Dansia Burning a Buddha Statue is a famous story in Zen Buddhism.
Zen master Dansia Tienzan of the Tang Dynasty was once at Hueling Temple and because it was extremely cold that day, he burnt a statue of Buddha to keep warm. At this time the master of the temple came by and received a great shock upon sighting the fire’s contents. He loudly demanded an explanation. “How dare you burn a statue of Buddha?” he exclaimed. Master Dansia Tienzan replied, “I’m trying to see if I can find any sarira by burning a statue of Buddha.” The master asked, “How can you expect to find sarira in a wooden statue?” Dansia responded, “If there are no sarira to be found in it, then let me have the remaining two Buddha statues for my fire.”
Zen Buddhism stresses that “Heart/Mind is the Buddha.” Zen Masters represent this by not being formal. They have free spirits. Common people are formal and ritualistic. They often think that what you do makes you a good person. For instance, if you frequently go to the temple to worship the statue of Buddha or go to church every week or donate money. But I think that if this was true then why are there scandals involving monks, nuns and philanthropists? What of the person who, by selling a lot of illegal drugs, makes a lot of money that he/she then goes on to donate to the poor or some charitable foundation? Is this person still a good person too? There are always some people who find ways to prove they are better than others. Some vegetarians think they are better than people who eat meat but I wonder what they think of Adolf Hitler, who was also a vegetarian. Is he really better than others?
Buddha said, “Everything is from our heart/mind.” So when we want to practice Zen we have to care about every thought from our mind, not just rituals. If all a person needs to do to reach enlightenment is to be a vegetarian, meditate and worship the statue of Buddha daily why isn’t every monk and nun enlightened?
A Note About Sarira:
Sarira are some indestructible substance, generally in pebble form, said to be found in the burnt ashes of only exceptionally enlightened people. Below are some sarira pictures from Sakyamuni Buddha and his disciples. If you click on the small picture it will enlarge.