Underneath the painting an inscription is written in Mandarin :

“This is the only true portrait of a Sakyamuni Buddha during his lifetime."

It was supposed to have been drawn by Ven. Punna, one of the original ten disciples of the Buddha.  The Blessed One was 41-years-old when it was painted. Today the collection in the British Museum, is considered a British national treasure! The British "acquired" this treasure, as they did so many other treasures, during the colonial period in India and have never returned it.

If we accept this to be a true representation of the likeness of the Buddha, what implications can be drawn from what we can observe? The image itself is mesmerising with an enlargement of the face showing intense, narrow eyes, a strong jaw and a nose line that seems a mix of East Asian and Indo Aryan. Predominantly he seems to be of the Mongoloid race much to the contradiction of traditional depictions in the buddharupas (statues) of the Theravada school. 

In the drawing He has long, flowing hair somewhat like Jesus rather than the traditional images of recently shaven, or curled locks. He also has facial hair including a thin moustache, eyebrows and perhaps even an under chin beard. But the most remarkable feature is the large earring adorning his left earlobe. All this, if true, would be in stark contradiction to the Vinaya rules he established for the Sangha. His skin tone, as recorded in the suttas, is of golden hue.

How does this image impact our regard for the Buddha? More later.................

It is not easy to give an accurate historical account of the life of Gautama, since no biography was recorded until hundreds of years after his death. Today, much of his life story is clouded in myths and legends which arose after his death. The best historians of our day have several different and even contradictory accounts of Gautama's life. The biography of Siddhartha Gautama was not recorded during his lifetime. These teachings were orally passed down to future generations of Buddhist monks within various Buddhist communities in India. The earliest available accounts of his life were collected some three hundred years or more after his death. Four centuries later, in about 80 B.C., Buddhist scribes finally compiled the teachings of the Buddha on Leaves of banana and Palm, which became the Pali Canon. Both the historical and legendary descriptions of his life have been included in the Pali Canon and Sanskrit accounts. It has become indistinguishable as to where the line is drawn between history and legend. Whether the stories about Siddhartha Gautama are true or myth, his life has been and still is an inspiration and model for all Buddhists. Buddhist scriptures and sayings attributed to Gautama were written about four centuries after Buddha's death. There is no way to be sure these are really Gautama's words. By the time they were written Buddhism was split into opposing sects. 

Gautama's approach to religion was quite different from the Hinduism out of which he had come. Hinduism, at that time, had degenerated to empty philosophical speculations and disputes, to polytheism, rituals, magic, and superstition. Authority for truth was the exclusive ownership of the highest caste. Gautama attacked the caste system and rejected their forms of speculation, ritual, and occultism. Some compare Buddha's break to Martin Luther's reformation in Christianity. He believed everyone was equally capable of the highest spiritual development irrespective of what caste you were born into.

The Buddha was 80 years old when Cunda the blacksmith served him pig's flesh (or some claim mushrooms). He became extremely ill and died. Before he passed away, he sent a message to Cunda saying that he should not feel guilty for being the cause of his death, for it was destined to be. Just before his death, he exhorted his disciples not to grieve. His last recorded words were: "Decay is inherent in all omnipotent things! Work out your own salvation with diligence." (Christmas Humphreys, Buddhism, p.41.)

‘Friends, I went in search of the enjoyment in this world. What there is of pleasure in this world, I have found. The extent of this enjoyment I have clearly seen with wisdom and understanding.


Friends, I went in search of the misery in this world. What there is of misery in this world, I have found. The extent of this misery in the world, I have clearly seen with wisdom and understanding.


Friends, I went in search of an escape from this world. I have found that escape and the extent to which there is an escape from this world, I have clearly seen with wisdom and understanding.’ (A.N. the 3s)


The person who later became known as the Buddha Gotama was born in Northern India more than 2,600 years ago. His previous existences, his last human birth and early life are mired in mythology and the subject of many fanciful tales. However there is enough evidence in the Suttas (records of his talks), that allows us to separate the facts from the legend and provide enough moments Of recognition for us to identify the living Buddha.

We know that his name was Siddhartha Gotama. He was born into a very well off family, of the Kshatriya class, probably royalty, or at least a warlord, belonging to the Sakhya clan. For his first thirty years he led a pampered, protected and indulgent existence secluded from the realities of normal life. But he had an inquisitive and restless mind.

