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In Buddhism, buddhahood (Sanskrit: buddhatva. Pali: buddhatta. Or (both) buddhabhāva) is the state of perfect enlightenment (Sanskrit: samyaksambodhi. Pali: sammāsambodhi) attained by a (Pali/Sanskrit for "awakened one").

In Buddhism, the term 'buddha' usually refers to one who has become enlightened (i.e., awakened to the truth, or Dharma). The level to which this manifestation requires abstraction from ordinary life (ascetic practices) varies from none at all to an absolute requirement, dependent on doctrine.In Theravada Buddhist traditions, it is held that the person attains this state on their own, without a teacher to point out the Dharma, in a time when the teachings on the Four Noble Truths or the Eightfold Path do not exist in the world, and teaches it to others. In contrast, certain Mahayana Buddhist traditions (particularly those that consider the teachings of the Lotus Sutra to be paramount, which contains this concept) Buddhahood is considered to be a universal and innate property of absolute wisdom that is revealed in a person's current lifetime through Buddhist practice, without any specific relinquishment of pleasures or "earthly desires". Thus, there is an extremely broad spectrum of opinion on the universality and method of attainment of Buddhahood which is correlated to which of Shakyamuni Buddha's teachings that a school of Buddhism follows.

More broadly, it is occasionally used to refer to all who attain nirvana. In this broader sense it is equivalent to Arahant. According to Theravada Buddhism, all Arahants (or Buddhas in the broader sense) are the same in the most fundamental aspects of Liberation (Nirvana), but differ in their practice of perfections paramis. Mahayana Buddhism, however, considers there is a fundamental difference between Buddhas and ordinary arhants, on the way to becoming a Buddha, a buddhist proceeds bodhisattva stages. Buddhists do not consider Siddhartha Gautama to have been the only Buddha. The Pali Canon refers to many previous ones (see List of the 28 Buddhas), while the Mahayana tradition additionally has many Buddhas of celestial, rather than historical, origin (see Amitabha or Vairocana as examples, lists of many thousands buddha names see Taisho Tripitaka no 439-448). A common Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist belief is that the next Buddha will be one named Maitreya (Pali: Metteyya).

Kinds of Buddha

In the Pali commentaries, three kinds of buddha are mentioned:
  1. Sammasambuddhas attain buddhahood, then decide to teach others the truth they have discovered. They lead others to awakening by teaching the Dhamma in a time where it has been forgotten. Siddhartha Gautama is considered a sammasambuddha. (See also the List of the 28 Buddhas (all of whom are sammasambuddhas).)
  2. Paccekabuddhas, sometimes called 'silent Buddhas' are similar to sammasambuddhas in that they attain nirvana and acquire many of the same powers as a sammasambuddha, but are unable to teach what they have discovered. They are considered second to the sammasambuddhas in spiritual development. They do ordain others; their admonition is only in reference to good and proper conduct (abhisamācārikasikkhā). In some texts, the paccekabuddhas are described as those who understand the Dhamma through their own efforts, but do not obtain mastery over the 'fruits' (phalesu vasībhāvam).[26396]
  3. Savakabuddhas attain nirvana after hearing the teaching of a sammasambuddha (directly or indirectly). The disciple of a sammasambuddha is called a savaka ("hearer" or "follower") or, once enlightened, an arahant. These terms have slightly varied meanings but can all be used to describe the enlightened disciple. Anubuddha is a rarely used term, but is used by the Buddha in the Khuddakapatha to refer to those who become Buddhas after being given instruction. Enlightened disciples attain nirvana and parinirvana as the two types of Buddha do. Arahant is the term most generally used for them, though it is also applicable to Buddhas.
In the Pali Canon itself, the first two are mentioned by the above names, while numerous examples of the third type occur, without that name. There is no mention of types of buddhas, though the word buddha does sometimes appear to be used in a broad sense covering all the above.

Characteristics of a Buddha

Ten Epithets

Some Buddhists meditate on (or contemplate) the Buddha as having ten characteristics (Ch./Jp. 十號):
  1. thus gone (Skt: )
  2. a worthy one (Skt: arhat)
  3. perfectly self-enlightened (Skt: )
  4. perfected in knowledge and conduct (Skt: )
  5. well gone (Skt: sugata)
  6. unsurpassed (Skt: anuttara)
  7. knower of the world (Skt: loka-vid)
  8. leader of persons to be tamed (Skt: )
  9. teacher of the gods and humans (Skt: )
  10. the Blessed One or fortunate one (Skt: bhagavat)
These characteristics are frequently mentioned in the Pali Canon as well as Mahayana teachings, and are chanted daily in many Buddhist monasteries.

