Some notes on the 32 marks

Here I will collect some miscellaneous notes on translating the 32 marks of a great man (mahāpurisa lakkhaṇa). Generally I will try to translate in a naturalistic way as long as this does no violence to the text. I only discuss problematic terms here, most of them are quite straightforward.

  • Suppatiṭṭhitapāda: refers to a die that always lands “right side up” (AN 3.118), to planting the feet firmly (AN 9.35), or more metaphorically to something being well established.
  • Jālahatthapāda: often translated as “netted” or “webbed” hands and feet, or interpreted as a network of lines. However the commentary specifically says it does not mean this (na cammena paṭibaddhaaṅgulantaro), but rather refers to the fact that the four fingers and all five toes are of equal length. In the surprisingly moving tale of the Buddha’s horse Kanthaka at Vv 81, the bodhisatta is said to have stroked his horse’s flanks with his hands “soft, jāli, and copper-nailed”. Now, soft (mudu) is the previous one of the 32 marks, while copper-nailed is, as the commentary to that passage says, one of the 80 minor marks (added in later days). This, incidentally, shows that PTS dictionary is wrong here to argue that jāli itself refers to the nails, which is a misreading of this passage. In any case, this confirms that jāli refers to something that could be felt while being stroked, which would rule out webbing. Jāla is commonly used in the sense of something that grasps or ensnares; craving is called jālinī. I think that, like suppatiṭṭhitapāda, it refers more to a manner of using the hands rather than a physical feature as such. It suggests hands that are graceful and gentle, which grasp things securely but without force, like a net moving in water. Admittedly, this reading is less apt when applied to the feet. In DN 30, this sign is said to be the outcome of practicing the four kinds of inclusiveness. This agrees with the idea that his hands are soft and hold things well; people don’t slip through his fingers. This would, of course, apply to webbing as well.
  • kuṇḍalāvaṭṭāni dakkhiṇāvaṭṭakajātāni: Usually translated as hairs that “turn right”. But we don’t use right and left for circular motion, but clockwise or anticlockwise. Here, not only is clockwise the symbolically suitable motion, it is correct, as seen in the motion of the padakkhiṇa, i.e. circling someone with your right side towards them, which is a clockwise motion.
  • Samavaṭṭakkhandha: Ven Bodhi has “neck and shoulders are even”, which seems incorrect. The khanda is the torso, and samavaṭṭa means “evenly-rolled” i.e. cylindrical. This much is supported by the commentary, which says his torso is like a well-rolled golden drum (suvaṭṭitasuvaṇṇāliṅgasadiso khandho hoti). It adds a description saying that, unlike birds like herons or cranes, when the Buddha speaks there is no sign of the Adam’s apple. But this seems unlikely, as so far as I know khanda is never used in this sense. It just means that his torso is well-rounded.

Very interesting: a de-masculinizing feature of the Buddha’s appearance in a commentary. Do you know anything about the status of Adam’s apple in the Ancient Indic culture? Why should the commentary make such a remark? Because this peculiarity of the male anatomy was seen as too sexual or too coarse for some reason?

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Cow in the mountains (AN 9.35) seem suggestive. It seems to be a comment on his gait- not in rush?

Probably a net on the palms. Anjali comes close, but not related I suspect.

See reference to his white turban. He probably had hair wrapped in a clockwise direction in a internal jata.


Maybe it (his supreme sense of taste) doesn’t have to be observed- just part or aspect of the physical body.

with metta


Yes, it seems a bit weird, but the comparison was with various screecing birds, so I guess it was seen as a kind of asymmetry or imperfection.

Bhante, since the 32 lakkhana seemed to have been a brahmin way to verify the authenticity of a great man I tried to find any trace of a similar concept in old brahmin texts, but to no avail. Do you think this is a missing link - or do you know of any reference to brahmin/vedic texts in that regard?

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No, they do indeed seem to be absent.

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Note that I have removed my earlier suggestions for a couple of marks. I realized that my proposals were wrong, and the traditional explanation correct.

  • brahmujugatto means “body straight like Brahmā”, as shown in DN 30 (Brahmāva suju subho sujātagatto). Given this, brahmassara should be translated “voice of Brahma”. This does not seem to be specified in the context of the lakkhanas, but it is used in this sense in DN 18 and DN 19.
  • rasaggasaggī according to Norman likely means “the topmost of those who eat flavors”, or more idiomatically, having an excellent sense of taste. While the exact reading is not beyond doubt, it clearly refers to the capacity to experience taste, as shown in DN 30: rasaggasaggī hoti, uddhaggāssa rasaharaṇīyo gīvāya jātā honti samābhivāhiniyo. (He has an excellent sense of taste. he eats gracefully. Taste-buds are produced in the throat for the tongue-tip and dispersed evenly.)
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Incidentally ,
Jala in Malay language refer
to Net used to catch fish .
Also ,
Jala is a traditional kuih from
Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia
and Brunei and Indonesia .
In Sarawak, it is known as
the traditional snack for
the Iban people . It is very
different from the roti jala
in Peninsular Malaysia.
The shape of the snack
or kuih looks like a netting .

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. Now at that time the Exalted One was wont to make declarations as to the rebirths of such followers (of the doctrine) as had passed away in death among the tribes round about on every side

It is interesting that only the Buddha is said to have this quality yet I haven’t seen it said specifically anywhere that this is a capability unique to the Buddha - determining attainments in this way (but I think it is as no one else is seen doing this).

Despite this the Buddha is modest and devoted to truthfulness (DN19). He encourages eradicating even the slightest faults- even those that one might think are reasonable when living with others. He himself has traversed the path and sees a way forward.

DN19 also talks about his existence is good for people in general. I think he undertook social issues and as someone wrote alcohol dependence may have been one of them. Considering Sarakani was noteworthy it may have been a common issue at the time that he incorporated into the precepts.

Excellent work!

With metta