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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 2: Lam-rim (Graded Stage) Material > The Eighty Exemplary Features (Minor Marks) of a Buddha’s Enlightening Body

The Eighty Exemplary Features (Minor Marks) of a Buddha’s Enlightening Body

Alexander Berzin, 1973
based on explanations given by Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey
as translated by Sharpa Rinpoche

The explanations of the eighty exemplary features (dpe-byad brgyad-bcu) and their causes is according to Haribhadra’s Clarifying the Meaning: A Commentary on (Maitreya’s) “Filagree of Realizations (mNgon-rtogs rgyan-gyi ‘grel-pa don-gsal).

  1. A Buddha has nails that are copper-colored, because he has parted himself from attachment to all the affecting variables (‘du-byed, Skt. samskara), namely, the nonstatic subsidiary awarenesses (mental factors) that affect the mind.

  1. A Buddha has exceptional resolve (lhag-bsam) to benefit all limited beings, and so his nails are radiant and shining.

  1. Due to a Buddha repeatedly taking birth into the best of human lineages, his nails are convex and rounded.

  1. The fingers of a Buddha are round, reflecting that he has accomplished all practices in the proper manner, with nothing amiss.

  1. The fingers of a Buddha are also soft and fleshy, not gnarled in any way. His fingers are fully developed in such a way due to having the roots of his constructive force (dge-rtsa, roots of virtue) well built up.

  1. On a Buddha’s fingers, no folds or wrinkles can be found, as they are slim and tapered, which is a manifestation of his gradual attainment of the insights of the three vehicles of mind (the shravaka, pratyekabuddha and bodhisattva vehicles) in their proper stages, as well as sharing this knowledge with others.

  1. The arteries and veins on a Buddha’s body are not visible externally because he has perfected abstinence from destructive acts, and because he has had pure livelihood.

  1. There are no knots in the central channel or veins of the subtle and external bodies of a Buddha, mirroring complete freedom from the entanglement of disturbing emotions.

  1. When a Buddha walks, the bump on his ankle disappears completely due to it being so small. This is caused by the discriminating awareness of having profound knowledge of the voidness of all things.

  1. The soles of a Buddha’s feet are flat, rather than uneven. This is because a Buddha has gone through all the difficult stages of samsara.

  1. A Buddha has no fears of any kind and can subdue others, and so walks like a lion, stately and full of confidence.

  1. Like an elephant, a Buddha walks beautifully, straight and steady on the path without waving his head back and forth, the result of having subdued all forms of harmful spirits such as yakshas, cannibals and nagas.

  1. If necessary, a Buddha can exercise the extraphysical power of flying like a graceful swan, showing his attainment of all extraphysical powers.

  1. In times of danger, a Buddha walks in front, like a majestic bull leading a herd of buffaloes or cattle behind him in single file. If there is no danger present, a Buddha walks behind all others ahead in single file. This shows that a Buddha has the skillful means of guiding limited beings to their individual goals according to their dispositions and abilities.

  1. So intense is a Buddha’s practice of always making circumambulations, that he always walks with his right side facing toward anyone he meets.

  1. The way in which a Buddha walks is very beautiful; he looks straight ahead with his hands clasped, calmly taking not-too-large steps. This mirrors the fact that a Buddha is always doing things that please others greatly.

  1. A Buddha walks very smoothly without any imbalance. He neither swaggers nor sways, because he has a complete lack of pretension, and never deceives any being.

  1. A Buddha has the quality of always helping others. Because he keeps others foremost in his mind, and consistently looks for opportunities to help others, his body is fully taut (sku ‘khril-bag, Skt. vrtta-gatrata) and exudes a natural magnificence and glory.

  1. The entire body of a Buddha is as if polished (byi-dor byas-pa), and it is immaculately tidy, without the need to bathe, or brush his teeth. This arises due to his pure actions of body, speech and mind; a Buddha is totally without the stain of destructive emotions.

  1. A Buddha always teaches individuals the Dharma according to their own needs, resulting in a body that is perfectly proportioned, symmetrical, and well-balanced in size.

  1. There is a natural cleanliness to the body of a Buddha, reflecting the purity of the actions of his body, speech and mind, which have become completely pure due to previous constructive activities.

  1. The skin of a Buddha is soft and smooth, which mirrors his great compassion towards other in his acts of body, speech and mind.

  1. Reflecting a Buddha’s pure deep awareness, his body is also entirely pure.

  1. A Buddha’s body contains the full set of the thirty-two excellent signs of a Buddha’s Enlightening Body, indicating his complete understanding and ultimate perfection of the three higher trainings: ethical self-discipline, absorbed concentration, and discriminating awareness.

  1. The reach of a Buddha’s body is extensive and excellent, implying flexibility and the ability to reach anything. This is a reflection of the vastness of his efforts in compassion; a Buddha never becomes angry or annoyed, but rather responds to all situations and circumstances with love and compassion.

