Display of Forms

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According to Ashvaghosha (Acts of the Buddha, sarga 17) when the Buddha achieved Enlightenment, he returned to meet with his family at Lumbini where he had entered the world.  There he manifested "...in the sky in his one person a form comprising the entire universe: First as fire, then ambrosia, then a lion (king of beasts) an elephant, the king of horses, the king of peacocks, the king of birds, Maghavan [Magnanimous Indra,] the ten rulers of the world headed by Yama, the sun, the moon, all the hosts of stars, and Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva." The wondrous display before his family, friends, disciples and other beings demonstrates his ability to transcend the limits of samsara, the world of continual rebirth, and its myriad forms. 

This event is depicted as appearing in an aura that surrounds the Buddha.  At top centre is the garuda (here depicted in the form of a red shang-shang) symbolic of Consciousness, holding the flaming Jewel of Accomplishment.

In a similar depiction at Exotic India:

"On either side of the base of the lotus throne are two elephants. On the elephants' backs stand two blue lions. Above the lions stand two composite animals which resembles a horse in appearance. On the back of the composite animals sit two young dwarfs, whose hands support an entwined jewel crossbeam draped with silk brocade. The dwarf is a symbol of colossal strength in a diminutive stature, and since all of the above animals symbolize strength, speed, and power, the dwarf is their human equivalent. 

The crossbeam is capped with an entwined jewel at either end. Two makaras with upturned heads face outwards above the crossbeam, their fabulous 'feathered' tails forming a design of intricate scrolling spiral roundels. 

On the makara-tails rest two young naga serpents, with human upper bodies and serpent tails from their waist downwards. At the very top stands Garuda, devouring a long snake which the nagas hold up for him.

These six creatures represent the 'six perfections' of the enlightened mind: 

1). The two lions at the base represent the perfection of wisdom (prajna). 

2). The two elephants represent the perfection of concentration (dhyana). 

3). The two dwarfs [sic] represent the perfection of effort (virya). 

4). The two makaras represent the perfection of patience (kshanti). 

5). The two nagas represent the perfection of morality (shila). 

6). Garuda represents the perfection of generosity (dana). 

These six creatures are also symbolically named: gurana, sarana, bharana, surana, varana, and karuna. 

[Note that] the crossbeam divides the throne into two distinct sections, with the three upper creatures; makara, naga, and Garuda symbolizing the watery, underground and heavenly realms. The lower portion symbolizes the Buddha's conception (elephant), enlightenment (lion), ascent to Tushita heaven (deva), and reconciliation of the faction in the sangha (crossbeam)."

 ~ Exotic India's tangka of the Display of Forms (Beer, Robert. The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs. Boston:  Shambhala Publications, 1999.)

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