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Volume 7 no 4

Voice of Bliss

All forms are illusions

Buddhism is truly detached from idols

People who think that Buddhism is the worshipping of an image of the Buddha, or that the Buddha is somebody whom we can appeal to for favours, should know of two very profound verses from the Diamond Sutra that contradict these popular beliefs. To the intellectual, they can lay to rest the suspicion that Buddhism is superstition. To those who are used to praying for divine intervention, they can become self reliant through their own virtuous karma.

It is stated in the Diamond Sutra, “He who sees me (Buddha) in forms or seeks me in sounds is on a heterodox path and cannot see the Tathagata (Buddha).” It further states that, “All forms are but illusions, in seeing that all forms are illusory, one sees the Tathagata”. It is only when we have attained a certain advanced level in the learning and practising of Buddhism that we will be able to understand the profound meaning of these verses. If you were to tell a person who has just started to learn Buddhism that learning Buddhism is like these verses, then he would find them too profound. He would not be able to make out what Buddha is like. Of course, he knows what human beings are like and quite naturally he will assume that only those who are similar in form to human beings are Buddhas. We can say that this is correct, but we can also say that this is wrong. For example, kindergarten teachers may use drawings of an old man and old woman when teaching the young children about grandfathers and grandmothers. Thereafter, when the children see other old folks in such resemblance they know that they are someone else’s grandparents. But, to university students it would be inappropriate for professors to use the same approach when talking about such blood relationships.

It is the same in learning Buddhism. When we encourage a new student of Buddhism to pay respect to the Buddha in the temple or monastery, he will not be frightened when he sees that the Buddha is the same as a human being. At the same time, when he sees that the Buddha and Bodhisattva images are so dignified and compassionate, it will give rise to a feeling of joy and reverence and lead him to learn Buddhism.

Often we come across people who have been learning Buddhism for a long time saying that they saw this Buddha or that Bodhisattva in their dreams. Initially, when we do not know about their level of understanding of Buddhism, we may praise them by saying, “Oh! You have such good affinity with Buddha and Bodhisattva that you can even see their images!” But it is wrong if we always praise them like this. If they report dreams like this for more then 3 times, you have to tell them, “The Mara is here, you have seen the Mara! All the Zen masters advise to obliterate the Buddha when the Buddha appears, and obliterate the Mara when the Mara appears [1].” We cannot praise them any more because they have already developed an attachment to forms.

In the same way, when we are dealing with people who are already advanced in Buddhism, we should use the method of the Diamond Sutra rather than the kindergarten method:

“He who sees me (Buddha) in forms or seeks me in sounds is on a heterodox path and cannot see the Tathagata (Buddha).”
“All forms are but illusions, in seeing that all forms are illusory, one sees the Tathagata.”

At this level, people will realize that Buddhism is the only religion that eradicates superstition and attachment to all forms.

Critics often say that the Buddha image is an idol. They criticize that Buddhism worships idols. In reality, the cross, the Jesus Christ image and Mother Mary, they are also idols. In this sense, is there a religion that does not worship idols? Therefore, we cannot say that Buddhism is the only religion that worships idols. The fact is that only Buddhism does not worship idols. The Diamond Sutra states, “All forms are but illusions, in seeing that all forms are illusory, one sees the Tathagata.”!

The essence of the Buddha, the Buddha Nature is omnipresent in the space of the Dharma realm, and the Dharma Nature is omnipresent in the space.


1. To ignore and not to be attached to such forms;. Mara is the Evil One, described as a murderer, hinderer, disturber, destroyer, etc.


Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre