The 32 Signs of a Great Man (mahà purisa lakkhaõa) are auspicious marks that are supposed to be present on the bodies of all Buddhas. Although only incidental to Buddhism, this idea is the theme of three discourses (D.II,142; M.II,133; Sn.103) and is mentioned briefly in several others. The idea of the Signs probably had its origins in Brahmanism and was incorporated into Buddhism at a later period for reasons that are not clear. Some of the Signs, such as the long tongue, the blue eyes, the golden complexion and the ensheathed penis, were probably connected with the ancient Indian concept of idealized physical beauty. Others are so strange, grotesque even, that it is difficult to know what to make of them.
It is very clear from the Tipiñaka that the Buddha's physical appearance was normal in every way. When King Ajàtasattu went to meet the Buddha, he was unable to distinguish him from the surrounding monks (D.I,50). If the Buddha had any of the 32 Signs, the king would have recognized him immediately. Pukkasàti sat talking to the Buddha for hours before realizing who he was (M.III,238). If the Buddha had any of the Signs, the young man would have immediately noticed it and known that he was someone unusual. When Upaka encountered the Buddha walking along the road to Gaya, the thing that caught his attention was not his unusual body but his `clear faculties and radiant complexion' (M.I,170).
In the Buddha's Dhamma, the external and the physical are always subordinate to the internal and the psychological (S.I,169). The Buddha was aware of the Brahmanical concept that a `great man' could be known by his physical characteristics, and he rejected this notion. Someone once asked him: `They talk about a ßgreat manû, a ßgreat manû. But what is it that makes a great man?' The Buddha replied: `It is by freeing the mind that someone becomes a great man. Without freeing the mind one cannot be a great man.' (S.V,158).