Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

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Dharma Flower
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Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by Dharma Flower » Fri May 26, 2017 6:28 am

If the Buddha is not a god, why do Buddhists engage in devotional practices, such as reciting a Buddha’s name or bowing to statues of a Buddha? Please consider the following words from Master Chin Kung…
Each statue serves to inspire wisdom and awakening in each of us. They also represent certain aspects of Buddhism, which remind practitioners of the particular topic of teaching.

For example, Guan Yin Bodhisattva, the most popular Bodhisattva in China, represents Infinite Compassion. When we see this statue, it reminds us to apply compassion when dealing with the world, its people and surroundings.

However, people nowadays worship Guan Yin Bodhisattva as a god and pray for the relief of suffering and to eliminate obstacles. This is a superstitious view and misconception because people forget the fact that the statues are expressions of concepts in Buddhism.

In the center of the main cultivation hall, there are three statues, one Buddha and two Bodhisattvas. Buddha represents the true nature of the universe and human life, which is called “Buddha nature” or true mind. “Buddha” is translated from Sanskrit, and means someone who is totally enlightened.
The Buddha statue represents our original enlightenment and the Bodhisattvas statues represent the application of our original enlightened mind.
All the representations and applications are infinite and can be classified into two categories: wisdom and practice. For example, the Pure Land School pays respect to the Buddha and two Bodhisattvas of the Western Paradise. Amitabha Buddha (Infinite Life and Infinite Light) represents the infinite enlightenment that is an intrinsic part of our nature. Bodhisattvas Guan Yin (Avalokiteshvara) and Da Shi Zhi (Great Strength or Mahasthamaprapta) respectively portray compassion with kindness and great wisdom.

We should be compassionate and kind toward all beings. Our thoughts, views and behavior should be rational rather than emotional, for emotional behavior spells trouble. Therefore, we should not treat the Buddha and Bodhisattvas as gods. But will they help us?

Yes, they will by providing us with the knowledge of how to protect ourselves from delusion, thereby obtaining release from suffering. Once we have learned the background of the artistic components in Buddhist architecture, music and statues, we will gain an enriched experience when paying a visit to a traditional Buddhist temple.

However, nowadays many people do not understand the meaning and teachings of Buddhism. They mistake the multi-representations of Bodhisattvas as a sign of polytheism. What people fail to understand is the fact that the statues in Buddhism are teaching aids and not statues of gods.
All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas represent our nature and cultivation of virtue. We have infinite capabilities within our true nature that cannot be expressed by just one single term. Therefore, we have multiple representations; for instance, a capable person today may have many titles on his/her business cards to show his/her positions and accomplishments.

The Buddha and Bodhisattvas are actually representations of the nature within ourselves: Buddha, as in our true nature of mind, and the Bodhisattvas, in our virtue of cultivation. We all possess these qualities. Not until we come to realize the meaning of Buddhist symbolism, will we appreciate the sophistication and completeness of its education.
http://www.buddhanet.net/budasedu.htm
As Master Chin Kung explains above, all the celestial Buddhas and Boddhisattvas are really indicative of enlightenment itself, which is our true, essential nature when the ego-self is peeled away.

In bowing and expressing devotion to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we are humbling the ego-self to let our Buddha-self shine through.

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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by PuerAzaelis » Fri May 26, 2017 2:10 pm

Dharma Flower wrote: ... humbling the ego-self to let our Buddha-self shine through ...
Does this teacher explain what he means by "Buddha-self"?
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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by Dharma Flower » Fri May 26, 2017 2:14 pm

PuerAzaelis wrote:
Dharma Flower wrote: ... humbling the ego-self to let our Buddha-self shine through ...
Does this teacher explain what he means by "Buddha-self"?
The Buddha-self or the True Self is a metaphor that Zen masters often utilize for Buddha-nature.

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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by smcj » Fri May 26, 2017 3:00 pm

They mistake the multi-representations of Bodhisattvas as a sign of polytheism. What people fail to understand is the fact that the statues in Buddhism are teaching aids and not statues of gods. All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas represent our nature and cultivation of virtue.
I'm always amazed when people seem to insist that the two ideas are mutually exclusive. Who made up that rule?

But will they help us?

Yes, they will by providing us with the knowledge of how to protect ourselves from delusion, thereby obtaining release from suffering.
I'll buy that.
Therefore, we should not treat the Buddha and Bodhisattvas as gods.
Why not?
*****
The basic idea here comes down to several points. The first point is that the the 1st Noble Truth is valid, that life on ego's terms can never give lasting satisfaction. So even if the deities were gods they could never really make things right for us. Life does not offer that option. So in the above quotes I can understand why asking for help in life is downplayed, but I don't see why it should be excluded entirely. Plus the deities are limited by our karma, by the strength of our practice, etc.

