What are the grounds for venerating the Buddha vis-a-vis EBTs stance on life?

I have finished reading the book ‘Who ordered this truckload of dung’ by Ajahn Brahm, which I will use as a starting point to illustrate a question I have been reflecting upon.

The book ends with a story of a deva who ‘tried to lead the poor worm out of the miserable dung pile’ for 108 times. The last sentence of the book is : ‘Thus ends the hundred and eight stories told in this book’.

The implication is clear. We, the readers, are like the worm stuck in the dung pile. We like wallowing in dung, we are attached to it, and the deva (Ajahn Brahm - or perhaps the Buddha?) tries to free us worms – without much success - from the dung pile that we cherish so much.

Although some Western readers might find this view ‘patronizing’, I understand that the book has had a lot of success and it has helped me understand why people have such deference to monastics in traditions based on EBT: lay people seem to view themselves as worms living in dung, who have had the great chance to come into contact with devas.

However, I find that there is a problem with this view. As far as I understand the aim of EBT is to attain nibbana and so to be free of all realms, including the deva realms (assuming they exist), because they are also ultimately unsatisfactory. So these reals are also made of dung, though perhaps they stink less than the lower realms (to stick to Ajahn Brahm’s metaphor).

But in sofar as the whole universe is dung, and the aim of the path is to develop revulsion to it so that we can escape from its stench, and insofar as the Buddha and the monastics are also part of the universe, I do not understand on what ground they can be considered different from the rest of the dung and thus worthy of veneration, of salutations with joined palms and of all the signs of respect you see in monasteries, and which strike us Westerners as a bit strange sometimes.

I mean, it is fine to consider the whole universe as dung as the EBT seem to do, but then since the Buddha and the Sangha are also part of it, on what basis are they worthy of respect and veneration, which are attitudes one generally does not have towards dung ?

I have respect and reverence to the Buddha for he not only attained to the end of suffering but also made the project if his life declaring the path and making feasible to those ready the cultivation of it.

I have respect and to the members of the Sangha I have seen enough evidence of seriousness and authenticity in terms of cultivation of the path for they not only inspire me to do so but keep the monastic community alive, functional and inspired.

The simile of the deva and the worm in dung reminds me that it doesn’t matter how comfortable things may get in this dependently originated existence, suffering is always around the corner.

It seems to me you’re stretching the analogy beyond its intent. It’s up to you to make sense of it!

And no, EBTs do not negate or affirm sancticity of existence.

These texts only depict the Buddha as calling out the avoidable pain embedded in dependently originated rebirthing and the ensued perpetuation of suffering, and how the same underlying dependent origination makes possible bringing about an end to it.



Another point worth raising is that it seems you’re confusing reverence and veneration with taking refuge.

What matters for the progress of the individual towards awakening and end of suffering is the taking of refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.

Refuge in EBTs is not about prostrating or giving things, but making use of these things as a shelter, a safe spot for the factors of awakening to be brought about, cultivated.

A nice EBT which summarises the process this is all about is the Upanisa Sutta (SN12.23):

Suffering is a vital condition for faith.
Faith is a vital condition for joy.
Joy is a vital condition for rapture.
Rapture is a vital condition for tranquility.
Tranquility is a vital condition for bliss.
Bliss is a vital condition for immersion.
Immersion is a vital condition for truly knowing and seeing.
Truly knowing and seeing is a vital condition for disillusionment.
Disillusionment is a vital condition for dispassion.
Dispassion is a vital condition for freedom.
Freedom is a vital condition for the knowledge of ending.
It’s like when it rains heavily on a mountain top, and the water flows downhill to fill the hollows, crevices, and creeks. As they become full, they fill up the pools.
The pools fill up the lakes, the lakes fill up the streams, and the streams fill up the rivers. And as the rivers become full, they fill up the ocean.


Well not really, I used the analogy to illustrate a philosophical point, which is this:

  1. the sanctity of existence is negated in EBT (see e.g. MN49 and bhikkhu Bodhi’s comments thereof). Instead, existence is viewed something towards which revulsion is to be developed.
  2. the Buddha and the Sangha are also part of existence - they are not outside or apart from it
  3. therefore, it is not clear on what grounds the Buddha and the Sangha (and the Dhamma) are considered something holy, since they are themselves part of something that is viewed as repulsive and worthless.

I don’t see the link between things!

The problem at hand is ending suffering by bringing about its cessation.

Both Buddha, his Dhamma and the monastic communities he started (i.e. the Sangha) are all about making that feasible.

By acknowledging it one takes refuge in these three things, fullfilling the factor of faith as per SN12.23 quoted above.

Give it time and keep conditions suportive and an ending to suffering will be brought about - as a natural chemical reaction or, as per the simile above, the natural streaming down of rain into streams, rivers and the ocean…

No need to rely on assumptions of what is holy or not. It is all about understanding how things work and letting the natural outcomes doom suffering to an end.



