The Buddha’s Statue
Where is the Buddha? Buddhists often say that the Buddha is in our mind, and the Buddha is everywhere. If this is the case, then why should there be images or statues of the Buddha for practitioners to worship?
When Buddha Shakyamuni lived in the world, he did not approve of worshipping idols. In the earliest historical relics of Buddhism, there were no statues of the Buddha. In fact, Idols were considered unnecessary since Buddhist practices were in accord with the Buddha’s teachings. Later, however, some people couldn't get to know Buddhism and accept Buddhadharma purely through language and theories, so they started to use various symbolic objects to represent the Buddha. For example, the Dharma wheel represents the Buddha's teachings, the deer represents Sarnath (the place where the Buddha gave his first teaching), the Lotus represents the purity, wisdom, and compassion of the Buddha, and the relic represents the existence of the Buddha's body.
The statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are meaningful, not because they have some sort of magical power which can change our lives. Instead, seeing the faces of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in their daily lives can serve to remind people to practice Buddhism.
Normally, a lay practitioner’s house is not as spacious as a monastery. It is difficult to place large statues of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas at home. Fortunately, various smaller-sized statues have been designed to meet the needs of modern practitioners---such as the statues which can be placed in the Buddhist altars at home or on a desk, as well as portable ones that can fit into necklaces, bracelets, or pendant charms. As long as we pay sincere respect to these statues, they can benefit us in our practices.
Furthermore, some people think that putting a Buddha statue at home is a superstition and, therefore, misinterpret it as worshipping idols. In fact, the Buddha statue is an object of devotion and respect, the main function of which is to remind one to practice diligently the Buddhist teachings, rather than serving as an object that one can depend on and ask to fulfill their wishes.
Resource: Issue 294 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Text: 林鍾妏 (Lin Chung-wen)
Translation: Tina M.
Editing: Jessie Goulter, Keith Brown