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For the historical founder of Buddhism, see Gautama Buddha.
"Buddhas" redirects here. For other uses, see Buddha (disambiguation).
Seated Buddha, from the Seokguram, Silla.

In Buddhism, buddhahood (Sanskrit: बुद्धत्व buddhatva, Pali: बुद्धत्त buddhatta or बुद्धभाव buddhabhāva) is the condition or rank of a buddha (/ˈbdə/ or /ˈbʊdə/, Sanskrit pronunciation: [ˈbud̪d̪ʱə], Pali/Sanskrit for "awakened one").[1]

The goal of Mahayana's Bodhisattva path is Samyaksambuddhahood, so that one may benefit all sentient beings by teaching them the path of cessation of dukkha.[2] This contrasts with the goal of Hinayana path, where the goal is Arhatship.[2]

Explanation of the term Buddha[edit]

In Theravada Buddhism, Buddha refers to one who has become awakened through their own efforts and insight, without a teacher to point out the Dharma (Sanskrit; Pali dhamma; "right way of living"). A samyak sambuddha teaches the dharma to others after his awakening. A pratyeka-buddha also reaches Nirvana through his own efforts, but does not teach the dharma to others. An Arhat needs to follow the teaching of a Buddha to attain Nirvana, but can also preach the dharma after attaining Nirvana.[3] In one instance the term buddha is also used in Theravada to refer to all who attain Nirvana, using the term Sāvakabuddha to designate an Arhat, someone who depends on the teachings of a Buddha to attain Nirvana.[4] In this broader sense it is equivalent to Arahant.

Buddhahood is the state of an enlightened being, who having found the path of cessation of suffering,[5] is in the state of "No-more-Learning".[6][7][8]

There is a broad spectrum of opinion on the universality and method of attainment of Buddhahood, depending on the Shakyamuni Buddha's teachings that a school of Buddhism emphasizes. The level to which this manifestation requires ascetic practices varies from none at all to an absolute requirement, dependent on doctrine. Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes the Bodhisattva ideal instead of the Arhat.

The Tathagatagarba and Buddha-nature doctrines of Mahayana Buddhist consider Buddhahood to be a universal and innate property of absolute wisdom. This wisdom is revealed in a person's current lifetime through Buddhist practice, without any specific relinquishment of pleasures or "earthly desires".

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 origin (see Amitabha or Vairocana as examples, for lists of many thousands of Buddha names see Taishō Shinshū Daizōkyō numbers 439–448). A common Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist belief is that the next Buddha will be one named Maitreya (Pali: Metteyya).

Nature of the Buddha[edit]

Further information: Buddhology

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

Spiritual realizations[edit]

The Buddha, in Greco-Buddhist style, 1st-2nd century CE, Gandhara (Modern Pakistan). (Standing Buddha (Tokyo National Museum)).

All Buddhist traditions hold that a Buddha is fully awakened and has completely purified his mind of the three poisons of desire, aversion and ignorance. A Buddha is no longer bound by Samsara, and has ended the suffering which unawakened people experience in life.

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.[9][10]

Ten characteristics of a Buddha[edit]

Some Buddhists meditate on (or contemplate) the Buddha as having ten characteristics (Ch./Jp. 十號). These characteristics are frequently mentioned in the Pali Canon as well as Mahayana teachings, and are chanted daily in many Buddhist monasteries:

  1. thus gone, thus come (Skt: tathāgata)
  2. worthy one (Skt: arhat)
  3. perfectly self-enlightened (Skt: samyak-saṃbuddha)
  4. perfected in knowledge and conduct (Skt: vidyā-caraṇa-saṃpanna )
  5. well gone (Skt: sugata)
  6. knower of the world (Skt: loka-vid)
  7. unsurpassed (Skt: anuttara)
  8. leader of persons to be tamed (Skt: puruṣa-damya-sārathi)
  9. teacher of the gods and humans (Skt: śāsta deva-manuṣyāṇaṃ)
  10. the Blessed One or fortunate one (Skt: bhagavat)[11]

The tenth epithet is sometimes listed as "The World Honored Enlightened One" (Skt. Buddha-Lokanatha) or "The Blessed Enlightened One" (Skt. Buddha-Bhagavan).[12]

Buddha as a supreme human[edit]

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 the Pali Canon 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, are still subject to anger, fear and sorrow.

