Sunday, October 30, 2011

Do Buddhists worship idols?

Ajahn Yuttadhammo addresses the issue of idol worship in Buddhism, pointing out that while ostensibly Buddhists do not worship idols, many Buddhists do, in fact, worship idols (and not just Madonna or Lady Gaga). The fact that many Buddhists do worship idols is a central issue with why many Muslims and Christians are so hostile toward Buddhism and Buddhists.


Yuttadhammo has a series of videos "Ask a Monk" that are interesting and informative. They're worth checking out.

I have used the explanation that Yuttadhammo mentions of my possessing a Buddha statue and the creation of an altar is not idol worship, but a point of focus in my endeavor to develop mindfulness. And the Buddha didn't really say no to idols, just as he didn't completely rule out rites and rituals, as long as the practitioner was mindful that rites and rituals (and presumably idols) were empty and held no significance in and of themselves. If such objects or practices were helpful for developing mindfulness, then fine, they are useful as tools (I do believe somewhere in the Tipitika the Buddha warned of relic worship following his death). But the Buddha was not, is not, a god.

But it's easy to understand how some non-Buddhists are confused, particularly when many practitioners talk about "praying" to the Buddha, etc. (Again, someplace in the Tipitika I believe the Buddha is quoted as saying something to the effect that there is nothing to pray for because there is nothing to pray to)

I hope you take the time to investigate Yuttadhammo's other videos, particularly the ones on meditation. They're very informative and helpful.


  1. Thanks for writing about this; this answer really just sprung to mind when the question was asked... what I really was trying to say is not that Buddha images are unbeneficial, but that they are unessential. So it's the belief that they have some intrinsic importance in Buddhist practice that has really led to problems in this regard - holding the unessential to be essential, and the essential to be unessential.

    When we do that, we inevitably run into problems like this; at the very least, we become stuck in institutionalism - an obvious problem in today's Buddhism. The biggest problem is that institutionalized religion is not portable; portability is a key to keeping Buddhism meaningful, as I think I say in this video.

    But just to be clear, I do like Buddha images :)

  2. Thank you Yuttadhammo :) I do like Buddha images as well. But thanks to my first teacher, I don't believe for a minute they are proxies for communicating with the divine ;)

  3. “Do Buddhist worship idols?”
    Yes, Buddhists do worship idols. They not only worship idols they worship relics, trees, mountains, ārāmas (parks); they go on pilgrimages etc.
    However, the question is raised by some Buddhists as well as non-Buddhists discussed and debated.
    There is nothing special about this question. It is a characteristic of all religions. Devotees of religions not only criticize each other; they fight; they kill; they go to war. This is the example of history. No amount of discussion, debate or even wars will bring about a resolution to this problem.

    So there is nothing special about Muslims and Christians criticizing Buddhists.

    D. C. wijeratna