Why is Buddha fat?
Updated: Mar 26, 2019
Looking at a Buddha statue or image anyone may ask this question. Was the Buddha fat? The Buddha was a beggar monk according to the tradition. How can he be so fat? And, what is the strange thing on top of his head? If anyone asks these questions, they will receive unclear answers like “this is the tradition” or something similar.
Nobody knows what he looked like 2500 years ago, and such images are just imaginations. In India, the big belly meant that one had good health and an abundance of good fortune. It said all positive things.
There are characteristics of a superior man. Among them is ushnisha, which is a topknot, or a cranial knob on the top of his head. Origin of the ushnisha is not clear, but it seems to be an essential feature of any Buddha statues and images. Ancient books mentioned that Buddha had a shaven head. It may be a symbol of an umbrella which a nobleman could hold or imaginable crown chakra. We do not know for sure.
However, there are more interesting questions. Why are such images created and what is their use? What is the meaning of these pictures and statues? Sacred images have many aspects, they are icons or signs representing the holiness. The symbol itself is also holy. The icon represents a figure, but it’s not essential how it matches the original character. More important is how people relate to the image and are influenced by it. The meaning is the most critical aspect.
Icons or mandalas often have particular structures including specific marks, symbols, and messages which don’t always have to be understandable to everyone. Relatability and approachability are very important. Approaching them, relating to them, and being in front of them can also be a sacred and holy ritual. It may involve special ceremonies, cloths, bowing, kneeling and so. Prayer, meditation, chanting, and listening will take place in the presence of these symbols.
Religious practices with icons and mandalas, yantras and tangkas also involve repetitive events like sounds, mantras, and dances, can lead to altered states of consciousness. These are like windows leading us to feel and understand in a different, more profound, and more precise way that is in an ordinary state of consciousness.
Coming back to the Buddha, it’s clear that his images are icons or mandalas. They need not represent a real historical person because that is not their purpose. Instead, they are tools for devotional practice.
In Vajriyana Buddhism, for example, identifying yourself with a deity, known as yidam, is an important practice. Deity yoga is a practice of Vajrayana Buddhism involving identification with a chosen deity through visualizations and rituals, and the realization of emptiness, sunyata.
During this practice, a particular yidam image is in use. The primary goal is to understand your own Buddha nature.
His Holiness, the Dalai Lama says, “In brief, the body of a Buddha is attained through meditating on it.”
However, the questions remain: Why is he represented as a fat man? What the thing is on his head? It seems we could give up on these questions and take the icons and mandalas just as they are.
But from this point, the story gets interesting. A mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot enters the scene and declares that everything is much simpler.
If we repeat the same sequence through tens of thousands of iterations, we will see the Buddha, God, Wholeness, Universe, Truth, or whatever.
There is no need to take it. We notice sacred images in the clouds and stars sometimes. It is a well-known phenomenon in psychology called pareidolia, and often these images have religious meanings. In fortune telling a clairvoyant uses random events such as tarot cards, tea leaves, or birds flying by for their divinations.
However, this image is not random or accidental. It is not a shadow of a bird overhead nor is it the reflection of a leave falling on the surface of a pond. This image never changes and doesn’t disappear. It is just a mathematical abstraction like the shape of a circle or a pyramid which appears visible thanks to the power of computer calculations. The sequence repeats on into infinity with the same form as you zoom in.
To arrive at this shape, take any complex number to multiply it by itself, and add another complex number. Mark the result on a coordinate plane and do the same calculation to that result. Do this again about 50,000 times, with these imaginary numbers on a plane with irrational dimensions. The result is this image. More details can be found here.
This picture has always existed just like everything we see through microscopes, telescopes, or whatever research instruments we have invented. In the same way, such figures and images are now visible thanks to more powerful computers and processing abilities.
These tools raise our level seeing, understanding, and comprehending. They offer us new possibilities and abilities.
Many meditation techniques use simple repetitions. They may involve the breath, mantra, or something else. So we can enter meditation states of altered consciousness or samadhi in which perhaps our “processor” is amplified. Maybe for this kind of amplification group meditation or prayer is practiced.
Besides yoga and meditation, such tools include substances like particular plants, mushrooms, or DMT, and even music, repetitive sounds, or dances. One can find these images in crop circles, dreams, on altars, icons, and mandalas.
We don’t know what is happening with us during deep meditation, but an EEG shows that the brain is acting in a powerful, coherent way. Maybe we have already resolved all the riddles of the universe without even being aware of it. Maybe in the state of samadhi or deep meditation, the essential characteristics and laws of the world are made clear. According to traditions, mandalas are symbols to represent the universe.
Such fractals can describe many patterns in nature. They appear in paintings, architecture, and even in the dynamics of stock markets behavior. Mandelbrot himself put his ideas to work in cosmology. He offered in 1974 a new explanation of Olbers' paradox (the "dark night sky" riddle), demonstrating the consequences of fractal theory as a sufficient, but not necessary, resolution of the paradox. He postulated that if the stars in the universe were fractally distributed, it would not be necessary to rely on the Big Bang theory to explain the paradox.
In nature, we can recognize geometric shapes in crystals but not in clouds or mountains because we don’t look enough into them. We do not have enough time, dedication, willingness, or feel the necessity for that inspection, and we lack the resources for the calculations. We only see chaos and random events blurring into each other, don’t know the structure and organization. We don’t see the harmony and the sacredness, don’t understand the meaning and purpose.
Many of the fractals remind us of mandalas. Or, better to say that many of the mandalas and icons represent logical-mathematical universal principles. They all are well organized, they have structure, repetition, and rhythm.
In ancient Greece Pythagoras and Platon already suspected that God must know geometry. Euclid and Archimedes knew this. Leonardo da Vinci was also sure that the basis of everything might be geometric harmony. The sacred geometry has been well known to countless others.
These images and structures are all just options, possibilities, and tools, like windows, having no meaning or purpose by themselves alone. Yet they help and support us in our goals of better perception and understanding.
The task to arrive at this understanding and the clear perception is ours.