How Are Buddhist Statues Used in Worship?

A row of Buddha statues adorn the exterior of a temple.
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Across the globe and as a part of nearly every religion, statues are used as a part of worship. While with most religions the term worship implies that a statue represents a deity, this is not the case with Buddhism. In fact, Buddhist worship is typically called "practice" or "meditation" to describe the inward -- rather than godly -- focus of rituals. However, the use of statues and visualizations is just as important, if not more so, in Buddhism as in other religions.

1 Who Buddhist Statues Represent

A statue often depicts a  seated Buddha.
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In the Buddhist tradition, statues are created to represent buddhas, not gods. Buddhas are simply people who have achieved the perfect state of self-liberation and enlightenment. The most common Buddhist statues are of the original Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who began teaching of the paths to eliminate suffering and reach nirvana after he himself attained enlightenment. Followers may display statues of other buddhas that are most known for protection and clearing of the path to enlightenment.

2 Where Buddhist Statues Are Found

A statue of Buddha may decorate  a home.
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In cultures where Buddhism is one of the primary religions, such as India and much of southeast Asia, statues of the Buddha can be found in temples, throughout cities and in many homes. In the cities themselves, statues are used as sources of inspiration as well as indicators of the primary religious affiliation of inhabitants. In these cases, as in cities throughout Japan, statues can reach more than hundreds of feet tall. For practicing Buddhists, statues most commonly adorn shrines, and at least one statue adorns every temple worldwide. More practical statues can be found in the home as protective symbols or simple decorations, and other representations of buddhas frequently adorn prayer flags, art and ritualistic jewelry, such as malas.

3 How Statues Are Used In Practice

Followers may chant before a statue of a buddha.
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Many Buddhist practices require the follower to visualize a particular buddha to receive that buddha's blessings. In fact, in one of the most basic Buddhist practices, visualization of Buddha Padmasambhava is used to confer blessings on the entire world. Because of the intense focus on the images of the buddhas themselves, statues were originally created to ensure proper visualization. In practice, they are not held or physically used in any way, but rather followers chant and recite mantras before the statues, which serve as a source of light and peace for the practitioner to visualize.

4 Statues at a Buddhist Shrine

A man prays in front of the statues on a typical temple shrine.
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Whether you are a guru, monk or home practitioner of Buddhism, a basic Buddhist shrine contains the same three statues. In the center is the most common image of the Buddha, the original Buddha Shakyamuni. To the right of him is Green Tara, the buddha of compassion, and to the left of Shakyamuni is Padmasambhava, the buddha who purifies all obscurations to enlightenment.

Tiffany Andras received her bachelor's and master's degrees from Georgia Tech in Biology and Biochemistry. Her work was first published in the "Journal of Chemical Ecology" as both a full-length article and the journal's cover. She has been writing professionally since 2012, with articles spanning topics from French culture to nutrition and brain disorders.