Buddha statues are an integral part of our Buddhist practice and the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon in particular has a broad range of Buddhas of vastly different appearances – ranging from the familiar Shakyamuni Buddha to multi-armed, multi-faced ferocious looking beings. It is a common misconception that Buddhists are praying to idols.
At last week’s Manjushri Class, Lili Ng shared that in actuality, we do not pray to the brass, wood, silver or clay image in front of us but to the qualities of the enlightened Being which is presented in the form of a statue. Every single part of the Buddha’s image – be it as a statue or a thangka or photograph – is a map to Enlightenment. When we meditate during our prayers, we contemplate on the qualities we aspire to achieve, such as compassion, morality, patience, wisdom, kindness.
Every single part of the Buddha’s image is a map to Enlightenment
For attained beings like high Lamas, they do not need these images because they can visualise perfectly the qualities of the Buddhas. However, for people like us, we need these images to guide us on the meditations and visualisations. It is like when we are away from our loved ones; we keep a photo of them with us so we look at it to remember them.
When we tap into the higher force of what the statue represents, there are two purposes:
- We are praying to an outside source which has gained Enlightenment
- We are supplicating / petitioning the enlightened force and potential within us
According to the Lamrim, we all have the Buddha potential within us. We get results when we make offerings to holy images, we purify obstacles, we gain wisdom, and we aim to attain the qualities of the Buddhas. It is like electricity – it is everywhere but if you do not turn it on, you cannot use it.
Traditionally, another purpose of statues is as a focus for making offerings. This is for the collection of merits. Merits are a special type of positive potential that is gained which allows us to achieve the results of Buddha’s practices and advance in our spiritual path. Many of us do meditations but do not have the results because we do not have enough merits to support this spiritual practice and advancement.
Our new Kechara gompa will have bigger statues than what we have now, so when we make offerings to these images of enlightened Beings, we will gain merits to assist the growth of our spiritual path.
His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche also always recommends that we donate statues to those who cannot afford them. If that person makes offerings to the Buddha statue everyday, they will gain merits and the person who donated the statue will also gain merits. It creates a very profound connection to the Three Jewels and the energies of that particular Buddha.
Tsongkhapa represents the three Bodhisattvas of Avalokiteshvara or Kuan Yin (embodying the energy of compassion), Manjushri (the energy of wisdom) and Vajrapani (the energy of spiritual power).
As our lineage comes from Lama Tsongkhapa, Lili shared why we pray to Tsongkhapa. Tsongkhapa represents the three Bodhisattvas of Avalokiteshvara or Kuan Yin (embodying the energy of compassion), Manjushri (the energy of wisdom) and Vajrapani (the energy of spiritual power). When we pray to Tsongkhapa, using an image of him as our focus of meditations, we are tapping into these three wonderful energies.
Rinpoche has also advised that simply having a Buddha statue will bless the environment. Statues are meant to inspire people onto their spiritual path and the larger the statue, the bigger the effect. The power of a Buddha image can also bring much calm to an area – Lama Tsongkhapa statues are especially known for bestowing great peace and stability, and there are very large statues of him all throughout Tibet to quell many turbulent weather conditions.
Recently, Rinpoche has also been encouraging people to tap into the high tantric female Buddha Vajrayogini’s energy. The crazier the world becomes, the stronger Vajrayogini’s energy becomes. Rinpoche has previously explained in detail the preliminary practices we can begin to do, to prepare ourselves for receiving the higher practices.
Rinpoche has also previously advised that we obtain a sacred image of Vajrayogini and direct all our practices and offerings towards her, focusing on her as our universal Buddha. In this way, we create a powerful affinity with her and create the causes for us to finally receive her practice later. Then, when we do have her practice and begin to engage in it, we will reap the results much quicker because we have prepared for it well.
An additional practice for Vajrayogini is her tea offering which Rinpoche has also written about in his blog.
If our Guru has not specified which meditational practice is right for us, it is appropriate for us to choose Lama Tsongkhapa as he is the main Yidam of Kechara. However, we can also choose any other statue we prefer for the focus of our meditations such as Medicine Buddha, Vajrayogini or Green Tara. These are all enlightened Beings whose practices can awaken the Buddha within us.