Gombrich, Richard F., Theravada Buddhism: a social history from ancient Benares to modern Colombo, Chapter 5 (pp. 119 - 128) London: Routledge, 1988. LICL-Buddhist Studies Fl.3 BQ7185 G632T1988.
The accommodation between Buddhism and Society in ancient India
In the years of its development as well as after Lord Buddha’s death the sangha became victim of its own success. Already acts that were not condoned by the Buddha were taking place: use of property by proxy, control of day labor on a large scale, denying slaves admission to the sangha, refusal of those disbarred to disrobe. There is one that Gombrich discusses in length in this chapter and that is the veneration of the Buddha and the Buddha image.
Buddhism is not a faith, yet it is reported that the Buddha himself in 409 occasions criticized conduct because if would not promote faith, or pasada in those who lack it.
The Buddha as an object of faith and devotion
A convert to Buddhism declares his faith to the Dhamma, the Sangha. The Buddha himself is the object of religious emotion. Yet the contrast between the teachings of the Buddha “take no refuse other than ourselves” and taking refuge in the three Jewels: Buddha(the yellow jewel), the Dharma (the bluejewel), and the Sangha (the red jewel).
The Buddha himself is the object of intense worship. It is also the case of arahats or arhats, Buddhist saints. The Buddhists like to build and venerate stuppas.
An element of Buddha’s enlightment is that he remembered his former births, jatakas, and it is a major genre of Buddhist literature. Most notably he sat at the feet of a former Buddha called Dipamkara, and vowed to become a Buddha himself. During those lives he accumulated the ten moral perfections, or paramita. Namely:
1. Dāna pāramī : generosity, giving of oneself
2. Sīla pāramī : virtue, morality, proper conduct
3. Nekkhamma pāramī : renunciation
4. Paññā pāramī : transcendental wisdom, insight
5. Viriya (also spelled vīriya) pāramī : energy, diligence, vigour, effort
6. Khanti pāramī : patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance
7. Sacca pāramī : truthfulness, honesty
8. Adhiṭṭhāna (adhitthana) pāramī : determination, resolution
9. Mettā pāramī : loving-kindness
10. Upekkhā (also spelled upekhā) pāramī : equanimity, serenity
The line of Buddha ended but there will be others, more notable, Metteya (the Kindly One).
According to Maha Parinibbana Sutta the Buddha declared that an enlightened person would be buried under a stupa a hemispherical funeral mount. These stuppas seems to be the object of pilgrimage. Especially the one associated with Lord Buddha himself: Lubini grove near Kapilavatthu for his birth, Bodh Gaya for hi enlightment, Sarnath near Benares for his frst sermon, near Pava in Bihar for his death.
There is a cult of the relics associated with the pilgrimage. The Buddha’s own funeral facing East symbolized the reversal of nature. Relics are of three kinds: corporeal, objects used and reminders.
Mortuary rituals and transfer of merit
This is a practice that came about with the use of money and the idea that goods can be exchanged. Buddhism at its core is a simple moral dualism: kamma ¸action is either good or bad. Good action brings about mental purity. Merit then becomes a form of “spiritual cash” that can get you the things that money cannot buy. The transfer of merit, plays a central role in Theravadin Buddhism, to gain favor with the Gods for example, who will grant wishes.
Merit, or punna, is a sort of intangible religious good and a psychological good and giving inspires laymen to generosity, happiness, and peace. “this is faith however, to the psychological efficacy of the Dhamma”