In the Madhupindika Sutta (MN 18),[13] 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)[14] 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 (SN 22.87) Buddha identifies himself with the Dhamma:[15]

O Vakkali, whoever sees the Dhamma, sees me [the Buddha]

Another reference from the Aggañña Sutta of the Digha Nikaya, says to his disciple Vasettha:

O Vasettha! The Word of Dhammakaya is indeed the name of the Tathagata

Shravasti Dhammika, a Buddhist monk in the Theravada tradition, writes:

In the centuries after his final Nibbāna it sometimes got to the stage that the legends and myths obscured the very real human being behind them and the Buddha came to be looked upon as a god. Actually, the Buddha was a human being, not a 'mere human being' as is sometimes said but a special class of human called a 'complete person' (mahāparisa). Such complete persons are born no different from others and indeed they physically remain quite ordinary.[16]

Sangharakshita also states that "The first thing we have to understand - and this is very important - is that the Buddha is a human being. But a special kind of human being, in fact the highest kind, so far as we know."[17]

Buddha as "just a human"[edit]

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.[18]

Andrew Skilton writes that the Buddha was never historically regarded by Buddhist traditions as being merely human:[19]

It is important to stress that, despite modern Theravada teachings to the contrary (often a sop to skeptical Western pupils), he was never seen as being merely human. For instance, he is often described as having the thirty-two major and eighty minor marks or signs of a mahāpuruṣa, "superman"; the Buddha himself denied that he was either a man or a god; and in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta he states that he could live for an aeon were he asked to do so.

However, Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk in the Zen tradition, states that "Buddha was not a god. He was a human being like you and me, and he suffered just as we do."[20]

Jack Maguire writes that Buddha is inspirational based on his humanness.

A fundamental part of Buddhism's appeal to billions of people over the past two and a half millennia is the fact that the central figure, commonly referred to by the title "Buddha", was not a god, or a special kind of spiritual being, or even a prophet or an emissary of one. On the contrary, he was a human being like the rest of us who quite simply woke up to full aliveness.[21]

Mahāsāṃghika supramundane Buddha[edit]

In the early Buddhist schools, the Mahāsāṃghika branch regarded the buddhas as being characterized primarily by their supramundane nature. The Mahāsāṃghikas advocated the transcendental and supramundane nature of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, and the fallibility of arhats.[22] Of the 48 special theses attributed by the Samayabhedoparacanacakra to the Mahāsāṃghika Ekavyāvahārika, Lokottaravāda, and the Gokulika, 20 points concern the supramundane nature of buddhas and bodhisattvas.[23] According to the Samayabhedoparacanacakra, these four groups held that the Buddha is able to know all dharmas in a single moment of the mind.[24] Yao Zhihua writes:[24]

In their view, the Buddha is equipped with the following supernatural qualities: transcendence (lokottara), lack of defilements, all of his utterances preaching his teaching, expounding all his teachings in a single utterance, all of his sayings being true, his physical body being limitless, his power (prabhāva) being limitless, the length of his life being limitless, never tiring of enlightening sentient beings and awakening pure faith in them, having no sleep or dreams, no pause in answering a question, and always in meditation (samādhi).

