Naked Enlightenment

Parshvanatha - "naked Buddha"The statue on the left is on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Many people will automatically interpret it as a “naked Buddha”… but in fact it is not intended to depict the Buddha and has no connection with the Buddhist religion. The figure shown is Parshvanatha, one of the Tirthankaras of the Jain religion. Jainism, like Buddhism, is a living religion, but it is much less well-known in the West. The two religions have many features in common, and Jain Tirthankaras are comparable to Buddhas in their state of spiritual enlightenment as well as their physical appearance. But Buddhas are always depicted wearing robes, whereas Parshvanatha is completely naked, like monks of the Digambara (“sky-clad”) sect today.

Unlike Hindu Gods such as Shiva, who – when depicted in unclothed form – are typically shown with large erections, Parshvanatha is notable for the diminutive size of his penis. Similar iconography is common in the depiction of Tirthankaras, as well as other Jain figures such as Bahubali.

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