There is this cultural practice of ‘making’ a Buddha image “come to life” before praying to it. In Sino-Buddhism, it is popularly known as “initiating the light” 开光 or “dotting the eyes” or “opening the eyes.” This usually involves some prayers and the usage of a paintbrush to symbolically put a dot on each eye of a Buddha image. The idea of empowering a Buddha image with wholesome energy is not unique to Chinese Buddhism and is present across the various schools of Buddhism.
Some people extended this dotting ritual to include the other senses, such as the nose, ears, and mouth. Some would concoct a magical solution to be used as magic paint for the dotting. Such ceremonies can be elaborate and complicated. Involving astrological calculation for the best date and time. Using a mirror to direct the sunray to shine upon the statue. Inviting ‘Buddha energy’ to enter the image and various other inventions.
Newly built temples and monasteries organize elaborate ceremonies to ’empower’ their Buddha statues. People believe that the empowering ceremony confers divine powers unto the otherwise “lifeless statue.”
Some Buddhist traditions stipulate that a hollow statue must be filled with blessed substances. Leaving a space inside the statue may inevitably result in spirit(s) possessing the statue. Whereas some traditions require the inscription of complicated magical diagrams or mantras behind a Buddha painting or on the painting itself.
Why do people go through all these trouble?
Simply because they are practicing IDOLATRY.
Real Buddhist don’t do that.” And here is why.
1. Buddha did not agree with idolatry and did not want anyone worshipping His images.
Buddha said, ” Those who see Dharma, see the Buddha.” Based on archeological findings, Buddha imageries occurred later in Buddhist history. That means Buddha idolatry is a cultural practice; NOT a Buddhist one.
Since it is cultural, the method of “empowering” a statue with spiritual energy varies according to place and time. In ancient India, different places might have their own unique customs and beliefs that also changed over a period of time. Some of these cultural beliefs and practices found their way into Buddhism. Some were even recorded and assimilated into the Mahayana scriptures. In addition to that, different schools of Buddhism were established outside of India when Buddhism spread across the world. That also facilitated the amalgamation of foreign beliefs and practices into Buddhism.
Although idolatry is not Buddhist, great masters had accommodated and tolerated it. This is because they are sensitive to the emotional needs of their disciples.
2. Buddha is beyond Samsara.
Therefore the idea of anyone having control over the “Buddha energy” or “Buddha spirit” (Both terms nonsensical), and that person being capable of “injecting” Buddha energy or spirit into a statue is simply illogical. If anyone can “control” or cast Buddha into a statue, then that spiritual force isn’t Buddha.
This leads to another important matter for those who believe in mysticism.
There are numerous cases of botched rituals concerning the empowering of Buddha statues (aka dotting the eyes). These unqualified people unwittingly invited malevolent spirits to reside in a Buddha statue instead. As mentioned, Buddha is beyond Samsara. Buddha is the teacher of Gods and men. How misguided can a person be if he thinks that he possesses the ability to invite / inject Buddha into a statue?
Moreover, one of the core principles of Buddhism is “Non-soul”. Thus, there is no such thing as Buddha-spirit in Buddhism. By the way, some Buddhist temples became spiritual custodians of such “cursed” statues. Since the spiritual energies possessing such statues were malevolent, their original owners usually met with tragic situations. Consequently, the Buddha statue became similar to a possessed doll (like that evil doll, Annabelle?) and had to be “locked” in a temple.
So what is the proper way of associating with a Buddha image?
This is a lengthy topic, so let us continue in the next post.
May all be well and happy.
Thank you for this great post, I can’t agree more with you. I see in so many houses and front yards Buddha pictures, sculptures and above of that, were I am always wondering if those people even know about the true teachings of Buddha. Sometimes it appears to me that it has become like a fashion design to expose Buddha in so many variations.
Thank you Cornelia, I feel likewise. I just hope that anyone with a Buddha image would treat it with respect and courtesy. At the very least, people should know that Buddha promoted peaceful co-existence, environmental protection and equality.
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Oh absolutely that’s what Buddha had been teaching all his lifetime and over 2.500 years.
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