Reality Of Idol Worship And Buddhism

Reality of Idol Worship and Buddhism

The destruction of Buddhist statues in Afghanistan by Taleban has prompted a worldwide discussion on this subject. It is common knowledge that having idols of religious significance would eventually lead to the practice of idol worshipping. Even idols without any religious importance, with the passage of time, have proven to be becoming objects of worship. Does this worship and veneration of idols, created by humans, conform to human intellect and reasoning? This is the basic theme of this discussion and as the subject was initiated due to the recent destruction of Buddha statues, we would like to have a brief discussion about Buddhism, particularly about the authenticity of it's scriptures, on which the present day Buddhism is built upon.   Your active participation with suggestions and even corrections, if there were any, would be highly appreciated. Our fervent hope is that an unprejudiced and unbiased approach to this discussion, would undoubtedly result in a very constructive outcome.

Even though we live in the 21st century of knowledge and science, the phenomenon of idol worshipping still persist in many of the nations of the world. The Qur'an, the book of Islam, revealed in 620 CE alerts us to the fallacy involved in worshipping idols and in the story of Prophet Ibrahim (‘alaihi salam) trying to show his people how illogical is such an act of ignorance.

And recite to them the story of Ibrahim (‘alaihi salam). When he said to his father and his people "What do you worship?" They said: "We worship idols and to them we are ever devoted" He said: " Do they hear you, when you call on (them)? Or do they benefit you or do they harm (you)?" They said: "(Nay) But we found our fathers doing so" (Holy Qur'an 26:69-74)

Ibrahim (‘alaihi salam) left his father's house and abandoned his people and what they worshipped. He decided to do something about their state of disbelief, but did not reveal it to anyone. He knew that there was going to be a great celebration on the other bank of the river, which would be attended by all the people. Ibrahim (‘alaihi salam) waited until the city was empty, then came out cautiously directing his steps towards the temple. Ibrahim (‘alaihi salam) went there carrying a sharp ax. He looked at the stone and wooden statues and at the food laid in front of them as offerings (dana). He approached one of the statues and asked "the food in front of you is getting cold. Why don't you eat?" The statue kept silent and rigid. Ibrahim asked the other statues around him   "Will you not eat (of the offerings before you?' (Holy Qur'an 37:91) He was mocking them for he knew they would not eat. He once again asked them "What is the matter with you that you speak not?' (Holy Qur'an 37:92)

He then raised his ax and started smashing the false deities worshipped by the people and by this he wanted to show his people a practical proof of their foolishness in worshipping something other than Allah, the One True God. He destroyed them all except one, on whose neck he hung the ax. When the people returned, they were shocked to see their deities smashed to pieces, lying scattered all over the temple. They began to guess who had done that to their idols, and Ibrahim's (‘alaihi salam) name came to their minds.

They said: "Who has done this to our gods? He must indeed be one of the wrong doers". They said: "We heard a young man talking against them, who is called Ibrahim" They said: "Then bring him before the eyes of the people, that they may testify" They said: "Are you the one who has done this to our gods, O Ibrahim?" Ibrahim said: "Nay, this one, biggest of them (idols) did it. Ask them if they can speak?"

So they turned to themselves and said: "You are the wrong doer" Then they turned to themselves (their first thought and said): "Indeed you (Ibrahim) know well that these (idols) speak not!" Ibrahim said: " Do you then worship besides Allah, things that can neither profit you, nor harm you. Fie upon you, and upon that you worship besides Allah! Have you then no sense?" (Holy Qur'an 21: 59-67)

The story of Prophet Ibrahim (‘alaihi salam) and his continuous struggle against idol worship and all other forms of polytheistic practices and his enormous sacrifices to establish the worship of Allah amongst mankind needs lot more pages to explain. The following is the explanation found in the “Fundamentals of Tawheed” by Dr. A.A.B. Philips, how the idol worship found it’s way amongst the mankind.

