THE JADE BUDDHA UNVEILED AT ESCONDIDO, CA
By Ava Nguyen, Contributing Writer
Saturday, February 7, 2010 at 2:10 p.m.
ESCONDIDO— It was supposed to rain that day. It didn’t. The sun glowed amorously all the way to Escondido, which is something, since the 405 is usually one of those freeways that doesn’t have amorous memories attached to it.
I was carsick, as always. Even on a day when the sky looks like a picture out of a National Geographic front cover, I still wanted to hurl. I leaned my head up against the window, hoping to just stare off into the sunlight long enough to doze off.
Instead, when I looked toward the sky, I couldn’t see throughthe window. I could only see the window. My shadowy reflection was blocking a clear picture of the sky and even when I tried to take a picture, my face was right where the sun was supposed to be.
I kept trying to take the picture – I even looked away from the window and randomly pressed the camera button. The back of my head is not any better than its opposite.
Rolling my eyes, I curled up and tried to go to sleep.
I seemed to have that problem all day long.
You know that more than 10,000 people are attending an event when the streets have transformed into sidewalks and the neighbors are holding signs offering parking for seven dollars per vehicle. Smart neighbors.
Our bus had to stop a couple blocks away, discourteously having to block everyone driving behind us. I would have apologized to them, but they seemed… inconsolable.
It was a strange sight to see, to say the least. On my left was a farm, complete with chickens and horses. I was half expecting OldMacDonald to come out and give us a wave as he milked his cows. On my right was a stream of houses, looking like they were plucked out of a Norman Rockwell painting. In between them was the group of 10,000 plus people, walking on the street that they had transformed into a sidewalk.
I tried taking pictures of some marble plaques posted alongside the gate. They were Buddhist sayings translated into English. I pointed my camera at one, but its smooth marble reflected my face, blurring out the words.
We followed the sea of hurried people to the front gates of the monastery, where traffic became a bit more complex. Suddenly, it became more about where you were standing and not about where you were hurrying.
We had arrived at noon, three hours before the opening ceremony was supposed to start, but there were already hundreds of people lined up to find a place to settle down. Sitting was a luxury that I didn’t get to enjoy, so I just filed in wherever I saw a crevice of open air.
My mother filed in with me, along with a family friend and a couple of people from our temple. The rest were lost in the mass of people that had yet to be able to stop walking without getting hollered at.
As it turned out, I had serendipitously landed right in front of the altar – a perfect spot for pictures.
I looked up.
A golden veil cloaked it. I felt bad for the veil. Yes, it’s an inanimate object, but I would bet good money that every pair of eyes hated it for being there and every pair of hands wanted to wrench it off.
Even though it was cloaked, I could see the shape of the Buddha very clearly, from the top of his head to his two knees as he sat Indian-style.
I’m not a patient person. I wholeheartedly admit it. But for some reason, I stood there, in direct sunlight, for the next three hours, waiting for the ceremony to start. I didn’t utter a peep of a complaint.
Amazingly, neither did anyone around me. I guess there’s something in everyone that can make you hold your tongue and perk up your ears.
It could have been that we were scared to death that it would start raining. It could have been that we were all too tired from the drive to even stand still, much less chit-chat. It could have been that we didn’t want to disrupt the tranquility of the place.
It could have been any of those reasons. But I like to think that, every now and then, we humans get the chance to wear peace and hold honor in our hands. So we do.
I guess it’s kind of like seeing a ladybug. When you see any other type of bug crawling on you, your first instinct is to kill it. Smash it. Send it into bug heaven. But you’re hands will stop themselves from smashing a ladybug. You let it crawl on you, play in between your fingers, and then you send it on its way.
I think that’s how we treated being stuck in the hot sun for three hours. It’s a bug crawling on our skin, but it’s a ladybug, so we just let it go.
Just when I started questioning why such a beautiful sky could be so mercilessly bright and hot, an announcement rang through the air. It started.
Drums echoed in the distance. Despite the fact that I have a daunting and spectacular height of 4 feet 11 inches, I could not see a thing until the dragons came.
Four dragons marched playfully down the hillside, followed by a trail of monks and city officials. The dragons sat on either side of the altar. Even though they had Converse Star sneakers for feet, I thought they looked very real.
The speeches started. Normally, I would have screamed if I had to continue to stand in the hot sun and listen to people give speeches, but my ladybug was keeping me sane.
They were heartfelt. I don’t mean to say the speeches usually aren’t, but normally, you find that the people giving speeches do not always speak as though they are looking you in the eyes and shaking your hand.
“It took effort. But it happened. That’s the magic of this Jade Buddha. A couple people carved it, but the millions of people who helped make it happen were the ones that brought it to life,” said Le Tan Huynh, executive board president of the General Association of Buddhist Laypersons.
"Peace comes one step at a time, and it's up to each of us to create that peace,” said Escondido Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler.
Senior abbot of the Phap Vuong Monastary, The Venerable Thich Nguyen Sieu, said it’s not about religion. "The Buddhist message for over 2,500 years has been that everyone has the Buddha's nature within them. The Jade Buddha's role is to activate the Buddha's nature within you.”
And it did activate it. When the veil was finally lifted, cheers erupted into the air and were soon joined by sobs and applause. The sun burst with emerald green as its light hit the Jade Buddha and flooded across the monastery.
The woman next to me, who had not cracked as much as a glimmer of a smile, finally showed me her teeth.
Ian Green, proprietor of the project, stepped up to say a few words about how the Jade Buddha for Universal Peace came about. A large boulder of polar jade (the strongest and most translucent type of jade) was found in Canada in 2000. “It was the find of the millennium,” he said. He received a call from a Buddhist jeweler from Santa Cruz who asked him to make it into a statue of Buddha. “He was a funny guy. I liked him.”
After talking to his spiritual master, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Green went about doing so. Lama Rinpoche had a vision that the Buddha would bring universal peace to all those who looked upon it, so it was named The Jade Buddha for Universal Peace.
After the ceremony was over, I funneled my way through the crowd and made it a couple feet away from the statue. I took a picture of it.
My face was reflected in the jade, right at the Buddha’s chest. My pictures all turned out that way, so I gave up and, after one last glance at it, returned to the bus and headed home.
Why is it that everything that is beautiful is also reflective? I don’t know why.
I don’t think it’s as simple as saying that it’s because you need to see yourself and reflect upon yourself in order to become a beautiful human being. While I believe that’s true, I think seeing the Jade Buddha has a lot more to tell me.
Everyone kept saying that in world where there are people suffering from earthquakes, terrorism, and loss, peace is something few and far between. But no one said how peace should be found. It’s not some wild animal that comes and goes, nor is it an evangelical spirit that visits a place for a while and leaves.
It’s always there. I see now why Lama Rinpoche said that people would look upon it and find peace. I think it’s because the jade shows you your reflection and reminds you that peace is within you, not around you. It seems really simple, but I think its simplicity is what makes us forget about it.
It works to discover to yourself something that you don’t know of. Peace is inside us. If we don’t want to fight with a friend, we don’t have to. If we can’t have the love that we want, we can still love. If we are starving and without food, we can pray that someone will break bread with us. And if we can’t take the picture we want, we can be happy with the picture that is given to us.