The Buddha always held that he was a simple man, one among us, not a God. In fact, Buddhism is principally an agnostic philosophy. Then why does Mahayana Buddhism practice the worship of the Buddha?

  • Where does it say, why do you say, what's your source for saying, that "The Buddha always held that he was a simple man?" Perhaps this claim (that "he held that he was a simple man") isn't relevant to the question, but maybe it is.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 13, 2018 at 15:49
  • Okay, I quote from Swami Vivekananda's lecture on"Buddhistic India", delivered at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California, on February 2, 1900. I hope this answers your question: Aug 13, 2018 at 15:57
  • He was already dying. He found death coming on, and he asked, "Spread for me something under this tree, for I think the end is near." And he was there under the tree, and he laid himself down; he could not sit up any more. Aug 13, 2018 at 15:58
  • And the first thing he did, he said: "Go to that Chanda and tell him that he has been one of my greatest benefactors; for his meal, I am going to Nirvâna." And then several men came to be instructed, and a disciple said, "Do not go near now, the Master is passing away". And as soon as he heard it, the Lord said, "Let them come in". Aug 13, 2018 at 15:58
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    The precise English translation of these final words is open to interpretation as it was spoken in Pali and passed on orally, not being written down for some centuries after the Buddha's death. Aug 13, 2018 at 16:19

3 Answers 3


For what it's worth I found the quote you referenced:

From Vivekananda as the Turning Point: The rise of a new Spiritual Wave

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There is a message in the suttas, that it's possible to attain Awakening by following the Dharma and the Discipline which the Buddha taught.

Also a message that the Buddha is great in many ways (e.g. disciplined, generous, insightful) to have discovered and to have taught as he did.

To say "no Gods" may be an exaggeration but OK, they're relatively unimportant (and I think it's true to say that Siddhārtha Gautama was human).

And I think this quote from Vivekananda should be understood as being a bit of a paraphrase of the entire doctrine (not only of the Maha-parinibbana Sutta), e.g. "believe not because an old book is produced" sounds like a paraphrase of another/different famous sutta, the Kalama Sutta.

It's not quite right to say (may give the wrong impression to say) that the Buddha is "nothing but one of you".

In MN 26 for example he is praised by devas on his awakening; and when people try to disparage him, he contradicts them:

Traveling stage by stage, I arrived at Benares, and went to see the group of five mendicants in the deer park at Isipatana. The group of five mendicants saw me coming off in the distance and stopped each other, saying:

‘Here comes the ascetic Gotama. He’s so indulgent; he strayed from the struggle and returned to indulgence. We shouldn’t bow to him or rise for him or receive his bowl and robe. But we can set out a seat; he can sit if he likes.’

Yet as I drew closer, the group of five mendicants were unable to stop themselves as they had agreed. Some came out to greet me and receive my bowl and robe, some spread out a seat, while others set out water for washing my feet. But they still addressed me by name and as ‘reverend’.

So I said to them:

‘Mendicants, don’t address me by name and as ‘reverend’. The Realized One is perfected, a fully awakened Buddha. Listen, mendicants: I have achieved the Deathless! I shall instruct you, I will teach you the Dhamma. By practicing as instructed you will soon realize the supreme end of the spiritual path in this very life. You will live having achieved with your own insight the goal for which people from good families rightly go forth from the lay life to homelessness.’

Practices which appear to be worship -- e.g. Tradition and purpose of prostration practice -- may have various purposes that aren't quite like worshipping a God, for example:

  • Expressing gratitude and rememberance
  • Expression pride (i.e. comparing yourself to the Buddha) and absence of pride (when comparing yourself to the Buddha)

Speaking of prostration, Wikipedia says,

Among Buddhists prostration is believed to be beneficial for practitioners for several reasons, including:

  • an experience of giving or veneration
  • an act to purify defilements, especially conceit
  • a preparatory act for meditation
  • an act that accumulates merit (see karma)

No, the Buddhas are not Gods and Mahayana does not conceive of them as such. In fact, all forms of Buddhism - not just Mahayana - largely agree with the following:

However, let's be clear on the many ways in which Buddhism does not conceive of the Buddha:

  • The Buddha did not create the universe.
  • The Buddha did not create man.
  • The Buddha is not singular in the sense that many are described as Buddhas.
  • The Buddha was once an imperfect sentient being just like us.
  • The Buddha does not pass judgement and enact cosmic justice.
  • The Buddha does not cause the workings of karma.

Now, let's examine some of the ways Buddhism does conceive of Buddhas that seem to have some similarities with different definitions of "God":

  • Buddhas are perfected beings.
  • Buddhas have some forms of omniscience.
  • Buddhas have what appears to be some forms of supernatural powers.
  • Buddhas are the greatest of teachers.
  • Buddhas are worthy objects of refuge.

