Buddha statues are not idols?..

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom
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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby dagon » Sun Oct 06, 2013 8:42 pm

Wesley1982 wrote:How are Buddha statues not idols?..


If a Buddha statue to someone is an idol - then it is an idol to that person. That does not mean that the representation is wrong, just that the person seeing the image holds wrong views (in my opinion).

The Buddha taught us the path that could lead to the end of my suffering and even reduce my suffering in this life. Bowing down to a Buddha statue is a way of paying respect to the teacher that gives you the direction to the most valuable thing. In doing so it reminds me of the teacher of the Dhamma, the one that showed the way through his life. By remembrance of the teacher and Dhamma I remember that the power and responsibility to act on the Dhamma (taught by the Buddha) and move towards enlightenment is within me. To me this is the real power of the Buddha statue – unlocking what is with in me by using his direction. Bowing down with humility and respect should be the natural thing to do.

As for the “western view” I still remember my WTF moment when I first was dragged in to a church when I was about 7 and seeing “Christ nailed to the cross”.

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby chownah » Mon Oct 07, 2013 4:00 am

Uilium wrote:What's the difference between honor and worship? :meditate:

This is a very very good question and I hope that there is some discussion on this....for me they look a lot like two ends of a continuum of attitude.
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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby Kusala » Fri Oct 11, 2013 9:52 am

Image

Homage to the Buddha
Thus indeed, is that Blessed One: He is the Holy One, fully enlightened, endowed with clear vision and virtuous conduct, sublime, the Knower of the worlds, the incomparable leader of men to be tamed, the teacher of gods and men, enlightened and blessed.

Homage to the Teachings
The Dhamma of the Blessed One is perfectly expounded; to be seen here and now; not delayed in
time; inviting one to come and see; onward leading (to Nibbana); to be known by the wise, each for himself.

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby Virgo » Sat Oct 12, 2013 12:42 pm

Statues are just ruupa, elements, just like the body of a Buddha is. It is what they represent to us mentally that we pay respect to. The best way to pay respect, however, is to respect the Dhamma.

"He who sees Dhamma, Vakkali, sees me; he who sees me sees Dhamma. Truly seeing Dhamma, one sees me; seeing me one sees Dhamma." - Vakkali Sutta

All the best,

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby chownah » Sat Oct 12, 2013 2:36 pm

What is an idol? Got to know what an idol is before you can say something is not.
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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby Sekha » Sat Oct 12, 2013 11:10 pm

The best way to pay respect to the Buddha is to walk single-mindedly the path to the Deathless he has shown. The rest is just an emotional game with oneself. I have remarked that generally those who are the most attached to paying respect to statues are also those who slack off the most when it comes to actual practice.

We have evidence that representations of the Buddha as a person were not allowed in Buddhist iconography by the time of Asoka. This strongly indicates imo that Buddha statues were forbidden in the early days, and I disagree with the source quoted by Cooran. The reason of this interdiction is simple to understand: to prevent the quest of the Deathless from being replaced by rituals of worship. The reason why the rule may have disappeared from the Vinaya is also easy to understand.
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As a sweet-smelling and beautiful lotus flower may grow upon a heap of rubbish thrown on the highway, so also, out of the rubbish heap of beings may appear a disciple of the Buddha, who with his wisdom, shines resplendent in wisdom. -/ Dhp 58-59

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby Jeffrey » Sat Oct 26, 2013 7:10 am

What evidence of prohibition do we have, Sekha?

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby manas » Sat Oct 26, 2013 7:58 am

Sekha wrote:The best way to pay respect to the Buddha is to walk single-mindedly the path to the Deathless he has shown.


Totally agree with you there, sekha. :thumbsup:

However:

Sekha wrote: I have remarked that generally those who are the most attached to paying respect to statues are also those who slack off the most when it comes to actual practice.


I'd be careful not to make generalizations like that one. How could you possibly know this? On a personal note I can recall that a number of months ago, when I was actually meditating every morning with a decent amount of effort, that after some of my more insightful meditations I wanted to physically bow down low, with my actual body, to the Buddha, out of gratitude...and there being no flesh-clad Buddha available, the Buddha-rupa had to do.

kind regards
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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby Dhammanando » Sat Oct 26, 2013 10:31 am

Jeffrey wrote:What evidence of prohibition do we have, Sekha?