The second idea is that the deities really can help us with our spiritual path. That's the ultimate objective, and the ultimate help. In the above quotes that is alluded to. That is their main function, what they are ultimately all about.

The point that is not at all discussed in the above quotes is that the deities do not have unilateral power to do anything, either for our lives or for our spiritual development. We have to invoke them and participate in the process. If they could do anything unilaterally then the world would be a much different place and we would all be enlightened.
*****
I like Bokar R.'s (Karma Kagyu) take on things. In his book on Green Tara he says that since we see things dualistically we see Green Tara as a deity. But since she sees things non-dualistically she sees herself as the same as our true nature. That works for me!
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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by Ayu » Fri May 26, 2017 5:10 pm

I guess, because everything is empty and named only, a Buddha statue can be literally a Buddha, if we call him so.
For example, if you take a medicine and you believe it is a medicine, it is named "medicine", then this medicine works. In the same way a Buddha statue can become a real, genuine Buddha, because our mind terms it "Buddha".
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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by Dharma Flower » Fri May 26, 2017 11:02 pm

smcj wrote:
They mistake the multi-representations of Bodhisattvas as a sign of polytheism. What people fail to understand is the fact that the statues in Buddhism are teaching aids and not statues of gods. All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas represent our nature and cultivation of virtue.
I'm always amazed when people seem to insist that the two ideas are mutually exclusive. Who made up that rule?
I think Master Chin Kung would say that whatever motivates you to follow the Buddha's teachings is the right motivation. There are many people in the world who, rather than seeking to follow the example of buddhas and bodhisattvas, beg them for worldly favors. I know this to be the case because I used to do this. Instead of seeking to follow the example of Avalokitesvara, I begged her for worldly blessings.

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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by Nyedrag Yeshe » Fri May 26, 2017 11:49 pm

The problem I see here, is that both groups of people, asians and westerners tend to adopt extreme views! Master Chin Kung is right in many aspects, but this may lead to many misintrepretations. Such as the extreme view that Buddhas don't exist, that they are only symbols. This is and extreme nihilistic view! Because they are empty, that doesn't mean that they do not exist, and can't help practioners with their troubles, give inspirations, blessings, and above all a saurce of merti and refuge!

I also like Bokar Rinpoche's view, when he talks about Tara:
Q: Some people think that, from the perspective of ultimate truth, our mind and the deity being inseparable, the prayer lacks meaning, as though we were calling to ourselves for help. Wheat is the value of such a point of view?

A: It is true that from the standpoint of ultimate reality, the deity and our mind are one; but we also must understand that from this ultimate point of view, there is neither suffering nor fear. In reality, that which appears now as suffering, fear, and danger is nothing else but a manifestation of our mind. Just as our mind, during a dream, can create appearances that cause us to suffer, threaten us, or make us afraid.

However, as long as we have not realized ultimate reality, we are exposed to suffering and fear that we conceive as real. It is in this relative context that the deity, who also appears to us momentarily as outside ourselves, brings us help when we pray to her.

This prayer, in a relative sense, is necessary as long as we remain in a relative level. The ultimate prayer is to dwell in ultimate truth, the nature of mind, beyond any duality, where the mind, appearances, and deities are revealed to be of a single essence.

Until we attain this level, while we perceive suffering and fear as real, we also call upon a deity that we perceive as existing outside of us. However, she really brings help and protection.

It is necessary to differentiate between the realization of non duality and the present state in which all our experience is lived in a constant subject/object duality.
and also:
Q: The prayer addressed to Tara allows us to obtain all we wish, whatever our wish. And if our wish is not good like the wish of a thief to be successful?

A: The buddhas and bodhisattvas' dedication is entirely directed to benefiting beings. Buddhas and bodhisattvas have three great qualities: knowledge of everything, love for all beings, and the power to help them. They help beings not only by love, but they make no mistake as to the means to accomplish this. Therefore, Tara answers the wishes of beings only if they are characterized by bringing them more happiness from a temporal and spiritual point of view. She would not respond to a wish leading to negative acts or further future suffering.

Given that we may be blind to what is good or harmful for us, in some prayers we ask the deity to use discrimination. For example, we say, "If this is good for me, may my wish be accomplished; if it is not good, may it not be accomplished," or "If this wish is not good, may its thought not form in my mind; even if it is formed, may it not be realized!"

Q: It is said that the law of karma is infallible, that we must necessarily experience ce the result of our acts. Praying to obtain that which we do not have or for eliminating painful circumstances in our existence, does it not go against this notion of infallibility?