Are you sure that the Buddha is “part of existence”?


Stephen Batchelor paraphrases the Sabbasutta loosely like this

I will tell you everything that exists. The eye and what is seen. The ear and what is heard. The nose and what is smelled. The tongue and what is tasted. The body and what is felt. The mind and what is thought. That is all.

Regarding the eye and what is seen, have we ever seen the Buddha’s flesh?

Regarding the ear and what is heard, have we ever heard the Buddha speak?

Regarding the nose and what is smelled, have we ever smelled the Buddha “scenting the winds of the way”? (note: not an EBT quote)

Regarding the body and what is felt, have we ever felt the Buddha’s touch?

Regarding the mind and what is thought, are our thoughts of the Buddha the Buddha himself?

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If you read the introduction to MN by B Bodhi, that is not what he says.

I don’t think we can argue in terms of ‘existence’ in the EBT - at least to project our abstract notion onto the text is anachronistic and necessarily brings confusion.

When it comes to veneration of the flesh you certainly have a point that the texts’ position is not fully clear. There is a line of thought in the suttas that doesn’t give much concern to veneration - if anything at all the dhamma deserves full attention because it’s the ladder out of the hole:

It is in just this way that some hollow men here make requests of me, but when the Dhamma has been explained, they think only of following me around. (AN 8.63)

“For a long time, venerable sir, I have wanted to come to see the Blessed One, but I haven’t been fit enough to do so.”
“Enough, Vakkali! Why do you want to see this foul body? One who sees the Dhamma sees me; one who sees me sees the Dhamma." (SN 22.87)

Later of course the Sangha became ‘the field of merit’, or in modern terms ‘the karmic investment bank’ where you would get the highest interest rates for your donation. Helping an arahant to physically survive to disseminate the dhamma is surely a good deed, a satisfying act though.

Also if you see someone inspiring, something exceptionally beautiful, you naturally want to support it. But if monastics would demand/expect veneration for ‘preserving the holy word’ or anything similar, that would surely miss the point and would be far away from the original spirit.

I can easily imagine how in the early Sangha the matter of food and clothes for example was not really a topic - the population was faithful enough to give and somehow you would get food somewhere. Becoming an ascetic you would need to be extremely frugal and undemanding. Early followers would have been ascetics already (like the ‘first five’). The life of serious ascetics was harsh but practitioners would not have expected much else.

Vedic brahmacarins for example also had quite a harsh life. Being basically the slaves of their teachers, begging food, manual work, austere practices, etc.

Relative comfort and dependable support could only have come with patronage, doctrinal compromise (‘leading lay people into heaven’) etc.


Last year when I was in Bali I was asked to give a talk about Respect.
I started the talk by pointing out that
an American teaching Asians about respect
is like a turtle teaching birds about flying.
With All Due Respect

Buddhists pay respect to the Buddha because they believe he was the founder of the truth. If he wasn’t born then the beings would not have a refuge for suffering.

When Buddhists venerating living beings like the Buddha and the Sangha, they do it according to the level of purity and discipline of the receiver. They believe the Buddha to be the perfect one, the omniscient one and the most disciplined one.

The Buddha and Arahants will not exist after that very life, but they don’t suicide because they don’t have a desire of non-existence (vibhava tanha). After attaining nibbana, their minds are very pure and full of wisdom and compassion. Thats why they are highly venerated for a period of more than 2500 years.

Actually the faith is developed little by little. Let the time to develop your faith little by little.
Read EBTs without a fault finding mind but a sincere desire of exploring and liberating.
One day you will be able to teach even to Asians how to pay respect to the Blessed One.

Saying EBTs negate the sanctity of existence is a bit like saying cancer surgeons violate the sanctity of the body cavity, or nurses that immunise children want to see children crying.

It identifies a problem, which is craving and finds a solution, which is the truth. Which suggests we aren’t seeing reality for what it is - impermanent, therefore unsatisfactory and therefore not worth clinging to (not to mention not self).

Everything is ultimately atoms- haven’t we given it value more than what atoms are due that we think they are worth being attached to and suffer according to our attachments?

Yet people think and sense the world ‘conventionally’. Kindness and compassion are essential. Yet everything is just fleeting atoms or fluctuating probabilities at a quantum level. We can make sense in the conventional world- by re-arranging our values, to those that are most likely to deliver us from suffering. Monks and Nuns embody those values, despite they being blood and guts; just like us - yet the Dhamma speaks to taking ‘signs’ that lead to enlightenment (read, ending of suffering). When we see them we respect the path they have taken. We respect the virtues the have chosen to uphold; to live simply, contented; to teach the path to others who are willing to listen- they can only take the horse to water, but can’t make her drink.


