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Buddha is a Sanskrit word that literally means “awake.” It is not a name, but a title acquired by one who has achieved enlightenment. The Buddha defined enlightenment as:

• Complete freedom from all suffering

• Full experiential knowledge of the exact nature of reality

• Complete awareness of all dimensions of reality

Buddhism was founded in the sixth century BCE by Siddhartha of the Gautama Clan, crown prince of the Shakya Kingdom. (See Shakyamuni Buddha below.) Theoretically, from a Buddhist perspective, all of us will one day achieve enlightenment and hence Buddha status. A Buddha is a being who has achieved the highest possible spiritual perfection; someone who has achieved the ideal; a being of complete, perfect wisdom and compassion.

Buddha is technically not a deity. In its earliest form and purest manifestations, Buddhism had no deities. Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha Shakyamuni) was a man who achieved enlightenment without spiritual assistance. Enlightenment is something that humans can achieve. However, as Buddhism developed, it became common, in some places, to view Buddha and the Bodhisattvas as deities and spirits (even if this was never the intention of the historic Buddha). As Buddhism spread, especially in regions with strong traditions of animism and spirit working, the concept of the Buddha was reinterpreted.

Theoretically, Buddha, having achieved Nirvana (enlightenment), is in a state of nonexistence and so cannot be approached for help; however, in reality, individuals do direct offerings and rituals to Buddha as spiritual petition (and as the banking of goodwill). In places where Buddhism coexists and may mingle with pre-Buddhist spiritual systems, Buddha may preside over a vast pantheon of Buddhist and non-Buddhist spirits.

Similar to miracle-producing Black Ma donna statues, a powerful tradition of statue veneration became identified with Buddha. In some traditions, the spirit within sacred Buddha statues is interpreted as being someone other than Buddha. It’s recognized that Buddha has achieved nirvana and thus is not concerned with worldly issues. The spirit within the statue may instead be a local Earth-bound spirit, one more sympathetic to the petitions of devotees, who will not tell them to overcome desire but instead help fulfil it.

Buddhism originally did not incorporate veneration of images. Before statues were permitted, Buddha was represented by the bodhi tree, also known as the bo tree. By association, modern Thai folk tradition considers that bo leaves that fall to the ground facing upward, especially within temple precincts, are lucky charms. Greek sculptors from the era of Alexander the Great were the first to craft lifelike images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Buddhas may be male or female. Female Buddhas play a prominent role in Tibetan Buddhism, where images of the sacred feminine are ubiquitous in contrast to other Buddhist cultures.


Rice; fruit juices; white and yellow flowers

There is not one Buddha but many. In many cases, as with Black Madonnas, these are cults of statues. The following are but a sampling:


Also known as Buddha Amitayus, he is invoked for the gift of longevity. Amitabha means “limitless or immeasurable light.” He allegedly has the power to lengthen the life span, and so it is traditional to call his name in moments of grave danger or illness. Amitabha made forty-eight vows to establish the Western Realm of Unlimited Bliss, also known as the Pure Land. If only someone recites his name, Amitabha will bring and welcome them to his realm, the Pure Land of Unlimited Bliss.


A vessel of Amrita, the elixir of life




Peacock; eight peacocks support his throne.




The Sanskrit name Amoghasiddhi is variously interpreted as “Almighty Conqueror,” “Unfailing Power,” or “He Who Unerringly Achieves His Goal.” If your goal is to conquer feelings of envy and jealousy, then he can help you achieve it. Amoghasiddhi assists in the release of these negative emotions. Meditating on his image and/or chanting his mantra is also believed to antidote these feelings. In addition, posting his image as an amulet repels and eliminates jealousy, resentment, and envy directed toward you.


Vishvavajra (double vajra)







Spirit ally: Green Tara



This seventy-five-centimeter green jade or jasper statue, the most revered image in Thailand, is considered protector of that nation. Enshrined in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace compound, historic home of the Thai royal family, the statue is believed to endow the king with the right and power to rule.

Its origins are mysterious; believed carved in India, it was discovered in 1434. Lightning struck a stupa in northern Thailand, which cracked open, and the image was revealed. Although the Emerald Buddha refers to a specific statue, reproductions are also believed to radiate power and are placed on home altars. If worn as an amulet, the image reputedly bestows happiness and prosperity. (This is a somewhat controversial and ironic but extremely popular amulet: Buddha teaches how to transcend desires but the Emerald Buddha fulfills them.)