I don’t think it’s terribly weighty. It seems there’s a rule against making images of the Buddha in one of the non-Theravādin recensions of the Vinaya (I forget which one). But since it’s not found in any other recension it’s doubtful whether it was present in the ur-Vinaya.

Then there’s the fact that the earliest artistic depictions of the Buddha’s life didn’t represent the man himself. But this can be (and has been) plausibly accounted for in a number of different theories, of which iconophobic interdiction is only one.
    ...and this thought arose in the mind of the Blessed One:
    “Who lives without reverence lives miserably.”
    Uruvela Sutta, A.ii.20

    It were endless to dispute upon everything that is disputable.
    — William Penn Some Fruits of Solitude,

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby Jeffrey » Sat Oct 26, 2013 11:01 am

This is my understanding as well, Ven Dhammanando, but I thought perhaps Sekha had something else in mind.

While on the topic, I wonder if there are commentarial traditions regarding the use of Buddha statues or paintings.

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby Dhammanando » Sat Oct 26, 2013 11:41 am

Jeffrey wrote:While on the topic, I wonder if there are commentarial traditions regarding the use of Buddha statues or paintings.


Nothing comes to mind. Though that's not really saying much, since I'm rather indifferent to Buddha statues, so if I ever did come across anything about them I'd probably forget it pretty quickly.
    ...and this thought arose in the mind of the Blessed One:
    “Who lives without reverence lives miserably.”
    Uruvela Sutta, A.ii.20

    It were endless to dispute upon everything that is disputable.
    — William Penn Some Fruits of Solitude,

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby Jeffrey » Sat Oct 26, 2013 2:07 pm

For those who think images are nothing more than images, you might find this of interest, a quote (p181) from the Consecration article (by Donald Swearer) in The Encyclopedia of Buddhism:

The cult of relics, images, portraits, mummified remains,
and other representations of the Buddha and
Buddhist saints reflect a thaumaturgical belief that the
miraculous powers associated with extraordinary spiritual
attainment can be objectified in material form.
Thus, consecration rituals incarnate the Buddha and
ARHATs not primarily as idealized spiritual mentors
and personifications of the dharma but as wonderworkers,
protectors, and grantors of boons. Consecration
rituals, therefore, infuse into these icons a variety
of powers associated especially with the mental and
physical attributes acquired through ascetic practices,
especially meditation.

Since from the outset the Buddha was venerated not
only as a teacher but as a miracle worker, representations
of the Blessed One can be seen in similar terms.
The cult of the power of relics and images should not
be understood as a later, degenerate form of Buddhist
piety but as one of the ingredients of Buddhist belief
and practice from its earliest days. Consecration rituals,
in this regard, can be seen as a practical means by
which this aspect of Buddhism spread and flourished
throughout Buddhist Asia.

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby Sekha » Sat Oct 26, 2013 8:55 pm

Jeffrey wrote:What evidence of prohibition do we have, Sekha?

Well, I said, exactly:
Sekha wrote:We have evidence that representations of the Buddha as a person were not allowed in Buddhist iconography by the time of Asoka.

..not that we have direct evidence of such a prohibition in terms of rules. From this point, I have no facts to add to the discussion, only opinions based on what makes sense to me. The existence of a prohibition is imo the best explanation to that absence of Buddha images in early Buddhist iconography. I would be interested in seeing what the other explanations are, and if they are really robust.
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As a sweet-smelling and beautiful lotus flower may grow upon a heap of rubbish thrown on the highway, so also, out of the rubbish heap of beings may appear a disciple of the Buddha, who with his wisdom, shines resplendent in wisdom. -/ Dhp 58-59

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby appicchato » Sun Oct 27, 2013 12:14 am


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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby robertk » Sun Oct 27, 2013 5:58 am

Thanks venerable, I noticed that billboard driving back from the airport in Bangkok last month.

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby Jeffrey » Mon Oct 28, 2013 3:36 am

Sekha wrote:The existence of a prohibition is imo the best explanation to that absence of Buddha images in early Buddhist iconography.


Perhaps. But given that the vinaya contains so many minute prescriptions and prohibitions, why do we find no mention of Buddha images?

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby Sekha » Mon Oct 28, 2013 12:51 pm

Jeffrey wrote:But given that the vinaya contains so many minute prescriptions and prohibitions, why do we find no mention of Buddha images?