I see what you mean but I am not sure the comparison with the doctor or nurse is wholly applicable, because a doctor works believing that life is worth living (at least I think they do). They will care for, and try to cure a patient with cancer because they believe life has value.
In contrast, I understand that Buddhism in EBT sees the whole of life as objectionable, because it is suffering. The only solution is not to be reborn, to put a definitive end to the whole cycle of rebirth (as Bhante Sujato noted in another Discussion I started, the craving to be totally eliminated is that to be reborn).
(Incidentally, as I mentioned elsewhere, this is a bit odd when I see in reality monks that claim to be Arahants and who go on living till they are 98, so they might have abandoned the craving for next life, but they certainly seem to have a lot of ‘fuel’ left for this life. But this is another question.)
The point is that the whole universe is seen as dung, as something objectionable, not as something sacred. On page 22 of his Introduction to MN B Bodhi notes this.
So unlike a doctor who wants to cure you so that he can restore you to health and a life worth living, the Buddha, in EBT, is more like a doctor who recommends you eutanasia, but a sort of cosmic, samsaric eutanasia (because in the system of EBT medical eutanasia would only end this life, but not the cycle of rebirth).

I would forget about the concept of ‘sacred’ when it comes to old Buddhism. Dhamma is seen as supreme because it serves as medicine. When you’re hungry you could say that a hamburger is ‘sacred’ but it really it is more a solution. In time of course religious connotations came to Buddhism as in every other religion. That a form of ‘life’ disappears when desire is gone is just a side-effect, albeit an important one - ‘no more rebirth’ is the litmus test for the trick to have worked. But to make life go away doesn’t make desire go away, which clearly shows the priority.

This is simply wrong, sorry. There is no objection against the universe in the EBT. I at least am not aware of earth, water, fire, wind (the classic ‘elements’ / characteristics) being ever despised. Also ‘life’ is per se not objectionable - this is I think your major point. What is objectionable is desire and identification (with earth, life, ‘being’…). Only this could explain why arahants don’t cut the body-mind connection. When desire & identification are gone whatever is left is … whatever is left.

As a baby you don’t push or hold back, you just pee into the diper, and when the peeing is finished it’s finished.

That there is still a notion of ‘compassion’ and ‘teaching’ is difficult to conceptualize but also there are differences. Some let the life wither away in solitude, some while occasionally talking and answering questions.

If you saw ‘arahants’ cling to life, this would be a clear indication that they are not what is claimed. I know examples where teachers had to be persuaded by lay followers to have surgery. Here to insist on dying would be much more an ‘agenda of clinging’ than to have someone chip-chop at the form we identify as ‘their body’.


The Buddha, the Sangha, and human rebirth are worthy of respect imo, all for the same reason: they make possible liberation from suffering. Human life is where the work is possible.

I think revulsion has to be abandoned before The End; it might be merely a tool for the loosening of attachments.

“Holy” is a loaded term, The Buddha to me was the Blessed One, the Perfected One, the brilliant compassionate skillful one. This might be just my conditioning, but i don’t identify him as The Holy One; rhat term is not a good mental tool for me. is

I don’t see the Sangha as Holy; but the discipline monastics live is the Holy Life, because it offers excellent support for liberation from suffering.

Is the Dhamma holy? The term does not work for me; too much ressonance with theistic religions for me. The Dhamma i think is the authentic truth realized by tge Awakened One; discernable perhaps in ancient texts and translations, in lives monastic or ordinary; verifiable, consistent, good in the beginning and middle and end. It is not a physical thing, and the core cannot be touched or corrupted by the world, merely misrepresented or misunderstood or no longer visible.

Just my thoughts, tho.

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Yes, I agree that one has to be forget about ‘sacredness’ in Buddhism, so I guess that EBT appeals to those who suffer, they venerate the teachings and the Sangha because it promises them to put an end on their suffering.

Concerning the question of the ‘objection against the universe’ you mention, there seem to be passages such as this: AN 1-18.
"Just as a tiny bit of faeces has a bad smell, so I do not recommend even a tiny bit of existence, not even for so long as a fingersnap’
(sorry I am not internet savvy so I cannot make a link to the passage in this website :roll_eyes: )

There’s also the idea of Nibbida as part of the path, whether it is disenchantment or revulsion, it’s still quite far (or even the opposite of) celebrating life.

I think you have skipped some of the references previously provided.

I strongly encourage you to check SN12.23 and AN10.2.

In there you see that there is a right time and context for disillusionment and dispassion, and it comes in the path beyond the point of insight, true vision and knowledge of the suffering associate with dependent originated suffering.

Another important sutta that will help you form a view of what’s the role and fruits of the contemplative lifestyle the Buddha intended for his spiritual community is DN2.

Also, you seem stuck on an idea that EBTs enforce on others that only monastics are to be venerated and object of one’s generosity, and that the whole of the path is about giving whatever to chosen ones.

