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August 6, 2010 9:02 AM   Subscribe

What's a dignified way to portray Buddha in my house?

For several years I've gained much peace and clarity by learning about Buddha. I'm in my mid-40s and wish I could have started earlier, so I'd like to share this with my 4-year-old daughter, in an unobtrusive way. I thought I'd begin by introducing an image of Buddha in my house.

And therein lies the problem: how do I do this with respect and dignity? Finding (what I think are) tacky little fat Buddha statues at flea markets is not a problem, but I think most Americans associate that stuff with kitsch, and not enlightenment. I certainly do.

What's an image, painting, sculpture, whatever, that would fit the bill?

Bonus points: I'm under the impression that the Buddha's pose is important. Is there an appropriate pose for this situation?
posted by the matching mole to Human Relations (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
No doubt there is a Buddhist temple somewhere near you. Why don't you ask the clerics there?
posted by Electrius at 9:07 AM on August 6, 2010

I think there are plenty of 'regular' or serene images of Buddha, like these. The fat, happy ones are 'laughing Buddha', specifically.
posted by rachaelfaith at 9:08 AM on August 6, 2010

I don't align myself with any particular religion, but I read somewhere that it was good luck to keep a Buddha statue at the highest point your house, looking over everything within. I have one that I've had for so long that I don't even know where I got it, and I keep it in the (finished) attic. It's mostly out of sight, but we know it's there, and it's nice to think about. This might be a bit superficial, but there it is.
posted by nitsuj at 9:08 AM on August 6, 2010

As you no doubt know, different regional traditions have very different ways of depicting the dude - if you're particularly influenced by Zen or Tibetan or Thai Buddhism then it makes sense to get an image in that style.

Though I'm not a Buddhist, I own a small stone reproduction of the life-size Buddhas at Borobudur in Indonesia, which I quite like (see here for an idea of what it looks like). If you're not affiliated with any particular tradition, that might work, since it belongs to a lineage of Buddhism that has been dead for centuries. Unfortunately I have no idea where to get one outside of Java but that might be a good starting point for a search.
posted by theodolite at 9:15 AM on August 6, 2010

I'm a Buddhist and I have no problem with fat, happy Buddha statues if that's what makes you happy. Sure, it wrankles me a bit when I see Buddha as "decorating trend," but I feel like it's the intention behind the object and not the object itself that's important. If you want to have a Buddha statue in your home to remind you of the teachings of the Buddha - go for it. Find one that appeals to you. It's just an object and there isn't really a specific "kind" that's better than another (as the teachings of Buddha himself would say - it's all the same). What matters is what the object means to you.

I got my Buddha statue when I went to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak last year. It seemed appropriate. Do what feels right for you - if you see a statue that speaks to you, snatch it up. Display it however you like that feels respectful to you.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:17 AM on August 6, 2010

If you could get one without the gold, that may help with the tacky factor. As to the pose ... not to be contrary, but I always got the impression that the Buddha wouldn't want that much dignity ascribed to him. That may be why he laughs in so many depictions: he may not want you to get too sidetracked into the veneration that finishes what so much dignity begins.
posted by adipocere at 9:18 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

PS: the hand positions are called mudras and there are lots of them - there are lists here and here though I can't vouch for the accuracy of either of them.
posted by theodolite at 9:21 AM on August 6, 2010

Rather than the Buddha himself, what about a big painting of a fig tree?
posted by Greg Nog at 9:23 AM on August 6, 2010

Thanks for the answers, insight, and info, folks. FWIW, I don't do temples, rituals, or traditions (not that there's anything wrong with that), but I do adore ideas -- so grapefruitmoon's response has resonance for me.
posted by the matching mole at 9:26 AM on August 6, 2010

"As you no doubt know, different regional traditions have very different ways of depicting the dude - if you're particularly influenced by Zen or Tibetan or Thai Buddhism then it makes sense to get an image in that style."

I agree with this, and there are literally thousands for sale on Ebay, in all sorts of shapes and sizes and price ranges.

"Bonus points: I'm under the impression that the Buddha's pose is important. Is there an appropriate pose for this situation?"

You are correct. Different poses or "mudras" as they are more accurately called, represent different things and can even represent different buddhas! (Yes! In some branches of Buddhism, there are more than just the one.)

The most common pose for the historical Buddha is what is commonly known as the "Earth Witness" mudra. (Such as this example.)

Good luck in your search!!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 9:28 AM on August 6, 2010

By the way, the fat guys you see at the flea market may actually be Budai, who is sometimes identified with Buddha but is a distinct entity from Siddharta Gautama.
posted by theodolite at 9:34 AM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

You might consider alternate media, too. Maybe the Ox Herding Pictures?