Most schools of Buddhism have also held that the Buddha was omniscient. However, the early texts contain explicit repudiations of making this claim of the Buddha.

Mahayana names

Ashvaghosha in his "Acts of the Buddha" states,

Spiritual realizations

All Buddhist traditions hold that a Buddha has completely purified his mind of desire, aversion and ignorance, and that he is no longer bound by Samsara. A Buddha is fully awakened and has realized the ultimate truth, the non-dualistic nature of life, and thus ended (for himself) the suffering which unawakened people experience in life.

Nature of the Buddha

The various Buddhist schools hold some varying interpretations on the nature of Buddha (see below).

Buddha as a supreme human

Different schools view Buddha differently, with Theravada Buddhism emerges the view that the Buddha was human, endowed with the greatest psychic powers (Kevatta Sutta). The body and mind (the five khandhas) of a Buddha are impermanent and changing, just like the body and mind of ordinary people. However, a Buddha recognizes the unchanging nature of the Dharma, which is an eternal principle and an unconditioned and timeless phenomenon. This view is common in the Theravada school, and the other early Buddhist schools.

Statements from modern Theravadins that the Buddha was "just a human" are often intended to contrast their view of him with that of the Mahayana, and with Christian views of Jesus. According to the Canon, Gotama was born as a human, albeit highly spiritually developed as a result of the previous lives in the career of the bodhisatta. With his enlightenment, however, he perfected and transcended his human condition. When asked whether he was a deva or a human, he replied that he had eliminated the deep-rooted unconscious traits that would make him either one, and should instead be called a Buddha; one who had grown up in the world but had now gone beyond it, as a lotus grows from the water but blossoms above it, unsoiled.

Although the Theravada school does not emphasize the more supernatural and divine aspects of the Buddha that are available in the Pali Canon, elements of Buddha as the supreme person are found throughout this canon.

In MN 18 Madhupindika Sutta, Buddha is described in powerful terms as the Lord of the Dhamma (Pali: Dhammasami, skt.: Dharma Swami) and the bestower of immortality (Pali: Amatassadata).

Similarly, in the Anuradha Sutta (SN 44.2) Buddha is described as " the Tathagata — the supreme man, the superlative man, attainer of the superlative attainment". Buddha is asked about what happens to the Tathagatha after death of the physical body.

Buddha replies, "And so, Anuradha — when you can't pin down the Tathagata as a truth or reality even in the present life — is it proper for you to declare, 'Friends, the Tathagata — the supreme man, the superlative man, attainer of the superlative attainment — being described, is described otherwise than with these four positions: The Tathagata exists after death, does not exist after death, both does & does not exist after death, neither exists nor does not exist after death'?"

In the Vakkali Sutta Buddha identifies himself with the Dhamma:
O Vakkali, whoever sees the Dhamma, sees me [the Buddha]

Another reference from the Agganna Sutta of the Digha Nikaya, says to his disciple Vasettha:
O Vasettha! The Word of Dhammakaya is indeed the name of the Tathagata

In the Pali Canons Gautama Buddha is known as being a "teacher of the gods and humans", superior to both the gods and humans in the sense of having nirvana or the greatest bliss (whereas the devas or gods of are still subject to anger, fear, sorrow, etc.).

Eternal Buddha in Mahayana Buddhism

In some sutras found in Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha teaches that the Buddha is no longer essentially a human being but has become a being of a different order altogether and that, in his ultimate transcendental "body/mind" mode as Dharmakaya, he has eternal and infinite life, is present in all things (i.e., is "the boundless dharmadhatu", according to the Nirvana Sutra), and is possessed of great and immeasurable qualities. In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra the Buddha declares: "Nirvana is stated to be eternally abiding. The Tathagata [Buddha] is also thus, eternally abiding, without change." This is a particularly important metaphysical and soteriological doctrine in the Lotus Sutra and the Tathagatagarbha sutras. According to the Tathagatagarbha sutras, failure to recognize the Buddha's eternity and - even worse - outright denial of that eternity, is deemed a major obstacle to the attainment of complete awakening (bodhi).

For the Tibetan Buddhist master, Dolpopa, and his Jonangpa School, the Buddha is to be understood as the wondrous and holy wish-fulfilling Essence of all things, beyond comprehension:

"Buddha - an essence of immeasurable, incomprehensible, unfathomable, excellent exalted body, wisdom, qualities, and activities extremely wondrous and fantastic - is vast like space and the holy source, giving rise to all that is wished by sentient beings like a wish-granting jewel, a wish-granting tree …" (Dolpopa, Mountain Doctrine, tr. by Jeffrey Hopkins, Snow Lion Publications, 2006, p. 424).

