story of the Buddha....maybe they have been from brahmanical times, but they are real. We should keep an open mind.....meditate and see for ourselves whether these things are true. Some realised masters have talked about these marks as well.
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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby alan » Mon Jan 17, 2011 4:20 am

Black, brown, light, dark. So What?
Did he have a big nose? It doesn't matter.
Find joy in your practice, and continue to learn. That should be your focus.
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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Jan 17, 2011 6:13 am

Stefan wrote:Was it dark like that of modern Indians or white as he is usually portrayed?
The skin color of Indians varies and what the variations was 2500 years ago, really do not know.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.
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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Jan 17, 2011 6:16 am

vesuyul wrote:These marks are not some fictional thing to embellish the life story of the Buddha....maybe they have been from brahmanical times, but they are real. .
They are real; how do you know that?
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.
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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby PeterB » Mon Jan 17, 2011 8:25 am

vesuyul wrote:The 32 marks of a great man are a result of the bodhisattva's extensive and perfected trainings in the fields of parami. Among them, the Buddha had 40 teeth, was extremely tall, hands which reached the knees without bending etc.

I had seen one such person whose hands reached up to his knees without bending his body.....and he looked in great proportion, nothing strange at all.

Some of the Buddha's disciples too had some of these marks.....as a result of training as well...

These marks are not some fictional thing to embellish the life story of the Buddha....maybe they have been from brahmanical times, but they are real. We should keep an open mind.....meditate and see for ourselves whether these things are true. Some realised masters have talked about these marks as well.

The Jain Tirthankaras, Shaivite rishis, and Caitanya Mahaprabhu, (whose teaching was in direct opposition to Buddhism,) were desribed as having the same marks too. Including the golden complexion. Its a convention found right across the Indian Subcontinent to indicate veneration..just like the halos around the heads of Christian saints in Medieval times .

Meditation can and does do wonderful things . bit it certainly if done properly will not concern itself with such cultural issues.
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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby Kusala » Sun Jan 23, 2011 11:35 am

Stefan wrote:Was it dark like that of modern Indians or white as he is usually portrayed?


Hi there. According to the Pali Canon, the historical Buddha is said to have "Blue Eyes".

We can still find blue/green eyes amongst Northern Indians today.

Few samples:

Image

Image

Image
Image

Homage to the Buddha
Thus indeed, is that Blessed One: He is the Holy One, fully enlightened, endowed with clear vision and virtuous conduct, sublime, the Knower of the worlds, the incomparable leader of men to be tamed, the teacher of gods and men, enlightened and blessed.

Homage to the Teachings
The Dhamma of the Blessed One is perfectly expounded; to be seen here and now; not delayed in
time; inviting one to come and see; onward leading (to Nibbana); to be known by the wise, each for himself.
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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby texastheravadin » Sun Jan 23, 2011 3:08 pm

Yeah, I would kind of imagine Buddha being lighter skinned like these pictures, just because that's been my impression of most people I've met/seen from Northern India. Of course that's just speculation, India is a huge and diverse country nowadays, what to speak of 2,600 years ago. Also, it seems that in ancient times, people equated lighter or more "golden" skin hue as being a mark of nobility. I am no expert on Indian culture, not by a long shot, but my best friend in high school was from Mumbai. We used to watch Indian TV programs and Bollywood flicks, and I couldn't help but notice how almost all of the major stars were light-skinned...very rarely did I see anyone with a darker complexion.

The only details I seem to recall being specifically canonical is that he was tall, well-built and very handsome. Being a warrior-noble for the first 29 years of his life, he probably participated in athletics, and walking everywhere (not to mention being a one-mealer) doubtlessly helped him stay physically fit. One thing I do find interesting is the depictions of him having hair...I have read that he would have had a shaven head, as all other members of his Sangha. Someone else on this forum no doubt knows the origin of the depiction we commonly see today of the Buddha with a top-knot and curly hair - maybe Greco-Roman?

:anjali:

Josh
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Re: Buddha's skin colour

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Sun Jan 23, 2011 3:29 pm

No offence to anyone but I don't see how this kind of speculation is anything but harmful.
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