Idol worship

4 April 2011 - 6:37pm Comments Off

Question:

Are Buddhists idol worshippers? My friends from other religions like to make such statements all the time.

Answer:

Buddhists do not actually worship idols or statues. When Buddhists pray in front of a statue, they are praying for the qualities of the Buddha which are represented in the form of a statue. These six complete perfections are also known as the six paramitas, and they are generosity, ethics, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom.

This is why seeing a Buddha image plants waves of good imprints in one’s mindstream. It is said if a person who is angry sees the line drawing of a Buddha, it creates seeds of enlightenment in them. So imagine a person seeing the Buddha’s form with faith and reverence.

Buddha statues can also bestow a calming effect on one’s mind. Having a statue in a temple or place of prayer helps people to have a focus for their prayers and meditations.

When Buddhists pay their respects to images of the Buddha, it is not in worship nor to ask for favours. A statue of the Buddha with hands rested gently in its lap and a compassionate smile reminds us to strive to develop peace and love within ourselves. Bowing to the statue is an expression of gratitude for the teaching.

Thus when Buddhists kneel before a statue of the Buddha, they are not worshipping an idol any more than patriots worship their flag when they salute in front of it, or a young man worships his girlfriend when he gives her flowers. Kneeling, burning incense, and offering flowers before an image of the Buddha are reminders of what a great teacher the Buddha was and what respect (but not worship) his followers have for him.

All religions use symbols to express various concepts. In Taoism, the ying-yang is used to symbolise the harmony between opposites. In Sikhism, the sword is used to symbolise spiritual struggle. In Christianity, the fish is used to symbolise the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And in Buddhism, the statue of the Buddha also reminds us of the human dimension in Buddhist teaching, the fact that Buddhism is man-centred, not god-centred, and that we must look within (and not without) to find perfection and understanding. Therefore to say that Buddhists worship idols is not correct.

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