Purpose of Offering / Bowing and Superstition

Superstition is a belief that is not based on reason or knowledge. It is any blindly accepted belief due to irrational fear or ignorance, especially in connection with religion.

When one walks into a Buddhism temple, it is common to see people offering incense to handmade Buddha statues while they are making wishes at the same time. Some will offer 1 incense, 3 incenses, or a bundle of incenses at once.

First of all, do you think Buddha will work harder on granting your wish if you offer more incenses than the one who offers less? In another word, we can bribe Buddha with money and goods?

Some people may take an exrta mile by offering a roasted pig or BBQ duck to Buddha (Wait a second, shoudln't Buddhist avoid eating meat?). Some may burn a stack of fake money for the deceased one in the temple (Each bill is usually in million dollar, so there must be hyperinflation with this currency. Also, isn’t that a Taoist’s ritual?). These people do not understand or are just being ignorant to the princples of Buddhism, and these inproper actions, due to superstition, greed or foolishness, occur in temples daily and greatly affect the reputation of Buddhism.

Therefore, their irrational behaviors motivate me to create this website, and I hope the good nature of Buddhism can be carried onto people who have an urge to understand and practice Buddhism.

We generally accept that Buddha and Bodhisettva are more advanced than human and have the ability to leave the Samsara. This Samsara is not real, and we are as if in a dream. We create their statues as a reminder that there is a path for enlightment, a path that can leave this Samsara, this inreality. If Buddha can be outside of the Samsara, would they over emphasize about the things that human offer? Would I emphasize the fake money that I won in a monopoly game, for which it cannot be used in the reality?

However, in many sutras, Buddha asks us to offer jewels, incense, water, fruits, flowers and so on.

1) What is the purpose of offering?

When you offer your most precious jewels, your first reaction should be reluctant to give up. This is actually a practice of controlling your greed because greed for food, lust, sleep and money, etc will tie us down to this Samsara. Diamond has a very hard and solid chemical structure, and the concepts in “Diamond Sutra” are unmovable truth that will not alter with time and place. Buddha said, ‘All you Bhiksus should know that the Dharma which I speak is like a raft. Even the Dharma should be relinquished, how much the more so what is not Dharmas.’ That is, we should learn to treasure but not over attached to anything.

Incense represents “Precepts, Samadhi and Wisdom”. Offering incense represents the acknowledgement on following Precepts in order to achieve Samadhi. True wisdom will be revealed eventually. When we completely wipe out “Greed, Anger, and Stupidity” through Precepts, Samadhi and Wisdom, we will be pure in body and mind and free of afflictions.

Buddha doesn’t need our water. Offering water reminds a Buddhist the need to maintain one’s mind and heart as calm and clear as water, no matter how good or rough a situation one has to go through.

Buddha doesn’t need our flower as well. In fact, flowers represents merit and virtue. That is, one should practise good deeds/manners in order to achieve a fruitful and blossomful life.

Eating an offered fruit doesn't give your better luck. Fruits mean the "Law of Karma" or "Cause and Effect". If one plants a good seed and farm it with care, the seed wlll grow into a sweet and tasty fruit. If one breaks precepts and commits into inproper activities, the seed, with negative energy, will return with untasty fruit.

Light and Candles:
Light always represents wisdom in Buddhism because light can remove darkness. Offering Light or burning candles is a reminder that a buddhist should practise his inner wisdom in order to shine into people’s life by demonstrating the proper way in living and thinking.

Wooden Fish:
Besides being as a wooden instrument on controlling the tempo of a chanting ceremony, Buddhism uses the nature of fish, not closing its eyes even when they sleep, as a reminder that a Buddhist must work hard day and night, and strive hard for constant improvement.

2) Why should we bow to a handmade Buddha or Bodhisattva statue?

1. Maitreya Bodhisattva – Acceptance and Happiness
Generally, Maitreya Bodhisattva statue should be the first statue that we see whenever we enter into any temple. The statue is shaped like a monk carrying a big bag. His stomach is huge and he is always smiling. His stomach means we should have an immense tolerance, kindness and acceptable to people and incidents. His bag carries people sadness or heavy burden. Maitreya Bodhisattva represents equality, happiness and calm heart/mind on interacting with different people and things. These are the essential elements for “entering” into Buddhism. When we bow to Maitreya Bodhisattva, we acknowledge that we will work hard to grow our kindness (with wisdom though) and tolerance.

2. Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva – Filial and Respectful
Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva represents filial piety, which means being a dutiful and caring son or daughter to their parents. Hence, it is common to see Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva statue in Ancestor Hall at any temple. Ksitigarbha Sutra is also considered as a filial sutra, and this is where we should first start our practice of Buddhism from. When we expand this filial attitude from our parents to everyone, then we are bowing to the Bodhisattva.

3 Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva – Kindness and Pity
Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva represents kindness and pity. He uses great ability to listen to people who call for help. He uses pity to help people to leave troubles and pains. He uses kindness to make people happy. Kind to everyone, pity to everyone, helpful to everyone. If we understand the meaning when we bow, it means we are learning from this Bodhisattva.

4. Manjusri Bodhisattva – Wisdom and Rational
Manjusri Bodhisattva represents true, big or complete wisdom, which is not unwise or emotional. Kindness and providing convenience have to be built on the foundation of “wisdom”. We should neither be emotional on making decision, nor spoil someone with over kindness. Giving oneself over to blind emotions will result with irrational thinking and hence unfavourable outcome. Only if we have wisdom as our solid foundation, kindness and convenience can create true advantages to oneself and others. If we understand this logic, then we are truly bowing to Manjusri Bodhisattva.

5. Samantabhadra Bodhisattva – Practice and Persistent
Samantabhadra Bodhisattva represents applying theories into actions, and he utilizes filial piety, kindness, convenience and wisdom into our daily life. If we could act out Buddhism by how we dress, eat, talk and think, then we are learning from Samantabhadra Bodhisattva. Samantabhadra Bodhisattva is usually depicted as a Bodhisattva sitting on an elephant. Elephant walks steadily, firmly and persistently. It symbolizes that we should have patience and never rush for success in practising Buddhism.

Whenever someone criticizes that you are being Superstitious on bowing to a handmade statue, you can now explain that bowing is an action that gives respect and acknowledge to the meaning behind of these important figures.

May 31, 2016