The Spiritual Logic of the Maitreya Statue

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Bodhgaya, India (Archive #1148)

A teaching on the power of holy objects and the benefits of building a very large Maitreya Buddha statue. A substantial part of this teaching was given by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Bodhgaya, India, in March 1996.

Published in Mandala magazine, April 2010 and November 2000

Maitreya statue at LYWA premises.

It is a tradition in some of the monasteries in Tibet to build a very large Maitreya Buddha statue. One of the benefits of a big statue is that the bigger it is, the more people will come to it for prayer and spiritual practice. That means the statue is able to benefit more sentient beings. Just seeing the statue becomes unimaginable purification for sentient beings’ minds. The seed of liberation and enlightenment is planted in the mind just by seeing the statue.

On top of that, circumambulating, making offerings and so forth, paying respect—everything becomes a cause for enlightenment. Each of these practices collects inconceivable merit. That is the cause of happiness, so it helps for the success of this life: for health, long life, wealth, whatever happiness, of this life. The merit also takes care of this life.

Regardless of faith, the object also has power. The power of the statue arises from the Buddha’s mind. It comes from the inconceivable qualities of the Buddha, from so many prayers that Buddha made in the past while he was a bodhisattva.

We do not have a pure mind at the moment to see Buddha, so the karma we have is to see only the statue. Therefore, this holy object is for sentient beings to have realizations to collect merit and to be able to understand the teachings. The existence of the teachings depends on the existence of the statue. When people no longer have the karma to see Buddha directly, they can see a buddha as, for example, statues and stupas. Buddhas manifest not only in human form but also as statues, relics and so forth to allow sentient beings to purify their negative karma and create the cause for happiness and enlightenment with each circumambulation, prostration and offering they make.

Manjushri asked Buddha Shakyamuni about this and the Buddha replied, “In the future, sentient beings making offerings to statues make the same amount of merit as making offerings directly to me.”

It is said in the sutra, The King of Concentration, that even if one looks with anger at a drawing of the Buddha it causes one gradually to see ten million buddhas. It purifies disturbing thoughts and karmic obscurations, which are obstacles for developing love and compassion.

It is also mentioned by the great Indian Pandit Chandragomin that when one builds temples, no matter how many insects are killed, they all get purified. They don’t get reborn in the hell or animal realms. The numberless sentient beings who see this statue, make prayers, offerings and circumambulations will be able to develop the good heart of love and compassion. They will achieve peace, happiness and success in this life and the next, achieve the ultimate happiness of liberation from samsara, and the peerless happiness of full enlightenment.

Even if the motivation is impure, is not real Dharma, anybody who does prostrations, circumambulations, makes offerings, even just comes to see the statue, creates the cause for enlightenment. These actions become the cause for liberation from samsara and the cause to achieve good rebirth in the next life with much happiness.

Meditating on the path itself is not enough; we have to purify our minds. Just knowing the words is insufficient to rid our minds of obstacles and collect great merit. Without purification, nothing happens. Realizations are like seeds in that they need the right conditions in which to ripen, and merit is essential.

Connecting with holy objects is the easiest way for sentient beings to accumulate merit because it can be done without cultivating pure motivation, which takes much effort for the mind unaccustomed to renunciation, bodhicitta or right view.

In the introduction to the lam-rim teachings, it is taught that the meaning of Dharma practice is that our attitude in daily life must first become pure. We must cultivate the minds of non-attachment, non-anger and non-ignorance. Since we are not habituated with these positive states of mind, let alone having realized them, we have to put great effort into developing them, into making sure our motivation is always virtuous. Only then can our actions become the cause of happiness and benefit not only in this life but in many future ones. Therefore, it is crucial that we ourselves practice Dharma in that way.

However, there are exceptional circumstances where even without positive motivation, actions can become Dharma. What actions are these? Circumambulating or prostrating or making offerings to a statue or a picture of Buddha, for example—such actions can immediately become that cause of enlightenment and, by the way, the cause of liberation and good rebirths. They can cause good rebirths for many hundreds of thousands of lifetimes, because karma is expandable—one good karma can expand to bring its results many times within one lifetime or over the course of many lifetimes, because it purifies negative karma, the cause of all suffering, and the imprints left by negative karma on the mental continuum.

Due to the power of a holy object, as soon as offerings, circumambulations and prostrations are done in conjunction with the holy objects, they immediately become the cause of enlightenment. Holy objects make it so easy to create good karma, to create the cause for happiness. Usually most of us have delusions—no matter how much we don’t like to get angry, still it takes years to reduce anger, to control anger. It needs a lot of effort to create controlled virtue. But with holy objects it is so easy. This is the general benefit of a holy object.

It says in the sutra Stainless Beaming One: “Even the shadow of a holy object touching a bird or a fly, even water from a holy object touching one, or even a person hearing the construction of a holy object, these purify the five uninterrupted negative karmas, and those sentient beings will always be protected and paid attention to by the buddhas. They would achieve the complete path to enlightenment and wouldn’t return.”

It will be the same with the statue of Maitreya Buddha. My wish is that by building this statue, others will be inspired to build even higher.