Tall Statues Teaching Tolerance To All
On a recent trip to Hong Kong, I had the opportunity to travel to the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island to see the great Tian Tan Buddha statue, which was erected in 1993. This Buddha statue is an imposing, awesome structure that faces north towards Mainland China, and measures some 34 meters in height from its base. To get a close look at the Buddha, visitors must climb the 268 steps from ground level. This is a worthwhile endeavor as it brings you to a platform from which sweeping mountain and sea views can be appreciated. The Tian Tan Buddha took more than a dozen years to complete at a cost of over HK$60 million.
Buddhism has been the source of some of the world’s most beautiful art and art forms. Most of the great statues in the Buddhist faith are of Buddharupa – also known as the awakened one. These statues have been built all over the world, but some of the most significant ones include the Hussain Sagar Buddha statue in Hyderabad, India, the Monywa Buddhas in Myanmar, the Gal Viharaya Buddha in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka, and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok, Thailand. Over 23 years ago, when I was a visiting neurosurgical trainee at Juntendo University in Tokyo, and our children were small, we had the good fortune to travel to Kamakura, Japan to see the Great Buddha that was initially constructed in 1252 AD. We also journeyed to Nara, Japan to see the Great Eastern Temple known as Todaiji. Todaiji’s main hall in this temple complex is called the Daibutsuden, or Big Buddha Hall, and is the world’s largest wooden building. Inside the hall is one of Japan’s largest statues of Buddha, or Daibutsu, measuring 15 meters in height. Interestingly, there is a wooden pillar nearby this Buddha with a small hole at its base that is precisely the same size as a Daibutsu’s nostril. Popular legend decrees that those who can squeeze through this opening will be granted enlightenment in their next life. Thankfully, our children were able to pass through the hole in the pillar without difficulty!
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to view some of the world’s great Buddhist statues on my travels. Each time I visit a Buddhist temple or monastery, I am reminded that Buddhism is a tolerant religion and belief system that accepts the moral teachings of other religions. I am also acutely aware of the fact that there have never been any wars fought in the name of Buddhism. I do hope that my future travels will grant me the good fortune to visit some of the other sacred Buddhist sites and statues.