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Should Buddhists use statues with an imagined likeness of the Buddha for veneration? The Buddha discouraged making images in his likeness (Kalinga Bodhi jataka), and has said that the Buddha cannot be likened to a statue.

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Even though the Uddesika Chetiya is not perfect to represent the Buddha, it doesn't mean that paying respect to it is not meritorious.

Read the story of Pulinathupiya thero. There was a monastery on a rock called 'Samanga' near the Himalaya forest. There lived a hermit named Narada. He had fourteen thousand students. One day he thought, "I'm living here receiving respect and worship from everyone else, but I don't have anyone to worship. I don't have anyone to take advice from. This is not good!". So he searched for such a person, but couldn't find anyone that is worthy. But he did not give up the idea. There was a river called 'Amarika' nearby. He took sand from that river and made a stupa with no Dhatu inside. He likened that to the stupas of the past Buddhas and started worshiping it like a Buddha who is staying nearby. Because of that good deed, he was born in heavens many times and in his last life, he was born to a wealthy family in Savatti. He was able to attain Arhathship at the age of seven by recalling back to that past life.

So, if worshiping to a pile of sand with nothing in it could bring about such an outcome, there's no question of the merits of paying respect to a Buddha statue. Besides, using a statue to remember a great person is a common practice in civilised societies. There were Buddha statues in monasteries in ancient times when there were many Arahaths. They didn't raise any objection. There are references to Buddha statues in the commentaries(Dhakkhina vibhanga sutta). There have been many debates about certain opinions of ancient Dhamma teachers which were recorded in Kathawattupakaranaya. But there's no record of anyone objecting the reverence of Buddha statues.

None of the statues that exist in the world can be likened to the Buddha 100% as the Thaththaga is Appatimo. The statues themselves have many differences. But most of them have a certain similarity which creates an undeniable sense of respect and awe in us towards the Buddha.

ex: Samadhi Statue of Sri Lanka. The first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru once said he found solace and strength in a photograph of this statue when he was imprisoned by the British in 1940s.

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Even though the image will never be same as The Buddha himself, I believe there is nothing wrong with having the image for veneration. Personally, I feel so much peaceful and secure. One of advantages for me is that I usually discourage myself to think any unnecessary thought others than related to Dhamma while I am at a temple where you can usually see big statues of The Buddha. Nevertheless,

"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."

Reference from here

  • Thanks Aknay. If it helps for peace and calmness then there is a benefit. Unfortunately many people use the Buddha image as an amulet, or lucky charm. Almost every other car in Sri Lanka has a small Buddha image on its dashboard these days, to either say 'I am Buddhist', or 'seeking protection and safe travels' from a statue. Then temples compete with each other as to which has the larger statues. Venerating statues quickly turns to superstition and competition. – Kaveenga Wijayasekara Mar 31 '15 at 8:24
  • @KaveengaWijayasekara Agree. Well, deteriorating and disappointing if you look at that way. If you look from other way, we should be glad that we are born in Buddhist country where we can still read a lot of good books in our own language. I remembered the monk mentioned that the change has to start from you. Then slowly educate/teach your family, friends, relatives and so on... I believe that is also the responsibility for a lay Buddhist. – aknay Mar 31 '15 at 15:21
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Thich Nhat Hanh said that, when he was seven years old, he saw a picture of the Buddha on the cover of a Buddhist magazine.

He was sitting on the grass ... very peaceful ... smiling. And I was impressed. Around me people were not like that, so I had the desire to be someone like him.

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