View of Sri Dalada Maligawa thru statue’s hands, Castle Hill
When I told my grandmother I was a Buddhist she asked me what color the flag was. I didn’t know. I thought it a silly question. Now I am not so sure. The dispute in the news was about statues. My first instinct is to dismiss it as irrelevant, as idol worship. However, I went to Kandy and worshiped both the Buddha’s tooth and an amazing statue at Lankatilake. For all the ritual and objects that have surrounded this faith, this has still preserved a rare form of Buddhism that has made a great difference in my life. So I wonder, what do I know?
I was sitting at breakfast with an American. She was here for a meditation retreat. What she said struck me and for a rare moment I stopped thinking of what I was going to say next. She said what she found in meditation was that things come and go, thoughts come and go, likes and dislikes. And that she could watch them go. That in her daily life she has tried to apply those lessons, and that this is why she came here. This I agree. It is impermanence and attachment, and this leads to suffering. So why are we attached to statues and teeth?
So I’m sitting directly in front of, ostensibly, the Buddha’s tooth. I try to mediate but I can’t. It’s hot. There’s a constant murmur of voices punctuated by children. A mosquito is biting my arm. Taking my stillness as weakness, he bites some more. I can’t focus and give up. To my left a woman is prostrating herself. A child is mimicking the motions, prostrating, or perhaps it just can’t walk. Oh wait, it’s picking up some dirt to give to its mother. But still. Perhaps that’s it.
For all the non-meditation, these are still the people and places that preserve the faith such that I can stumble on it at age 18 in West Virginia. For all of my self-criticism and personal practice, there is little that I could pass on for 2,500 years. But this has been preserved. One man’s way out of suffering has been preserved such that I may find it centuries hence. Which is a blessing.
I can question the attachment to statues and people and places and things. Indeed, I do. But I realize that I should respect and thank them for what they’ve done, however they’ve done it. Like my Achchi, who has given me life, perhaps I should be grateful for the statues that have preserved a way out.