The Buddha as compared to God

A common misconception among non-Buddhists is that the Buddha is the Buddhist counterpart to "God." Buddhism however, is in general non-theistic, in the sense of not teaching the existence of a supreme creator god (see God in Buddhism) or depending on any supreme being for enlightenment. The Buddha is a guide and teacher who points the way to enlightenment, however the struggle for enlightenment is one's own. The commonly accepted definition of the term "God" is of a being who rules and created the universe (see creation myth). The Buddha of the early texts gives arguments refuting the existence of such a being.

However, certain Mahayana sutras (such as the Nirvana Sutra and the Lotus Sutra) and especially such tantras as the Kunjed Gyalpo Tantra give expression to a vision of the Buddha as the omnipresent, all-knowing, liberative essence and deathless Reality of all things, and thus, to some extent, this conception of the Buddha draws close to pantheistic conceptions of godhead, yet it differs in that in the Mahayana tradition, anyone can become a Buddha, as compared to general theistic religions in which it is generally considered impossible to become a god or God. Also, Indonesian Buddhism declares its belief in God, in accordance with the Indonesian constitution.

Depictions of the Buddha in art

Buddha statues at Shwedagon Paya
Reclining Buddha

Buddhas are frequently represented in the form of statues and paintings. Commonly seen designs include:
  • the Seated Buddha
  • the Reclining Buddha
  • the Standing Buddha
  • Hotei or Budai, the obese Laughing Buddha, usually seen in Chinamarker (This figure is believed to be a representation of a medieval Chinese monk who is associated with Maitreya, the future Buddha, and is therefore technically not a Buddha image.)
  • the Emaciated Buddha, which shows Siddhartha Gautama during his extreme ascetic practice of starvation.

The Buddha statue shown calling for rain is a pose common in Laos.


Most depictions of Buddha contain a certain number of markings, which are considered the signs of his enlightenment. These signs vary regionally, but two are common:

  • a protuberance on the top of the head (denoting superb mental acuity)
  • long earlobes (denoting superb perception)

In the Pali Canon there is frequent mention of a list of 32 physical marks of Buddha.


The poses and hand-gestures of these statues, known respectively as asanas and mudras, are significant to their overall meaning. The popularity of any particular mudra or asana tends to be region-specific, such as the Vajra (or Chi Ken-in) mudra, which is popular in Japanmarker and Korea but rarely seen in Indiamarker. Others are more common; for example, the Varada (Wish Granting) mudra is common among standing statues of the Buddha, particularly when coupled with the Abhaya (Fearlessness and Protection) mudra.


  1. Udana Commentary, tr Peter Masefield, volume I, 1994, Pali Text Society, page 94
  2. In the Bahudhātuka Sutta ("Many Kinds of Elements Discourse," MN 115), the Buddha tells Ven. Ānanda: :'It is impossible, it cannot happen that two Accomplished Ones, Fully Enlightened Ones, could arise contemporaneously in one world-system — there is no such possibility.' (Bhikkhu Ñā amoli & Bhikkhu Bodhi, 2001, The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya, Wisdom Pubs, p. 929, para. 14) According to Ñā amoli & Bodhi (2001), pp. 1325-6, n. 1089, the Pali commentary associated with the above text from MN 115 states: :The arising of another Buddha is impossible from the time a bodhisatta takes his final conception in his mother's womb until his Dispensation has completely disappeared. The problem is discussed at Miln 236-39. The referenced Milindapanha section is entitled, Ekabuddhadhāra ī - pañho.
  3. Ratanasutta:56
  4. Japanese-English Buddhist Dictionary (Daitō shuppansha) 147a/163
  5. A. K. Warder, Indian Buddhism. Third edition published by Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 2000, pages 132-133.
  6. David J. Kalupahana, A History of Buddhist Philosophy: Continuities and Discontinuities. University of Hawaii Press, 1992 , page 43: [1].
  7. Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History, and Practices. Cambridge University Press, 1990, page 28.
  8. David Kalupahana, Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. The University Press of Hawaii, 1975, pages 20-22.
  • What the Buddha Taught (Grove Press, Revised edition July 1974), by Walpola Rahula
  • Buddha - The Compassionate Teacher (2002), by K.M.M.Swe

See also

External links

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