Buddha Images

BUDDHA:  Image, Icon, Idol or Intent

Images . . . Icon . . . Sacred . . . each fill a different niche of purpose. In his article “Icons, Imagery: A Journey of Style”, Rajeshwari Ghose writes, “An image becomes an icon when it is given meaning by believer/practitioner, later it becomes sacred.” It is the unique experience that each object has that eventually determines its role. Does it occasionally get a glance as it slides across the dashboard of the car, or is it reverently bowed to each day? Is the Buddha an expression of “cultural cool” or an expression of a chosen path in life? Undoubtedly it can begin as one and through experience become the other, or cycle from one to the another with the fluidity of causality.

Images of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama are found across the realm of popular culture from the cover of books to contemporary home decorating. He might just be a random image in a piece of art or a reproduction of a Greco-Buddhist sculptured head placed on a mantle. The Buddha sparks sales.

Icons of the Buddha are worn as necklaces, rings, set on the dashboard of cars, and tattooed on arms, legs and torsos. These often have a level of meaning for the persons who display them.


Sacred (intentional) art, the Buddha graces the altars at any number of ethnic and American Buddhist centers, and on personal altars across the country. Candles, flowers, incense and bowls of fruit are evidence of the devotion that some show those images.


As our Buddhist and meditation practice matures a Buddha that began as an image may naturally, and gradually take on the aspect of an icon. What we bought or were given for its aesthetic value we may begin to look to as a calming influence, or a reminder that Buddhism parallels many of our own beliefs.

Further study and commitment to practice and that icon can become a symbol of intent to “walk the path” presented by the Buddha. We bow to the icon before meditation to remind of us of the importance of living an intentional life and out of respect to the Buddha, a human being. An intentional life is one where each thought, word and deed is recognized to have impact in an interconnected and interdependent world.

I bow with respect

Wayne Ren-Cheng

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