THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
The Story of The Reclining Buddha Statue
at Gold Wheel Monastery
by Chang Gwo Yan
At some time in the spring of 1988, out of curiosity I went to Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, California. This museum featured oriental art, and they had a shop upstairs. I went up and right at the entry way was a reclining statue of Buddha. There were other artifacts in the store, but this one caught my attention right away because I recognized the style of the statue as being Burmese. The price was very high, probably because it was antique, though I did not have the knowledge to determine how old it was.
I bought the statue despite its high price since I felt that it was not a respectful place for a Buddha statue to be in the middle of all the antiques. I asked the dealer where I could find a person who could fix the damage. He referred me to someone in the Hollywood area. All I wanted to do was to make the image look cleaner and regild it with more gold leaf. He did very little, to my disappointment, and charged me quite a bit, too.
Not long after I brought and offered the statue to Gold Wheel Monastery on 6th Street, I had a dream in which a Dharma Master was trying to prevent all the bad spirits at the museum shop from bothering me or giving me any trouble. Later, I saw a picture of the Venerable Master in front of this statue with some laypeople. One day when I had a chance to sit with the Master, he briefly asked out of the blue, “Wasn’t the statue expensive when you bought it?” I nodded my head. That was the only time he mentioned it. I was surprised that he knew, even though I never told anyone how much it cost. (Later, two of my Dharma friends offered donations toward the cost.)
In January or February of 2007, when one of my elder sisters went to Burma, I had asked her to buy some gold leaf from there, thinking of using them on a project. In early April of 2007, my mother suggested doing some remodeling on this reclining Buddha statue at Gold Wheel Monastery, since it looked like it had not been retouched or remodeled since it had been brought there about 20 years ago. After getting permission from the Dharma Master, I started to work.
Then, the Dharma Master told me I should finish it before the Buddha’s birthday celebration on May 20th (in 2007). But Cherishing Youth Day was going to be celebrated on May 6th, so I needed to finish it before this event because the statue was in the open area in the Buddha Hall where people would be coming in. So one thing led to another and I had to hurry up to finish the job in 3 or 4 weeks. I started my search for the materials I needed. The gold leaf I ordered several months previously became useful for remodeling this statue. But I estimated that there wouldn’t be enough gold, so I went to get gold liquid for the retouching job.
When I started doing the work, most people at Gold Wheel Monastery were astonished, making such comments as “Do you know how to fix it?” “Who asked you to do it?” “Did you get permission from the Dharma Master?” …on and on. To be honest, I had no idea where to start. I just felt I needed to fix it and I could not find any person with this kind of experience either.
As May 6th deadline approached, I was almost frantic. The part I had the most trouble with was the hole at the bottom corner of the lower woodblock supporting the head of the Buddha statue. Since this was teak wood, it was hard to patch that hole. I had no prior training at all to fix it. I tried different methods, but it was a very difficult process. What was interesting was that when I was coming home from work one day, I thought about stopping by an incense shop, thinking that maybe I’d find something there to fix the hole. I found a sandalwood block that was easy to chop and shape. I bought a bag of fragrant wood powder and a block of sandalwood. I used the powder to rub the body and intended to use paint and mix it to get the skin color. Jennifer Chang saw me doing it and asked me if that was the traditional way to do it. I never thought about it, but it could be an auspicious thing to rub clean the body area with incense powder. And I painted it with several coats of paint afterward to get a more neutral tone of skin color.
To raise the level of the statue, I thought of putting something beneath the board where the statue sits. My mother and I went downtown one day, and we saw at the front of a store this sponge which was the one we were looking for. The sponge was tough and strong. Just in case it was not, I decided to get a thicker one. My mother made a beige color cushion out of it to go underneath the resting board.
Near the end of this work came the retouching and drawing of the statue’s eyebrows, eyes, and lips. I noticed the outlines were already there for me to trace over. Seeing the original carved outlines in perfect traceable form was quite astonishing for me. It was like the Buddha statue was speaking Dharma to me—to see your original face, to return the light and see your Buddhanature: What was your original face before your parents bore you? It is analogous to the perfection of our Buddhanature, which is there already for us to explore; we don’t need to start from the beginning or search in places. I altered the design on the headrest woodblocks.The glass pieces used in the original design were of poor quality. I had to quickly come up with a design that looked a bit more decent with some meaning to it. Not being able to find the Dharma wheel design, I used what I found—a flower centerpiece made of wood, surrounding it with small pieces of flowers.
I was worried that I wouldn’t finish that remodeling job on time. I had a dream, closer to the week of May 6th Cherishing Youth Day, before the completion of the remodeling of this statue. I had a sense of feeling in the dream that I had some sort of reassurance from Shrfu—although I did not actually see his form in the dream, I saw part of his robe and sensed his presence, walking around the area, inspecting everyone’s activities. Amazingly things started to work out slowly but surely.
With a lot of help from Dharma Masters at Gold Wheel Monastery, my mother, and Dharma protectors, I managed to finish it on time, amazingly. I don’t know how I did it.
I was glad that I was able to have this chance to do this work. I dedicate this work to the suffering people of Burma as well as to all beings. I hope that living beings refrain from evil and do all good deeds. And I hope that when people see the adornment of the Buddha, they will bring forth the Bodhi mind and quickly attain the Way. It is rare to get to work on the statue of the Buddha. As explained in the Earth Store Sutra, repairing holy images such as this gives us a chance to create blessings.