Buddhist Pantheon

Images of the Buddha can be grouped into three general categories: stories of his former lives, known as Jataka Tales; Episodes from the life of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni; and portrayal of a variety of celestial or cosmic Buddhas, who are considered to reside in numerous heavenly realms, beyond the bounds of this world.

Shakyamuni Buddha

Shakyamuni Buddha is generally portrayed as the central figure, seated on a throne and wearing his distinctive patchwork monk's robes, flanked by either paired Bodhisattvas or by disciples, and surrounded by mythical creatures and elaborate decorative, especially, floral motifs. He is further identified by the inclusion of the thirty-two sacred marks or lakshanas that are considered characteristic of Buddha alone. The Buddha displays a number of gestures (mudras) like: enlightenment (bhumisparsha), teaching (dharmachakra), and contemplation (dhyana). He is enclosed by a variety of devices to indicate his transcendent stature. Generally he is seated upon a double lotus throne.

The five transcendent Buddhas or Tathagatas are:

Vairochana: His name literally means the ‘Shining One'. He is white in color and his element is ether. He has the lion as his vehicle and the wheel (chakra) is his symbol. He is seen in a teaching gesture (dharmachakra) and he is believed to transform ignorance and delusion into the wisdom of the perfect reality of the universal law.

Ratnasambhava: His name means the one with a ‘precious birth'. He is yellow in color and his element is earth. He has the horse as his vehicle and the jewel as his symbol. He is seen in a gesture of charity (Varada mudra), and is believed to transform pride and avarice into the wisdom of equality.

Amoghasiddhi: His name means the one who is unfailingly accomplished. He is seen in a re-assuring gesture (abhay mudra) and is green in color. His element is the air and vehicle is garuda. He has the double-crossed thunder or vajra as his symbol, and is believed to transform envy and greed into the broad wisdom of accomplishment.

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