Considering this definition of blasphemy

the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for a God, to religious or holy persons or things, or toward something considered sacred or inviolable

Does Buddhism have this kind of concept of blasphemy in the canonical texts and associated commentaries. I appreciate that there are now cultural sensitivities in certain countries around Buddhism and Buddhist iconography but I'm interested in references from the texts about this rather than modern interpretations.

  • duty toward monks seems to me to be natural as well as good karmically.
    – user2512
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 21:38

3 Answers 3


There are a few sources that suggest the importance of reverence for holy persons. It seems, however, that in the Buddhist context the sense of 'inviolability' usually attached to the idea of blasphemy in Western culture is not present in the same way. That is, all of the passages explicitly link the action to a negative result, either in future existences or, as in the final example, in the here and now; it is the fact that they cause suffering for oneself which makes them wrong.

'Reviling the Noble Ones' is part of a list of actions that are associated with rebirth in lower realms--i.e., animal, hungry ghost, and hell realms. The opposite, not reviling the Noble Ones, is listed as one of the elements associated with favorable results:

'These beings — who were endowed with bad conduct of body, speech & mind, who reviled noble ones, held wrong views and undertook actions under the influence of wrong views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. But these beings — who were endowed with good conduct of body, speech, & mind, who did not revile noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world.'

A few texts where this can be found are the Devaduta Sutta, the Potaliya Sutta (from which the above passage is taken), and the Sekha-patipada Sutta

There are also some texts that discuss the results of not being respectful:

"Here, student, some woman or man is obdurate and haughty; he does not pay homage to whom he should pay homage, or rise up for whom he should rise up, or give a seat to whom he should give a seat, or make way for whom he should make way, or worship him who should be worshipped, or respect him who should be respected, or revere him who should be revered, or honor him who should be honored. Due to having performed and completed such kammas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a state of deprivation... If instead he comes to the human state, he is low-born wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to low birth, that is to say, to be obdurate and haughty, not to pay homage to whom he should pay homage, nor rise up for..., nor give a seat to..., nor make way for..., nor worship..., nor respect..., nor revere..., nor honor him who should be honored. -- from the Cula-dammavibhanga Sutta

Further, according to the Garava Sutta, even a Buddha would suffer because of not having appropriate reverence:

I have heard that on one occasion, when the Blessed One was newly Self-awakened, he was staying at Uruvela on the bank of the Nerañjara River, at the foot of the Goatherd's Banyan Tree. Then, while he was alone and in seclusion, this line of thinking arose in his awareness: "One suffers if dwelling without reverence or deference. Now on what brahman or contemplative can I dwell in dependence, honoring and respecting him?" (Note: According to the text, the Buddha determines that there is no one more worthy/accomplished than he and so resolves upon revering the Dhamma.)

I hope this helps somewhat.

  • i think you've used the last quote in a misleading way.
    – user2512
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 21:40
  • 1
    How so, user329...?
    – Adamokkha
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 4:44
  • i'm less sure reading it back now, but the buddha's thought that "one suffers if" turned out to not apply to him
    – user2512
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 13:41

Since posting the question I've read a verse in the Bodhicaryāvatāra that seems pertinent to this question. In the perfection of forbearance section when discussing anger (verse 64)

And my hatred to those who damage sacred images and stupas or abuse the true teaching is inappropriate, since the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are not distressed

So Santideva (the author) explicitly says there is no blasphemy possible. Damage the sacred if you will - the Budhha is undisturbed.

I very much appreciate Adamokkha answer though and I think this goes side by side with it. There are many references to reverence and respect and yet at the same time one shouldn't be angry when this fails to happen - certainly in the view of the above quote.


This version of the Sermon at Benares (which was approximately the first time he spoke to people after he became the Buddha) suggests 'Yes':

ON seeing their old teacher approach, the five bhikkus agreed among themselves not to salute him, nor to address him as a master, but by his name only. "For," so they said, "he has broken his vow and has abandoned holiness. He is no bhikkhu, but Gotama, and Gotama has become a man who lives in abundance and indulges in the pleasures of worldliness." But when the Blessed One approached in a dignified manner, they involuntarily rose from their seats and greeted him in spite of their resolution. Still they called him by his name and addressed him as "friend Gotama."

When they had thus received the Blessed One, he said: "Do not call the Tathagata by his name nor address him as 'friend,' for he is the Buddha, the Holy One. The Buddha looks with a kind heart equally on all living beings, and they therefore call him 'Father.' To disrespect a father is wrong; to despise him, is wicked. The Tathagata, the Buddha continued, does not seek salvation in austerities, but neither does he for that reason indulge in worldly pleasures, nor live in abundance. The Tathagata has found the middle path.

"There are two extremes, O bhikkhus, which the man [etc.]

I don't know which tradition/sutta this version of the story is from (but it's one I've heard before/elsewhere). The associated commentary is that he corrects them, not for his own pride but for their own good: because it would harm them to not address him with proper respect.

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