  1. A Buddha’s steps are evenly spaced, reflecting his equanimity toward all limited beings.

  1. A Buddha has eyes that are pure and unclouded, a result of always having given meaningful, purposeful teachings.

  1. A Buddha’s body is youthful, mirroring the fact that he always teaches reality in a manner as simple as possible, for easy comprehension.

  1. There are no indentations to be found on the body of a Buddha, reflecting his fearlessness in doing anything to help others.

  1. A Buddha has indescribable roots of constructive force surpassing that of all other beings, resulting in a body that is well-fleshed and well-developed.

  1. The flesh of a Buddha is firm, with no flabbiness, because he has completely eliminated all negative personal karma causing uncontrollably recurring samsaric rebirth. [In Nagarjuna’s Compendium of Dharma (Chos yang-dag-par bsdus-pa, Skt. Dharmasamgraha), this feature is omitted and “having a deep navel” appears here instead].

  1. A Buddha has beautifully proportioned and well-distinguished feet, fingers, hands and toes, caused by his application of effective methods for teaching others the twelve links of dependent arising, for wandering from rebirth to rebirth in samsara with the forward sequence and for attaining liberation by reversing the cycle.

  1. A Buddha’s physical sight is unblurred, just as the vision of his omniscient awareness is perfectly pure. This comes from having taught others, with words of perfectly pure meaning, the causes for attaining the higher status of better rebirths, and the definite goodness of liberation and enlightenment.

  1. The belly (ku, Skt. kiksita) of a Buddha isn’t flat but is curved, as a result of his establishment of others in a state of perfect ethical self-discipline.

  1. A Buddha unceasingly puts in effort to purify deeds, always being aware of the mistakes and faults of samsara. The result of this is a waist that is perfectly proportioned (skabs phyin-pa-nyid, Skt. mrṣṭa), not too wide, too thin, too long or too fat.

  1. Having abandoned all pride and deceit, a Buddha’s waist is not too long or crooked (ma rnyongs-pa, Skt. abhugna).

  1. A Buddha’s belly is neither too high nor too low, and is slender (phyang-nge-ba, Skt. kshama), indicating that he gives away effective and practical methods for the elimination of disturbing emotions.

  1. The navel of a Buddha is very deep, because he has taught others the methods for gaining deep insights.

  1. Because a Buddha has the quality of leading others in his own footsteps and teaches them what he himself as found to be most effective, the lines in his navel swirl clockwise.

  1. All of a Buddha’s manifestations of actions are entirely beautiful and pleasing to the minds of others, mirroring his ability to correct and beautify the actions of others.

  1. A Buddha conducts his body, speech and mind with the utmost purity, reflecting his freedom from disturbing emotion and the complete purity of his mental continuum.

  1. On a Buddha’s skin one cannot find a single beauty mark, mole, pockmark, or freckle, because he always teaches limited beings at the proper moment.

  1. A Buddha has hands that are as smooth as cotton, reflecting how he teaches others methods from which limited beings can experience immediate happiness and bliss.

  1. Because a Buddha has complete compassion for all beings, not just Buddhists, the lines on his palms are glossy and distinct (mdangs-yod-pa, Skt. snigdha).

  1. Even from a great distance, the deep lines on a Buddha’s palm are visible. When a Buddha raises his hand, according to the particular limited being the lines are viewed differently; for instance, some beings may see the eight auspicious signs. This is due to a Buddha’s deep, profound understanding of reality.

  1. The lines on a Buddha’s palm are also long and contiguous. None of them are short or broken, a result of repeatedly teaching the methods for attaining ultimate happiness, beyond just this life.

  1. A Buddha’s face is evenly proportional, and is neither too long nor too wide. This is caused by the fact that he always gives proper attention to people of all the different scopes of motivation.

  1. Due to a Buddha’s deep awareness of seeing all animate and inanimate objects as existing like reflections in a mirror, his lips ate full, red, and well developed.

  1. A Buddha’s tongue is flexible and can be thick or thin, long or short, according to need. This indicates a Buddha’s non-violent method for cultivating the minds of others. A Buddha only ever teaches and sets examples by peaceful means

  1. The tongue of a Buddha is particularly thin, caused by giving teachings to others with the full support of valid logical reasoning.

  1. The tongue of a Buddha is completely red, due to his introduction of difficult and profound methods for the elimination of disturbing emotions in a manner that is easily comprehensible.

  1. A Buddha is free from all guilt and fear. Since he has nothing to hide and no disturbing emotions to be ashamed of, he has absolute confidence in speaking, and so the sound of his voice is as loud and far-reaching as thunder.

  1. A Buddha’s voice is smooth, sweet, rhythmic and extremely pleasant to listen to, as a result of teaching just what limited beings want to learn.