I've always wanted a proper print of this Bodhidarma Scroll, but no luck finding it. :(
posted by koudelka at 10:02 AM on August 6, 2010

I can't help but recommend Demi's picture book story of Buddha. Demi has a great combination of stylistic beauty and historical/religious overview, and even if you don't intend to be a temple/ritual/tradition sort of person, it might be nice to have a story that your child can look through on her own; more accessible than the statue.
posted by redsparkler at 10:03 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Although I was not raised in any specific religious tradition, I grew up in a home that had a small, discreet, non-golden "fat Buddha" (whom I knew as Hotei) statue on display. Even though I'm sure I've been in countless places with similar statues displayed in a tacky manner, I've never associated this image with kitsch - I've just always found it really peaceful. And why not? Hotei is "the god of contentment and happiness, guardian of children, and patron of bartenders."
posted by chez shoes at 10:22 AM on August 6, 2010

As others have pointed out there are regional and sectarian variations on how people practice Buddhism. At least in Korea people don't keep images of Buddha in the house. This is reserved for temples. Children are introduced to Buddhism (and Buddha) through temple visits.

One suggestion I have for introducing your child to Buddha is to read Journey to the West together. Quoting from Wikipedia, "it is an adventure story, a dispenser of spiritual insight, and an extended allegory in which the group of pilgrims journeying toward India stands for the individual journeying toward enlightenment." There are numerous adaptations, such as children's books, manga, and anime, in addition to translations of the Chinese work itself. Unfortunately I can't provide any English-language recommendations, as I grew up on the Korean versions and Japanese anime adaptations of the story.
posted by needled at 10:44 AM on August 6, 2010

Live your life in a way that honours the Buddha's teachings; set a great example for your daughter.

There is no better portrait.
posted by Shepherd at 10:54 AM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

In my apartment, I keep a sort of westernized (I know I know!) kamidana - a place for the few deities and household forces I recognize as important in my life. Here is the image of my Buddha statue.

I keep the kamidana high up (it takes up the top shelf of a book case, in this instance), above the heads of everyone in the house. Whenever it becomes a new season, or something good happens in my life, or I feel I need to apologize to one of them, I make a few simple offerings. For example, when the cherry trees bloomed outside my apartment, I brought in a few branches and placed them on the shelf.

I think merely having the image of the Buddha in the house is a fantastic idea, particularly to begin to get children to ask questions. I also highly recommend, once she is of age, Buddha, a manga drawn by Osamu Tezuka, of Astro Boy fame. I also highly second the Ox Herding Pictures as a good way of introducing some basic Buddhist concepts. I would love to have a children's book version of them one day.
posted by strixus at 11:01 AM on August 6, 2010

As an aside, Zen Shorts is a delightful and beautifully illustrated book for your daughter's age.
posted by mikepop at 11:04 AM on August 6, 2010

Darn, mikepop beat me to it - I came in specifically to recommend that book for your daughter... It really is wonderful.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 11:35 AM on August 6, 2010

I love Laughing Buddha with children. Your daughter will probably think he is cute.

Many of my Tibetan Buddhist friends tell me this is not Buddha, but Hotei. ("Pu-tai followed the spread of Buddhism into other parts of Asia. In Japan he became one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Shinto and is called Hotei. He also was incorporated into Chinese Taoism as a deity of abundance.")

But my father, a Zen Buddhist, considers him a manifestation of Buddha.
posted by fifilaru at 1:18 PM on August 6, 2010

The laughing Buddha is usually considered the future form in which Buddha will return, in those forms of the religion that embrace such beliefs. It's more popular in chinese or east asian buddhism, often forms that combined the teachings of siddartha with other cultural ideas... There's also Guanyin, the female form, who often is depicted with many hands to represent her generosity.

Basically, Buddhism takes a lot of forms. What matters is what it means to you - any quote or image can inspire deeper meaning if you find it resonant, so a simple representation of nature could give you the feeling of serenity you seek without making a direct reference. I'd just look for something that has the right sort of influence on your state of mind.
posted by mdn at 2:30 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Use whatever image appeals to you. Buddha was just a guy like the rest of us.

That doesn't mean you should avoid showing a level of respect you think is appropriate. It does mean that no one is keeping score.
posted by justcorbly at 4:07 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you ought to look here.

Since you're not into temples or anything, may I suggest a simple bow every morning?
posted by Ironmouth at 9:17 PM on August 8, 2010

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