Those of you who are new to Buddhism may have heard about our Statue and Stupa Filling workshop and may be wondering about the benefits of this activity. Lama Zopa Rinpoche has explained this in his teaching titled The Benefits of the Existence of Statues and of Making Statues:
“The existence of Buddha’s teachings for a long time depends on the existence of the holy objects of Buddha. The teachings exist in the mind so how can they depend for their existence on the existence of these external holy objects? You have to think about this, you have to understand this. It is not easy to have the teachings in the mind. To have the scriptural understanding and the realizations of the teachings is not easy. For these, you need to have a lot of merit. The most powerful merit one can accumulate, and accumulate so easily, is in relation to holy objects of Buddha.
By making statues of Buddha and making offerings to statues of Buddha, one accumulates infinite, inconceivable merit that immediately becomes a cause of enlightenment. Every merit accumulated by making statues and by making offerings to statues immediately becomes the cause of enlightenment. Without doubt, every single one becomes a cause of enlightenment.”
Ok, that all sounds good, but exactly why is this a source of merit? Lama Zopa further explains:
“Manjushri asked Buddha, “One Gone Beyond, now you are the only object to whom sentient beings can make offering. After you pass into the sorrowless state, what will sentient beings do? How will they accumulate merit when they can’t see Buddha any more? Please advise us.”
Buddha answered, “My four followers, there is not one single difference between making offerings to me now and in the future, with devotion, making offerings to my reflections. The merit is equal and the result is equal.”
The “four followers” refers specifically to the fully ordained monks, the fully ordained nuns, the getsuls and the getsulmas, the disciples closest to Buddha, but generally it includes all of us sentient beings who do not have the karma to see the actual living Buddha. We have only the karma to see Buddha’s reflections: the symbolic representations of Buddha, such as statues, paintings and so forth.
Buddha is saying that even though we cannot see the actual Buddha, if we make offerings to these holy objects symbolic of Buddha, the merit is equal to that of actually seeing Buddha and making offerings. It is not that the merit of those who met Shakyamuni Buddha in ancient times and were able to make offerings to him is not more than that of offering merely to a statue of Buddha. The result is exactly the same. This is very important to understand and very important to remember in our daily life. When we offer our food and drink, when we make offerings on the altar, whenever we do the practice of offering in our everyday life, we should feel great happiness. “
One can infer from this that this is more than just a mystical activity. The Buddha is enlightened and wants for nothing. So, what is one really accomplishing by making offerings to the Buddha? For one, we are expressing gratitude for the teachings that are so incredibly beneficial to us. More fundamentally, the process of cultivating that gratitude is essential to appreciating the teachings, or any good thing in our lives for that matter. Also, we are cultivating our capacity for generosity, which manifests in turn as generosity for all sentient beings.
So, you may be wondering at this point why is it important to fill the inside of statue if we are making offerings to the statue? Lama Zopa has said that leaving a statue empty is like offering nothing to the Buddhas and can create obstacles, so it is important to fill the statue with something, even if it’s just a few mantras. (So in other words, filling the statue is another important way of making an offering.) Also, many Buddhist traditions believe that it is important to fill the statue with sacred objects and have your spiritual teacher consecrate it before you put it on your altar, because this transforms the statue from a mere physical object to a true representation of the Buddha.
An example of the benefits of creating a Buddha statue but on a much larger scale can be seen with the Maitreya Project. For those of you who are not familiar with the project, its centerpiece will be a 500 foot / 152 meter statue of the Buddha that will contain a shrine of more than 1,000 sacred Buddhist relics. This statue is primarily being built to help Buddhists throughout the world to generate merit and develop loving kindness, but that’s not all it will accomplish. It is also anticipated that the construction of the statue and the surrounding infrastructure will provide education, healthcare, and employment opportunities to people throughout the region, and thus become the active practice of that loving kindness which we are working so hard to cultivate. In this way, the statue is an important catalyst for positive change that might not necessarily happen if it didn’t exist.
So, after reading all of this, some of you may still be wondering what Buddhists mean by the term merit. According to Gyume Khensur (Lobsang Tenzin) Rinpoche in the August / September 2007 edition of Mandala Magazine “merit, in general, means everything that is virtuous.” Rinpoche gives us an example of how we create merit through cultivating the virtuous qualities that bring about prosperity and a higher rebirth in future lives:
“When we look, we find four types of giving: the giving of material things, the giving of dharma teachings, the giving of love or kindness toward others, and the giving of protection from states of fear. If we can embody all these types of giving, then that is great. In order to be blessed with material resources in future lifetimes, never to be in lack of material resources, what is the merit that ensures that? It is generosity. That is, the specific merit that brings forth that result. In order to attain higher rebirth, what is the specific merit? It is ethics. And then also, there is merit which is accumulated through the substances that we give, such as the building of temples and monasteries, the printing of scriptures, through enabling learning, enabling positive qualities in others; based on [and relative to] these items or substances, you have the merit of generosity.”
— Posted by Lisa Wilcox with patient editing by Dina Li
More details on our Statue and Stupa Filling Workshop:
Sunday, August 10
Registration required by August 5. Suggested donation $50 for members, $70 for non-members. Send Dina an email: gcregistration at yahoo dot com and also please mail a check with your donation (memo: statue workshop) payable to the Guhyasmaja Center to: Guhyasamaja Center, P.O. Box 1511, Centreville, VA 20122