Zen Wisdom 221



Would Shih-fu elaborate on the use of Buddha statues and images in Buddhism?


Let us begin with the historical Buddha. Of course, when Sakyamuni was still alive, there were no such things as Buddha statues or images. It was not until one hundred years or so after the Buddha entered nirvana that people started to use things to symbolize the Buddha, such as the Dharma Wheel, a symbol which represents the turning of the Dharma, an image of two trees, which represents the spot Sakyamuni lay when he entered nirvana, and an image of the bodhi tree, under which Sakyamuni attained complete enlightenment. At this time, also, there began a worship of the Buddha's relics. These symbols and relics probably represent the origin of all later Buddhist images, such as Buddha statues.

During the earlier periods after Sakyamuni's departure, people used places and things that helped them to remember the Buddha. Eventually, people built stupas, shrines of a sort, which contained relics of the Buddha. Soon, however, shrines outnumbered relics, so Buddha statues were placed in stupas instead. This is the origin and general history of the emergence of Buddha statues in Buddhism.