Should Buddhists Wear Buddha Images?

Question: Some say that wearing Buddha jade pendants creates negative karma as this disrespects the Buddha. I do wear one but respect the Buddha. Can I continue wearing it?

Answer: Jade by itself as an ordinary material is no cause for concern. Let us first look at a letter by Great Master Yinguang, the 13th Patriarch of the Pure Land tradition (净宗十三祖印光大師) for advice –

‘前三日接到《歧路指归》二本,见后附之徽章,颇不谓然。民国二年北京法源寺道阶法师做佛诞纪念会,以释迦佛像为徽章,光绝不知其事。事后道阶来普陀,送光一徽章,光痛斥其亵渎。至十二年仍复如是。上海亦仿而行之,今居士亦仿而行之。作俑之罪,始于道阶。道阶尚能讲经,而于恭敬尊重完全不讲,亦可叹也。彼会所来之一切人员,各须身佩一徽章。若佩之拜佛,亦不合宜。佩之拜人,则彼此折福。然现在由道阶提倡,已成通规。光亦知此事不易收拾,然以居士过爱,不能不为一说耳。’— 复邬崇音居士书

The summary of the main points (in blue) is that to wear a badge with the image of a Buddha on it while bowing is unsuitable, and can reduce one’s blessings (positive karma). (This is so as images of the Buddha are meant for reverence in higher places; not for placing at low places, which denotes disrespect.) He also taught this in another letter –

‘余常谓欲得佛法实益,须向恭敬中求。有一分恭敬,则消一分罪业,增一分福慧。有十分恭敬,则消十分罪业,增十分福慧。若无恭敬而致亵慢,则罪业愈增,而福慧愈减矣。’ – 复高邵麟居士书四

‘I often say that if desiring to attain the Buddha’s teachings’ true benefits, there is need to, with reverence seek them. With one part of reverence, this eradicates one part of karmic transgressions, and increases one part of blessings and wisdom. With ten parts of reverence, this thus eradicates ten parts of karmic transgressions, and increases ten parts of blessings and wisdom. If without reverence and causing slighting, thus will karmic transgressions increase, and blessings and wisdom decrease.’

Although the above does not clearly say that is is not right to wear Buddha pendants, the gist of it is that there should be great reverence to images of any kind that represent the Buddha (or any other enlightened being). If not, the use of Buddha images could end up as abuse with backfiring instead of blessing effects. There is also no clear teaching by the Buddha encouraging the wearing of Buddha images.

If one who is carrying or wearing a Buddha image, it should not be lowered towards the ground or brought into filthy places. For example, when visiting a restroom or bathroom, it should be removed. There is also the problem of bodily sweat and grime tainting the image. Buddha images should not be displayed on oneself while doing anything against the Buddha’s teachings, as this taints the image of Buddhism. While there might be no sense of active disrespect in many situations, the fact that there is carelessness means there is lack of reverence. Especially after knowing the above, to not have proper reverence is already a form of wilful passive disrespect. As Buddha images represent the presence of the enlightened, the best kind of reverence is to treat each image as if is the Buddha there in person, regardless of size (big or small) and form (pendant, statue, card, painting…) This is so for cultivating deeper reverence, even though we do know the image is not the Buddha per se.

This is why Buddhists are mindful not to misportray or misplace Buddha images in careless forms or places. It is not the case of the Buddha being displeased when his images are not properly handled, but that disrespect (irreverence) naturally and karmically harms one. To prevent forgetting to be mindful of Buddha images worn or carried, it is better to place them externally in higher places where they can be readily and regularly seen. This makes them more efficient for inspiring reverence and remembrance of the Buddha and his teachings. If one wishes to continue wearing a Buddha image respectfully, all the above should be remembered and followed. Buddhists mantras and names of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas if worn or carried, should be with similar reverence.

Related Article:
Is Collection Of ‘Blessed’ Amulets Buddhist Practice?

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