The Monks of Burma: Soft Buddhas

Images and effigies of the Buddha very often reflect the time and place in which they were created. The created reflects the created rather than the historical figure Siddhartha, whose journey from wealth and comfort to humility to nirvana is the foundational myth of Buddhism. That's as it should be because the Buddha, the enlightened one, is to be found within ourselves.

If a Buddha figure is made of gold, he stands as a metaphor for the beautiful virtues that reside within each of us. To look upon a gold Buddha is to reflect on our own golden nature. To see a gigantic Buddha is to see the magnificence of an enlightened soul. To see the figure as a source of power unto itself is to miss the point. The role of sacred arts is to turn our sight onto our souls, not the object itself.

Larger-than-life stone or concrete Buddhas similarly suggest that breadth and magnificence of the enlightened soul. Such figures inspire us to reach for greatness. In Buddhist terms, this means following the eightfold path--adherence to truth and moral values comprising, including right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

This conversation on the nature of monuments led a friend and teacher to create a soft Buddha. His Buddha suggests the warmth and comfort of compassion. The figure is small and approachable. His halo is damaged and taped together because the road to enlightenment brings with it pitfalls that can be painful or harmful.

Taken together, these Buddha's describe the human experience. Though nobody is perfect, everyone has a place.

I thought of the soft Buddha when I read about the Buddhist monks killed in Burma in a larger crisis concerning the Burmese junta's abusive regime and its literally taxing individuals out of a meal. Here were these soft Buddhas--monks of golden character and concrete courage laying their lives on the line that the suffering might end for the people of Burma.

There's nothing more moving than committed compassion rising against the force of deliberate despotism. The argument is over. The violent response of a bankrupt regime and its guns, rubber bullets, and tear gas speaks to a profound poverty of spirit. Whatever the whole story is in Burma, these images remind me that it's possible to break free of the cycle of suffering and be the change; in fact, it's possible to become bulletproof.

Here's Sue's blog with many useful Burma links.

Here's the BBC's Burma coverage.


  1. Anonymous12:17 AM

    Dear Sandy, first off, thank you for leaving me your URL as I find your entries interesting, I'd love to come back and read more once my Thailand holiday is over.

    regarding the unrest in Myanmar, I was in great shock while watching the news yesterday where people were being killed just because they want better treatment, better life.. I almost cried when I saw how the japanese journalist was shot at point blank, his hands were even up in the air when he fell from the first bullet.

    anyway, I wish you and your family a fine weekend.

  2. Thess,
    The situation in Myanmar is appalling. I read that the Japanese journalist was still holding his camera even after he died.

    How like these great teachers to lead in this way, though. I have great respect for these Buddhist monks and their moral courage.

  3. I like that the Buddha figures are meant to reflect something rather than embody it.

    I also am saddened by the events in Myanmar. I admire as well the people and the monks they emulate who point to the truth of the powerful trap being sprung there.

  4. The world is all watching and praying for the people of Burma.

    I just pray our leaders can get through to the `bullies' ruling Burma that their way of doing things is now over.

  5. Anonymous9:04 PM

    Well put. Perhaps soemone needs to share the soft Buddha with the Burmese government.

  6. Anonymous4:16 PM

    My hopes and prayers are with those monks and with the people of Burma.

  7. Anonymous7:52 PM

    This was a lovely post. Like everyone else, I am praying for the monks of Burma. I've left a link to a photo essay we did at ours honoring the monks of Burma.


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