Thomas Merton
I would like to share with you the impressions of that great Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, at seeing the statues of the Buddha in Sri Lanka:

I am able to approach the Buddha’s barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand. Then the silence of the extraordinary faces. The great smiles. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing, the peace…that has seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone and anything-without refutation-without establishing some other argument.

Looking at these figures I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves became evident and obvious….everything is emptiness and everything is compassion.


What do you yourself see when you observe the statue of Amida san? Can you, a Buddhist, agree with this Catholic Trappist monk about the Buddha statue?

Our statue has the hair of the black people, the skin of the brown and red peoples, the eyes of the Caucasians, Greek robes, and an Egyptian lotus motif and (according to some historians) a the Zoroastrian light rays coming out of the head. He is using hand gestures that may predate Buddhism as an organized religion, and which were later adopted by Christian artists in depicting Jesus. Amida san is also protected by a great snake. How would Thomas Merton respond to this statue?

In these troubled times when all of the major religions are involved in violent conflict somewhere in the world, we would do well to meditate on the meaning of our statue of Amida, the Lord of Life and Light who embraces all beings with wisdom and compassion, no ifs ands or buts.

Our Amida san represents all of humanity. The statue is at the same time a great storehouse of primary spiritual insights. It may seem to some to be a confusion of various unrelated elements. Amida, however, can hold these various elements all together in the grace of infinite compassion that shines through all our confusion.

In the
Shoshinge, Shinran tells us that our lives may indeed be overcast by hatred, fear and anger, but Amide’s grace shines upon us nevertheless, just as the sun still shines even though it is a cloudy day.

Because of this grace of the Amida, we too, like Thomas Merton, can experience everything as ‘emptiness and compassion.’ This is when the nembutsu---namo amida buddha—rises to our lips from deep wellsprings of gratitude. Are these not interesting insights in this age of war and terrorism? Do come to the otera and gaze upon our Amida san and see what you can see!

Sensei Ulrich

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