Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Yes, Many Buddhas"

I once visited a monastery outside of Hong Kong called "Ten Thousand Buddhas." Don't be impressed: it was more of a "Ripley's Believe or Not" museum than the Shrine of Lourdes. Right in the lobby, sitting cross-legged, was the body of a man covered in gold leaf. This was the founder of the monastery, who had declared that his body would never, ever rot, so the monks had seen to it that this miracle was properly displayed. There he sat, in a small plexigas box like a hamster, not rotting, although I suspect he had help with his hair and eyebrows, which were thick and luxuriant. He looked pretty rotten to me, but then, I wasn't a believer.

What was remarkable about this place was the seemingly endless array of small statues of the Buddha, each one in a different pose - ten thousand poses, to be exact. Shelf after shelf of the Buddha with his hands in the air, the Buddha inquisitively resting his head on his hand, the Buddha relaxing with one knee up and an arm thrown across it . . . on and on it went. They were everywhere you looked - you couldn't swing a saffron robe without knocking one over.

Finally, I asked one of the monks, who spoke limited English, "Why so many Buddhas?"

"Ahh, yes," he smiled and nodded, then said sagely, "Many Buddhas."

Did I miss something? Was this one of those baffling parables I'd seen on re-runs of "Kung Fu?" Before I knew it, the kind monk would be asking me to snatch the pebbles from his hand.

I think about that Zen moment when I pointlessly ponder human behavior: Why did they do that? Why is she being so insensitive? Why is he being such a dick?"

Then, I hear the voice of the monk solemnly intoning, "Yes, many dicks."

I don't think the point of the monk's lesson was, "People can be dicks sometimes." But what came through loud and clear that day was that sometimes you just have to accept what's in front of you, whether it's a gold-leafed non-rotting body on display, or statues of the Buddha in ten thousand poses, or dickish behavior.

There is wisdom and grace in the realization that, "Yes, many dicks."