Worshipping Buddha and worshipping Buddha statues

A very long period of 650 years, the day that Gautama Buddha started to preach his Dhamma in 589 BC and until the reign of King Kanishka in India, a custom or a practice of worshipping of Buddha statues was not known by the Buddhist world. According to real Buddha Dhamma ‘the body’ is subjected to decay, something impermanent, did not praise it as something precious or suitable to be worshipped. Because of this, in the ancient time of Buddha Dhamma, no any evidence can be found over the practice of worshipping the statues of Gautama Buddha or any disciples of Buddha. Even in the model kingdom of Buddha, built artificially by Ashoka the Great in India, there wasn’t a single statue of Buddha or a disciple of Buddha, belongs to that period, used for the matter of worshipping.

A picture of Buddha had been used for the first time in the word during the reign of King “Kanishka[1] in India. That was also a picture of Buddha printed on one side of a gold coin used in the trade in the country. Hence, we need to understand that even that very original picture of Buddha known to us had not been used with the due respect or good faith, but for a worldly matter such as trading.

It is clear that the worshipping the Buddha statues was started by the Buddhists in the Mahayana Buddhism in the 3rd century BC in the Kushan Dynasty in India, after the reign of King Kanishka. Later, this was practiced in places such as Mathura, Gandhara, Amarawathi and Nagarjunakonda[2], and then by the time of 5th century it spread in places such as Nalanda and Vellore. Later, sculpturing Buddha statue and worshipping them were started in Lanka and in many other countries in the east.

Worshipping of Buddha statues is preciously a religious practice influenced by the concepts of religions based on gods and had entered in to Buddhism. When India was conquered by the Greece[3] many concepts of western theologies were spread in India. In the past, the people in Greece had a practice of sculpturing a statue of god Apollo and worshipping it.  The people of Greece started the worshipping god statues in India. Following this influence, Mahayana Buddhists in India started the worshipping of Buddha statues in the 2, 3, and 4 centuries. Many scholars say that the Buddha statue made in India in the initial stage carried the similar features of the statues of god Apollo. Buddha statue wearing necklaces, Buddha statue wearing pleated soft clothing, Buddha statues with decorated heads etc are the influences from the concepts of religions of gods.

In order to establish the opinion that Buddhism was taken to Lanka from India, Buddhist cultural aspect of this nature were strongly used. Until up to the Anuradhapura period, a religion called Buddhism based on the faith could not be seen in this Helabima. The sacred Buddha Dhamma welcomes the code of virtues and it is not a belief or a religion of worshipping, offerings or preyings. All the religious concepts of this nature were taken to Lanka from India. Hence, according to these, I agree with the idea that Buddhism was taken to Lanka from India in the past. But the sublime Buddha Dhamma which helps the beings to understand Nibbana was preached by Gautama Buddha in this Helabima for forty five years. That is the most sacred Buddha Dhamma which was originated in this Helabima.

It  should be  mentioned  that along with the start of worshipping the Buddha statue, faith of the Buddhist – Buddha Bakthi – was created and the identity for the Buddhist too was safe guarded. As long as Buddha Dhamma is pure and sacred, it will help the people more and more in realizing Nibbana. But if the intention is to take it from one generation to another, then it is only Buddhism will succeed, but not Buddha Dhamma. It is because that Buddha Dhamma is not a belief. It has to be realized by each person on personal levels following the development of the strength of his or her mind. In a way Buddhism can be considered as a vehicle. The objective Dhamma called Buddha Dhamma was taken in that same vehicle. This objective or realistic Dhamma will guide the beings for Nibbana. The sacred Buddha Dhamma preached by Gautama Buddha 2600 years ago is secured and well preserved only in the Tripitaka Canons which were written in Lanka. The elements of culture, elements of literature and many more fascinated objects which are strange and peculiar can be found in Buddhism, but not in the supermandane Buddha Dhamma. All most all Amisa Poojas, worshippings, offerings, ritualistic practices, Poojas for blessings and even methods of recitations are coming under Buddhism. Buddha Dhamma is the practice of code of virtues which will help to realize Nibbana.