Well my opinion about the Tipitaka is that we got it through people who may not always have respected it and who may have been more interested in gathering followers than actually preserving the original teaching, which Buddhists nowadays have a lot of difficulties to acknowledge. In this light, early Buddhists monks would have preserved whatever they thought would bring them followers, which included preserving large portions of the texts as they were, but may have meant discarding some passages people wouldn't like to know about. And my opinion is that statue worshiping may have fallen into this category.

It is also well known that Buddhism got rapidly keyed down to stupa worship in many sects, and that monks would add texts to the existent corpus that they may have just written themselves to please people. This is how what is known today as Mahayana Buddhism started evolving from the original teaching. And I don't think the Buddha would not have foreseen it and would not have tried to prevent it from happening by setting up such a rule (this is pure speculation on my side).

It is not difficult to get convinced that our texts may not be that clean by reading about what has happened in the centuries after the birth of Buddhism, and the kind of crazy things Buddhists would write and add to the Canon. We have no guarantee whatsoever that our corpus of text has never been altered in any way. Actually, there are evidences it has been, and a number of scholars are of this opinion. Govind Chandra Pande, for example, in his book available here (a very interesting book btw, especially untill p50, although often disputable) states that most of the Vinaya rules' stories have been made up at a time when they went missing, possibly after a famine at a time when only a handful of elders would have kept that knowledge. I remember also have read a quotation from a text dating back to circa 100 CE where people said that the Vinaya had already been lost and it was not possible to reconstruct it exactly as it was originally.

= edit: 100 AD replaced by 100 CE = English is not my mothertongue
Last edited by Sekha on Tue Oct 29, 2013 4:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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As a sweet-smelling and beautiful lotus flower may grow upon a heap of rubbish thrown on the highway, so also, out of the rubbish heap of beings may appear a disciple of the Buddha, who with his wisdom, shines resplendent in wisdom. -/ Dhp 58-59

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby Jeffrey » Tue Oct 29, 2013 6:20 am

I don't for a moment dispute the idea that texts have been modified over the years. It seems like a fairly large and mostly impossible undertaking, or a huge coincidence, to expunge all reference to Buddha images in all collections in all locations. Jainism and Brahminism were contemporary with Buddhism, and yet the first bits of Indian art are Buddhist. Did these religions also prohibit the making of images of their founders/deities? Or is perhaps this absence evidence of a broader idea regarding religious art?

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby Sekha » Tue Oct 29, 2013 4:16 pm

Jeffrey wrote:It seems like a fairly large and mostly impossible undertaking, or a huge coincidence, to expunge all reference to Buddha images in all collections in all locations.

Not if it happened at a very early stage, before or shortly after the main splits. And as pointed by Ven. Dhammanando, there is one collection that does have this rule.

Jeffrey wrote:Jainism and Brahminism were contemporary with Buddhism, and yet the first bits of Indian art are Buddhist. Did these religions also prohibit the making of images of their founders/deities? Or is perhaps this absence evidence of a broader idea regarding religious art?

As far as I know statues of people in meditation posture dating back to 2500 BC exist...
Where knowledge ends, religion begins. - B. Disraeli

http://www.buddha-vacana.org

As a sweet-smelling and beautiful lotus flower may grow upon a heap of rubbish thrown on the highway, so also, out of the rubbish heap of beings may appear a disciple of the Buddha, who with his wisdom, shines resplendent in wisdom. -/ Dhp 58-59

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Postby Bankei » Sat Nov 09, 2013 11:17 pm

Viscid wrote:Buddha statues are sometimes idols, sometimes just statues.

Children in Buddhist countries will see their parents bow and pay great respect to statues and grow up to believe that The Buddha and statues of him have some sort of inherent magical sacredness. That's idolatry, and it's not commonly overcome. Most native Buddhists are indeed just idol-worshippers.


This I have to agree with, especially in the case of Thailand.
There are different Buddha statues that give different results. I remember going to a large reclining Buddha in Ayutthaya who provides help with business if you pray to it.

In Japan it is similar. Most people do not believe in Buddhism, but they may occaisionally go to temples or shrines and when they do they pray to the statues there. It is a bit of idoltry as again different statues have different powers But I think the degree of idoltry is much less than that of Thailand and more like a western christian conception of a statue.

Most western 'Buddhists' get their religion from books, or travel to asia but do not speak the language and they have no idea what 'real' Buddhists believe or what they are up to.

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