The Buddha's physical appearance
He was about six feet tall (S.I,62) and when young, before his renunciation, had long black hair and a beard (M.I,163). All sources agree that he was particularly good-looking. The brahman Sonadaõóa described him as ‘handsome, of fine appearance, pleasant to see, with a good complexion and a beautiful form and countenance’ (D.I,114). These natural good looks were further enhanced by his deep inner calm.
Another person, Doõa, described him as ‘beautiful, inspiring confidence, calm, composed, with the dignity and presence of a perfectly tamed elephant’ (A.II,36). Concerning his complexion Ananda said of him; ‘It is wonderful, truly marvellous how serene is the good Gotama’s presence, how clear and radiant is his complexion. Just as golden jujube fruit in the autumn is clear and radiant…so too is the good Gotama’s complexion’ (A.I,181).
In spite of the fact that nearly all statues and images of the Buddha include hair with tight curls and a top-knot on top, the Buddha was bald, just as monks and nuns today shave their heads. In the Sutta Nipata (Sn. 142) there is a story of a brahmin angry at the presence of a shaved monk, he told him, "Stay there, you shaveling, stay there you wretched monk, stay there you outcast." In another passage, "One day the potter Ghatikara addressed the brahmin student Jotipala thus: 'My dear Jotipala, let us go and see the Blessed One Kassapa, accomplished and fully enlightened. I hold that it is good to see that Blessed One, accomplished and fully enlightened.' The brahmin student Jotipala replied: 'Enough, my dear Ghatikara, what is the use of seeing that bald-pated recluse?'" (Ghatikara-sutta, MN 81).
However, like everyone else, the Buddha’s appearance declined with age. In the last year of his life the Buddha said of himself; ‘I am now old, aged, worn out, one who has traversed life’s path. Being about eighty I am approaching the end of my life. Just as an old cart can only be kept going by being patched up, so too my body can only be kept going by being patched up’(D.II,100).
The Buddha's skin color
The Buddha probably had the typical color of any Asian Indian living back then, which would be somewhat similar to the color seen today. He certainly was not white and certainly not black, as some (on other sites) have suggested (or hoped, see for example: http://www.essaysbyekowa.com/Black%20Buddha.htm )
Although, it is possible that he may have been more toward a medium to dark brown, since he spent much time outdoors in meditation and teaching and the sun would certainly darken the color a little. The image to the left may not be that far off and is probably very close to the skin color of the Buddha.
But most importantly, the color is meaningless and the Buddha was perhaps the first known religious teacher to teach against slavery, caste, racism, and nationalism.
- The Complete Book of Buddha's Lists -- Explained. David N. Snyder, Ph.D., 2006.
- The Buddha and His Disciples, Ven. S. Dhammika, 2005.