It is said that one day, while travelling with his chariot driver, he recognised the human condition in a way he had never seen before. He saw the sick and ailing. He saw the aged and frail. He saw a corpse. For the first time in his life he realized that all this would be his inevitable destinyas well. He deemed it to be unsatisfactory and wondered if that was all there was to human existence. He asked of himself this same timeless question that so many humans before and since have mused over. But he determined to find the answer.

On this trip he also encountered a mendicant, a homeless wanderer who had renounced his daily householder's life to go forth in search of truth and meaning. Siddhartha was so profoundly affected by all he had encountered that he determined to leave his life of luxury, his wife, new son and family, adopt the homeless lifestyle and follow his quest to find the truth about human existence, the meaning of life.

After a long period of engaging in extreme ascetic practices and studying the diverse philosophies that were popular at the time, he rejected these notions and determined to find his own path to liberation from the human condition. Legend tells us that he settled under a Bodhi tree, fell into deep meditation for days and was able to attain an enlightened state of understanding. He later described it as rediscovering a path that had been lost. He had become the BuddhaHaving attained this state of being and having realized his personal goal, he was faced with a dilemma. Where to from here? He could live alone and free in the enjoyment of what he had discovered or else he could teach others the lost path that he had found.

The legend records that he was able to determine that there were some people who had just a little dust in their eyes, and were capable of seeing and could benefit from what he had to say. He made the momentous decision to dedicate the remainder of his 40 years of life to teaching others the Dhamma, his Teaching, so that they too may experience what he had found. If he had not made that decision his teaching would have died with him and it would have been left for another to rediscover the way. He lived out his life for the benefit and welfare of others. That is why he is called the ‘Compassionate Buddha’.

Once he decided on this course of teaching, other seekers were soon attracted to him. His presence was inspiring and his wisdom overwhelming. As the number of followers grew the Buddha or the Tathagata (as he described himself) established a highly regulated lifestyle for those who were serious about the practice. This evolved into what is called the Sangha, the order of monks and nuns which endures to this day.

Over this long period of selfless teaching he developed not only a huge body of metaphysical thought but a whole philosophy on life and understanding of the mind that stands as relevant in our modern era as it did in ancient times.It remains unthreatened by science and in fact is validated evermore with each new theory or discovery in the name of quantum physics or evolution or genetics that is presented.

But he wasn’t just a philosopher. What sets the Buddha apart from all other thinkers throughout history is that he backed up his doctrine with a detailed program of practice. He developed a road-map to freedom for all to follow, a guide to a decent way of living. Over time he became less like a teacher and more like a trainer. He could be likened to a great athlete who, having strived hard and achieved the ultimate victory, took up a career as an elite coach and laid down a personal training program that others could follow with the same success.

“Tathagata” is the term the Buddha used when referring to himself. It means ‘one who has come and gone thus’. He was someone who came a certain way and went on a certain way. He was one who indicated the way for others to follow. His state of being could not be fathomed. He said that, after death, the Tathagata could not be reached. During his dying moments he asked that his disciples not worship him with flowers and incense but to honour him with the practice of his teaching (Dhamma).   

This was difficult to accept for those who revered him. For the first two centuries after his passing there is no archaeological evidence of any Buddha images and in the earliest ones found he has no facial features. It was during the Hellenic period of occupation of SW Asia that rupas similar to the Greek statues began to appear.  Over the centuries that followed speculations and interpretations of what the Buddha looked like were represented in the multitude of Buddha statues that have been created in remembrance of the Tathagata, the one who said he only pointed the way. It seems people have found it easier to grasp hold of his finger than to practise what he pointed to, the Dhamma.

The legends tell us that the Buddha Gotama was born under a tree. He was enlightened under a tree and he passed away on the roadside under a tree. For the majority of his life he was a homeless wanderer. No violence was ever associated with his life or his teaching. Yet this Dhamma has endured and spread throughout the world, not by force but purely on its merits and by the simple fact that it just makes good sense.

"Who sees Dhamma, sees me. Who sees me, sees the Dhamma". (S.N.)

 The Legend and mythology surrounding the Buddha's appearance

The sutras capture the golden appearance of the Buddha with the so-called "thirty-two marks of excellence and eighty notable characteristics.Marks are more apparent, while characteristics are more subtle and harder to detect. Marks and characteristics are closely related; the latter stem from the existence of the former. The magnificent appearance of the Buddha did not happen by mere chance. It was the result of cultivating and doing good over a period of ninety kalpas. Each of the thirty-two marks and eighty characteristics represents a virtue that the Buddha had practiced. Take the example of the broad, long tongue of the Buddha. It was the result of his not talking falsely. These marks and characteristics, which can be looked at symbolically, are said to be attributes that are apparent to bodhisattvas and other cultivated beings.