To help adjusting your understanding of what EBTs say about that, I recommend two special Dutta’s on the topic of generosity: SN 3.24 and AN 3.57



From my understanding, the Buddha did not say that life is the cause of suffering. The cause of suffering is clinging to attachments. When we let go of our clinging we can end suffering, which is not the same thing as ending life, inasmuch as it is not life which causes suffering but those aspects of life (clinging to attachments) which are the source suffering.


That’s not what EBTs say.

EBTs do not push for veneration as a way to solve the problem of suffering.

EBTs consistently show a Buddha who advocated for generosity, independent to whom is being directed and as long as there is confidence in the value of the act. .

By doing so EBTs offer a number of evaluation frameworks for each one to judge for oneself for example when and how to cultivate generosity and demonstrate reverence.

In the big scheme of things , the importance of generosity is that it has the potential to result in a valuable adornment to the mind .

This adornment serves in turn at a later stage of the path as a very important foundation for the wholesome and blameless blissful experiences which culminated in the right sort of immersion / stillness which brings about liberating insight.



[quote=“gnlaera, post:16, topic:10595, full:true”]

Another important sutta that will help you form a view of what’s the role and fruits of the contemplative lifestyle the Buddha intended for his spiritual community is DN2.

I have read this sutta. At first sight it is inspiring. But, reflecting of my experience at monasteries I have visited, some of the basic things there don’t feel right to me. Take this passage:

Suppose you had a person who was a bondservant, a worker. They get up before you and go to bed after you, and are obliging, behaving nicely and speaking politely, and gazing up at your face. They’d think: ‘The outcome and result of good deeds is just so incredible, so amazing! For this King Ajātasattu is a human being, and so am I. Yet he amuses himself, supplied and provided with the five kinds of sensual stimulation as if he were a god. Whereas I’m his bondservant, his worker. I get up before him and go to bed after him, and am obliging, behaving nicely and speaking politely, and gazing up at his face. I should do good deeds. Why don’t I shave off my hair and beard, dress in ocher robes, and go forth from the lay life to homelessness?’

After some time, that is what they do. Having gone forth they’d live restrained in body, speech, and mind, living content with nothing more than food and clothes, delighting in seclusion. And suppose your men were to report all this to you. Would you say to them: ‘Bring that person to me! Let them once more be my bondservant, my worker’?”

“No, sir. Rather, I would bow to them, rise in their presence, and offer them a seat. I’d invite them to accept robes, alms-food, lodgings, and medicines and supplies for the sick. And I’d arrange for their lawful guarding and protection.”

At first sight this fast-track social promotion looks good, right? Even though it might be questionable to become a monk because you don’t want to get up early to work… Then some memories came back to me of visiting a Monastery where I regularly saw monks speaking to lay people, often women, who were kneeling in front of them (reminding me of Sartre’s description of Mass as of ‘a man drinking wine whilst women knelt in front of him’ - except that monks drink tea instead), memories of monks speaking down to lay people in an obvious way, or in more subtle ways monks saying to a lay person going to the Dhamma Hall ‘you can’t go this way, you have to take the other way because this is reserved for monks’ (there was no rational reason for forbidding the passage to lay people, it was clear that it was just one of the many symbolic ways to distinguish themselves and exert power and affirm the superiority of the Sangha).
After seeing manifestations of power and superiority such as these, after seeing monks talk down to lay people, I asked myself (because I had seen the biography of some of the monks when they were lay people,many of them were drifters, or worked in subordinated jobs). I asked myself: would he be talking like that and behaving like that if he were still working as a waiter, or as a nurse? And the follow up question was: is it right that he talks and behaves with this sense of superiority, which he has ‘earned’ simply by putting on a robe and cutting his hair? And to me the answer feels no.
As I wrote elsewhere, Ikeda achieved a number of things in life (which I regard as great things), and he is respected for those. When I met him he welcomed me warmly, and it was he who bowed to me (as a Japanese that must be a custom). That did not make him smaller in my eyes, but much bigger.
In contrast obtaining the respect of kings just because you shave your head and put on a robe, does not feel right and does not make any sense to me.

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When I completed my Ph.D. I received a doctoral robe and hood. They hang on a hook on the back of my office door. I understand that there is a university in the southern United States where professors are encouraged by the administration to wear their robes to class to instill in students a sense of veneration for the wisdom imparted by the faculty. From what I hear from colleagues familiar with that university, few professors actually don their robes and wear them to class, perhaps out of a sense that it unnecessarily puts on airs and might come across as pompous. And yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if students actually like it when instructors occasionally do come in their academic robes to class. Perhaps a bit of “pomp and circumstances” from time to time lends a scholarly air to the proceedings. Maybe one of these days I will wear my robe to class and see how my students respond. Perhaps on a cold day, so I have another reason for doing so :wink:

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