Buddhists revere a multitude of saints, who by their great holiness became one with Buddha Sakia, and thereby attained to his power of working miracles. Large images of these saints abound in their temples, and small ones are consecrated by the priests with divers ceremonies and forms of prayer. These last are sold in great numbers to the people, who wear them as amulets, and believe them to be a sure protection from witchcraft and other forms of evil. The Roman Catholic priesthood likewise derive a large revenue from the sale of Crosses and images of the Virgin and of a multitude of saints, which people believe to be safeguards against peril, and endowed with miraculous power to help them in emergencies. A small image of a Lamb, called Agnus Dei, is almost universally worn by the peasantry of Catholic countries, who have undoubting faith that the consecrating ceremonies performed over it by the priests have rendered it a sure protection against evil spirits.
In Japan almost every mountain, hilt, and cliff is sacred to some Buddhist saint, to whom travellers are requested to address a prayer. In all parts of Catholic Europe images of the Virgin and the saints are placed by the roadside, with inscriptions inviting the traveller to leave offerings on their altars, accompanied by the recitation of a prayer.
Every Buddhist house contains the image of some saint, to whom the inmates pray for abundant harvests, healthy children, prosperous journeys, and such other blessings as they may desire. If they fail to receive what they pray for, they sometimes beat the poor images and call them ugly names. The people of Catholic countries make similar intercessions to the images and pictures of saints which they keep in their dwellings; and if their prayers prove fruitless, they often turn the picture of their saint to the wall, or strike his image, saying, “You ungrateful good-for-nothing! Every day I have brought you prayers and offerings, and not a thing have you done for me.”
Buddhist priests exhibit many relics of saints, which are believed to have the same power of working miracles that the saints themselves had while living. The temples which contain the most celebrated relics attract the largest number of pilgrims, whose offerings become a great source of wealth. The richest of all is a temple in Ceylon, where is preserved a tooth of Buddha Sakia, said to have worked many wonderful miracles. It is enshrined within four golden cases, set with precious gems. A vast concourse of pilgrims continually resort thither, with the hope of being cured of “all the ills that flesh is heir to.” Roman Catholic churches abound with similar holy relics, to which miraculous power is ascribed. The cross on which Jesus was crucified was said to be dug up on Mount Calvary three centuries afterward. Small bits of the wood, set in gold and adorned with precious gems, were eagerly bought by the people and worn as a protection against dangers and all sorts of evil influences. The demand was so great it would have been impossible to supply it, had not the priests discovered that the holy wood was endowed with a miraculous power of reproducing itself as fast it was diminished. An immense amount of it is now extant. There are two entire skeletons of St. Denis, beside two other skulls of him, exhibited in different places, each having a papal certificate of genuineness. Samples of the Virgin’s hair are enshrined in various churches; some of it is flaxen, sonic brown, some red, and some black. The house where she lived is believed to have been brought in the night by an angel to Loretto in Italy, where a magnificent church was built over it. Thousands of pilgrims go there to deposit offerings, more or less costly, for the privilege of dipping their rosaries in a little mug from which it is supposed the infant Jesus was accustomed to drink. Volumes might be filled with accounts of Catholic relics and the miracles they are said to have performed.
In every Chinese house there is an altar covered with inscriptions and images of saints, before which the members of the family kneel and say prayers, as Catholics do before the image, usually set up in some part of their dwellings. The most common image on Chinese household altars is that of Shing Mou, which means the Mother Goddess. It represents a woman with a glory round her head and a babe in her arms. The tradition is that she was a Virgin who conceived by contact with water-lily, and gave birth to a wonderful child, who became a holy man and performed great miracles. If the Chinese were to visit the churches and chapels of Catholic Europe and see the numerous images of the Virgin Mary in spangled garments of blue and crimson, with a gilded halo round her head, and that of the infant Jesus she carries in her arms, they might easily mistake them for representations of their Shing Mou. It is said that holy images in Buddhist countries sometimes raise their eyelids and nod their heads in response to prayer; and, even within a few years we have heard of similar miracles performed by images of the Virgin Mary.
Water from the Ganges and other holy rivers is supposed by Buddhists to be imbued with some supernatural qualities. They travel far to obtain jars of it to use for religious purposes. Catholics have a similar feeling concerning the river Jordan, from which water was brought for the especial purpose of baptizing the Prince Imperial of France. Buddhist priests also consecrate water with prayers and ceremonies, and sell it to the people as a protection from evil. They are often summoned to sprinkle it over the sick and the dying, on the thresholds of dwellings where a bridal pair are entering, and over new-born infants. Catholics also attach great value to water which their priests have consecrated by certain religious ceremonies. It is a common practice with them to keep, little vials of such holy water under their pillows or by their bedside. A vase of it is always placed at the entrance of their churches, in which they dip their fingers and make therewith the sign of the cross. Priests also scatter it over their congregations with little sprinklers.
Buddhists burn fragrant sandal-wood for incense in their temples. Catholics make similar use of frankincense in their churches.
On the approach of evening all the men, women, and children in Thibet, at a signal given by the priests, quit their avocations and plays and assemble in the public squares, where they kneel and chant prayers. Catholics do the same at the sound of the vesperbell.
As Buddhists became numerous, the huts they originally used for places of worship disappeared, and magnificent temples rose, gorgeous with gilding and filled with painted and sculptured representations of Buddha Sakia and the saints. Most of these have the grotesqueness characteristic of Asiatic works of art. But the likenesses of Buddha Sakia have always a serene, majestic expression, with large, mild eyes, and long, curling hair. Lassa, in Thibet, is the Rome of the Buddhists; and the temple they have erected there ranks above other temples in grandeur, as St. Peter’s does above other Catholic churches. It is four stories high, surrounded with columns covered with gold, and terminating in a dome roofed with golden plates. The interior is adorned with innumerable sculptures, and filled with sacred images in gold and silver.