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Lions Roar : May 2017
BEGINNER’S MIND I’ve seen many pictures of Buddhists bowing down and making offerings in front of statues and other images of the Buddha. Do Buddhists worship “graven images”? One of our editors tells this story: “I was at a group meditation retreat that involved doing a lot of full prostrations. At the front of the room was a large (and not very attractive) statue of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. It looked exactly like we were all bowing down to him. The person beside me—who had given up medical school to study Buddhism—came up from a prostra- tion and said with a laugh, ‘If my parents could see me now!’” In spite of how it looked, they weren’t bowing to or worshipping the statue. They were offering respect and humility to the principle of com- passion, which Avalokiteshvara represents. Statues of the buddhas and other enlightened beings connect us to wisdom, compassion, and sacred- ness, and it is to those principles and the beings who embody them that Buddhists show respect, not the “graven images” themselves. On the other hand, is there really a difference between the images and the qualities they evoke in us? DHARMA FAQS We answer your questions about Buddhism & meditation. BUDDHISM BY THE NUMBERS WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP between absolute reality—whatever that may be—and the relative world we inhabit? That question is at the heart of all religions. Mahayana Buddhism’s answer is called the two truths. Relative Truth Relative truth includes all the dualistic phenomena— ourselves, other beings, material objects, thoughts, emotions, concepts—that make up our lives in this world. These are sometimes called maya, or illusion, because we mistakenly believe they are solid, sepa- rate, and independent realities. But the problem is not relative truth itself, which is basically good, but our misunderstanding of its nature. That is revealed when we understand.... Absolute Truth Absolute truth is the reality beyond dualism of any kind. It’s also the true nature of relative phenomena. In Mahayana Buddhism, it can be called emptiness or interdependence. Thich Nhat Hanh uses the term “interbeing.” In Vajrayana Buddhism, absolute reality is also referred to as space, complete openness, or primordial purity. The two truths are what’s called a provisional teaching in Buddhism—helpful for where we are on our path but not the final truth. The final truth is that there is only one reality, and it unites the relative and absolute. Absolute truth is the true nature of the relative. Rela- tive truth is the manifestation of the absolute. ILLUSTRATIONSBYNOLANPELLETIERRAYFENWICK LION’S ROAR | MAY 2017 32