The Reclining Buddha comes from an important time of Buddha’s life. That time right before he enters parinirvana. Also known as nirvana-after-death, the term refers to the death of someone who has attained nirvana in their lifetime. Rebirth is a strong theme in Buddhism that states a person lives life after life perfecting one’s self until finally reaching the state of parinirvana. Thus, parinirvana is the ending of this cycle of rebirth.
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The Buddha pauses. He tells his followers to make a spot for him in a bush. Buddha then reclines on his right side with his right hand holding up his head. The Buddha was dying of illness. Yet, as the Awakened One, he would soon find eternal peace. This is why the iconic image of the reclining Buddha is so prevalent throughout Buddhist countries. Outsiders may wonder why glorify a person in their dying state. Buddhists celebrate such as the moment of the Buddha reaching the final state of existence. Buddha himself smiles with a great sense of calmness.
This occurs in Kushinagar, India. The Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism teaches that Buddha was 80 years old at the time. Buddha was born as Siddhattha Gotama in Nepal. He would go on to teach a path of personal attainment achieved through the training of the mind, or meditation. This is why many Theravada Buddhists do not refer to Buddhism as a religion, but rather as a philosophy or way of life. Although Buddha did not reject deities, it was actually a number of his monks that adopted deities from Hinduism. This is why Buddhism split into different schools.
In Thailand, the school of Theravada Buddhism prevails. A school of followers that are loyal to Buddha’s teachings. Other schools would make additions to Buddha’s teachings. During the time of the Khmer Empire, elements of Hinduism gained influence in Thailand as well. This is why today in Thailand are found statues of Hindu gods and stories that combine Hindu influence with Buddhism.
Such is an alternative story of the reclining Buddha. It is said that a giant named Asurindarahu wanted to see the Buddha. This giant refused Buddha’s teachings. Therefore, the Buddha reclined on his side and appeared larger than the giant. He showed Asurindarahu the vastness of the universe and thus humbled the giant. Asurindarhu then accepted the teachings.
Both stories are often told in Thailand. While the major undercurrent of the nation is of the Theravada school, the Hindu elements of past influence are alive and well. The Thai Buddhist can learn from both. As a Theravada Buddhist myself, I see no harm in learning Buddha’s teachings and those elements from outside of the original school. Learn more about the Buddhist Concepts of Karma, Merit, Rebirth, and Nirvana.
You are bound to see the reclining Buddha image if visiting any Buddhist country. Hopefully this post will give you a better understanding of its meaning. Finally, I leave you with some images of reclining Buddha statues from several different countries.
Various Reclining Buddha Statues