“Prophet Mohammed (Peace and Blessings be upon him) described in vivid detail exactly how Polytheism (Shirk) found its way among mankind after long periods of Monotheism (Tawheed), which began with Prophet Adam. The Prophet’s companions related the picture to us in their explanation of Verse 23 of Chapter Nooh (Noah), where in Allah describes the reaction of Prophet Nooh’s people when he invited them to the worship of Allah (only one True God). “They said to each other:`Do not leave your gods! Do not give up Wadd and Suwaa nor Yaghooth, Yaooq and Nasr’” Qur’an 71: 23

Ibn Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him) said the following in his commentary on this Qur’anic verse: “These were idols of Nooh’s nation which in time ended up among the Arabs. These idols were named after some righteous men among Nooh’s people. When these righteous men died Satan inspired the people to make statues of them named after them, in remembrance of them. These statues were placed in their favorite meeting places as reminders of righteousness and no one of that generation worshipped them. However, when that generation died off and the purpose of the statues were forgotten, Satan came to their descendants and told them that their predecessors used to worship the statues because it was due to them that it rained. The descendants were fooled and began to worship them as idols. The following   generations continued to worship them.

The Tafseer (explanation) of the verse given by these illustrious companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) paints a clear picture of the process by which idolatry and polytheism found its way into the pure monotheistic system of beliefs held by our ancestors. It confirms the degeneration model, identifies the historical origin of ancestor worship and it also explains why Islam is so firmly opposed to the depiction of human and animal forms in statues or paintings. The prohibition of images can also be found among Ten Commandments given to Prophet Moses and recorded in the Old Testament: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image or likeness of anything that is in the heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth”. Exodus 20:4

Now, you will be able to see some satanic confusion repeated. Early followers of Prophet Jesus maintained this attitude until an infusion of Greco-Roman thought thoroughly distorted Prophet Jesus’ monotheistic teachings. This change produced a rash of statue making in which martyrs, saints, apostles, Mary, Jesus and even God himself were depicted.

To know what Buddhism says about idol worship, we have to examine their sacred books. The Bible of Buddhism is called ‘Tri Pitaka’ composed of three books, written in Pali. These are the books of the Hinayana or Theravada sect of Buddhism, which claims to be more orthodox than the other sect, Mahayana. Mahayanist use Mahavastu and Lalitavastu as their sacred books written in Sanskrit. We will be dealing with the books of the Hinayana sect and the following are the collections in this division of Buddhism.

I) ‘Sutta Pitaka’ collection of sermons and discourses of Buddha. Supposed to be the most important of the Pitakas as a source book of Buddhist doctrine. It consists of five divisions known as ‘Nikayas’.

1. Deega Nikaya

2. Majjima Nikaya

3. Sanyukta Nikaya

4. Anguttara Nikaya and

5. Kuddaka Nikaya.

II) ‘Vinaya Pitaka’ composed of rules of conduct, particularly of monks.

III) ‘Abhidhamma Pitaka’ analysis of doctrine.

In any of these texts we do not find any evidence or statement approving or promoting of idol worship by Buddha. On the contrary, Buddha has opposed making of idols, when Ananda, a close relative, the most devoted attendant and a leading monk sought permission to make an idol of Buddha. The practice of idol worship in present day Buddhism is an innovation, defying the teachings of Buddha.

Idol worship, the nearest analogy I can provide you is like calling someone else as one’s father, while his real father is another person. Rejection of one’s father and attributing this very honorable position to another person is a very disgraceful, abominable and disgusting thing any human being will think of doing. The only one true God (Allah) is the Creator, Sustainer, Cherisher and Provider. It is He only deserves our worship. If we make idols of human beings, animals and other created objects, for the purpose of worship, my simple question is, do we earn the Blessings or the Wrath of Allah? This is the unpardonable sin any human being can commit. The seriousness of this sin will not equal the analogy provided above.

The following is a glimpse of basic principles of Buddhism and the views expressed by competent persons about the authenticity of their sacred scripture. Dr. Khalifa Abdul Hakim in his book ‘The Prophet and His Message’ sums up the basics of Buddhism as follows. “What we know about Buddha with any certainty is only this, that overwhelmed by the pain and misery of life, he wandered away from his princely realm, deserting his community, his wife and child, in search of light to solve the problem of cosmic pain. The light that he received showed him the unreality of all life. Life, according to him, could not be mended. The only remedy, therefore, is that it must be ended. Actions, good as well as bad, are the products of desire. Therefore, to end all actions and ultimately all life, all desires should be annihilated. The aim of life should be to negate itself to attain to a desire less state, Nirvana, to which no category of life or consciousness is applicable, for which reason it is indescribable”.

