Twelve Buddhas

We often speak of THE Buddha, as if there were only one--normally the historical character is known as Siddhartha Gautama​ or Shakyamuni Buddha. But in reality, Buddha means "enlightened one," and Buddhist scriptures and art portray many different Buddhas. In your reading, you may encounter "celestial" or transcendent buddhas as well as earthly buddhas. There are Buddhas who teach and those who do not. There are Buddhas of past, present, and future.

As you consult this list, keep in mind that these buddhas may be regarded as archetypes or metaphors rather than literal beings. Also, keep in mind that "Buddha" can refer to something other than a person--the fabric of existence itself, or "buddha-nature." 

This list of 12 Buddhas is not by any means complete; there are many Buddhas, named and unnamed, in the scriptures.

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Akshobhya Buddha
Akshobhya Buddha. MarenYumi /, Creative Commons License

Akshobhya is a transcendent or celestial Buddha revered in Mahayana Buddhism. He reigns over the Eastern Paradise, Abhirati. Abhirati is a "Pure Land" or "buddha-field"--a place of rebirth from which enlightenment is easily realized. The Pure Lands are believed in as past places by some Buddhists, but they may also is known as mental states.

According to tradition, before enlightenment, Akshobhya was a monk who vowed never to feel anger or disgust at another being. He was immovable in keeping this vow, and after long striving, he became a Buddha.

In iconography, Akshobhya is usually blue or gold, and his hands often are in the earth witness mudra, with left hand upright in his lap and his right Buddha touching the earth with his fingers. 

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Amitabha Buddha
Amitabha Buddha. MarenYumi /, Creative Commons License

Amitabha is another transcendent Buddha of Mahayana Buddhism, called the Buddha of Boundless Light. He is an object of veneration in Pure Land Buddhism and can also be found in Vajrayana Buddhism . Veneration of Amitabha is thought to enable one to enter a buddha-field, or Pure Land, in which enlightenment and Nirvana are accessible to anyone.

According to tradition, many ages ago Amitabha was a great king who renounced his throne and became a monk named Dharmakara. After his enlightenment, Amitabha came to reign over the Western Paradise, Sukhavati. Sukhavati is believed in by some as a literal place, but it can also be understood as a state of mind.

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Amitayus is Amitabha in his sambhogakaya form. In Trikaya doctrine of Mahanaya Buddhism, there are three forms a Buddha may take: the dharmakaya body, which is a kind of ethereal, non physical manifestation of a buddah; the nimanakaya body, which is a literal, flesh and blood human figure that live and dies, such as the historical Siddhartha Gautama; and the Samghogakayha body. 

The Sambhogakaya form is a kind of interim manifestation, which is said to have a visual presence but constituted of pure bliss. 

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Amoghasiddhi Buddha
Amoghasiddhi Buddha. MarenYumi /, Creative Commons License

The celestial Buddha Amoghasiddhi is called "the one who unerringly achieves his goal." He is one of the five wisdom Buddhas of the Vajrayana tradition of Mahayana Buddhism. He is associated with fearlessness on the spiritual path and the destruction of the poison of envy. 

He is usually depicted as green, and his hand gesture is in the mudra of fearlessness--left hand lying in his lap and right hand upright with fingers pointing skyward. 

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Kakusandha is an ancient Buddha listed in the Pali Tipitika as having lived before the historical Buddha. He also is considered to be the first of five universal Buddhas of the current kalpa, or world age.

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Konagamana is an ancient Buddha thought to be the second universal Buddha of the current kalpa or world age. 

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Kassapa or Kasyapa was another ancient Buddha, the third of five universal Buddhas of the current kalpa, or world age. He was followed by Shakyamuni, Gautama Buddha, who is considered the fourth Buddha of the current kalpa. 

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Siddhartha Gautama is the historical Buddha and founder of Buddhism as we know it. He is also known as Shakyamuni.  

In iconography, Gautama Buddha is presented in many ways, as is fitting in his role as patriarch of the Buddhist religion, but most commonly he is a flesh-toned figure gesturing with the mudra of fearlessness--left hand lying open in lap,  right hand held upright with fingers pointing skyward. 

This historical Buddha we all know at "Buddha is believed to be the fourth of five Buddhas that will manifest in the current age. 

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Maitreya is recognized by both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism as one who will be a Buddha in a future time. He is thought to be the fifth and last Buddha of the current world age (kalpa).

Maitreya is first mentioned in the Cakkavatti Sutta of the Pali Tipitika (Digha Nikaya 26). The sutta describes a future time in which the dharma is entirely lost, at which time Maitreya will appear to teach it as it had been taught before. Until that time, he will dwell as a bodhisattva in the Deva Realm.

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Pu-tai (Budai) or Hotei

The familiar "laughing Buddha" originated in 10th-century​ Chinese folklore. He is considered an emanation of Maitreya.

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Ratnasambhava Buddha
Ratnasambhava Buddha. MarenYumi /, Creative Commons License

Ratnasambhava is a transcendent Buddha, called the "Jewel-Born One." He is one of the five meditation Buddhas of Vajrayana Buddhism and is the focus of meditations aimed at developing equanimity and equality. He is also associated with efforts at destroying greed and pride. 

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Vairocana Buddha is a major iconic figure of Mahayana Buddhism. He is the universal Buddha or primordial, a personification of the dharmakaya and the illumination of wisdom. He is another of the five wisdom Buddhas.​

In the Avatamsaka (Flower Garland) Sutra, Vairocana is presented as the ground of being itself and the matrix from which all phenomena emerge. In the Mahavairocana Sutra, Vairocana appears as the universal Buddha from whom all buddhas emanate. He is the source of enlightenment who resides free from causes and conditions.

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Your Citation
O'Brien, Barbara. "Twelve Buddhas." Learn Religions, Feb. 8, 2021, O'Brien, Barbara. (2021, February 8). Twelve Buddhas. Retrieved from O'Brien, Barbara. "Twelve Buddhas." Learn Religions. (accessed May 28, 2023).