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Barbara O'Brien

Not Quite Wordless Wednesday: Wat Pho Buddha

By January 14, 2009

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Wat Pho Buddha

Since we're having Big Buddha Week here on About.com Buddhism, let me introduce you to this big boy. He is the reclining buddha of Wat Pho temple in Bangkok, and he is 151 feet (46 meters) long and 49 feet (15 meters) high. He's smaller than the Monywa Buddha of Burma, which is 300 feet (90 meters) long, but still impressive.

Crafted in the 19th century, the buddha's body is covered in gold plating. He has mother-of-pearl inlay on his eyes and the soles of his feet. He is sheltered in a building on the grounds of the Wat Pho monastery complex in Bangkok. Since he takes up most of the space in the building, photographers can't step back and take a full-length, straight-ahead photograph of the buddha. This is one of the few photographs I could find that included both head and feet.

Photo Credit: Alessio Fiore | Dreamstime.com

January 14, 2009 at 9:52 am
(1) Elizabeth Reninger says:

Hi Barbara,

Here’s another gold-plated Buddha – this one from the first floor of the Great Stupa Of Dharmakaya That Liberates Upon Seeing, nestled at the confluence of three valleys at the Shambhala Mountain Center, near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. (Scroll down a bit to see the photo.)

I happened to be living at SMC, several years back, when the clay sculpture of this Buddha was just being completed – before the gold plating was added. It was a fascinating process to observe, and I often wondered: what’s it like to be the sculptor of a Buddha?

January 14, 2009 at 4:54 pm
(2) apikoros says:


Thank you very much for the images of very large Buddhas. They are fascinating, but I don’t quite get it. I knew that they existed but at the same time know that Buddhism is basically a non-material philosophical religion. Is this urge to materialize the immaterial and at the largest size possible simply part of humanity?

Completely separately, the statue that Elizabeth Reninger points to above is holding its hands in a mudra that is new to me. I do (sort of) undertand the concept of mudras, that is using hand and/or body position to convey a symbolic message, but I’d love to hear you talk about them and what they mean within Buddhism.

January 14, 2009 at 6:18 pm
(3) Barbara O'Brien says:

apikoros — You make some good points. I think some of the more recent buddhas primarily are being built to be tourist attractions. However, when I look at that big 8th-century buddha of Leshan, I think of the faith and devotion that must have gone into building it, and the generations of people who were awed, comforted and inspired by it.

I like your suggestions about mudras. I will plan on doing some kind of guide to common mudras in the future. I’ll have to do some research, because I don’t know them all, either.:-)

January 14, 2009 at 9:17 pm
(4) Rahb says:

I look at the old statues and think, wow! even without cell phones and internet everybody (including wandering monks) for miles would have been able to see that, they would have an idea of where the Sangha is and what type of Sangha it is (hopefully not judging too much based on material value). They are beautiful and if just seeing a Buddha image could help liberate someone it must have been made in compassion. With that said, I also am concerned about the materialism involved, especially currently.

January 15, 2009 at 5:39 pm
(5) rumi says:

My favorite is the Miroku Bosatsu (Japanese for Maitreya bodhisattva) statues in the Koryuji and Chuguji temples, in Nara, Japan. They are both from the Asuka period (6th-8th centuries CE). You can find photos of both here:

January 16, 2009 at 7:50 am
(6) Rajeev G says:

Dear Barbara, It is the pathetic state of our mind to stick to images than learning “Dhamma” and trying to walk the path told by one of the buddhas than sticking to images and getting into rituals. Shakyamuni Buddha himself appreciated in his last moment, one bhikhu went to practice meditation than standing near to his death bed. Buddhism slowly or already become a “diety worshiping” religion. These statues ofcourse reminds his studies to you and me. But, for others who follow a different religion, sees no difference by seeing these external expressions. This is good to attract people. Thich Nach Hanh wrote in one of his books as “worship your self” and the image of your self is there in front of you as this statue. But in my opinion, the rituals been shown in Tibetan Buddhism looks a far far deviation from what Buddhism is….I think, we should say, that we are followers of “Dhamma”. Buddha become buddha by following dhamma. No ritual is equivallent no big budha statue worship is equivallent to following Dhamma.

January 16, 2009 at 8:05 am
(7) Barbara O'Brien says:

Rajeev G,

It’s true that Buddhism too often devolves into a diety worshiping religion, but it’s also true that one cannot always judge by appearances. Over the centuries Buddhism has evolved a great many practices that seem pretty far removed from those of the original sangha. But if you understand devotional or tantric practices as upaya, and not an end in themselves, they look very different. I think if you had a better understanding of Tibetan tantra you would not find it so objectionable.

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