What are the thirty-two marks of excellence? They are:

    1. Flat, even feet, without bumps or indentations,
    2. A mark of a thousand-spoked wheel on the bottom of his feet,
    3. Long slender fingers, as white as snow,
    4. Soft and smooth hands and feet,
    5. Toes and fingers finely webbed,
    6. Rounded heels, without any unevenness,
    7. Full and rounded feet, even from the front to the back,
    8. Fine thighs, like those of a royal stag,
    9. Hands reaching below the knees,
    10. A well-retracted male organ,
    11. Height equal to the stretch of the arms,
    12. Every hair-root darkly colored,
    13. Body hair graceful and curly,
    14. A golden-hued body,
    15. A ten-foot nimbus,
    16. Soft, smooth, and supple skin,
    17. Soles, palms, shoulders, and crown well-rounded,
    18. Arm-pits well filled, without any sunken spots,
    19. A lion-shaped body, 
    20. A straight body,
    21. Full shoulders,
    22. Forty teeth,
    23. White, clean, strong, and snugly-fitting teeth,
    24. Straight teeth,
    25. Lion-jawed,
    26. Saliva that improves the taste of food,
    27. A broad, long tongue,
    28. A deep, resonant voice,
    29. Deep blue eyes,
    30. Splendid eyelashes,
    31. A curling white hair between the eyebrows, radiating light, and
    32. Fleshy protuberance on the crown.

The eighty notable qualities are:

  1. Top of his head not visible to others,
  2. A prominent nose with well-concealed nostrils,
  3. Eyebrows shaped like a new moon,
  4. Big, thick ear lobes,
  5. A strong body,
  6. Snugly-fitting bones,
  7. Turns his whole body when turning, as does a majestic elephant,
  8. Leaves imprints as he walks,
  9. Radiant and polished feet,
  10. Full, rounded knees,
  11. A clean body
  12. Soft, smooth skin,
  13. A straight, erect body,
  14. Round, slender fingers,
  15. Fine finger prints,
  16. Veins that are not visible,
  17. Well-concealed heel bones,
  18. A supple, fresh-looking body,
  19. A round, pleasing body,
  20. A brisk gait,
  21. A dignified appearance,
  22. Peaceful and calm deportment,
  23. A stable posture when standing,
  24. A majestic presence,
  25. A pleasing appearance,
  26. A perfectly sized face,
  27. Unperturbed demeanor,
  28. A perfect appearance,
  29. Red-colored lips,
  30. A voice that carries,
  31. A deep, round navel,
  32. Curly hair,
  33. Long arms that reach below the knees,
  34. Arms and legs that move freely,
  35. Straight palm-lines,
  36. Fine, long palm-lines,
  37. Unbroken palm-lines,
  38. Brings joy to those who see him,
  39. A broad, perfect face,
  40. A face full like the moon,
  41. Eloquent and articulate speech,
  42. Fragrant pores,
  43. Fragrant breath,
  44. Appearance awe-inspiring like that of a lion,
  45. Gait steady like that of an elephant,
  46. Steps airy like that of a goose,
  47. A well-formed forehead,
  48. A clearly audible voice,
  49. White teeth,
  50. A bright red tongue,
  51. A long, thin tongue,
  52. Thick body hair,
  53. Soft, clean body hair,
  54. Big, wide eyes,
  55. Clean, unobstructed airway connecting the seven openings of the face,
  56. Lotus-colored hands and feet,
  57. A well-concealed navel,
  58. A stomach that does not protrude,
  59. A well-sized abdomen,
  60. Does not fall down,
  61. A sturdy, stable body,
  62. Tall and big,
  63. Soft, clean hands and feet,
  64. A ten-foot nimbus,
  65. His nimbus lights the way,
  66. Treats all sentient beings equally,
  67. A stately appearance,
  68. Does not slight any sentient being,
  69. An even voice,
  70. Able to vary his teaching methods,
  71. Teaches according to the circumstances,
  72. Easy to understand,
  73. Adapts his teachings according to the spiritual maturity of the listener,
  74. Appearance that grows on others,
  75. A pleasing appearance that does not tire others,
  76. Long, healthy hair,
  77. Long, neat hair,
  78. Neatly curled hair,
  79. Hair the color of green pearls, and
  80. A virtuous appearance.

