Many people believe that an advanced religion worships only one god. They do not understand that Buddhism is not a religion, that we do not worship the images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas but rather we regard them as teaching aids, which help us to understand the different methods of cultivation. One single image or method is insufficient to represent all phenomena in our world, so Buddhism uses many kinds of artistic works to represent them. Once we have understood the educational significance of Buddhist artistry, we will naturally give rise to admiration and appreciation.
All Buddhas symbolize our virtuous nature. All Bodhisattvas and Arhats symbolize the virtue of practice. Without the virtue of practice, the innate virtuous nature cannot be revealed. This complementary relationship is why the Buddha Table includes both Buddha and Bodhisattva images. The Buddha represents original nature and the Bodhisattvas represent the application of this nature. This original nature is empty, as it has no set form. All creations or form arise from this original nature and once there is form, there is application. The Buddha represents the original nature and the Bodhisattvas represent form and application. This is why in the Flower Adornment Sutra, the Buddha does not comment on the teachings, for the original nature that is empty has nothing to say. But the Bodhisattvas do have something to say since they apply the principles. Not only is the original nature unexplained but also no thoughts arise from it. The saying that ¡§Whenever I open my mouth I blunder; whenever I have an idea I am wrong¡¨ is said in terms of original nature represented by one Buddha. Why are there two Bodhisattvas to represent application? The infinite and innumerable form and application are divided into two categories; wisdom and practice or understanding and behavior. Practice corresponds with understanding. Understanding is the principle and practice is the application.
When we see the image of Buddha Shakyamuni, usually Ananda and Kasyapa, two great Arhats are on either side of him. Buddha Shakyamuni represents our original nature. Ananda, who is foremost in hearing, represents understanding and wisdom. Kasyapa, who is foremost in asceticism, represents practice. We may also see Buddha Vairocana, the wisdom body of Buddha Shakyamuni, with Manjushri Bodhisattva and Universal Worthy Bodhisattva on either side of him. Manjushri Bodhisattva represents understanding. Universal Worthy Bodhisattva represents practice.
Pure Land Buddhism regards Buddha Amitabha as the original nature with Guan Yin Bodhisattva representing compassion and practice, and Great Strength Bodhisattva representing wisdom and understanding. Due to these profound meanings, there cannot be two or more Buddhas and three or more Bodhisattvas.
Each Buddha represents a part of the virtuous nature. Every part of it is perfect so ¡§One is all, all is one¡¨. Each name illustrates the virtues. For example, ¡§Shakya¡¨ means kindness, teaching us that we need to treat others with kindness and compassion. ¡§Muni¡¨ means stillness and purity. The whole meaning of Shakyamuni teaches us to behave toward others with kindness and compassion, to strive for purity of mind for ourselves. This is the meaning of Shakyamuni and is innate to our original nature. Amituofo is a Sanskrit transliteration. ¡§Amituo¡¨ means infinite. ¡§Fo¡¨ means Buddha. What is infinite? Everything, infinite wisdom, ability, long life, etc. But of all infinities, infinite life is the most important for without it all other infinities are useless. With it, we can enjoy all other infinities.
How can we gain these infinities? Infinity is none other than our self-nature, our original true nature. The Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Master Hui-Neng said, ¡§Self-nature is innate; from self-nature arises all phenomena in the universe¡¨. In other words, it means infinity. What method do we use to obtain this infinity? We practice the teachings of Guan Yin Bodhisattva and Great Strength Bodhisattva. The former teaches us to be compassionate; the latter teaches us the single-minded concentration of Buddha Amitabha. Great Strength Bodhisattva taught us ¡§Concentrate solely on Buddha Amitabha, without ceasing, without intermingling with other methods, and in this way we will surely attain wisdom and enlightenment¡¨.
Adding to this is the compassionate way of Guan Yin Bodhisattva. Behaving towards others with compassion and chanting only ¡§Namo Amituofo¡¨ will enable us to enjoy infinite life. In this way we will develop our virtuous nature and uncover our infinite merits and virtues. Thus, when we pay respect to the images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we need to understand that each is representative of a way of cultivation and of the truth of the universe.
