The Golden Buddha, officially titled Phra Phuttha Maha Suwan Patimakon, is the world's largest solid gold statue.

What is the justification for such a statue? By justification I mean, what reasons would the Buddhists who created/use the statue give to explain why keeping gold (often seen as a sign of wealth and power) as a statue is right; as opposed to using the money from melting it down and selling it to buy meals for the homeless or others in need.

  • To offer with humility to the teacher(Buddha) what you hold precious and pure (gold ).
    – user342
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 3:00
  • I answered your question, but I don't know what you mean by "justification", and I didn't want to assume, so could you clarify?
    – Sophie C
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 13:54
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    I don't have the reference handy, but the tradition of statues started in Greece and spread through the middle east as far as Afganistan. From Afganistan, the tradition of Buddhist statues spread through the rest of the Buddhist world. Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 22:18
  • @user70 - Ah, sorry. I'm just seeing this clarification. I'll add to my answer the best I can.
    – Sophie C
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 15:12

3 Answers 3


Practically, religious images are made using precious medals to prevent decay, so that the image can be available to venerate for many generations to come. From a more devotional aspect, choosing materials that we think of as beautiful shows a great reverence for the person that image represents. Religious images often "open and lift our minds" to higher ideals, including dharma practice, which is why, for example, people can be better practiticioners just by being in the temple's main hall, where the main images usually are.

I suppose a good analogy is showing respect for your boss and co-workers by coming to work in what best represents the workplace's business casual dress code, not just in a T-shirt with holes. Or, having enough respect for yourself to attend to your basic hygiene before leaving your home.

Precious metals and stones are frequently used in religious imagery. For example, in the Larger Pureland Sutra (Verse 54), we have:

Furthermore, throughout that land are trees made of the seven gems. There are trees of gold; trees of silver; trees of coral; trees of amber; trees of agate; trees of ruby; and trees of lapis lazuli. Then there are trees of two precious substances, trees of three, four, up to all seven.

Some gold trees have silver leaves, flowers and fruits. Some silver trees have gold leaves, flowers and fruits. Some coral trees have leaves flowers and fruit of amber. Some amber trees have leaves flowers and fruit of coral. Some agate trees have leaves, flowers and fruit of ruby. Some ruby trees have leaves, flowers and fruits of agate. Some lapis lazuli trees have leaves, flowers and fruit of all sorts of jewels.

There are trees with red gold roots, white silver trunks, coral branches, amber twigs, agate leaves, ruby flowers and lapis lazuli fruits. There are trees with white silver roots, coral trunks, amber branches, agate twigs, ruby leaves, lapis lazuli flowers and red gold fruit. There are trees with coral roots, amber trunks, agate branches, ruby twigs, lapis lazuli leaves, red gold flowers and white silver fruit. There are trees with amber roots, agate trunks, ruby branches, lapis lazuli twigs, gold leaves, silver flowers and coral fruits. There are trees with agate roots, ruby trunks, lapis lazuli branches, gold twigs, silver leaves, coral flowers and amber fruit. There are trees with ruby roots, lapis lazuli trunks, gold branches, silver twigs, coral leaves, amber flowers and agate fruit. There are trees with lapis lazuli roots, gold trunks, silver branches, coral twigs, amber leaves, agate flowers and ruby fruits.

The general understanding is that even the most beautiful objects we have on earth still pale in comparison to the beauty of the dharma, and this is just our feeble attempt to reflect that, and, like Jyothi said, offer our best to the Supreme One, who gives us a much more valuable gift.

Edit - user70 clarified:

What is the justification for such a statue? By justification I mean, what reasons would the Buddhists who created/use the statue give to explain why keeping gold (often seen as a sign of wealth and power) as a statue is right; as opposed to using the money from melting it down and selling it to buy meals for the homeless or others in need.

Well, a lot of institutions do both. At my Thai Forest (Theravdin) sangha, there are golden images, and we also give to charity, and obviously we do not charge for any services. The retreats, and even the Thai language classes, are completely donation-based. We do not shame anyone who cannot donate anything, and people with means donate more than enough to make-up for it. So we make sure that nothing keeps people from learning, not even lack of funds.

