By Amy Underdown, London, UK
Is it offensive to own a Buddha statue? Without trying to give away spoilers for this article, the short answer is no. It is unsurprising in a world plagued by cancellation culture and social media police that people are afraid to offend and cautious when handling subjects like religion and spirituality. Caution certainly doesn’t go amiss, as appropriation is an important and intricate issue, but (and this is the long answer to the question) owning a Buddha statue is perfectly acceptable when properly understood and treated in a respectful way. Buddhism is a growing religion, with its simple approach to serenity and suffering making all the more sense as the modern world seems to grow unnecessarily complicated. Owning a statue of the Buddha is therefore a positive experience for anybody who wishes to cultivate a space of mindfulness in their home.
Having reached Enlightenment, the Buddha’s intention was to teach others so that they could do the same. Travelling through the Ganges Plain, he taught his sermons to people of all classes and morals, including to criminals and cannibals. We should therefore encourage the welcoming of Buddha into our own homes rather than creating an exclusionary community, especially as the Buddha said himself that the best way to remember and respect him was through his teachings. The Teaching Buddha, in particular, encourages a focus on individual spirituality and is said to represent Buddha’s first sermon following his awakening. Therefore, even if you feel like a spiritual novice, the Buddha’s purpose was to teach, so to deny a statue’s entry into the home would be to deny the leader of his livelihood. After all, what is a teacher without students?
The key to respectfully owning a Buddha statue is to therefore understand its profound meanings, as the Teaching Buddha is just one of many traditional forms that the Buddha takes. Whilst you may get some funny looks if you start talking to statues in the street, Buddha statues are deeply communicative. This is not to say that you’ll have a chat over brunch, but rather each statue is infused with a spiritual charge which can shape your meditation or the chi of the room. For example, you could have a Meditation Buddha, which seems perfectly self-explanatory. Or, you could have a Laughing Buddha, also subtly named the Fat Buddha, which is said to bring prosperity when you rub his belly. Get the two confused and start rubbing the belly of the Meditation Buddha… well, it would be pretty awkward. Understanding your Buddha statue is crucial in nurturing the positive emotions and states that you wish to develop. This is also a reason to invest in an authentically made Buddha statue, as these are made by artists with a deep devotion and understanding of his teachings.
As well as knowing what your Buddha statue intends to convey, it is also important to understand how to properly display and treat the figure with respect. An easy way to do this is to consider your Buddha statue as a renowned guest. Some of this is (hopefully) obvious, such as not putting him up in the toilet or in a walkway – most guests, renowned or not, may take issue with this. But there are also other things to consider, such as keeping the statue clean, ensuring it is kept at eye-level, and not trying to embellish it with your own, fancy artistic twist. Just like it would be with any religious figure, leaving the Buddha to collect a coat of dust or going Jackson Pollock on it would be highly disrespectful. Owning a Buddha statue is therefore not something to be frowned upon, but trying to alter it or not treating it with appreciation means you have not understood the weight that these statues carry (and, no, that wasn’t another reference to the Laughing Buddha). Click here to find out more about where to put your Buddha.
Overall, having a Buddha statue should encourage mindfulness. As depicted in a Calling the Earth to Witness Buddha, even the leader himself was faced with temptations and had to resort to the strength of his beliefs to overcome demons and reach Enlightenment. In this instance, Buddha was assisted by the Goddess of the Earth, but not all of us have access to such high-up friends. Instead, we can turn to a Buddha statue to be a daily guide to find peace and achieve the serenity that many of us strive towards. Creating this positive aura is open to everyone who is willing to understand the Buddha, listen to his teachings, and treat his statues with the upmost respect.