The Hall of Heavenly Guardians
Buddhist architecture is also an artistic expression. From the exterior, the main cultivation hall appears to have two stories, but there is only one story inside. The external two stories represent ¡§absolute truth¡¨ or the true reality of life and the universe, and ¡§relative truth¡¨ or worldly views still clouded with delusion. The interior single story illustrates that both are the same truth. To the deluded, the two appear distinct and different; however, to the enlightened, they are one and the same.
Upon entering a way place, we first see the Hall of Heavenly Guardians. In the center of the hall is Maitreya Bodhisattva. To his left and right are the four Heavenly Guardians or Dharma Protectors. Maitreya Bodhisattva, known as the ¡§Happy Buddha¡¨ in the west, is represented by the image of the historical monk Bu-Dai, a manifestation of Maitreya Bodhisattva. Maitreya Bodhisattva has a big smile that conveys ¡§Want to learn Buddhism? Be happy and greet everyone with a smile. Do not constantly lose your temper or else you cannot learn Buddhism¡¨. This Bodhisattva also has a huge belly representing great broad-mindedness and equality of mind, teaching us to treat everything and everyone with generosity, patience and serenity. Only by emulating such qualities can we learn and practice Buddhism. Therefore, Maitreya Bodhisattva sits facing the door to tell all who enter, ¡§only those who can accomplish this are eligible to learn Buddhism¡¨.
Standing beside Maitreya Bodhisattva are the four Heavenly Guardians or Dharma Protectors. They are symbolic guardians of the practitioners of the Buddhist way. Whom do they protect? They protect us by reminding us to educate ourselves and to safeguard the proper knowledge, which we should learn. Each guardian portrays a different aspect of thought or action.
The Eastern Dharma Protector symbolizes responsibility and safeguards the territory, which means that all of us are responsible for ourselves, our family, society and the country as a whole. How do we fulfill this responsibility? If each of us performs our duties well, fulfilling our obligations, we support each other and ourselves as well. In this way, society will be harmonious and the country will be prosperous and powerful.
The Southern Dharma Protector symbolizes progress and teaches us diligence. It is not enough to just meet our responsibilities. We need to make progress with each passing day for no progress means we regress. He emphasizes the importance of constantly cultivating and advancing our virtue, conduct, wisdom and ability, and to improve performance in our duties and our standard of living. From this, we can see that Buddhism is progressive, always leading the times.
The Western Dharma Protector symbolizes comprehensive vision and knowledge gained through exposure to the world. He represents the need to open our eyes to observe nature and humanity, to refine what we see and learn, and to distinguish good from ill. The Northern Dharma Protector symbolizes comprehensive study and learning. Both teach ways of practice and how to achieve the goals in responsibility fulfillment and self-improvement. As the ancient Chinese said, ¡§To read ten thousand books and to travel ten-thousand miles¡¨. Reading is the means for accomplishing the fundamental knowledge. Traveling ten thousand miles is to learn from observation. Through travel we see advantages of others and learn from them.
We also see their shortcomings, which can in turn serve as a warning to us so that we constantly improve ourselves. In this way, we can build a prosperous society and a safe country. In so doing, we safeguard the Dharma. So, the images of the Bodhisattvas and Dharma Protectors remind us to be diligent in the pursuit of our goals and responsibilities. So, we can see that Buddhism is neither a religion nor superstition.
The Four Dharma Protectors hold various objects to symbolize different aspects of the Dharma. The Eastern Dharma Protector of Managing the Nation holds a lute, which symbolizes the principle that we need to refrain from acting with undue haste but should keep to the middle path. It is like playing a lute, if the strings are too loose, it will not play. If they are too tight, they will break. We need to be responsible in our duties and do things in a proper, balanced way.
The Southern Dharma Protector of Growth holds the sword of wisdom that cuts away all troubles and worries. The Western Dharma Protector holds a dragon or snake that is twining around him. The dragon or snake symbolizes change. Today, everything is constantly changing, only when we can see the truth will we be able to interact with ease and serenity. The Northern Dharma Protector holds an umbrella symbolizing protection from all the pollution that is around us. While learning, we need to safeguard our pure mind and quiet heart from becoming polluted. Furthermore, we need to understand the true reality of life and the universe, to have the wisdom and ability to properly interact with all people, matters and objects.