Just as all Christian theology revolves around the ‘figment of ORIGINAL SIN’, so too does all Buddhist theology revolve around the ‘fact of suffering’. After spending some six years in his quest for truth, Buddha arrived at the conclusion that ‘ all is suffering!’ (Sarvam Dukham).   This is the corner stone on which the entire structure of Buddhism is founded. Now, let us examine some statements concerning the authenticity of Buddhist sacred books. Christmas Humpreys, author of the book ‘Buddhism’, says of himself that he studied Buddhism for thirty years and of Buddhism in the world today he knows more than most and he has this to say about the Buddhist Scriptures:

“The Buddha himself wrote nothing, and none of his teaching was written down for at least four hundred years after his death. We, therefore do not know what the Buddha taught, any more than we know what Jesus taught; and today at least four schools, with sub-division in each, proclaim their own view as to what is Buddhism”.

The disappearance of original teachings and practices of Buddha are almost complete today, for the Buddhists are sunk in superstitions, idol worship and Hindu religious rituals. Original Buddhism has changed colors completely.

H.G. Wells (An Outline of History Page 392) has described this in a very terse language. “Gautama’s disciples have cared more for the preservation of his tree than of his thought, which from the first they distorted and misconceived (the Bo tree which helped him to rest his back, while achieved ‘enlightenment’, still exists and with a sapling from the original tree planted in Sri Lanka, the Sri Maha Bodi in Anuradapura , venerated and worshipped excessively)”. Writing on the corruption of Buddhism, Mr. Wells makes the following interesting observations:

“Tibet today is a Buddhist country, yet Gautama could he return to earth, might go from end to end of Tibet seeking his own teaching in vain. He would find the most ancient type of human ruler, a god-king, enthroned, the Dalai Lama, depicted as the ‘living Buddha’. (At the time when Wells wrote, the Dalai Lama had not fled to New Delhi). At Lhasa he would find a huge temple filled with priests, abbots and lamas-he whose only buildings were huts and who made no priests-and above a high altar he would behold a huge golden idol, which he would learn was called ‘Gautama Buddha’! He would hear services intoned before this divinity, and certain precepts, which would be dimly familiar to him, murmured as responses. Bells, incense, prostrations, would play their part in these amazing proceedings. At one point in the service a bell would be rung and mirror lifted up, while the whole congregation, in an access of reverence, bowed lower………

About this Buddhist countryside he would discover a number of curious little mechanisms, little wind-wheels and water-wheels spinning, on which brief prayers were inscribed. Every time these things spin, he would learn, it counts as a prayer. ‘To whom?’, he would ask. Moreover, there would be a number of flagstaffs in the land carrying beautiful silk flags-which bore the perplexing inscription, ‘Ong Mani Padme hum’ , ‘the jewel is in the lotus’. Whenever the flag flaps, he would learn, it was a prayer also, very beneficial to the gentlemen who paid for the flag and to the land generally. Gangs of workmen, employed by pious persons, would be going about the country cutting this precious formula on cliff and stone. And this, he would realize at last, was what the world had made of his religion” (H.G.Wells-An Outline of History). Gautama Buddha achieved enlightenment’ at the age of thirty-five. From then until he died forty-five years later, he devoted his entire life to preaching his ethical doctrines. Yet he never paid any attention to the vitally important task of recording his message in a permanent written form. As a matter of fact, the only founder of a religion who ever paid any proper attention to this task was the Messenger of Allah, Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him). The Quran enjoys the unique distinction of being, on the one hand, the only religious scripture in the world today which has come directly from the founder of the religion, and on the other, the only original religious scripture which has survived historical criticism in respect of its integrity, authenticity, genuineness and purity.  