In today’s context Buddhism is a belief, just a collection of conventional religious concepts. Without making any damages to Buddhism, the attempt of a real follower of Buddha Dhamma – ‘a Buddhist’ –  should be to realize the objective Dhamma, the principles of virtues of Dhamma[4] through this Buddhism and objective Dhamma would help to realize Nibbana. Objectiveness should be seen through the convention itself.

The Sanskrit books such as The Divyavadana[5] and The Lalitavistara[6] written in India after 600 years of Buddha era. These books contained and introduced the illustrations of Buddha’s life, pictures of Buddha and other concepts of that nature to the world. These books were written in the reign of King Shiladithya[7], which came even after the reign of Ashoka the Great. This is the period where the art & craft, cultural elements of Greece & Rome and also the concepts of god-based religious mostly came in to Buddhism. Since these concepts of god-based religions and cultural elements were impressively embraced by the mass, these things which were started, originated in India, had been transferred to the Anuradhapura kingdom as well. Because of this, most of the features, aspects and elements in Mahayana Buddhism were spread among the people in Lanka, especially among the high class families from India. They were popular among the mass. The consequence of this is the beginning of Abayagirivihara monastery in the period of Anuradhapura. This was the sole reason for the division of Nikayas[8].

It was in the period closer to the 3rd century that sculpturing of colossal Buddha statues such as the Buddha statue of Tholuvila, the Buddha statue of Maligavila, the Buddha statue of Awkana, the Buddha statue of Thanthirimale and the Buddha statue of Raswehera monastery was started in Lanka. But in the monasteries in Ruhunu where the sacred Buddha Dhamma was still secured there wasn’t a practice of worshipping Buddha statues of this nature.

According to the above explanation, what we can notice is that most of the cultural aspects which are considered so preciously and believed in confidently had come to Lanka from India, we call these things as Buddhism and believe in them. Based on this fact, up to some extend the statement that Buddhism was brought down to Lanka from India which is made by the Sinhalese people lived in the past and most of lay-Buddhists & nonlay-Buddhists living in this day is a fair statement. But we should understand that the sacred Buddha Dhamma was originated in Lanka and taken even to India. We should not be surprised over the arguments made by ordinary people that Buddhism was taken to Lanka from India who still hold on to the mythical concepts and mythical ideas, who cannot distinguish Buddhism and Buddha Dhamma and who consider these two as one. We should feel sorry about their unawareness.

Next Chapter…

[1] Kanishka (Kanishka the Great) was an emperor of the Kushan Dynasty (127-151) who ruled an empire extending from Turfan in the Tarim Basin to Pataliputra on the Gangetic plain and famous for his military, political, and spiritual achievements. His main capital was at Purushpura (Peshawar in present day northwestern Pakistan) with regional capitals at the location of the modern city of Taxila in Pakistan, Begram in Afghanistan and Mathura in India. (Source-Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

[2] Nagarjunakonda is a historical Buddhist town, now an island located near Nagarjuna Sagar in Nalgonda district, in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. (Read more in Appendix)

[3]The influence of Greek on India. ‘ … Buddhism flourished under the Indo-Greeks, leading to the Greco-Buddhist cultural syncretism. (Read more in Appendix).

[4]The code of Dhamma.

[5] The Divyāvadāna or ‘Heavenly Deeds’ is a huge collection of 38 legendary biographies and retellings of events in the life of the Buddha. (Read more in Appendix).

[6] Lalitavistara (Sanskrit) is a Sanskrit Buddhist text of great importance. Apart from being a biography of Buddha, originally of the Sarvastivada School of the Hinayana sect, it throws a considerable light also on the social and cultural history of India during the early centuries of the Christian era. (Read more in Appendix).

[7] Shiladitya was a ruler of Malwa. He was Jat of Virk gotra.His original name was Harshabardhan. King Harshabardhan was well noted for his kind heart and humanity. (Read more in Appendix).

[8] Division among the Nikayas – these are the conflicts between different chapters or sectors in the Order of Sanga. What is meant here is the conflicts occurred between Mahavihara monastery and Abayagiri monastery i.e. Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism.

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