Touring Buddha statue to move on
WORCESTER — On a busy side street surrounded by supermarkets, car dealerships, and three-deckers, they have been coming for the past two weeks to a Vietnamese Buddhist temple: monks in brown robes, families in T-shirts and shorts, business people with pagers, stylish young women toting designer purses, and tattooed young men.
As incense lightly spices the air and quiet music tempers the murmur of afternoon traffic, they chant, sit with eyes closed and palms upturned, or simply stare in silence.
They have come to this sanctuary on Ruthven Avenue on the west side of the city to see a 12-foot, 4-ton statue of Buddha carved from translucent green jade. Now on a several-year world tour, the statue has spent two weeks in the parking lot of the Linh Son Temple, its only New England stop.
“It’s ultimately moved a lot of people, and not all Buddhists,’’ said Steve Lowe of Melbourne, a volunteer logistical manager for the US portion of the tour.
The Jade Buddha for Universal Peace has attracted a flow of visitors. Organizers say 4 million have viewed it on its world tour, and 15,000 from around the US and Canada have visited it since it went on display May 22 in Worcester. Today, a daylong closing ceremony marks its departure, beginning at 10:30 a.m. at the temple.
The tour started in Vietnam in March 2009, and its tentative end date is August 2011 in Birmingham, England. The statue was carved in Thailand from a jade boulder discovered in Canada in 2000, and it took five years to complete.
The intent of the statue’s tour is to promote peace in all aspects of life, according to organizers. In pursuing that goal, it has attracted a kaleidoscope of nationalities and religions.
“I identify with what [Buddhists] say about loving everybody,’’ said Cynthia Carruthers, of Worcester, who visited the statue late last week.
Identifying herself as “spiritual’’ and a Christian, she added: “I’m very moved by it. I get goose pimples.’’
The statue sits on an altar in a cross-legged pose. Its left hand clasps an alms bowl, while the fingertips of its right hand gently rest on its base, which represents the earth.
For Buddhists, it’s an archetypal image: It depicts the moment of enlightenment for their religion’s founder, when Buddha defied the demon Mara, according to Laura Harrington, a visiting scholar at Boston University who specializes in Tibetan Buddhism. The jade it is carved from carries a connotation in some Asian cultures of longevity, wealth, constancy, and immortality, she explained.
The significance of the statue is also a personal experience.
“The very fact that the image is traveling means it’s being looked at different ways in different contexts,’’ said Harrington. “It will be interpreted differently depending on where it is.’’
And so far, that’s been quite a few places. Since receiving blessings from the Dalai Lama last March, the statue has paused in locations across Asia and Australia, and in the United States so far it has been displayed in Miami, Memphis, and Charlotte, N.C.
The statue, valued at $5 million, has been under 24-hour surveillance by the organizers. And no one and nothing is allowed to touch it. The only exception is when it is being moved, and even then, respects are offered for the disturbance in the way of bows and clasped hands, Lowe explained.
After Worcester, it will continue on by truck to more stops in the United States and Canada. It will then be placed on a ship bound for Europe. Its permanent resting place will be the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion, which is now under construction in Bendigo in southeastern Australia.
Lowe said it came to the Worcester temple because its abbess was the first to contact the Jade Buddha organization, and he sees meaning in that.
“Just because you’re a small community doesn’t mean you’re ignored by the Buddha,’’ he said.
Taryn Plumb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.