Jade Buddha for Universal Peace

June 1, 2010The only two things I know about Buddhism are 1) it's traditional to make Richard Gere and Kwai Chang Caine jokes when writing about it and 2) Buddhists love to make draw-jopping statues of Buddha. I actually don't have any of the former, but I did recently see a pretty cool specimen of the latter.

The Jade Buddha for Universal Peace is a recent edition to a rich pantheon of Buddha statues that calmly repose in spots scattered across the world and include such famous works as the 223-foot-tall Giant Buddha of Leshan and the more than 2,000-year-old Emerald Buddha of Bangkok. While not as big as the Leshan statue or as old as the Bangkok Buddha, the Jade Buddha for Universal Peace still has a pretty interesting origin.

In 2000, the largest chunk of gem-quality jade ever found was yanked from the Earth's bosom in Canada's Yukon region. After being dubbed the Polar Pride, the almost 20-ton (18 tonnes) boulder caught the interest of a jeweler named Cheyenne Sun Hill. He took the rarity of the find as a sign and, after consultation with a lama who told him, “If you make it, they will come” partnered with a Buddhist stupa in Australia to raise the funds to purchase the translucent green rock. They then hired a team of Thai artisans led by an Australian sculptor named Jonathan Partridge to turn that natural wonder into a man-made one. The cool stuff that's going on at any given time in this world makes me feel stupid for doing nothing so often.

The Buddha they created is over 8 feet tall, 4.5 tons heavy, and is the largest Buddha statue ever carved out of gem-quality jade. Based on the design of the Mahabodhi Stupa Buddha in India and consecrated by the Dalai Lama, the lotus-positioned, gold-masked, and universal-peace-questing Jade Buddha is currently on a world tour that began in December of 2008. For some reason, after wending its way across the Eastern Hemisphere and parts of the United States, it ended up in the not-so-auspicious location of Worcester, MA.

I have to admit, I was not prepared to be awed. Partly because of the location, partly because I had at that time done zero of the research that yielded the above few paragraphs, and partly because I cursorily glanced at their website and came away with mixed reactions due to the fact that the name Jade Buddha for Universal Peace was a registered trademark and the site emphasized officially licensed merchandise. I guess you have to do that these days, though. Oh, and also because they devoted a whole page to the subject of Mandala Lights, circular phenomenon that mysteriously appear in photographs of the statue. We call them orbs over here and attribute them to ghost energy. Sometimes its pure silliness that can unite cultures.

Also, I usually don't point out puns, but I'd like to do that with “cursorily.”

The Jade Buddha was displayed outside of the Linh Son Buddhist Temple, a plain, converted one-story house with yellow siding at 16 Ruthven Avenue across from a Honey Dew Donuts shop. The only clue that it wasn't a house were the golden dragons on its roof that let you at least narrow it down to either a Buddhist Temple or a Chinese Restaurant. The really differentiating point on the day I visited, though, were the mobs of Buddhists partying in the back yard under the serene gaze of a $5 million piece of jade.

In fact, it turns out to see the statue on the day we visited, we needed a zoom lens and a sense of reverence. We had only one of those with us. There were hundreds of people there, and we arrived in the middle of a full-on Buddhist ceremony complete with fan dancers and a team of orange-clad monks leading chants. Most of the visitors were worshiping, but a good percentage of them were gawking like us or buying ice cream and other concessions.

I assume other times at the feet of the Buddha are more sedate, but regardless all times are running out. It's only there in Worcester until June 5, after which it leaves its only stop in New England and continues its world tour through Canada and Europe before settling in its a permanent home in Bendigo, Australia, at the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion. Your place of worship sounds like a country church by comparison. Anyway, people will probably one day pilgrim across the globe to see this thing, so you should probably see it while it's pilgrimming to you.

This is where the Gere/Kwai Change Caine jokes would go had I had any. Instead, here are more pictures:

I include that last image to show we weren't just being jerks, busting in and taking pictures during a worship ceremony. There were a ton of people filming and taking pics. We might all have been jerks, though. I don't know.