Not everyone will probably agree with this, but I propose that artistic beauty is an intrinsic good. This is why we continue to promote the arts in the secular world--I can't eat a beautiful painting, but it can nourish my mind, even if only in the moment I am looking at it. In my experience with working and feeding homeless people in a religious setting, many liked that we were providing them with food and warm shelter in the cold, as well as a beautiful setting to just appreciate our art. I don't know if many of us who have an almost unlimited access to beautiful images through internet searches can fathom living a life where all you saw was ugly, dark decay. It does not make for a healthy mind, which goes hand-in-hand with a healthy body.

So to answer your question, in the real world, it does not have to be an either/or decision (between beauty/charity), nor is it a zero-sum game where charity is sacrificed for art. When there are greedy people heaping up image after image for greed's sake, perverting the purpose of Buddhist imagery--which is to communicate the dharma--there should be accountability. The presence of art wouldn't hinder the advocacy of accountability.

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    Yet there are no evidences to create buddha statues and is only the source of resentment if not now then future. It also completely robs away the teachings of Buddha and the newer generation influenced by the surrounding pagan traditions emulate it on bUddha and consider him to be God , perform rituals on it etc, this is mockery of Buddha himself.
    – Bodhi
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 23:59
  • @Bodhi - I have never witnessed such a resentment, but I do believe you when you say that some people are resentful. However, I would counter that 1) even more people would be resentful of their religion being stripped of the tradition that has been grounding them for generations because people thought they were too ignorant to keep it and 2) upaya such as religious imagery and ritual teaches illiterate people, or people without scholarly inclination, and there is nothing wrong with not having scholarly inclination when it comes to religion. We should make following the path easier, for(con't)
    – Sophie C
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 13:54
  • (con't) more people, not turning it into an elitist club where only the ones who "really get it" benefit. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas love everyone, so I do not doubt that they will answer a call of sincerity, instead of denying people merit for not getting everything right on some dharmic checklist. Also, the newer generation is actually even more information hungry on average, so I do not think the dharma is in danger. So, alienating people for the sake of strict orthodoxy is unnecessary. People are free to join traditions that don't emphasize imagery; there is something for everyone.
    – Sophie C
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 14:03
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    I disagree , When Buddha came he came as a reformist and did anger many a people by mocking \repudiating many a cherished traditions and was seen as an iconoclast by the orthodox hindus. Hence purity of teachings and its safeguard is very much important , by not allowing such imagery it is contributing to preserving the pure teachings which are vehemently againt Idol worship and irrational ritualism.
    – Bodhi
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 17:37
  • @Bodhi - I have already had this discussion in the comment section of the answer below. Further, a moderator has pointed out to me that the comment section is not the ideal place for side talk. However, if you request a clarification, I can edit my answer to address it.
    – Sophie C
    Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 18:48

It is more of a cultural thing and corruption in teachings of Buddha, Buddha himself had strictly prohibited symbolism which causes attachment to it.

eg: Taliban demolished a similar structure then it caused resentment and grief even to the Buddhist community which shows their attachment to the symbol\Idol completely defeating the core teaching of deattachment.

To conclude there is no justification of such a statue rather a hindrance to the teachings of Buddha , hence should be dismantled ,melted to bullion and sold of and distribute the proceed to the poor.

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    Very true. Not only is it far easier to worship a symbol than to practice what it represents, but it also completely misses the point.
    – back2dos
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 11:03
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    "Buddha himself had strictly prohibited symbolism which causes attachment to it." - Citation please?
    – Sophie C
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 13:38
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    Also, I do not think there is any justification to calling statues a "corruption". Even though there are some traditions who advocate practicing without them, it is because that approach best agrees with their method, and it is not a condemnation of other traditions (who often take part in charitable activities). Honestly, I find this answer uncharitable and sectarian.
    – Sophie C
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 13:59
  • @SophieC: Calling traditions that advocate practicing without Buddha statues sectarian is daring. Quite the opposite seems to be the case, since Buddha statues only started emerging 600 years after his death.
    – back2dos
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 14:15
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    The back-and-forth discussion would be better off in chat.
    – Hrafn
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 14:27

In this issue it may be helpful if all could stop questioning why these things are there. Just let go and accept that they are without judgement. The statues represent a reminder and rallying call to all that are on their journeys. We should not cling onto judgemental views upon the values of metal. What difference does it make to anything but yourself. Stop being angry and just let go.

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