Marks and Signs of a Buddha

“One takes refuge by knowing the good qualities of one’s refuge.” The good qualities of the Buddha: the Buddha has four types of good qualities: 1- the good qualities of his body, 2- his speech, 3- his mind, and 4- of his good works. Regarding the good qualities of the Buddhas body has two viewpoints, the outer and the inner descriptions and the outer and inner meanings of the descriptions. Regarding the descriptions of the outer marks and signs of the Buddha we check the scriptures for the various marks that are on the soles of the foot, the palms of the hands, the earlobes and so forth. (1)

However, it really helps to have been born as a Brahmin in India 2,500 years ago. There are many of you whose short or even missing earlobes will never pull down and yet you can walk into any common Indian market and see many people with long earlobes, one of the external marks and signs of a Buddha. So perhaps the sooner we divest ourselves of what actually are the external marks and signs of a Buddha, world is going to be better for it. What do you think?

Buddha was born into Brahmanic culture as a Kshatryia or king class (even Buddha not a Brahmin). (2) Friends, even people in Tibet don’t look like Indian Brahmins, so we were very hard pressed to find even one sign even though we had great faith. Truly we looked to see which sign like Lord Buddha Shakyamuni from the text, is actually on my friend who has a really good practice. We might even admire to say, “Your earlobes do look a bit longer today.”

We must move away from superficial understanding of what it means to be a Buddha, to be authentic. This Buddha is short and scrawny and this one is big and fat. None of these descriptions are of the actual awakened being in the external form.

“Oh now we know what to look for, now we’ve got it. It’s not their body appearance, but what they look like inside.” And so we youngsters tried to do this through visualization. Truly, I’m ashamed to say this. Meditators attempt to recreate the forms of enlightened beings on top of their form that not have the marks and signs but in an inner form. In Tibetan system many believe that there is a kind of form in subtle that possess the external marks and signs.

As for me in my present life I decided that I don’t care now if the Buddhas are pink and blue polka dots on the inside or the outside. I don’t care if they are forty feet tall or they’re one inch tall on the outside. These are of so little importance. In that way, you do not need to expend mental effort to exhibit or visualize your ordinary self in any one particular form. I’m moving away from that idea. However, I admit that I had that idea in my just before life.

Perhaps a thousand years in the future there will be other more advanced societies arriving in spaceships or however they come and tell us, “We’ve been waiting for all of you humans to get over your ethnocentrism”. Truly, it says it clearly in the Lam-rim that marks and signs are qualities. When you develop the qualities of a fully enlightened being, the marks and signs you will exhibit will be inside. These are some of the issues surrounding discussions of marks and signs.

footnotes (1) links to photos and descriptions of marks and signs,M1

(2) classes in India

Edited excerpt from “The Qualities of Refuge” 8-2003


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