The Buddhist masters of ancient India (such as Acharya Shantideva of the 7th Century AD) taught how to use sacred objects such as statues, stupas and scriptures to work with one’s own mind, and never to turn them into objects of conflicts with others. Statues and stupas are not taught to be inherently sacred. Their sacredness comes from the intention and usage. They are taught to be impermanent and susceptible to eventual damage – unlike the unwavering realization that settles within.
Beautiful statues and stupas instill peace and turn one’s mind towards realization. Thus, they remain sacred. But, if hatred sprouts in one’s mind when someone destroys or defames sacred objects, then one got the symbols wrongly – it turns religious and no more sacred. It becomes objects of attachment and aversion than the symbols of awakening. The Buddhas are beyond harm by destruction or defamation of sacred objects. And, statues, stupas and scriptures that represent Buddhas are intended in the same spirit – to instill peace in us and to serve as a reminder not to give in to a foul state of mind.
This understanding helped genuine practitioners of Buddhism progress towards awakening even in the difficult periods of history, while Buddhism went through cycles of destruction and revival around various parts of the world. And, because the genuine Buddhists did not give into destructive emotions in the face of outer destruction, the spirit of awakening and the essential teachings of the Buddha survive in this world even today in an undistorted way, even though many statues and scriptures had been destroyed. If they were to resort to violence to protect Dharma, we would have been left with merely some dead symbols of Dharma and not the living tradition of awakening.
The way to protect Dharma is by being a living lamp of peace, wisdom and compassion, and never by turning off one’s own inner lamp through an outer mockery of agitation and violence. Dharma lives when a living lamp lights another by inspiring same qualities.