A: Individual karmas are varied and of different kinds. Some karmas may not be modified. In this case, if we carry the karma for such a painful event to occur, it will occur. If, on the contrary, we do not have the karma for such a happy circumstance to manifest, it will not manifest. The prayer will hardly be able to modify things.

When we say that the law of karma is infallible, it means that a cause will necessarily produce its effect if nothing prevents it from happening. But if new elements come into play, a change is possible. Sincere devotion and prayer, as well as regret of past negative acts, are factors that can modify karma. There are profound means related to genuinely awakened beings of deities like Tara. That is why these means allow purification to change karma. Besides putting into work such factors, karma effectively produces its effects in an infallible way.

The seed of a weed will grow in an infallible way, unless we pull out the young sprout.
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“Whatever the situation is, it’s fine!”
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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by Nyedrag Yeshe » Fri May 26, 2017 11:52 pm

Also, one of my teachers also liked to point out how beneficial was to see Buddha's Statues, as being an actual Buddha. Pointing out how this helped us in order to accumulate merit, virtue, practice pure view, mindfulness etc.
“Whatever has to happen, let it happen!”
“Whatever the situation is, it’s fine!”
“I really don’t need anything!
~Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (1161-1211)
ओं पद्मोष्णीष विमले हूँ फट । ओं हनुफशभरहृदय स्वाहा॥
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔ ཀརྨ་པ་མཁྱེན་ནོ།

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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by Dharma Flower » Sat May 27, 2017 12:34 am

Nyedrag Yeshe wrote:The problem I see here, is that both groups of people, asians and westerners tend to adopt extreme views! Master Chin Kung is right in many aspects, but this may lead to many misintrepretations. Such as the extreme view that Buddhas don't exist, that they are only symbols.
The above article is not saying Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are only symbols or that they don't exist. It's instead saying that their purpose is to encourage us to follow their example. In bowing to Buddha statues, we humble our ego-selves in order to awaken the Buddha within.

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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by smcj » Sat May 27, 2017 1:38 am

Bokar R. wrote:Given that we may be blind to what is good or harmful for us, in some prayers we ask the deity to use discrimination. For example, we say, "If this is good for me, may my wish be accomplished; if it is not good, may it not be accomplished," or "If this wish is not good, may its thought not form in my mind; even if it is formed, may it not be realized!"
I like Bokar R's take on this.

There is an additional elegance to this approach. It gets rid of the need for internal conflict and second guessing. No need to use self-will to force ourselves to being "spiritual". Put it all out there and let Tara decides what is appropriate and beneficial and what is not. Hey, it beats trying to force ourselves into becoming a renunciate! Rinpoche does say that if we do this over time that Tara will guide us more and more into the spiritual path, so it really is a win-win.
Also, one of my teachers also liked to point out how beneficial was to see Buddha's Statues, as being an actual Buddha. Pointing out how this helped us in order to accumulate merit, virtue, practice pure view, mindfulness etc.
One of my teachers said something to the effect that if every that exists is the manifestation of "The Great Perfection", then it certainly is manifest in a statue as well.
I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against Lama abuse.

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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by Nyedrag Yeshe » Sat May 27, 2017 2:00 am

smcj wrote:One of my teachers said something to the effect that if every that exists is the manifestation of "The Great Perfection", then it certainly is manifest in a statue as well.
Many Sutras also reads that statues are in fact a kind of "Nirmanakayas"!

I also recall a Zen teacher saying that in fact, due to Buddhanature factors, we aught to treat every sentient being as a Buddha in potential, with due reverence and respect :anjali: !
“Whatever has to happen, let it happen!”
“Whatever the situation is, it’s fine!”
“I really don’t need anything!
~Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (1161-1211)
ओं पद्मोष्णीष विमले हूँ फट । ओं हनुफशभरहृदय स्वाहा॥
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔ ཀརྨ་པ་མཁྱེན་ནོ།

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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by smcj » Sat May 27, 2017 2:11 am

Nyedrag Yeshe wrote: Many Sutras also reads that statues are in fact a kind of "Nirmanakayas"!
Nirmanakaya being the "physical manifestation of enlightenment". Yep.
I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against Lama abuse.

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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by smcj » Sat May 27, 2017 4:10 am

In bowing and expressing devotion to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we are humbling the ego-self to let our Buddha-self shine through.
The same idea with a different analogy I enjoy is that the deity is like a light switch and we ourselves are the light bulbs.

That covers the deity as a divinity vs. the deity as our own true nature controversy too. Kinda cool.
I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against Lama abuse.

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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by Grigoris » Sat May 27, 2017 10:30 am

Buddhas and Bodhisattvas exist.
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas do not exist.
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas both exist and do not exist.
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas neither exist nor do not exist.

