Buddha 6

THE MARKS OF A GREAT MAN

Lakkhana Sutta, Dîgha Nikâya

(1)

Thus have I heard.

 

(2)

On one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Sâvatthi in Jetavana, Anâthapindika’s park....

 

(3)

Monks, he said, there are thirty-two marks peculiar to the Great Man*.    

*mahâpurisa (a buddha or a chakravartin)

 

(4)

If he lives the household life, he will become a ruler, a wheel-turning righteous dhamma monarch, conqueror of the four quarters, who establishes the security of his kingdom, and possesses the seven treasures.

 

(5)

The seven treasures are:  the Wheel (of empire), Elephant, Horse, Jewel, Woman (empress), Householder (treasurer), and the Counsellor as the seventh.

 

(6)

He has more than a thousand sons who are conquering heroes....

 

(7)

He conquers this sea-girt land without rod or sword, by dhamma....

 

(8)

But if he goes forth from the household life into homelessness, he will become an arahant, a fully-enlightened buddha, who has drawn back the veil from the world.

 

(9)

And what are the thirty-two marks?...

1.  He has feet with level tread*....     *flat feet, apparently

2.  On the soles of his feet are wheels with a thousand spokes....

3.  He has projecting heels.

4.  He has long fingers and toes*.     *and of equal length

5.  He has soft, tender hands and feet.

6.  His hands and feet are net-like*.    

*reticulated? or webbed, with membrane between fingers and toes

7.  He has high-raised ankles.

8.  His legs are like an anetlope’s.

9.  He can touch and rub his knees without bending over.

10. His male organs are enclosed in a sheath.*     *or retracted

11. His complexion is bright and gold-coloured.

12. His skin is delicate and smooth, with no dust adhering to his body.

13. His body-hairs are separate, one to each pore.

14. His body-hairs grow upwards, blue-black like collyrium*, curling in rings to the right.     *eye-paint

15. His body is divinely straight*.     *always perfectly erect

16. He has the seven rounded surfaces*.     *arms, legs, shoulders, trunk

17. The front of his body is like a lion’s.

18. There is no hollow between his shoulders.

19. He is proportioned like a banyan-tree, his height equal to the length of his outstretched arms....

20. His bust is evenly rounded.

21. He has a perfect sense of taste.

22. He has jaws like a lion’s.

23. He has forty teeth.

24. His teeth are even.

25. There are no spaces between his teeth.

26. His canine teeth are very bright.

 

 

27. His tongue is very long.

28. He has a Brahma-like voice, like a karavîka bird.

29. His eyes are deep blue.

30. He has eyelashes like a cow’s.

31. The hair between his eyes is white and soft, like cotton-down.

32. His head is like a royal turban....


Notice that the typical long ears are not included in the list.

The urna (31) is a clockwise curl, emitting light.

The ushnisha (32) is a protuberance of wisdom, like a topknot, on the crown of the head.

 

 


 

(10)

These, monks, are the thirty-two marks peculiar to the Great Man....  Sages of other communions know these marks, but they do not know the kamma-causes of their acquisition.

 

(11)

Monks, in whatever previous life, former existence, or place the Tathâgata was born as a human, he performed mighty deeds to good purpose, unwavering in good conduct of body, speech, and thought, in generosity, in self-discipline, in observance of the fast-day, in honouring parents, ascetics and Brahmins, and the head of the clan, and in other highly meritorious acts.

 

(12)

By accomplishing that kamma, amassing it in lavish abundance, after the breaking-up of his body at death he was reborn in a happy state, in a heavenly world.

 

(13)

And he was there endowed beyond other devas in ten respects:

in length of celestial life, beauty, happiness, splendour, influence,

and in celestial sights,sounds, smells, tastes, and contacts.

 

(14)

Falling away from there and coming to be reborn here on earth, he acquired this mark of the Great Man:  (1) feet with level tread, so that he places his foot evenly on the ground, lifts it evenly, and touches the ground evenly with the entire sole....

 

(15)

 

 

(16)

 

 

As a ruler, how does he benefit?

He cannot be impeded by any human foe...

As a buddha, how does he benefit?

He cannot be impeded by any enemy or adversary from within or without, from greed, hatred, or delusion, nor by any ascetic or Brahmin, any deva, Mâra, or Brahmâ, or any being in the world....

 

(17)

Monks,... being reborn here on earth he acquired this mark of the great man: 

(2) on the soles of his feet are wheels....

 

(18)

As a ruler, how does he benefit?

He has a great retinue, being surrounded by Brahmin householders, citizens, villagers, treasurers, guards, doorkeepers, ministers, vassal-kings....

 

(19)

As a buddha, how does he benefit?

He has a great retinue, being surrounded by monks and nuns, men and women lay-followers, devas and humans, asuras, nagas, and gandhabbas*.    

*celestial musicians

 

(20)

Monks,... the Tathagata, when born a human, rejected the taking of life,... having friendship and sympathy for all living beings,... and coming to be reborn on earth he acquired these three marks of the Great Man: (3) projecting heels,

(4) long fingers and toes, (15) a divinely straight body....

 

(21)

As a buddha, how does he benefit?

He is long-lived,... and no foe, whether an ascetic, a Brahmin, a deva, Mâra, or Brahmâ, or anyone in the world can take his life....

 

(22)

Monks,... the Tathâgata, when born a human, rejected wrong livelihood and lived by right livelihood, refraining from cheating with false weights and measures, from bribery and corruption, deception and insincerity, wounding and killing, from imprisoning, from highway robbery and taking goods by force.  On returning to earth he acquired these two marks of the Great Man:  (24) even teeth, (26) very bright canine teeth....

 

(23)

His followers... will be pure.

 

(24)

This is what the Blessed One declared.

 

 

NOTES

This is an extremely condensed version of Sutta 30 of the Dîgha Nikâya, (3: 142-179), namely the Lakkhana Sutta, The Marks (of a great man).  It enumerates the thirty-two physical features with which a supreme human leader is endowed.  The Buddha’s discourse shows how these various marks are earned by the performance of appropriate good deeds in previous lives;  by the principle of karma (Pali kamma) the person is reborn in heaven, and then on earth, to become either a chakravartin (an emperor, a “universal” or “wheel-turning” ruler) or a buddha (a homeless fully-enlightened being).  Notice that the “great man” (mahâ-purisa), though superhuman in many respects, is still human, and that applies to buddhas as well as chakravartins, in Theravada tradition as distinct from Mahayana teaching.

The thirty-two marks are divided up among twenty sections, each having a poetic summary attached;  all the poems have been omitted here, and only four of the sections are given:

11-16, on mark 1 (level feet), as indication that no enemy may obstruct the Buddha; 

17-19, on mark 2 (wheels on soles), indicating a large following of subjects for the ruler, or disciples for the teacher; 

20-21, on marks 3,4,15, indicating long life; 

22-23, on marks 24,26, shiny even teeth, going with pure followers.

Details about the remaining twenty-five marks can be found in Maurice Walsh’s translation of the Digha Nikaya, Thus Have I heard:  The Long Discourses of the Buddha (1987) 441-460.  Walshe suggests that the interest of these apparently “unedifying” details is iconographical (some of the marks are depicted on images of the Buddha), and pedogogical (showing the relation between certain types of action and their karmic results).

Another translation, by T.W. Rhys Davids, is found in Sacred Books of the Buddhists, Vol.IV (London 1921), 137-167.


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