Buddha statues come in dozens of different postures, many of which are unfamiliar to Westerners and rarely displayed on the main shrines of monasteries and temples. Each of these postures commemorates an incident in the life of the Buddha and constitutes a dedicated act of recollection. Thai tradition has evolved an association of these postures with the calendar, often corresponding to the times these incidents are understood to have occurred in the Buddha's life. If one knows these associations, the conventions of the calendar and the passing of time create a skilfull means for reflecting on a wide range of the Buddha's qualities.
Buddha Statues by Month
Months of the Lunar Year
The traditional association of Buddha statues with each month follows the months of the lunar calendar that Buddhists still follow today in determining the Uposatha days. The year in this calendar begins the day after the full moon in November.
(full moon of November to the full moon of December)
'Washing the Rag-Robe' – a standing Buddha statue with right arm stretched downward, palm facing forward. In the left hand is often a walking stick.
When Venerable Mahā Kassapa first met the Buddha and asked to be a disciple, the Buddha commented on his nice robe. Mahā Kassapa immediately offered it to him, but the Buddha said that his own robe was a coarse rag-robe. Would Mahā Kassapa be able to wear it? Understanding this to be a challenge to follow this ascetic practise for life, he said yes, and became known as the one disciple worthy of wearing the Buddha's own robe. This statue represents the Buddha washing the rag-robe in advance, knowing full well what will happen.
(full moon of December to the full moon of January)
'Revealing Māra' – a standing Buddha statue with right arm raised, finger pointing upwards.
When Venerable Vakkali died, the Buddha and a group of monks came to see the body. A darkness was swirling in the sky, east and west, north and south. The Buddha pointed up to the sky and drew the monks' attention to it – it was Māra, the evil one, searching for where Vakkali's consciousness had been established. But at the moment of death, Vakkali had become enlightened, and his consciousness was ultimately unestablished anywhere. He had escaped Māra forever.
(full moon of January to the full moon of February)
'Ovāda Pātimokkha' – a sitting Buddha statue with both hands raised in expressions of teaching.
On the full moon of the month of Māghā, a few years into the Buddha's teaching ministry, a seminal event occurred where 1250 monks, all ordained by the Buddha himself and all completely enlightened, spontaneously converged together at the Buddha's place of residence. This was the point at which the Buddha began to divest himself of sole authority and began empowering the Saṅgha to conduct its own affairs, like ordinations. To mark the occasion, the Buddha gave a teaching called the 'Ovāda Pātimokkha' – often considered the 'heart' of the Buddha's teaching.
(full moon of February to the full moon of March)
'The Nāga Look' – a standing Buddha statue turning to the side to look behind him.
In the last few months of his life, the Buddha visited the city-state of Vesāli for the last time. Vesāli was unusual for the time in that it was governed not by a monarch, but by a confederate style of discussion and group decision-making – more or less the same style of governance he wanted for the Saṅgha after he passed away. As he left the city for the last time ever, his mind wasn't on simply the happiness of stilling all fabrications: he stopped, turned to give it a significant look back and underlined its significance by announcing that this was the last time he would ever gaze upon the city of Vesāli – letting his disciples work out the meaning for themselves.
(full moon of March to the full moon of April)
'Asking for Rain' – a standing (or sometimes sitting) Buddha statue with the right hand raised palm-outward and the left hand extended out palm-up.
Once, during a terrible drought, people pleaded with the Buddha to bring rain. He raised his right hand to ask for the rain and held out his left hand to catch it as it started falling down.
(full moon of April to the full moon of May)
'Touching the Earth' – a sitting Buddha statue with the right hand extended and down, touching the ground.
One of the most iconic Buddhas, this represents the moment of his enlightenment. Māra came to intimidate him, asking him who he thought was and what right he had to challenge Māra's dominion over birth and death. The Buddha recollected his past lives and recounted an incredible litany of sacrifices he had made in his struggle for Buddhahood. Māra screamed that it was all lies and demanded a witness, fearing the power of all this goodness. The Buddha touched the earth and called upon the earth itself as a witness. A goddess, 'Mother Earth', rose hundreds of feet out of the Ganges river, bore witness to every aspect of the Buddha's story, and then wrung out her hair, washing Māra and his armies away in a great tsunami.
(full moon of May to the full moon of June)
'The Crystal Palace' – a sitting Buddha statue, sometimes with the right hand extended and down, surrounded by an elaborate ornamental enclosure.
This represents the period after his enlightenment while he was enjoying the bliss of liberation. During one period of 7 days while he was in meditation, the devas expressed their veneration by fashioning a crystal enclosure around him which blocked out all sound and external disturbance.
(full moon of June to the full moon of July)
'The First Teaching' – a sitting Buddha statue with the right hand raised in an expression of teaching.
After he decided to teach, he went to the Deer Park in Bārāṇasi to see his old fellow ascetics - the 'pañca-vaggī', or 'group of five'. There he taught his first discourse, the 'Dhamma-cakkappavattana Sutta', in which he explained the four Noble Truths for the first time. One of the five, Kondañña, genuinely understood and was partially enlightened, confirming the Buddha's decision to teach and making the Dhamma of liberation no longer the Buddha's own private experience.
(full moon of July to the full moon of August)
'The First Meal Invitation' – a sitting Buddha statue with his right hand in his alms bowl.
Spending his first rains' retreat in the Deer Park in Bārāṇasi with the 'group of five' monks, he attracted more disciples, including Yasa Kula-putta. His family invited the Buddha to have a meal at their house one day – the first such invitation he had received. This was the beginning of his teaching relationship to lay-people. After the meal, the Buddha gave a discourse, and by the end of it, Yasa Kula-putta's mother had become the first female Noble disciple in the world.
(full moon of August to the full moon of September)
'Determining a Footprint' – a standing Buddha statue with his left foot crossed over and on top of his right.
A number of countries that are now strongly Buddhist have elaborate indentations in rock on the top of mountains which people believe to be footprints made there by the Buddha, intentionally 'leaving his mark' for the generations to come. Luang Pu Mun Bhūridatto has said that at least some of the ones in Thailand are actual and real. This statue represents the Buddha making one such footprint.
(full moon of September to the full moon of October)
'Graceful' – a walking Buddha statue with his left hand raised in an expression of composure.
The Buddha is said to have spent a full 3-month rainy season teaching his mother in the Tusita heaven. She had passed away when he was only 7 days old. At the end of the rainy season, he walked down through the sky from the Tusita heaven back to earth. He is said to have walked in such an exquisitely graceful and composed manner that the hearts of both humans and devas were equally captured.
(full moon of October to the full moon of November)
'Bestowing Fearlessness' – a sitting Buddha statue with both hands raised, palms forward.
Late in the Buddha's life, the corrupted monk Devadatta conspired with Ajātasattu, the crown prince of Rājagaha, in a murderous plot whereby the latter would ascend the throne and the former would take leadership of the Saṅgha. They attempted to murder the Buddha on a number of occasions but failed every time. Finally, King Ajātasattu realised his position and went to the Buddha. He confessed all, admitted his fault and asked for forgiveness. The Buddha forgave him. The word 'abhaya' in Pāli can mean 'fearlessness', 'freedom from danger' or simply 'pardon'. King Ajātasattu went on to become a great supporter of the Buddha.