Why does the Buddha have big ears?

Posted on Mar 9, 2022      192

It is easy to notice that all images and sculptures of the Buddha have excessively large ears. Is this just a whim of the sculptors-artists or does this detail have some meaning?

Who is Buddha?

Buddhism is one of the three major world religions. Buddha can have three definitions. The first is the highest point of spiritual perfection. The second is the state of being who has reached bodhi (enlightenment). The third is Shakyamuni Buddha, a spiritual teacher (an ordinary person) who is considered the founder of religion. Shakyamuni Buddha’s actual name was Siddhartha Gautama. He lived around 623-543 B.C. and is not considered the first nor the last. Classical Buddhist doctrine holds that anyone who has attained enlightenment and dharma (truth) can be a Buddha.

Gautama Buddha is the most famous teacher. His predecessor was Dipankar, and his successor was Maitreya. There were 24 Buddhas in total and they are all listed in the Buddhavamsa (“Chronicle of the Buddhas”), which was written in the 5th century. If you believe the Pali Canon, there is a list that includes 7 buddhas and Gautama is the last one there. Another list lists the names of 28 Buddhas. In Buddhism, the Buddha is not a god, but a kind of “mediator” between man and the higher powers, or a teacher who can lead a reasonable being out of the cycle of reincarnation (samsara). The primary goal of Buddhism as a religion is to achieve nirvana. According to the belief, all beings can do this.

An interesting fact: the oldest of the three world religions is Buddhism. The date of its appearance is considered 543 BC, while Christianity appeared in 33 AD and Islam in 610 AD.

Why does the Buddha have big ears?

Buddha is depicted with large ears (including lobes). However, researchers of this question do not have a unified version. Let’s look at the most common and likely ones. 

The most popular version states that the founder of Buddhism, who is Gautama Siddhartha, belonged to a royal family. When he was very young, the prince lived in a rich palace and needed nothing. It was not until much later that he gave up a life of luxury.

It was customary in Gautama’s society to display wealth with massive jewelry made of precious stones and metals that were inserted in his ears. This made them increase in size.

According to another similar version, the Buddha wore tunnels in his earlobes. In ancient times, this jewelry had a special meaning. They could be worn after various special ceremonies.

In Eastern cultures, oversized ears have always symbolized qualities such as wisdom and compassion. In the West, for example, small, tightly flattened ears were admired.

Artists depicted the Buddha with large ears and long lobes to reflect his great wisdom and compassion toward people.

The large ears could also symbolize that Buddha would always hear the calls of his followers and not deprive them of help.

There is also the theory that Buddha was slouch-eared, which is why sculptors and painters emphasized this feature of him. There is also the opinion that Buddha had such big ears because he could hear the vibrations of the universe. Finally, the last theory is that the teacher belonged to a race that once existed, whose members had large external organs of hearing.