The Scriptures of Buddhism are numerous and mutually conflicting. Buddhism employed, in the main, two languages for recording scriptures. In the Pali language are recorded the scriptures of the Hinayana sect, in the Sanskrit language those of the Mahayana sect. Both these sets of scriptures oppose each other. This makes a Hinayana – Mahayana reconciliation next to impossible. Both these languages, Pali and Sanskrit, are now virtually dead or survive only as literary curiosities. The most striking and undisputable statement about the authenticity of the Buddhist scriptures is by Chief Monk Akuratiye Amarawansa, Chancellor of the Vidyodaya Buddhist University (Pirivena), Maligakanda, Colombo; Scholar of the Tripitaka and Chief Monk of Southern Sri Lanka. In his preface to the Sinhala translation of Deega Nikaya, he has expressed the following:

“The Deega Nikaya that we see today cannot be assuredly said to be the same one that was presented to the first reform council (Dharma Sangayana). Many reform councils were held subsequently and these Nikayas and divisions would have been subjected to many changes. Therefore, the most acceptable view would be that the present Deega Nikaya is a collection of sutras subjected to changes, additions and deletions taken place after the first reform council.”

The above statement deals lengthily about the amendments, additions and deletions of the sacred scriptures of Buddhism done after Buddha. Another striking point is the extraordinary differences in the chronology of Buddha’s appearance adopted by the various nations that have embraced his faith. This difference amounts to nearly two thousand years. The Chinese have the following dates for this event: B.C., 640, 767, 949, 1045 and 1130.   From the Tibetan books, fourteen different dates have been collected by the learned Hungarian, Cosma de Korosi: B.C., 546, 576, 653, 752, 837, 880, 882, 884, 1060, 1310, 2135, 2139, 2144 and 2422. The Japanese date is about B.C. 1000. Fa Hian, a Chinese traveler who visited Sri Lanka in C.E. 410, says that ten days before the middle of the third moon, the King of this island was accustomed to send a preacher to proclaim the austerities and mortifications of Buddha, at the conclusion of which he declared: “Since his parinirvana (death) 1497 years have elapsed;”, which would make the death of Buddha to be in the year B.C. 1087 (Laidlay’s Pilgrimage of Fa Hian). Hiun Thsang, another Chinese pilgrim, who wrote in C.E. 640, after his return from India, says that the accounts differ about Buddha’s death, it being fixed at 900, 1000, 1200, 1300 and 1500 years before his time.

The Maha Wansa (chronology of Sri Lanka) fixes the same date for the death of Buddha and the landing of Vijaya in Sri Lanka; but this date, B.C. 543, is never found in the sacred chronology of Buddhism, before it was borrowed from the chronology of Sri Lanka (Max Muller: Ancient Sanskrit Literature). Dr. Edward Conze, in his book, ‘Buddhism, Its Essence and Development’ remarks: “Buddhism is a body of traditions in which few names stand out, and in which fewer dates are precisely known. It is indeed most exasperating when we try to apply our current ideas of historical criticism. Langlois and Seignobos in their textbook of historical method, state that ‘ a document whose author, date and sources from which it has come cannot be determined, is just good for nothing’”. Dr. Conze goes on to remark sadly: “Alas, that is the case with most of the documents on which we build a history of Buddhism”.

Let us see the views of scholars about the Qur’an. An ardent critic of Islam, Sir William Muir, had to say the following in his book ‘Life of Mohammed’ published two centuries ago. “Except for the Qur’an, there is no other book under the sun which, for the last twelve centuries, has remained with so pure a text”

Dr. Maurice Bucaille, a member of the French Academy of Sciences, in his book ‘The Bible, the Quran and Science’ has to say the following: “The above observation (his own thesis) makes the hypothesis advanced by those who see Muhammad as the author of the Qur’an untenable. How could a man, from being illiterate, become the most important author, in terms of literary merits, in the whole of Arabic literature? How could he then pronounce truths of a scientific nature that no other human being could possibly have developed at that time, and all this without once making the slightest error in his pronouncement on the subject?”

  “Then do they not reflect upon the Qur’an? If it had been from (any) other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction” Qur’an 4:82

“And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our servant (i.e. Prophet Muhammed), then produce a surah (chapter) the like thereof and call upon your witnesses (i.e. supporters) other than Allah, if you should be truthful” Qur’an 2:23

The scripture of Islam is in one language, Arabic, which is today a living language spoken by hundreds of millions of people all over the world. Thus the ordinary and even the uneducated have direct access to the scripture of Islam.

“Invite (all) to the Way of your Rabb (Only God, Cherisher and Sustainer) with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious, for your Rabb knows best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance” (Qur’an 16:125)

“You are the best of people chosen for mankind because you command righteousness, forbid evil and believe in Allah” Qur’an 3:110

Author: Muhammed Dahlan

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