The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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The name given to a Great Being, destined to become either a Cakka-vatti or a Buddha. He carries on his person the following thirty two marks (Mahāpurisalakkhanāni) (these are given at D.ii.17f.; iii.142ff.; M.ii.136f ):
he has feet of level tread;
on his soles are marks of wheels with spokes, felloes and hubs;
his heels project;
his digits are long;
his hands and feet are soft;
his fingers and toes straight;
his ankles like rounded shells;
his legs like an antelope's;
standing, he can touch his knees without bending;
his privacies are within a sheath;
he is of golden hue;
his skin so smooth that no dust clings to it;
the down on his body forms single hairs;
each hair is straight, blue black and at the top curls to the right;
his frame is straight;
his body has seven convex surfaces;
his chest is like a lion's;
his back flat between the shoulders;
his sheath is the same as his height;
his bust is equally rounded;
his taste is consummate;
he has a lion's jaws;
has forty teeth;
they are regular, and continuous;
his tongue is long;
his voice like that of a karavīka bird;
his eyes intensely black;
his eyelashes like a cows;
between his eyelashes are soft, white hairs like cotton down;
his head is like a turban.
The theory of Mahāpurisa is pre Buddhistic. Several passages in the Pitakas (E.g., D.i.89, 114, 120; A.i.163; M.ii.136; SN.vs.600, 1000, etc.) mention brahmins as claiming that this theory of the Mahāpurisa and his natal marks belonged to their stock of hereditary knowledge. The Buddhists, evidently, merely adopted the brahmin tradition in this matter as in so many others. But they went further. In the Lakkhana Sutta (D.iii.142ff) they sought to explain how these marks arose, and maintained that they were due entirely to good deeds done in a former birth and could only be continued in the present life by means of goodness. Thus the marks are merely incidental; most of them are so absurd, considered as the marks of a human being, that they are probably mythological in origin, and a few of them seem to belong to solar myths, being adaptations to a man, of poetical epithets applied to the sun or even to the personification of human sacrifice. Some are characteristic of human beauty, and one or two may possibly be reminiscences of personal bodily peculiarities possessed by some great man, such as Gotama himself.
Apart from these legendary beliefs, the Buddha had his own theory of the attributes of a Mahāpurisa as explained in the Mahāpurisa Sutta (S.v.158) and the Vassakāra Sutta (A.ii.35f).
Buddhaghosa says (MA.ii.761) that when the time comes for the birth of a Buddha, the Suddhāvāsa Brahmās visit the earth in the guise of brahmins and teach men about these bodily signs as forming part of the Vedic teaching so that thereby auspicious men may recognize the Buddha. On his death this knowledge generally vanishes. He defines a Mahāpurisa as one who is great owing to his panidhi, samādāna, ñāna and karunā. A Mahāpurisa can be happy in all conditions of climate. DA.ii.794.
Bāvarī had three Mahāpurisalakkhanā; he could touch his forehead with his tongue, he had a mole between his eyebrows (unnā), and his privacies were contained within a sheath. SN.vs.1022.