Take your pick and conceptualise away...
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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by Wayfarer » Sat May 27, 2017 10:52 am

Buddhists don't bow to statues. We bow to the Three Jewels.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by Nyedrag Yeshe » Sat May 27, 2017 5:25 pm

Dharma Flower wrote:
Nyedrag Yeshe wrote:The problem I see here, is that both groups of people, asians and westerners tend to adopt extreme views! Master Chin Kung is right in many aspects, but this may lead to many misintrepretations. Such as the extreme view that Buddhas don't exist, that they are only symbols.
The above article is not saying Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are only symbols or that they don't exist. It's instead saying that their purpose is to encourage us to follow their example. In bowing to Buddha statues, we humble our ego-selves in order to awaken the Buddha within.
Read my post again, I said that Master Chin Kung is quite right in many folds! The problem is how some people here in the west (many asians too) specially may come to understand this!
“Whatever has to happen, let it happen!”
“Whatever the situation is, it’s fine!”
“I really don’t need anything!
~Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (1161-1211)
ओं पद्मोष्णीष विमले हूँ फट । ओं हनुफशभरहृदय स्वाहा॥
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔ ཀརྨ་པ་མཁྱེན་ནོ།

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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by Dharma Flower » Sat May 27, 2017 5:52 pm

Nyedrag Yeshe wrote:
Dharma Flower wrote:
Nyedrag Yeshe wrote:The problem I see here, is that both groups of people, asians and westerners tend to adopt extreme views! Master Chin Kung is right in many aspects, but this may lead to many misintrepretations. Such as the extreme view that Buddhas don't exist, that they are only symbols.
The above article is not saying Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are only symbols or that they don't exist. It's instead saying that their purpose is to encourage us to follow their example. In bowing to Buddha statues, we humble our ego-selves in order to awaken the Buddha within.
Read my post again, I said that Master Chin Kung is quite right in many folds! The problem is how some people here in the west (many asians too) specially may come to understand this!
OK. Thank you for the clarification.

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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by PadmaVonSamba » Sun Jul 16, 2017 3:10 am

Why do people in a courtroom stand up when the Judge enters the room?
Its pretty much the same thing.
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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by tomschwarz » Fri Jul 21, 2017 10:11 pm

All wrong answers ))))) ....amazing topic, goes like this.... when i pray to a god, i am praying to something i am imagining (whether it exists or not). Just imagine that for a moment... ...my mind thinks of a god and talks to it, or bows to it, etc... so at the least we have 99% projection... of what? Of our minds....

A typical prayer in Buddhism, not unlike Our Father from Catholicism, goes like this (very long winded translation):

Syllable of the most supreme exclamation of praise.
Vajrasattva’s Samaya
O Vajrasattva, protect the samaya.
May you remain firm in me.
Grant me complete satisfaction.
Grow within me (increase the positive within me).
Be loving towards me.
Grant me all the accomplishments,
As well as all the activities.
Make my mind virtuous.
Syllable of the heart essence, the seed syllable of Vajrasattva.
Syllables of the four immeasurables, the four empowerments, the four joys, and the four kāyas.
Syllable of joyous laughter in them.
Bhagawan, who embodies all the Vajra Tathāgatas,
Do not abandon me.
Grant me realization of the vajra nature.
O great Samayasattva,
Make me one with you.
Syllable of uniting in non-duality.

.......so my friend, this is what we are actually talking about. So what if i said to you, please dont abandone me. Please be loving towards me. Please make my mind virtuous. Well in this case you would be the God or statue. Would it make any difference? No, not really. So there is the answer. Prayers, statues, friends, solitude, we will all die alone within our mind. So clean up shop!!! )))))) good luck!!!
i dedicate this post to your happiness, the causes of your happiness, the absence of your suffering the causes of the absence of your suffering that we may not have too much attachment nor aversion. SAMAYAMANUPALAYA

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Re: Why do Buddhists bow to statues?

Post by Dharma Flower » Tue Feb 13, 2018 5:15 am

As Master Chin Kung explains above, "All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas represent our nature and cultivation of virtue. We have infinite capabilities within our true nature that cannot be expressed by just one single term. Therefore, we have multiple representations... The Buddha and Bodhisattvas are actually representations of the nature within ourselves: Buddha, as in our true nature of mind, and the Bodhisattvas, in our virtue of cultivation. We all possess these qualities."

It is my sincere belief that all the celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as Master Chin Kung explains above, are archetypes of our true self, our innate Buddha-nature. From a Ch'an/Zen perspective, one can recite the name of any Buddha or Bodhisattva for the same purpose of awakening the Buddha within. Toward this end, one Buddha or Bodhisattva is not superior to another, since they are equally representations of our true nature.

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