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By Ven. Thubten Chonyi
I understand that a person should revere the Buddha, and should follow the Buddhist teachings. Does Buddhism command you to love the Buddha?
In all of his teachings—given over 40 years—the Buddha never commanded his followers to do anything. With compassion, love, wisdom and skill, he taught the path to happiness and explained the path to suffering. Then he left it up to his disciples to decide how they wished to live their lives.
The Buddha emphasized that faith in his teaching must grow from experience and reasoning. In other words, he told his students to test his words to see if, in their own experience, his teachings rang true for them.
On the basis of testing some of those teachings, Buddha’s followers come to realize their tremendous value and profundity. From their experience of practicing the Buddha’s “three higher trainings”—ethical conduct (which includes not harming as well as actively caring for others), concentration, and wisdom—Buddhists come to revere him as a teacher and guide.
Love for the Buddha comes from gratitude for his guidance. As we naturally love anyone who helps us to have greater happiness and to realize our potential, Buddha’s followers naturally develop love for the Buddha.
The Buddha himself, however, never asked for anything in return from his students. In fact, Buddhist scriptures illustrate the infinite compassion of the Buddha with an analogy. It is said that one person can anoint the Buddha’s right arm with oil while another hacks his left arm with a knife, yet the Buddha’s love for each is exactly the same. (Of course, the karmic result each of these people will experience from his action will be entirely different). The buddhas (and there are many) help all beings equally, regardless of whether or not they are Buddhist.
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