  1. All parts of a Buddha are enlightened beings, including the bones, nails, hair and teeth. This results from the ultimate elimination of all binding forces of samsara, particularly the ones that are difficult to eliminate.

  1. Because a Buddha tames and cultivates the minds of others who are heavily afflicted by sharp disturbing emotions, his eye teeth are also sharp.

  1. A Buddha has perfectly white teeth that are as clear as crystal, as he is clean of all disturbing emotions.

  1. The eye teeth of a Buddha are of equal length, reflecting his understanding of the true nature of samsara and nirvana, that is, voidness.

  1. A Buddha guides limited beings along the proper tradition for them, including their motivation, up to the ultimate goal, and so his eye teeth are narrow and fit in perfectly with the rest of his teeth.

  1. A Buddha has a nose that is straight and slightly raised at the tip, caused by his realization of voidness in the context of the complete method, conjoined with bodhichitta.

  1. A Buddha’s nose is free of mucus, completely clean, and never runs, reflecting a Buddha’s power to give complete conviction to others, cleansing and purifying them inside and out.

  1. The eyes of a Buddha are not wide, but slanted in a thin strip. This is due to a Buddha having given the vast teachings of the Mahayana many times, in Tibet, god realms, naga lands and so forth.

  1. A Buddha has thick eyelashes that are properly arranged in single file as a result of his leading masses of limited beings toward crossing the difficult ocean of samsara.

  1. The white and black portions of a Buddha’s eyes are distinctly divided like individual beautiful lotus petals, because of his having won the hearts and minds of even the most wild and skeptical youth through his pure state of being and his honest, straightforward teachings.

  1. A Buddha has the ability to see all things deeply and far into the future, and so his eyebrows are long, reaching from the mid-head to the temple.

  1. A Buddha’s eyebrow hairs aren’t bristly, but are soft and smooth, because he only teaches peaceful methods, and never teaches harsh ascetic practices.

  1. A Buddha has bright, shiny and vivid eyebrows, mirroring the totality of his mind, which is permeated by virtue.

  1. Each hair of the eyebrow is exactly the same length on the face of a Buddha, as he knows the distinct features of each limited being and can help to prevent them from making mistakes.

  1. When a Buddha gives prophecies, his hands have a long stretch like the trunk of an elephant. This occurs as a result of always helping limited beings to turn away from not just the suffering of samsara, but also the suffering of taking rebirth in the three lower states of existence.

  1. A Buddha’s ears are equally sized, mirroring his immeasurable quality of victory over all disturbing emotions.

  1. A Buddha has perfect hearing, and he can hear regardless of distance. This reflects that a Buddha at all times helps the mental continuums of all limited beings.

  1. The forehead of a Buddha is flat with a clear, well-defined hairline, reflecting that from the time he gained control of the self up to full enlightenment, his mind never came under the influence of incorrect understanding.

  1. A Buddha’s forehead is wide from side to side and top to bottom because he has won many debates against those who profess distorted outlooks.

  1. A Buddha has fulfilled the wish to attain enlightenment for the sake of all limited beings and thus, except for the crown-protrusion (gtsug-tor, Skt. ushnisha), has a perfectly rounded head, in the shape of a dome.

  1. The color of a Buddha’s hair is a vivid black-blue, reflecting that he has completely overcome attachment to the five sensory objects,

  1. Because a Buddha has rid himself of all the disturbing emotions and attitudes that are to be got rid with a seeing and accustoming pathway mind (path of seeing and path of meditation), both the doctrinally based and automatically arising ones, including their dormant factors, he is either completely bald or has a full crop of hair.

  1. The hair on a Buddha’s head is soft and smooth due to having easily and comfortably gained complete knowledge for ridding himself of all there is to get rid of, without having had any harsh, rough thoughts toward the teachings.

  1. A Buddha’s hair never becomes matted or tangled, with each hair distinct and curling in a clockwise pattern, which indicates that his mind is unruffled by attachment, aversion, or roughness of any kind. A Buddha’s mind is so peaceful that even the names of disturbing emotions do not exist for it.

  1. A Buddha has abandoned the use or harsh, vulgar and abusive words, resulting in hair that is fine and silky.

  1. A Buddha’s hair has a naturally sweet fragrance, due to a Buddha having set up and offered external and mentally created flowers to the Three Jewels. Here, the offering of mentally created flowers implies offering the practices of generosity, ethical self-discipline, giving and taking (gtong-len), and having dedicated the positive force from this for the enlightenment of all limited beings.

  1. Finally, a Buddha’s thumbprints and toe prints are of endless knots and other auspicious signs such as clockwise swastikas, mirroring the fact that a Buddha possesses the thirty-two excellent signs and the previous seventy-nine exemplary features, along with all their causes.