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Ears of the Buddha

  • Ears of the Buddha

Historically speaking, the iconographic representations of Buddha were not made for until about four or five centuries. Though there are claims of the forbidding of representing the Buddha, but this is highly unlikely as there is no evidence regarding such prohibition. Until then, the Buddha was symbolized by stupas, footprints, empty throne, etc and written descriptions of him were not sufficient. There has been no standard of representing the Buddha which may differ according to the tradition, tastes and inspiration. One peculiar characteristic of these Buddha statues and Buddha heads are long ears and elongated ear lobes, which can be seen in many forms raging from porcelain statues, stone sculptures to paintings. The long ears of the Buddha have also been the topic of intrigue like that of the Ushnisha and the Third eye for many Buddhist enthusiasts.

Historical Interpretation

The Buddha, a former prince, was born in Lumbini and raised in Kapilvastu (both located in Nepal), where the culture and tradition was for men to display their wealth and prosperity on their ears, must have adorned large and heavy ear jewelry made of precious metals and stones, and this may have resulted in having stretched ears, alongside the rich men of that period. It was likely he would have worn similar kind of ear ornaments from his childhood till adulthood as a sign of his wealth. Though the prince stopped wearing them when he left the palace to become an ascetic while on the search for the ultimate answer, his earlobes remained stretched. This may also be taken as the Buddha’s renunciation of the physical world.

Other Interpretations

The ears of Buddha in Buddha statues and Buddha heads are often portrayed long and bulgy. We can say that long ears are part of Buddhist iconography. Not just the Buddha, but the Boddhisatvas, who have also attained some form of the enlightenment, is also portrayed having long ears. In oriental Buddhism and eastern Asia, large ears are taken as auspicious because they signify wisdom and compassion. This may also be one of the reasons; the Buddha is depicted having long ears, because he is the enlightened one, the compassionate one. He is said to have the ability to hear the sound of the world. He hears the cries of suffering and responds accordingly to ease the suffering. Since Buddha is the wise and compassionate one, it is only natural for artists and craftsmen from the east to depict him as having long ears. With his ears, Buddha is able to always hear all the sounds of the world and the cries of suffering mortal beings. He in turn responds with compassion.

Therefore, we can say that the depiction of the stretched ears serves as a reminder for the followers of the Buddhism to always be compassionate. All in all, the physical size of one’s ear does not matters but rather how open is one to the sufferings of the other beings and how he/she responds with his/her compassion matters the most.

Another interpretation for the Buddha’s long ears is his wealth. He was not only wealthy in terms of materialistic wealth but also in terms of his wisdom, knowledge and compassion. This particular interpretation makes reference to both of the Buddha’s noble origin as a prince and his great amount of wisdom and compassion It gives the followers the assurance that since the Buddha hears their sufferings and is fully aware of the sufferings of the world, they would not be left helpless but would be saved by the knowledge possessed by the Buddha, which will respond through compassion.

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