Buddha statues are not idols?..

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Dhammanando
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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Post by 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.

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Post by 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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Sekha
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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Post by 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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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Post by appicchato » Sun Oct 27, 2013 12:14 am


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robertk
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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Post by 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?..

Post by 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?..

Post by 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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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Post by 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?..

Post by 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...
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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Post by 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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dagon
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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Post by dagon » Sun Nov 10, 2013 2:24 am

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.
I disagree with the statement and believe that the logic for this statement is flawed or at least based on limited information.

In traditional households in Thailand children grow up seeing their parents show respect to the grandparents by use of wai and other conduct. This is consistent with the culture and the dhamma – what does the Buddha say we owe our parents?

Thai kids are taught to respect and show respect to teacher by wai and other conduct – what is the Buddha if not the best and most respected teacher.

Thai kids are brought up seeing their parents, grand parents pay respect to the Buddha and the other Monks by wai and other conduct. Naturally you should show respect to those who are respected by those you respect.

My adopted thai kids (along with my wife) wash my feet the first time that I enter the house to say welcome to a most respected and welcome person. When the village marriage happens the same thing happens to me after I have got through the three gates. This means the same thing as before but because of the nature and formality of the occasion it gives me recognition that I am their father. However that recognition and me accepting that means that I have accepted the family role and owe the appropriate obligations as the house holder as stated in the Pali Cannon.

If my daughter had her way she would wash my dam feet every time I come back into the house – inconvenient is a polite description that could be used. Her view is that she is showing respect and recognition for my role and what she thinks I bring to her life. So we compromise and it is only if I have been away for a while that she does it. i normally let her wai to me; however if I tell her that I do not want her to pay me respect then that is a very effective way of showing disapproval for an action and would result in her going to her room and crying.

So can someone please tell this poor Asian born not convert person what I or the family is doing to teach the kids idol worship by bowing to a representation of the Buddha out of respect for the Buddha and Dhamma

metta

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Sekha
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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Post by Sekha » Sun Nov 10, 2013 11:02 am

dagon, pardon me if I am being wrong, but as you explain it, it seems to me your daughter thinks you "have some sort of inherent magical sacredness," which you seem to acknowledge by saying "she is showing respect and recognition for my role and what she thinks I bring to her life".

Also, I would say there is a deep difference between paying respect to a person in flesh and bones and paying respect to that person through a statue. Because a statue cannot be interactive. For example, if you went away for some time and your daughter would bow down every day to a statue of you and yet she would not work properly at school nor do her homework, since you would not be there to counsel her, her showing respect to your statue wouldn't make actual sense.

This is what happens with the people who show respect to Buddha statues but who don't follow his advices, as for example not giving money to the monks, or simply even observing the 5 precepts properly.
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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Post by dagon » Sun Nov 10, 2013 11:57 am

Sekha wrote:dagon, pardon me if I am being wrong, but as you explain it, it seems to me your daughter thinks you "have some sort of inherent magical sacredness," which you seem to acknowledge by saying "she is showing respect and recognition for my role and what she thinks I bring to her life".

Also, I would say there is a deep difference between paying respect to a person in flesh and bones and paying respect to that person through a statue. Because a statue cannot be interactive. For example, if you went away for some time and your daughter would bow down every day to a statue of you and yet she would not work properly at school nor do her homework, since you would not be there to counsel her, her showing respect to your statue wouldn't make actual sense.

This is what happens with the people who show respect to Buddha statues but who don't follow his advices, as for example not giving money to the monks, or simply even observing the 5 precepts properly.
I am sorry that my English confused you, apologies

you are right my daughter would not give money to monks - she knows better than that
she does give dana in the form of food to the monks every morning
she does follow the precepts well for a 10 year old
she does study, meditate .....
she does show respect to parents, teachers, and older people - she does show even more respect than that to the Triple jewels
and contrary to what Viscid thinks she does not worship idols
there are many other kids that are like her (ok I do think she is special, lol)

If I labelled the following statement honestly I am sure to breach the TOS
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."
Do you believe that such statements are justified?
Should we make such sweeping generalisation?

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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Post by chownah » Sun Nov 10, 2013 2:23 pm

I think that Viscid left out the word "some" which if used would change the quote to "Some children in Buddhist countries.........etc."........and I think that some children in Buddhist countries do grow up worshipping the Buddha image to one extent or another. My view is that the difference between those who show respect for the Buddha and those who show respect to the statue is in what their parents and society teaches them as they grow up and learn what all that bowing is really about.
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dhammafriend
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Re: Buddha statues are not idols?..

Post by dhammafriend » Mon Dec 09, 2013 9:00 pm

OK I'm way late on this but can someone please tell me what the heck is 'idol worship' in an Asian context.
No living Asian tradition has any prohibitions against visual representations of sacred persons, deities etc.

The whole concept of 'idol worship' is a MONOTHEISTIC TABOO. It cannot be applied as a critique of what Buddhists do
or any other peoples for that matter. Its like trying to condemn an apple for not being an onion!

Anyone posting here accusing people of idol worship, please go to your nearest mosque / church, light a match, throw it onto a Quran / Bible.
Then watch your theory collapse. My apologies if this sounds harsh but I think you get my point with above analogy.

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Natthi me saranam annam buddho me saranam varam
For me there is no other refuge, the Buddha is my excellent refuge.
Etena saccavajjena vaddheyyam satthu-sasane
By the utterance of this truth, may I grow in the Master’s Way.

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