A doctrine ascribed to the Mahāsāṃghikas is, "The power of the tathāgatas is unlimited, and the life of the buddhas is unlimited."[25] According to Guang Xing, two main aspects of the Buddha can be seen in Mahāsāṃghika teachings: the true Buddha who is omniscient and omnipotent, and the manifested forms through which he liberates sentient beings through skillful means.[26] For the Mahāsaṃghikas, the historical Gautama Buddha was one of these transformation bodies (Skt. nirmāṇakāya), while the essential real Buddha is equated with the Dharmakāya.[27]

As in Mahāyāna traditions, the Mahāsāṃghikas held the doctrine of the existence of many contemporaneous buddhas throughout the ten directions.[28] In the Mahāsāṃghika Lokānuvartana Sūtra, it is stated, "The Buddha knows all the dharmas of the countless buddhas of the ten directions."[28] It is also stated, "All buddhas have one body, the body of the Dharma."[28] The concept of many bodhisattvas simultaneously working toward buddhahood is also found among the Mahāsāṃghika tradition, and further evidence of this is given in the Samayabhedoparacanacakra, which describes the doctrines of the Mahāsāṃghikas.[29]

A statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha in Tawang Gompa, India.

Depictions of the Buddha in art[edit]

Main article: Buddharupa
Buddha statues at Shwedagon Paya

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 China (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 Japan and Korea but rarely seen in India. 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.

Names of the Buddha[edit]

Aśvaghoṣa in his Acts of the Buddha gives a long list of names for the Buddha:

Buddha, Self-existent, Lord of Law (Dharmaraja), Nayaka, Vinayaka, Caravan Leader, Jina (Victorious One), the Master-giver of Dharma, The Teacher, Master of the Dharma, the Lord of the World, the consoler, the loving-regarder [cf. Avalokiteshvara,] the Hero, the champion, the victorious one in conflict, Light of the World, Illuminator of the Knowledge of True Wisdom, The dispeller of the darkness of ignorance, Illuminator of the Great Torch, Great Physician, Great Seer, the Healer, Attainer of the Great Vehicle (Mahayana), Lord of all Dharma, the Ruler, Monarch of All Worlds, the Sovereign, Lord of all wisdom, the wise, the destroyer of the pride of all disputers, the omniscient, the Arhat, Possessor of Perfect Knowledge, the Great Buddha, Lord of Saints, The Victorious, the Perfect Buddha, Sugata, the wise one who fulfills the wishes of all beings, The ruler of the world, bearer of the world, master of the world, sovereign of the world, teacher of the world, preceptor of the world, The Fount of Nectar, the powerful luminary, Bringer of all virtue and all real wealth, possessor of perfect excellence and all good qualities, the guide on the road of wisdom who shows the way to Nirvana, Tathagata without stain, without attachment, without uncertainty.[30]

In his commentary to the Surangama Sutra, Venerable Master Hsuan Hua tells the following fable:

