Do you worship the Buddha?
This is a common misconception among Western observers. The historical Buddha was a human named Siddhartha Gotama from a kingdom in modern day Nepal, and is not considered a God. The Buddha is venerated (greatly respected) by Buddhists as a founder of a system to increase joy, happiness, and compassion, and diminish suffering. These feelings of respect and gratitude for the Buddha are similar to the feelings of respect an American citizen might have for the founding fathers and Martin Luther King, Jr., or an Elvis fan might have for Elvis, and should not be confused with the worship of, or belief in, the Buddha as a deity.
Why do you bow?
Bowing is a way of showing respect and appreciation for our teachers and spiritual leaders. When you see a Buddhist bow before a statue it is important to understand that this individual is not bowing to an external “entity” but is in fact bowing to their own inner potential for Awakening that the statue represents.
If Buddhists don’t worship gods, why do you have an altar?
Altars serve as a focal point for our attention during. The statues, flowers, candles, and incense are all symbolic offerings and reminders of positive behavioral characteristics we strive to develop. The image of the Buddha reminds us of our own inner potential. Flowers remind us of the joy, preciousness and impermanence of life, candles are reminders of wisdom dispelling the darkness of ignorance and incense, as it perfumes all corners of the room, reminds us of the teachings’ ability to convert all anger, greed, and ignorance into enlightened living.