Buddhist triads are composed as follows: three Buddhas, three Bodhisattvas,
one Buddha and two Bodhisattvas, one Buddha and two historical personages
(usually enlightened ones), or one Bodhisattva and two historical or
mythical person-ages. In addition to specific attributes, em-blems, and
mudra, there are some simple ways of discriminating generally between
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
Bodhisattvas are sometimes adorned with jewelry and crowns while Buddhas
generally are not. Though there are certain celestial trinities of three
Buddhas,(often the Past, Present and Future Buddhas) one can often identify
Bodhi-sattvas by their secondary position in a trinity, relative to the
Buddhas bear the "thirty-two marks," some of which are easily spotted, for
example: the tightly knotted black hair; the protuberance on the head; the
white, curled hair at the center of the forehead; the long earlobes
(without earrings); and three rings, or creases, around the neck.
Certain basic configurations are apparent in the composition of triads of
images. One combination is Amitabha attended by Avalokitesvara and
Mahastamprapta, the Bodhisattva of Power. The two Bodhisattvas are
emanations of Amitabha.
Sakyamuni is usually flanked by his two favorite disciples, the young
Ananda (representing the intellec-t) and the aged Kasyapa (representing
experience and wisdom) or by Samantabhadra and Manjusri. When alone,
Samantabhadra is seen seated on an elephant, Manjusri on a lion. Manjusri
is the Bodhisattva of Wisdom (knowledge of the true, non-dualistic identity
of the world). Samantabhadra is the Bodhisattva of Power and Compassion.
Wisdom is identified with the intellect and with unification or
non-duality, while compas-sion is emotion and multiplicity. Manjusri often
holds a sword with which he severs earthly attach-ments, revealing wisdom.
Holding a trident, he spreads Buddha's teaching through thought, speech,
Manjusri and Samantabhadra are frequent attendants of Vairocana Buddha as
well. In this case, the three make up a metaphysical triad as opposed to
the historical triad of Sakyamuni, Ananda and Kasyapa.
Vairocana is sometimes depicted with Sakyamuni and Bhaisagya Buddha,
composing the Trinity of the Preciousness of the Teachings.