All of this can be learned from visiting the Hall of Heavenly Guardians. If we regard the Protectors as deities with magical powers who will protect us if we burn incense, prostrate and offer flowers and fruit praying for protection and safety we will be sadly mistaken. This is superstition. All the facilities, images of Buddha and Bodhisattvas and any offerings made are teaching tools designed to inspire our mind and wisdom. They also serve to remind us of the importance of being enlightened instead of deluded, virtuous instead of deviated, pure instead of polluted. These are the three principles of Buddhist teaching and practice.
Therefore, everything in a way place serves as a teaching aid. Even the offerings are educational. A container of water symbolizes the Dharma. The water is clean symbolizing that our minds need to be as pure as the water. It is calm without a single ripple, symbolizing the tranquility in our hearts. It is to have purity and equality of mind. Flowers symbolize the ¡§cause¡¨ as the blossoming of flowers results in the bearing of fruit. Flowers symbolize the Six Paramitas. Fruits are not offered to the Buddha or Bodhisattvas to eat. They remind us that if we want the sweet fruit or the good result, we must cultivate and accumulate good deeds, the cause. Thus, everything we see in the way place is a teaching aid. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas neither smell nor eat, they want for nothing.
We also see lamps, which symbolize wisdom and brightness; incense sticks, which symbolize self-discipline and deep concentration. You will not see anything in the cultivation and lecture halls that do not symbolize some teaching. However, it is a sad loss that many Buddhists are totally ignorant of the educational significance of these objects. They do not know why they burn the incense or why they make offerings to the images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Their belief is actually superstition. Some people criticize Buddhists as being superstitious. These critics are right. Too many Buddhists are confused about Buddhism.
We need to be clear on what we are learning and explain this to the skeptics and critics, then I believe they will also want to learn. I have introduced Buddhism to people in China in this manner. After hearing my explanation, they said they had been ignorant of such a good thing and wished to learn more.
In conclusion, it is the genuine wisdom and infinite enlightenment in Buddhism that helps all sentient beings obtain true benefits and happiness. The Buddha teaches all beings with his boundless, compassionate heart. Throughout history Buddhist practitioners, whether they be of the Esoteric, Zen or any other School, have made great achievements following these principles and methods. Today, however, people know very little of the genuine principles and methods, so few have any real achievements.
In our Dharma-Ending Age, people have overwhelming obstacles from their accumulated karma. Under these circumstances, the Buddha Name Recitation Method is most effective due to its simplicity and expediency. It neither takes a long time nor requires special rituals. Anyone can practice it any time, any place. This is why so many people have achieved attainment. Taiwan is neither large in population nor in size, but in the last forty years, by my most conservative estimate, at least five hundred people have attained birth into the Pure Land to become a Buddha in one lifetime.
To succeed, we accord with the teachings in the five Pure Land sutras and one commentary, generate the Bodhi-mind and concentrate on mindfulness of Buddha Amitabha. The Awakening of Faith Sastra stated that, ¡§Enlightenment is innate, delusion is not¡¨. Therefore, we definitely can uncover our innate Buddha nature and proper viewpoints. We definitely can discard what is not innate, our delusion, deviated viewpoints and impurities. Thus, we recite sincerely ¡§Amituofo¡¨ to rid ourselves of our negative karmas and habits, to live simply and to practice diligently to attain the Buddha Name Chanting Samadhi. Then, finally we will attain freedom in body and mind, and understand the true reality.
We are free to go whenever we wish. If we choose to remain here for a longer time, that¡¦s all right. Since so many have achieved, why can¡¦t we? We have not sincerely chanted long enough. How long is long enough? According to ancient records, many have achieved after three years. After that, we no longer have any fears. We will feel perfectly safe and our minds will be at ease. If the Third World War were to start today and a nuclear bomb was to explode, we would simply say that it was time to go to the Pure Land. No pain, no fear, true freedom. This is what the Infinite Life Sutra said is ¡§the true benefit given to all sentient beings¡¨.
Adopt whatever teachings and practices are beneficial and effective. There is only one ultimate goal for us; benefiting all sentient beings, helping them free themselves from delusions and sufferings, and enabling them to attain happiness and enlightenment. If badgering or sternness works, use it. If gentleness works use it. But be aware that falsehoods, attachments, emotions and delusions have nothing to do with Buddhism or achieving our goal. I hope everyone will attain the goal of freedom from delusion, attachment and suffering, to attain happiness, tranquility and the perfect complete enlightenment.

By: Master CHIN KUNG