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I found a clay tile outside on the street that appears to depict the Buddha. It has a man in lotus position on one side and four scenes along with some text on the reverse. It is roughly as broad as my thumb.

I'd be curious to know what scenes are depicted, the meaning of the text, what this tile is called, and what the function of the tile is.

I'm guessing it shows his youth, becoming enlightened, being a teacher, and his death, but I don't know if it's more specific or different than my interpretation.

Side one of tile Side two of tile

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What scenes are depicted?

On the side with text:

  • The place where Shakyamuni Tathagata Lord Buddha was born.
  • The place where Shakyamuni Tathagata Lord Buddha awakened to the unexcelled right self-awakening.
  • The place where Shakyamuni Tathagata Lord Buddha set rolling the unexcelled wheel of Dhamma.
  • The place where Shakyamuni Tathagata Lord Buddha totally unbound in the property of unbinding with no fuel remaining.

Lumbini, The birth place of Lord Buddha
Lumbini, The birth place of Lord Buddha

Bodh Gaya, The place where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment
Bodh Gaya, The place where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment

Saranath (Isipatana), The place where Lord Buddha preached his first dhamma sermon
Saranath (Isipatana), The place where Lord Buddha preached his first dhamma sermon - Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, SN 56.11

Kushinagar, The place where Lord Buddha attained parinibbana
Kushinagar (Upavattana Sal Grove), The place where Lord Buddha attained parinibbana

~ Source of images: The Life of the Buddha in Pictures

On the other side:

A statue of Shakyamuni Tathagata Lord Buddha in Samadhi (Dhyana) mudra (hand gesture) was carved on this side of the tile. By the appearance of the halo, I suggest that it must have been influenced by Mathura school of art. A similar halo can be seen in the famous Buddha statue at Saranath museum which was carved during Gupta dynasty.

The meaning of the text?

I cannot be sure about the text. But, by examining the appearance of the script, it should be related to one of the Indo-Aryan languages.

What this tile is called?

I have seen different small Buddha statues and carvings were placed inside vehicles and carried with themselves by the Buddhists in my country. But I have never seen this kind of tile in my country. So I cannot give it a name.

What the function of the tile is?

You've mentioned that the tile is roughly as broad as your thumb. So it must have been carved in order to take with oneself wherever he/she goes.

“Ānanda, there are these four places that merit being seen by a clansman with conviction, that merit his feelings of urgency & dismay [saṁvega]. Which four? ‘Here the Tathāgata was born’ is a place that merits being seen by a clansman with conviction, that merits his feelings of urgency & dismay. ‘Here the Tathāgata awakened to the unexcelled right self-awakening’.… ‘Here the Tathāgata set rolling the unexcelled wheel of Dhamma’.… ‘Here the Tathāgata totally unbound in the property of unbinding with no fuel remaining’ is a place that merits being seen by a clansman with conviction, that merits his feelings of urgency & dismay. These are the four places that merit being seen by a clansman with conviction, that merit his feelings of urgency & dismay. They will come out of conviction, Ānanda—monks, nuns, male lay followers, & female lay followers—to the spots where ‘Here the Tathāgata was born,’ ‘Here the Tathāgata awakened to the unexcelled right self-awakening,’ ‘Here the Tathāgata set rolling the unexcelled wheel of Dhamma,’ ‘Here the Tathāgata totally unbound in the property of unbinding with no fuel remaining.’ And anyone who dies while making a pilgrimage to these shrines with a bright, confident mind will—on the break-up of the body, after death—reappear in a good destination, a heavenly world.”

~ Cited from: Mahā Parinibbāna Sutta, Deega Nikaya, Tipitaka (DN 16.5)

According to the above sutta, the four places carved on the tile are very important and sacred to the Buddhists. A devotee can keep this tile with himself/herself in order to frequently remember the places that merit his/her feelings of urgency and dismay.

  • This is an amazing answer. Thank you so much. – William Grobman Jan 16 at 7:35
  • Not to harp on too much, but this is truly an excellent answer. I appreciate you updating it with images and additional info. Thanks again. :) – William Grobman Jan 16 at 23:03
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    The script is probably Kannada. The first letter reads 4. So probably the text must mean 'holy places'. – White Cloud Jan 17 at 3:09
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Yes. I see that as his birth, enlightenment, first Dhamma sermon, and Parinirvana.

  • Thank you for the answer. Could you elaborate on any elements that inform your interpretation? Any thoughts on the text? – William Grobman Jan 15 at 19:56
  • I thought this is pretty elementary. You find these pictures in many temples. However, this seems to be an important archaeological artifact hence worth a lot. Take care of it. – SarathW Jan 16 at 7:13

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