Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Thirty-Two Major & Eighty Minor Marks

Buddha Religious Context

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Buddha Appearance
- Eleven Figurative Forms
- Confusions: Sambhogakaya, Five Buddhas
- Others...

Video: Thirty-two Major Marks

The thirty-two and eighty minor marks are lists of characteristics applied to the physical form of the historical buddha, Shakyamuni. Later, these characteristics were applied to all buddhas as more were added from the Mahayana sutras. There are also different lists of major and minor marks that are inconsistent with each other. Very few of the marks are found as visually recognizable features in art. The principal marks that can be identified in painting and sculpture are listed below.

Principal Marks Appearing in Art:
- Ushnisha on the Crown of the Head
- Round Curls of Hair
- Long Earlobes
- Urna on the Forehead
- Three Lines on the Neck
- Rounded Shoulders
- Long Arms
- Webbed Fingers (sculpture)
- Retracted Genitalia (sculpture)

In Vajrayana Buddhist literature and ritual texts the thirty-two and eighty marks are also said to be descriptive of meditational deities such as Hevajra, Chakrasamvara, Vajrabhairava and others. This of course can only really be understood as respectful hyperbole with no attempt at explaining how the physical characteristics and appearance of a buddha can also be the appearance of a peaceful, semi-peaceful or wrathful deity all at the same moment.

Jeff Watt 12-2021

(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links above).