Images of the Buddha, like this giant carving in Leshan, China, almost always depict him with unusually long earlobes. This is not a stylistic choice by the artist, but a powerful symbol in Buddhist art.

Siddartha Gautama was a wealthy prince, born in what is today northern India in about 563 BCE. As a prince, Siddartha was surrounded by luxury: servants, palaces, silken robes, and jewelry made of gold, silver, and precious stones. The metal-and-jewel earrings were very heavy and stretched his earlobes.

When he was 29, Siddartha abandoned his privileged life to become a monk. This included no longer wearing heavy, jeweled earrings. Although he was no longer weighed down by material possessions, Siddartha's ears were permanently elongated. Siddartha Gautama went on to become the Buddha, or "enlightened one."

To Buddhists, Buddha's long earlobes symbolize a conscious rejection of the material world in favor of spiritual enlightenment.

abandon
Verb

to desert or leave entirely.

Buddha
Noun

(c. 563-483 BCE) Indian prince, spiritual leader, and founder of the Buddhist religion. Also called Prince Siddhartha and Gautama Buddha.

conscious
Adjective

aware of.

depict
Verb

to represent or draw.

jewel
Noun

valuable stone.

luxury
Noun

expensive item.

privilege
Noun

benefit or special right.

symbol
Noun

something used to represent something else.

symbolize
Verb

to represent an object, idea, organization, or geographical region.