I think most if not all extant traditions of Buddhism would agree with the above and not just Mahayana.

Now, are Buddhas worthy of "worship?" Well, I don't know about that word, but I would say they are worthy of the highest respect and veneration. They have perfected themselves for the sole benefit of others. They have perfected all virtuous qualities. If you define "worship" as the highest respect and veneration, then I would say they are worthy.

  • Nicely put. Could you then justify the reason why many sects of Mahayana practice idol worship of the Buddha? Aug 13, 2018 at 16:03
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    It might all come down to what you define as "worship" or "idol worship" ... i define it as highest respect and veneration. We definitely don't worship Buddhas because Buddhas have demanded it. Buddhas have not even an iota of the "jealous god" mindset. We conceive of Buddhas as like the highest form of a doctor for instance. A supreme doctor is someone who has trained themselves to treat the afflictions of all of sentient beings ailments.
    – user13375
    Aug 13, 2018 at 16:06
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    Or perhaps, it might be the case that the human mind needs to attach itself to certain symbols. We have to associate our ideas of infinity with the image of the blue sky, or of the sea, so we naturally connect our idea of holiness with the image of a church, a mosque, or a cross, for example. I think that might be the philosophy behind it. If a man can realise his divine nature with the help of an image, it is certainly not right to call that a sin. Aug 13, 2018 at 16:11
  • But I would like to draw your attention towards the Wikipedia link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_influences_on_Advaita_Vedanta Aug 13, 2018 at 16:52
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    Obviously. Otherwise both wouldn't have been separate schools of thought, would they? And by the way, I don't know how to put this- but Hinduism is not a religion. It is actually a collection of several religions which have sprung up from India. Includes Vedanta, Charvaka, Dakshin-Mimansa, Jainism, Sikhism and many others as well. Aug 13, 2018 at 17:01

Any Buddhist of any school of Buddhism, would not consider the Buddha to be God, if they understood his teachings correctly.

In Buddhism, there is no eternal self or eternal God. In Mahayana Buddhism, there is the concept of "Eternal Buddha" based on the concept of the Buddha's Dharmakaya or Dharma Body. This is derived from the Buddha's statement to Vakkali in Vakkali Sutta:

Vakkali: "For a long time, Lord, I have wanted to come and set eyes on the Blessed One, but I had not the strength in this body to come and see the Blessed One."

Buddha: "Enough, Vakkali! What is there to see in this vile body? He who sees Dhamma, Vakkali, sees me; he who sees me sees Dhamma. Truly seeing Dhamma, one sees me; seeing me one sees Dhamma."

Dhamma or Dharma in this context, refers to the Buddha's teachings.

Vakkali wanted to see the Buddha's physical form. Why? It's because he thought there is something important and great about the Buddha. The Buddha told him basically that when you truly understood his teachings, you would know what is important and great about him. There is nothing important and great about his physical form.

So, the Eternal Buddha in Mahayana Buddhism, is basically the Buddha's Dharma Body i.e. the Buddha's teachings.

While the Buddha never talked about statues of himself, he did say that a stupa or a burial mound or memorial can be created for the Buddha in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta (which is the closest reference that I can find):

And even, Ananda, as with the body of a universal monarch, so should it be done with the body of the Tathagata; and at a crossroads also a stupa should be raised for the Tathagata. And whosoever shall bring to that place garlands or incense or sandalpaste, or pay reverence, and whose mind becomes calm there — it will be to his well being and happiness for a long time. ...

"And why, Ananda, is a Tathagata, an Arahant, a Fully Enlightened One worthy of a stupa? Because, Ananda, at the thought: 'This is the stupa of that Blessed One, Arahant, Fully Enlightened One!' the hearts of many people will be calmed and made happy; and so calmed and with their minds established in faith therein, at the breaking up of the body, after death, they will be reborn in a realm of heavenly happiness.

So, based on that, I can surmise that the function of a Buddha statue is the same as the function of a Buddha stupa, which is simply to be an inspiration to Buddhists.

This is the same reason why people in India have statues of Mahatma Gandhi, people in South Africa have statues of Nelson Mandela and people in the USA have statues of Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln.

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    That answers my question precisely. Thank you. Aug 13, 2018 at 16:54
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    Completely agree, but would note that there exist many, many, many, many self-identified Buddhists who have very little or meager understanding of Dharma who worship the Buddhas as gods or very nearly so. That doesn't refute your answer because you very carefully said, "understood his teachings correctly" rather than No True Scotsmanning them into non-existence. Bravo!
    – user13375
    Aug 13, 2018 at 16:58

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