Studying Religion Part 1: 32 Signs of a Great Man


I’ve decided to start a regular series of non-fiction blog posts dealing with one of my favourite subjects. Religion! Now, before you get freaked out and run away, trust me. I’m not trying to convert you or convince you to join my weird cult or anything. I identify as atheist. I’m not a member of any churches and I don’t prescribe to any specific religious belief system. The main reason I want to start tackling this subject is because I think it is a fascinating and important thing to learn about. I minored in religious studies in university and always love learning more about it. This series will hopefully give me a chance to read and learn more about religion through research, and help my readers learn a bit about it too! It’s a bit of a pipe dream for me to go back to school and get a second major in religious studies and maybe pursue a master’s degree someday. Unfortunately that has to remain a dream for now as I am broke and already buried under a heap of loans. For now, I will self teach and share what I learn with you guys!

Some of my favourite aspects of religion to discuss and learn about are pretty basic. I love the history and simple facts. I do enjoy the heavier theory of it all as well, but I’m going to leave that stuff for later posts. For now, I thought it would be cool to look at one of my favourite religions to study. Buddhism! Since I’m still adjusting to my new work schedule a bit, this is going to be a short, simple post. Hopefully next week I’ll be sleeping better and have more time to put things together. For now, we’re going to talk about something that’s quite common in Buddhism. Lists! Or at least one list specifically.

Buddhism tends to organize important information very efficiently. They list the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, and many other things. One of my favourite lists is “The 32 Signs of a Great Man.” Traditionally, anyone who becomes a Buddha will have these 32 specific traits. (This is where I admit that my research resources are a bit limited at the moment. This list comes straight from Wikipedia. Wiki is reliable, but I’m hoping to have more specialized sources in the weeks to come!)

  1. Level feet
  2. Thousand-spoked wheel sign on feet
  3. Long, slender fingers
  4. Pliant hands and feet
  5. Toes and fingers finely webbed
  6. Full-sized heels
  7. Arched insteps
  8. Thighs like a royal stag
  9. Hands reaching below the knees
  10. Well-retracted male organ
  11. Height and stretch of arms equal
  12. Every hair-root dark colored
  13. Body hair graceful and curly
  14. Golden-hued body
  15. Ten-foot aura around him
  16. Soft, smooth skin
  17. Soles, palms, shoulders, and crown of head well-rounded
  18. Area below armpits well-filled
  19. Lion-shaped body
  20. Body erect and upright
  21. Full, round shoulders
  22. Forty teeth
  23. Teeth white, even, and close
  24. Four canine teeth pure white
  25. Jaw like a lion
  26. Saliva that improves the taste of all food
  27. Tongue long and broad
  28. Voice deep and resonant
  29. Eyes deep blue
  30. Eyelashes like a royal bull
  31. White ūrṇā curl that emits light between eyebrows
  32. Fleshy protuberance on the crown of the head

I’m going to include a depiction of Gautama Buddha (the first Buddha) below as an example of a few of the things on this list. Some of these qualities can be seen in most depictions of Gautama quite clearly. The white urna curl (item 31) can be seen quite easily. An interesting item is number 32, the fleshy protuberance on the Buddha’s head. When you look at statues or paintings of a Buddha, you will often see a top knot in their hairstyle. This knot is actually believed to be a part of the Buddha’s head that grew in order to accommodate his growing brain. Buddha was so intelligent after achieving nirvana that his skull changed shape so it could hold his brain.

100538760.jpgThis list of items can be interpreted in a few ways. I hope to do more reading once I can find some more sources, but for now I’ll concentrate on the interpretation I learned about in my Intro to Buddhism course in university. This list serves two clear functions. First, it offers a very distinct image. If you were to encounter someone and they met all 32 of these qualities perfectly that would prove that they are without a doubt a Buddha. Another thing this list does is give us an idea of what the creators of the list thought were physically ideal qualities. A Buddha is supposed to be a perfect being in all aspects. So this tells us that having exactly forty teeth, a jaw like a lion, a gigantic brain, and full round shoulders are things the writers of the list thought were good physical qualities. A Buddha was perfect, and therefore a perfect being had to have these qualities. I’m not sure why “finely webbed” toes and fingers were such in important quality. Maybe they helped the Buddha swim? An interesting one that my professor pointed out when we covered this was item 10. “A Well-retracted male organ.” This meant two things. First, a Buddha has to have a penis and therefore be male. Second, that penis is well retracted. My professor described this as being like a dog’s penis. While it’s easy to giggle at the idea of a perfect, holy person having a retractable penis, this said a lot about the creator’s of this list. At the time Buddhism was forming in India and these descriptors were first being thought up, the first Buddhists were clearly quite sexist. While women were allowed to be members of the movement, they could not become achieve enlightenment without becoming a man. You could not become enlightened, or be “perfect” without being male. This was an issue, and arguably still is, with a lot of religious belief systems. It is still quite rare to see women in positions of power or reverence in many religions.

So, this brings my first post about religious trivia to a close. I’ll be the first to admit that this post should be sourced and involve more research. I think tomorrow night will involve a bit of fact checking and possibly updating. For now, my information comes from Wikipedia and the lectures of Dr. Kevin Bond of the University of Regina. I dove into this project a bit unprepared, as usual, so things will get better with time! I’m hoping to find some free, or at least affordable, online encyclopedias and research sources. If you know of any, please tell me! Hopefully you learned something interesting, and hopefully this series will help me to do the same!


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