Originally every Buddha had ten thousand names. In time these ten thousand names were reduced to one thousand because people got confused trying to remember them all. For a while every Buddha had a thousand names, but people still couldn’t remember so many, so they were again reduced to one hundred names. Every Buddha had a hundred different names and living beings had a hard time remembering them, so they were shortened again to ten.[31]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ buddhatva, बुद्धत्व. Spoken Sanskrit Dictionary. (accessed: January 10, 2016)
  2. ^ a b Gethin, Rupert (1998). The foundations of Buddhism (1. publ. paperback ed.). Oxford [England]: Oxford University Press. pp. 224–234. ISBN 0-19-289223-1. 
  3. ^ Snelling, John (1987), The Buddhist handbook. A Complete Guide to Buddhist Teaching and Practice. London: Century Paperbacks. Page 81
  4. ^ Udana Commentary. Translation Peter Masefield, volume I, 1994. Pali Text Society. page 94.
  5. ^ Gethin, Rupert (1998). The foundations of Buddhism (1. publ. paperback ed.). Oxford [England]: Oxford University Press. p. 32. ISBN 0-19-289223-1. 
  6. ^ Damien Keown; Charles S. Prebish (2013). Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Routledge. p. 90. ISBN 978-1-136-98588-1. 
  7. ^ Rinpoche Karma-raṅ-byuṅ-kun-khyab-phrin-las (1986). The Dharma: That Illuminates All Beings Impartially Like the Light of the Sun and Moon. State University of New York Press. pp. 32–33. ISBN 978-0-88706-156-1. ; Quote: "There are various ways of examining the Complete Path. For example, we can speak of Five Paths constituting its different levels: the Path of Accumulation, the Path of Application, the Path of Seeing, the Path of Meditation and the Path of No More Learning, or Buddhahood."
  8. ^ Robert E. Buswell; Robert M. Gimello (1990). Paths to liberation: the Mārga and its transformations in Buddhist thought. University of Hawaii Press. p. 204. ISBN 978-0-8248-1253-9. 
  9. ^ A. K. Warder, Indian Buddhism. Third edition published by Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 2000, pages 132–133.
  10. ^ David J. Kalupahana, A History of Buddhist Philosophy: Continuities and Discontinuities. University of Hawaii Press, 1992 , page 43: [1].
  11. ^ Japanese-English Buddhist Dictionary (Daitō shuppansha) 147a/163
  12. ^ [2], also see Thomas Cleary and J. C. Cleary The Blue Cliff Record, page 553.
  13. ^ Majhima Nikaya 18 Madhupindika Sutta: The Ball of Honey
  14. ^ Sutta Nikaya 44.2 Anuradha Sutta: To Anuradha
  15. ^ Sutta Nikaya 22.87 Vakkali Sutta: Vakkali
  16. ^ Dhammika, Shravasti (2005). The Buddha and His Disciples. Buddhist Publication Society. p. 16. ISBN 9789552402807. 
  17. ^ Sangharakshita (1996). A Guide to the Buddhist Path. Windhorse Publications. p. 45. ISBN 9781899579044. 
  18. ^ Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History, and Practices. Cambridge University Press, 1990, page 28
  19. ^ Skilton, Andrew. A Concise History of Buddhism. 2004. pp. 64-65
  20. ^ Nhất Hạnh, Thích (1999). The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching. Broadway Books. p. 3. ISBN 0-7679-0369-2. 
  21. ^ Maguire, Jack (2013). Essential Buddhism. Simon & Schuster. p. 2. ISBN 9781476761961. 
  22. ^ Baruah, Bibhuti. Buddhist Sects and Sectarianism. 2008. p. 48.
  23. ^ Sree Padma. Barber, Anthony W. Buddhism in the Krishna River Valley of Andhra. 2008. p. 56.
  24. ^ a b Yao, Zhihua. The Buddhist Theory of Self-Cognition. 2005. p. 11
  25. ^ Tanaka, Kenneth. The Dawn of Chinese Pure Land Buddhist Doctrine. 1990. p. 8
  26. ^ Guang Xing. The Concept of the Buddha: Its Evolution from Early Buddhism to the Trikaya Theory. 2004. p. 53
  27. ^ Sree Padma. Barber, Anthony W. Buddhism in the Krishna River Valley of Andhra. 2008. pp. 59-60
  28. ^ a b c Guang Xing. The Concept of the Buddha: Its Evolution from Early Buddhism to the Trikaya Theory. 2004. p. 65
  29. ^ Guang Xing. The Concept of the Buddha: Its Evolution from Early Buddhism to the Trikaya Theory. 2004. p. 66
  30. ^ E. B. Cowell; Francis A. Davis (1894). Buddhist Mahayana Texts. 49. Oxford University Press. p. 183. ISBN 0486255522. Retrieved 3 September 2015.  The Buddha-karita of Asvaghosha, translated from the Sanskrit, in the Sacred Books of the East
  31. ^ From the Chapter on "The General Explanation of the Title", The Surangama Sutra, English translation by the Buddhist Text Translation Society.

Further reading[edit]

  • What the Buddha Taught (Grove Press, Revised edition July 1974), by Walpola Rahula
  • Buddha: The Compassionate Teacher (2002), by K. M. M. Swe

External links[edit]