Buddha footprint

The world of the Buddha footprint
by Dr. Waldemar C. Sailer

The researcher
Research methodology
Selected texts of the researcher
Publications available
Exhibitions held
The Buddha footprint in various coutries
The Buddha footprint in history
Contact Dr. Waldemar C. Sailer

The Researcher

Some twenty-five years ago, Dr. Waldemar C. Sailer awakened the academic world to the importance and significance of the Buddha footprint. His interest was initially sparked in 1969, by his first visit to Wat Pho, an important Thai monastery, where a reclining image of the Lord Buddha, with the soles of his feet embedded with 108 auspicious symbols, is located.

On this occasion, he sought information on the footprint and its 108 illustrations. Unfortunately, he was unable to meet any person who was able to provide the names of the illustrations, their sequence or textual sources, although many persons appeared to inquire on their meaning.

It seemed strange to Dr. Sailer to inquire about meaning without knowing what was being seen.
Soon after his arrival and becoming resident in Thailand, he commenced his search for the answers to his initial questions posed at Wat Pho.

Dr. Waldemar C. Sailer

Dr. Waldemar C. Sailer
Drawn by Tun Tun
Union of Myanmar

As time passed, this search became an all-consuming lifetime interest encompassing an in-depth study of Thai murals and the Buddha footprints. It also became clear to him that the key to a further understanding of the teachings of the Lord Buddha were lying within these murals and footprints.

Although his family background and previous education did not specifically prepare him for this new task of discovery, his foundation of life values and the research skills learned earlier provided him with effective vital skills and tools.

Buddha footprint 1 His career path, after completing his master’s and doctorate degrees in Education, took him to Wisconsin and then to Tema, Ghana, and onwards to Bangkok, Thailand, as an educator in an international school.  During this time he experienced, in his words, “the best years of his life.” His niche had been found in a profound and encouraging academic environment. From this point onwards, he began his studies and exploration in many areas of Asian history, culture, art and philosophy. He studied and learned Pali and Sanskrit and developed a profound interest in Buddhist philosophy that provided him with many impromptu responses to dormant personal questions.

As time passed, he realized that the more he studied and learned, the more amazed he became at the contradictions between his American culture and the culture of Asia. His new Asian home taught him that nature is a friend, compassion for others was an everyday value, and that beauty was present always and everywhere.

Since his first awakening to Thai art and culture he has continued his restless search for the answers to every possible question.

His initial fascination in the world of Thai murals began with one dating to Thailand’s Ayutthaya period, located at Bot Sam Saen, which he had seen for the first time in 1970. This fascination and excitement prompted him to devote his weekends and holidays to researching and documenting the location of murals throughout the Kingdom of Thailand.
Buddha footprint 2

Although he had read most of the available books, articles and other texts relating to the subject, he began to realize that many questions remained unanswered. He also discovered that many murals required extensive renovation to preserve them for the future. From this point, he began to give lectures and arouse public interest that resulted in support and interest by the Ford Foundation that eventually funded a preservation project at the Department of Fine Arts of the Ministry of Education, Thailand.

It was not long until he became absorbed in the subject of the Buddha footprint. At the beginning he discovered that many laypersons and clerics knew of their existence but none could provide the information he sought, even within the Sangha and the universities or the Fine Arts Department.

Buddha footprint 3 With many years of study behind him, Dr. Sailer compares the Buddha footprint to the Christian cross, as it is a symbol of identification.

Furthermore, he also suggests that the footprint is a visualization of the methodologies used in the teachings of The Lord Buddha, as revealed in the ancient Pali text of Netti, written some 2,000 years ago. This text has also been significant to Dr. Sailer throughout several years and has influenced much of his thinking and approach to his studies and occupations.

Extending from this, he discerned that the interpretation of the Buddha footprint required the assembly of a constantly enlarging jigsaw puzzle. Buddha footprints in South East Asia contain 108 illustrations, but what are their names in Pali? What is their sequence and how should they be clustered? These were the basic questions that set Dr. Sailer on his road of discovery.

After studying a drawing of an old Sri Lankan Buddha footprint, he found the key to interpreting each image, their sequence and Pali names. This was a significant and major step and one that he had been waiting many years for. Subsequently, he also deciphered their names in Sanskrit.  As a result he became an inveterate traveller in search of footprints throughout Asia. During his forays he collected rubbings, line drawings, sketches, photographs and other material relating to the Buddha footprint.

Currently, his personal collection now houses more than 600 meticulously catalogued Buddha footprints, the majority being from Thailand. Although he has assembled examples and knowledge from countries throughout Asia, he has been surprised that Buddha footprints are unknown in Vietnam.

He emphasizes that the Buddha footprints are not all the same. Old versions in Pakistan, southern India and Sri Lanka have few markings. Those from the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods in Thailand are significantly different. Other 'keys' are also required to interpret their images.

Dr. Sailer remains mystified as to why the footprints have been ignored by scholars throughout the world, and why they are so rarely made today. However, his studies, research, lectures and published works appear to influence and impress other scholars and religious leaders.
Buddha footprint 4

Throughout his long and arduous search and study he believes that the collection and cataloguing of Buddha Footprints has provided him with an improved understanding and deeper appreciation of Buddhism.

In this respect he states that "it has answered all my questions about life: Why I exist, how to live and most importantly, how to understand other people. It's a very tolerant philosophy; there is nothing negative about it."

As he is looking forward to a future of study in this area, Dr. Sailer remarks that a strong need exists to develop and expand knowledge of the Buddha footprint and to create a greater understanding of its context and meaning. Such action, he feels, will bring the topic to the level of equivalency with the Buddha image and Buddhist arts.

Organization of 108 auspicious illustrations on a Buddha footprint
Organization of 108 Auspicious Illustrations on a Buddha Footprint
He also advocates the increased use of the computer in the study of the Buddha footprint. To date, a transliteration program to place the many existing Pali texts into digital storage to permit scripts to be printed and disseminated has not been developed. This method would greatly enhance the translation and scholarship of Pali texts. Further, he would like to see an increase in the number of compact discs containing data and texts relating to Buddhism in general and the Buddha footprints in particular.

Museums, education centres and a travelling exhibition could also enhance the study of the subject and create a greater awareness and understanding of the importance and significance of the Buddha footprint in Buddhism and life in general. Currently, there are extremely limited information exchanges among various organisations and countries relating to the subject and enhancement of these activities. Although several important museums possess Buddha footprints in their collections, most often they remain in storage as too little is known of them. It seems that the museum in Bagan is the only one that displays a footprint with any details or explanatory notes.

Since Dr. Sailer commenced his research and study of the Buddha footprint, he has written extensively on the subject, prepared several major exhibitions, presented many lectures throughout South East Asia and maintained his intense interest in the subject with regular consultations with leading monks and scholars.

With each passing day, Dr. Sailer gathers more knowledge and information relating to the Buddha footprint with his usual enthusiasm and fascination that he hopes will eventually contribute to a greater understanding of its importance and significance to Buddhist tradition and learning.

© 2001 Dr. Waldemar C. Sailer. All rights reserved.