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