The Emerald Buddha manifests strong personality and preferences. He is extremely benevolent and loving and has a reputation for fulfilling petitions. However, one must never take vows made to the Emerald Buddha lightly. According to legend, if you betray your oath to him, he’ll break your neck. In 1990, 350 arrested poachers were pressured to swear oaths to the Emerald Buddha saying that they would cease their illegal activities.


The Emerald Buddha likes hard-boiled eggs and fermented fish. Candles, incense, and lotus flowers are also offered.


refers to a specific image whose subject may be Hotei or Maitreya. (See their entries for details.)


Two statues in Vietnam are known as Lonely Buddhas: one in Ho Chi Minh City; the other in Tay Ninh province. It is the statues themselves that are lonely, because for a while they were abandoned and all alone. (The statue in Tay Ninh appeared to a man in his dream advising where in the jungle it could be found.) In the 1990s, however, miracles began to be attributed to these statues. They are considered exceptionally responsive to requests and petitions and are visited so frequently that they can hardly be lonely any longer. Offerings are subject to fulfillment of petitions.


is the folk name for the Buddha whose full Sanskrit name is Bhaishajyaguru Vaidrya prabha Tathagatha, meaning “The Healing Master of the Lapis Lazuli Realm” or the “Lapis Healing Master” for short. Some perceive him as the healing aspect of Shakyamuni Buddha; others consider him a distinct, independent Buddha. The Medicine Buddha is invoked to avert and eliminate disaster and for every possible cure. He may be invoked by physicians, patients, friends, or family to reveal correct methods of healing and the path to recovery.


Dressed in monk’s robes, his left hand is in the meditation mudra while his right extends blessings.


A begging bowl filled with nectar and fruit


Blue, gold


Myrobalan (Terminalia chebula), an evergreen, which reputedly emerged from drops of the divine elixir amrita, is believed to encourage longevity and is prized in Ayurvedic medicine.

Mineral: Lapis lazuli

Realm: The Medicine Buddha lives in the Pure Lapis Lazuli Realm.


This statue of a Buddha, whose head is hooded by a cobra, enshrined in Myanmar, allegedly heals snakebite and protects against snakes. Requests are accompanied by prayers and recitations of sacredtexts. Traditional offerings include flowers, incense, and cooked rice. (




When people speak of The Buddha, Buddha Shakyamuni (563–481 BCE) is who they mean. Shakyamuni Buddha was a historic person, Siddhartha Gautama, founder of Buddhism. Shakyamuni means “Sage of the Shakya Clan.” His father was King of the Shakya, a prominent family in the Bihar region of modern India. His mother, Maya, dreamed of a white elephant entering her side and woke to discover that she had conceived.

At age twenty-nine, Siddhartha was rich, happily married, the father of a beautiful son, and heir to the throne. Age twenty-nine, as astrologers know, marks the Saturn return, an astrological transit associated with profound change: Siddhartha abandoned his wife and family and his role as prince. He renounced his high caste, privileges, property, wealth, his physical desires, even his personal identity, to devote himself completely to a spiritual path.

He went to the forest to meditate until he could discover the true meaning of life or die in the attempt. He sought the way to escape life’s sorrow, pain, and suffering and achieve a sublime state. He achieved enlightenment after years of sitting beneath a bodhi tree. He taught for approximately forty-five years after his enlightenment, traveling widely and speaking to a tremendously diverse audience drawn from all facets of society, from kings to farmers. The Buddha made no claim of divine revelation; no deity gave him his teachings. They simply emerged as part of a process.


Animals associated with Buddha Shakyamuni include lions and snails (because he sat in meditation for so long, snails took up residence on him).

Sacred site:

Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace, is located in Nepal, six miles from its border with India, in the Himalayan foothills. The exact location was lost during the period of Muslim rule beginning in the twelfth century but rediscovered by nineteenth-century British archaeologists. It has now been rebuilt with contributions from many Buddhist nations and is a major pilgrimage center.


provides your financial needs so that you can focus on your spiritual journey. The title “Wealth Giving” may be applied to various Buddhas but especially Jambhala and Yellow Jambhala.


  • Amida
  • Black Madonna
  • Jambhala
  • Jambhala, Yellow
  • Ksitigarbha
  • Maitreya
  • Simham ukha
  • Tara
  • Vajrayogini


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.


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