Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

"Buddha and God" (2)

                                                    Chapter Five

                              Buddha as Worthy of Worship

 

     In all the great world religions, God is regarded as the Supreme Being, who is worthy of veneration and worship. It is similar with Buddha.

     Firstly, we should note that the term customarily used by many of his disciples in the scriptures when addressing the Buddha is "Bhagavat" - which means "The Blessed One" or Lord. It would have been linked with the idea of the Divine ("Ishvara") by the Indians of his time. This alone gives us an indication of the highest regard in which he was held. In fact, when the Buddha was born on earth, the "gods" (devas) all bowed down before this "god of gods", as the Buddha himself relates in the Lalitavistara Sutra (pp. 174-175):

     "When I was born, the three thousand worlds were shaken: Shakra and Brahma [great gods], the asuras [Titans], the mahoragas [great snake-like beings], Chandra [the moon] and Surya [the sun], as well as Vaisravana and Kumara, all bowed their heads at my feet and did homage to me. What god is so distinguished by his superiority over me ...? I am the god above the gods, superior to all the gods; no god is like me - how could there be a higher?"

When the infant Buddha was taken to the temple of the gods, a miraculous event occurred: all the statues of the gods rose from their plinths, and bowed down before baby Buddha. The Lalitavistara Sutra (pp. 175-176) memorably relates this wonder:

     "As soon as the Bodhisattva set his right foot in the temple, the statues    of the gods, including Shiva, Skanda, Narayana, Kubera, Chandra, Surya, Vaisravana, Shakra, Brahma, the Guardians of the World, and others, rose from their places and bowed at the feet of the Bodhisattva (i.e. the Buddha-to-be)."

     When we turn to other sutras too, we find numerous instances of worship of Buddha. In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, for example, human devotees of the Lord bow down before him when they are in his presence and display the greatest veneration. The following is just one example out of many from that scripture, and tells of how a host of great Bodhisattvas (aspirant Buddhas) behaved when they approached Lord Buddha himself:

     "They sped to where the Buddha was, walked around him 100,000 times, folded their hands, [and] paid homage ..." (The MPNS, Vol. 1, p. 10).

     Not only humans worship the Buddha, but gods and animals too, as the same Mahaparinirvana Sutra again makes clear. We read of the many offerings which the heavenly beings (the "gods") make to Buddha as the latter prepares to leave his physical body:

     "All the devas [gods] up to the highest heaven were gathered there [before Buddha]. At that time, Great Brahma [a major god] and other devas put forth light which shone over the four lands. To the men and devas of the world of desire, the lights of the sun and moon were all hidden. They had bejewelled hanging-ensigns, banners and parasols of coloured silk [as offerings to Buddha] ... They came to where the Buddha was, touched his feet with their heads, and said to him: 'O Bhagavat, O Tathagata! Have pity and accept our last offerings." (ibid, p. 19).

      (Continued in "Buddha and God" 3)