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Devotion to the Buddha

The Buddha is an enlightened being, not a god, so he is not worshipped in the way gods are worshipped in other religions. Buddhists do have great respect for the Buddha. They perform rituals of devotion to confirm their commitment to the Buddha, his dhamma, and the sangha. This is known as the Triple Refuge. Buddhists express their devotion in various ways. They make pilgrimages, meditate, give offerings, and prostrate themselves. In each case, the act of devotion also serves to help the devotees. It encourages them to follow the dhamma and reminds them of the Eightfold Path.


Images like this one of the Buddha’s footprint provide a focus for devotion. The footprint features many key Buddhist symbols and some of the marks of a great man. It reminds Buddhists of the Buddha’s remarkable life and teaching.


These Buddhists have made a pilgrimage to Shwedagon pagoda in Burma, where some relics of the Buddha are kept. Buddhists visit places linked with the life of the Buddha, shrines where relics are kept, and other sites with spiritual links. Pilgrimages are especially important to lay people. They allow them to follow in the Buddha’s footsteps and to focus on spiritual matters.


This case was used to preserve a relic of a Buddhist saint. Buddhists have always revered the relics of the Buddha and of notable teachers and saints. Pilgrimages to relics of the Buddha can be times of joyful celebration of his life and teaching, but also times of quiet contemplation and spiritual growth.


Prostration and meditation

Prostration is usually performed before a statue of the Buddha. It is repeated three times as a dedication to the Triple Refuge. It is an expression of reverence and helps Buddhists to develop qualities such as humility. Meditation is a vital part of the Buddhist faith. The calm and focused state it provokes brings the devotee closer to wisdom and even enlightenment.


Standing facing a statue of the Buddha, this lama puts his hands together, with the fingers touching and the palms slightly cupped. He raises his hands to his forehead to demonstrate that his body is dedicated to the Triple Refuge.


Still in the standing position, the lama lowers his hands to just below his mouth to show that he devotes his speech to the Triple Refuge. In doing this, he also recalls the third part of the Eightfold Path right speech.


Next, the lama lowers his hands farther so that they are in front of his chest. This position shows that his heart, and therefore also his mind, are devoted to the Triple Refuge. He then prepares to prostrate himself.


The lama kneels down and places his palms on the floor. From this point, he performs a full prostration with his whole body lowered to the floor. Many Buddhists perform a five-point prostration instead. On all fours, they lower their foreheads to the floor so that five parts of their body their lower legs, their forearms, and their forehead are in contact with the floor.


Meditation clears and purifies the mind. It leads Buddhists to right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration three parts of the Eightfold Path. Most Buddhists begin meditation by focusing on their breathing. In some branches of Buddhism, devotees concentrate on an image or object to help them to free their minds from everyday thoughts. Others bang a gong after meditating to spread the merit earned by their act of devotion.