Distorted wrote:Worshiping has come into question as I have seen different degrees of worshiping and veneration in Buddhism. Were is the line between worship and veneration? Is all these deities and prayers to these deities necessary to obtain enlightenment? Did Shakyamuni teach the Sangha to worship deities? I don't know if he did or not and if so, why?
If you objectively look at Buddhism in the present day and throughout history it is quite clear much of institutionalized Buddhism has concerned itself with magical rituals, appeasement of deities for worldly concerns and worship of supernatural beings for the purposes of receiving blessings or material gain. There is little in the way of original literature to support these kinds of developments, but literate westerners are prone to paint a picture of Buddhism in their minds based on prescriptive literature which is completely at odds with how things really are and have been.
We must keep in mind there is a prescriptive analysis
(i.e., how Buddhists according to their own scriptures are supposed to operate) and then there is the descriptive analysis of how things really are.
Most Buddhists, Mahāyāna or otherwise, in my estimation think of the Buddha as a benevolent deity that if appeased will provide them with relief from suffering as well as bestow benefits in life. This prompts the development of extensive prescribed rituals for gaining those benefits as well as robed clergy who hold a monopoly on the rights to carry out such priestcraft. Their vows of celibacy elevate them to a higher position above ordinary people and consequently this only solidifies their largely unquestioned position as middlemen between the supernatural and mundane.
This is not how things are supposed
to be, but nevertheless it is how they are.
Offerings given to the images of buddhas, bodhisattvas and deities are done with the expectation that some worldly benefit will be gained as a result. The clergymen and in some cases clergywomen are thought to amplify the power of this process with their apparent purity of conduct usually in the form of celibacy and their employment of musical instruments and other religious theatrical devices such as incense, candles and banners.
To perform such rites usually demands years of training both in the liturgy and with the instruments. In Mahāyāna traditions this is more often than not what monks and nuns train to do during their seminary years. They memorize liturgy not because it is supposed to enable them to achieve liberation from samsara, but because it is part of their profession as clergymen and clergywomen. The robed clergy are believed to be able to better prompt a positive response from supernatural forces than ordinary laypeople are. In other words, they train to become suitable priests who can proficiently work the ritual technology that laypeople demand be operated on their behalf.
It really is only a minority of individuals in the Buddhist world who even read sutras rather than simply recite them, let alone meditate regularly and/or seek liberation. Even in Theravada monks are treated as fields of merit. They are just expected to uphold the vinaya and thus be a source of merit via offerings made to them by the laity. Many of the ideas you will find on this forum alone are somewhat alien to how Buddhism as an institution really is even though there often is canonical backing for them.
So as to your original question, the Buddha taught that attachment to rites and rituals was a hindrance to liberation, though in the Buddhist context their own extensive rites are justified because they are Buddhist
rather than Brahministic
or of some other externalist creed. In Mahāyāna scriptures it is often mentioned that offerings to buddhas and bodhisattvas are to be commended and encouraged, though this usually has ultimate liberation and buddhahood as the aim in mind rather than obtaining worldly benefits. There are also plenty of worldly guardians of the Buddhadharma who are venerated, though their role in the institutional model is one of guardianship, not saviourship. However, when it comes to supernatural forces the lines between said roles become blurred and nebulous.
Śākyamuni spoke of the gods as being subject to birth and death, just as we are, hence they are not suitable refuges. However, as the Mahāyāna developed the extensive pantheon of buddhas and bodhisattvas with their countless names and titles came to fulfil the role of worshipped deities.
Whether you think this was justified and appropriate or not, we might consider that it was necessary. The overwhelming majority of humans do not possess the will or inclination to study such things as emptiness or to even actually read the scriptures. There is more merit to be had in contemplating the prajñāpāramitā than in building stupas or worshipping deities. However, most individuals will not and probably cannot contemplate the prajñāpāramitā. Hence, to facilitate the development of people you need figures such as Avalokitēśvara manifesting as figures to be venerated, worshipped and hopefully emulated.
At the end of the day to some degree, though not entirely, the worship of deities in Buddhism, be they buddhas, bodhisattvas or otherwise, is a means to an end. That isn't to say buddhas, bodhisattvas and deities do not exist, but just that worship and veneration of them on a mundane level hopefully directs a person in a positive direction while simultaneously letting them cultivate the merit necessary for attaining eventual liberation.