Worshipping The Buddha

By Tenzin Youdon, OneIndia, Sept 3, 2008

New Delhi, India -- Here is a story that will help us to understand why the Buddha image is important to inspire and to recall the Buddha into our mind. This story is found in the Buddhist literature, but not that of the Pali Tipitaka.

A few hundred years after the passing away of Buddha there was a devout monk in India named Upagupta. He was the most popular preacher at that time. Whenever he gave a sermon on the Dhamma, thousands of people would flock to listen to his preaching.

One day, Mara, the tempter, became jealous of Venerable Upagupta's popularity. Mara knew that Upagupta's popularity was helping to spread the teachings of the Buddha. He was not happy to see the words of Buddha filling the minds and hearts of the people. So he used a cunning method to influence the people. He made a plan to stop the people from listening to Upagupta's sermons.

One day, as Upagupta began his sermon, Mara organized a drama next to the place where Upagupta preached. A beautiful stage-show suddenly appeared. There were pretty dancing girls and lively musicians. The people soon forgot about the sermon and crossed over the show to enjoy the performances. Upagupta watched the people slowly drift away. Then he also decided to join the crowd. After that he decided to teach Mara a lesson.
When the performance ended, Upagupta presented Mara with garlands of flowers.

"You have organized a wonderful performance," said Ven. Upagupta.

Mara, of course was happy and proud of his achievement. He gladly accepted the garland from Upagupta and held his head high in the air. Suddenly it happened; the garland changed into a snake-like coil. Slowly the coil tightened until it choked his neck. So painful was that coil gripping his neck, that he tried to pull the coil off . No matter how hard he pulled, he could not take the coil off his neck. He decided to ask help from Sakka, the king of the gods to remove the coil. Sakka also could not remove it.

"I cannot remove this coil," said Sakka, "Go and see Maha Brahma, who is the powerful one."  So Mara went to see Maha Brahma and asked his help but he also could not do anything. "I cannot remove this coil, the only one who can remove this coil is the person who put it on you." said Maha Brahma. So Mara had to come back to Ven. Upagupta.

"Please remove this coil; it is so painful," he begged.

"Yes I can do that under two conditions, said Upagupta. "The first is that you must promise not to disturb Buddhist devotees any more in the future. The second is that you must show me the real image of Buddha. Because I know that you have seen him on many occasions, but I have never seen him. I would like to see the real Buddha image exactly like him, with the special thirty-two characteristics of his physical body"

Mara was so happy. He agreed with Upagupta.

"But one thing" pleaded Mara. "If I change myself into the image of the Buddha, you must promise that you will not worship me, because I am not a holy person, like you".

"I will not worship you", promised Upagupta.

Suddenly Mara transformed himself into an image that looked exactly like the Buddha. When Upagupta saw the image, his heart was filled with great inspiration; a deep devotion arose in his heart. With folded hands, he at once worshipped the Buddha figure.

"You are breaking the promise," shouted Mara, "you promised you would not worship me. Now why do you worship me?"

"I am not worshipping you. You must understand I am worshipping the Buddha" said Ven. Upagupta.

From this story we can understand why the Buddha image is important to inspire us and to help us to recall the sublime Buddha into our mind so that we can venerate him. We Buddhists do not worship the material symbol or forms that only represent the Buddha. We pay our respects to the Buddha.

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