Depending on the sutra, there are slight variations in the details of these thirty-two marks and eighty characteristics. Actually, these marks of excellence and notable characteristics do not do justice to the Buddha's radiance. Take the example of the Buddha's height. It was said that the Buddha was sixteen feet tall, but some people at that time were skeptical. One of these people tried to use a tape to measure the Buddha's height. He measured sixteen feet again and again, yet still could not measure the full height of the Buddha. Another distinguished feature of the Buddha was his broad, long tongue, and when the Buddha taught the Dharma, his voice could be heard far, far away. In the Ratna-rasi Sutra, Maudgalyayana wanted to find out for himself how far the voice of the Buddha could carry. He used his supernatural power and traveled to a far away buddha-land in the east and could still hear the Buddha teaching the Dharma. Actually this is not hard to believe at all. Nowadays, people in Taiwan can receive radio broadcasts from places as far away as Europe or North America. The technology of radio broadcasting cannot compare to the skillful means of the Buddha. When the Buddha taught the Dharma, his voice could reach three thousand great chiliocosms. Thus, when we say that the Buddha has thirty-two marks and eighty notable characteristics, we are only describing the splendor that can be seen. Because of the limitations of our faculties, we do not even come close to capturing the true splendor of the Buddha. (From "Seeing the Way", by Hsieng Yao

The collected teachings of the Buddha are called "sutta" (Pali) or "sutra". (Sanskrit) The compilation was first committed to a written form around 100BCE, forming what is called the Tipitaka (Pali) or "Tripitaka" (Sanskrit), or "3 Baskets". It has also come to known as the Pali Canon

Put simply, these baskets consists of (1) The Vinaya Pitaka - instructions for the sangha; (2) The Sutta Pitaka - the collection of the Buddha's teachings, comprising five collections, or nikayas, and totalling some 5,505 suttas, plus further compilations of many of his other quotes, etc grouped as the "Collection of Small Texts" which includes amongst them, the more widely-known Dhammapada and Jataka Tales; and (3) the Abhidharma Pitaka - the collection of the more profound philosophical texts. Collectively, the Tipitaka is said to be about eleven times the size of the Christian Bible. (Source: Buddhist Council of Queensland website).

Cremation Ceremony

The veneration of the Mallas in Kusinara for the Buddha threw light on funeral rites and rituals prevalent in ancient India.

The Mallas treated the deceased body of the Buddha as one would for a universal monarch. “They wrapped the body in five hundred successive layers of new linen cloth with teased cotton wool, then placed the body in an oil vessel of iron, which is covered with another iron pot. They built a funeral pyre of all kinds of perfumes and erected a stupa at the crossroads.” The Mallas paid respect with dance, song, music, perfumes and garlands throughout the week. Mandarava flowers were strewn knee deep everywhere in Kusinara.

The Mallas wanted to bring the body through the southern gate but were unable to move it as Venerable Anuruddha noted that the gods wished otherwise. The gods wanted the funeral procession to go through the northern gate, going through the center of the city and the cremation ceremony to be held outside the eastern gate at Makutabandhana Cetiya

The Mallas came forward to light the funeral pyre but the pyre refused to catch fire. According to Venerable Anuruddha, the gods were waiting for Venerable Mahakassapa. On arrival, Venerable Mahakassapa arranged his robes on one shoulder, bowed down with clasped hands, walked respectfully around the pyre. Uncovering Buddha’s feet, he bowed down with reverence. The 500 monks did likewise and it was said that the pyre caught fire by itself.

When the cremation was over, it was said that only the outer and innermost cloth were consumed by fire. Streams of water from the storehouse below and perfumed scented water poured by Mallas extinguished the funeral pyre.

His remains

The Brahmin, Dona divided the relics and handed them to the following who built a stupa for them:

1.      Ajatasattu of Magadha

2.      Licchavis of Vesali

3.      Sakyans of Kapilavatthu

4.      Bulayas of Allakappa

5.      Koliyas of Ramagama

6.      Brahmin of Vethadipa

7.      Mallas of Pava

8.      Mallas of Kusinara

The Brahmin Dona built a great stupa for the urn and the Moriyas of Pipphalavana built a great stupa for the embers.