How do Buddhists worship Buddha. What is the purpose of Buddhists in worshiping and making Buddha images?
For me it is not ‘worship’ of the Buddha when I put my hands together and bow in front of a Buddha Statue. It really means paying homage at the Buddha image to pay my respects to the Buddha in remembering His nine supreme qualities. The image is a visual aid that helps me to recall the following qualities:
Araham Firstly, we must understand that our great teacher was an “Arahant”. An Arahant is one who has eradicated all bad conditions of the mind, which include: passion, lust, desire, hatred, ill will, delusion, and all other defilements of the mind. There should be an unshakeable confidence about that quality or our Great Teacher. That unshakeable confidence if developed by knowing that in this world, and throughout all worlds, there is no other teacher with this Arahant quality.
Sammâ-sambuddho This second quality of our Teacher “Samma Sambuddho” means that our Great Teacher understood the Four Noble Truths without anyone’s help. So our Great Teacher is really the one and only Teacher. What is the significance of the Four Noble Truths? These Truths explain the realities of life. Our Great Teacher understood the realities of life, without anyone’s help. By knowing this, we can establish an unshakeable confidence based on this second quality.
Vijjâ-carana sampanno The third quality is “Vijjacaranasampanno”. Vijja means ‘true knowledge’. There are three kinds of knowledge. Firstly, the Supreme Buddha, our great teacher had knowledge of the past lives of beings. Through this knowledge the Supreme Buddha knew that this is a long journey through samsara (the cycle of birth and death). The second knowledge our Great Teacher had was passing away and the reappearing of beings. There should be a confidence based on both these kinds of knowledge. Because of that knowledge, we can be sure that if we do not try to achieve the Stream Entrant stage in this life, our next destination will not be a good one. The third knowledge that the Supreme Buddha had was knowledge of the destruction of all taints (the destruction of all defilements. So, with this true knowledge, our Great Teacher had excellent virtue, excellent concentration, excellent wisdom, and excellent liberation. And that is called vijjacaranasampanno – the one and only Teacher in this world.
Sugato The fourth quality is sugata. Su means ‘the correct path’. Gatha means ‘followed’. Therefore, sugata means ‘following the correct path’. Supreme Buddha followed the best path, the Noble Eight fold Path, and achieved the bliss of Nibbanna (ultimate liberation).
Lokavidû The fifth quality “Lokavidu” means ‘knower of the worlds’. It is one who understands the origin of all worlds, understands the cessation of all worlds, and understands how to escape from all the worlds.
Anuttarro Purisa-damma-sârathi The sixth quality is “ Anuttara Purisa-dammasarathi”. Anuttara means ‘excellent’. It means ‘exalted’, there is no one else. Purisa-dammasarathi means ‘Buddha is the Teacher of the people to be tamed’. What is the way of taming? The Supreme Buddha’s way of taming is with virtue, concentration and wisdom, and without any weapons. Even today, we are tamed by those great qualities. We are following the Path of virtue (precepts and good discipline), we are following the Path of concentration, and we are following the path of wisdom.
Satthâ deva-manussânam The seventh quality “Sattha devamanussanam” means ‘the Teacher of gods and humans´. We have to clearly understand that our Great Teacher is not only the Teacher of humans, but also the Teacher of gods. If we are able to achieve the Stream Entrant stage in this very life, Supreme Buddha explained that we will be re-born in the heavenly world. The Dhamma, the Teachings of the Buddha, exists in the heavenly worlds.
Buddho The eight quality “Buddha” means The Enlightened One - ‘the one who has understood the Four Noble Truths without anyone’s help, and is able to proclaim the Dhamma to others’. Buddha means one who teaches without holding anything back; with great compassion and with great loving kindness, so that others may understand the Four Noble Truths and achieve real happiness.
Bhagavâ The ninth quality, Bhagava, means ‘the blessed one’, The Exalted One. This means that our Great Teacher, is the one and only teacher who held all these qualities. These are the great qualities of the Supreme Buddha. Because of these qualities, we can develop an unshakeable confidence in the Supreme Buddha.
The Buddha did not recommend making Buddha statues. The Buddha said: "What is there to see in his physical body? He who sees the Dhamma sees the Buddha".
However, ancient Greeks of Persian Bactria embraced Buddhism & were particularly influential in the development of making Buddha statues.
If Buddhists, particularly in the former Persian-Greek lands did not make Buddha statues, it is possible Buddhism may have survived both the growth of good Islam in Persia and the onslaught of violent Mongol 'Islam' (but unlikely) since Muslims regarded Buddha statues as 'idolatry'.