Thursday, February 02, 2006

Meeting a buddha at Bloomingdale's

The top photo shows one of my favorite pieces of art -- certainly my favorite example of Japanese Buddhist art. It's a 1,500-year-old wooden sculpture of Miroku (Maitreya in Sanskrit), the Buddha of the Future. (I'll get to the bottom photo in a minute.)
The embodiment of all-encompassing love, Miroku is the last of the five earthly Buddhas and is expected to arrive in about 30,000 years, according to my "Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen."

I had seen photos of this famous statue, but when I first saw it in person in 1996 (in a temple in Nara, the capital of Japan before Kyoto), I was transfixed.
Blown away, actually.
It wasn't so much the statue's great age or blissfully serene facial expression that captivated me. It was its raised right hand, forming the Vitarka (Sanskrit for "teaching") mudra.
Mudras are physical manifestations of states of mind or being, or of certain aspects of Buddhist teachings. In Buddhist iconography, different mudras are associated with different Buddhas. So, when you're viewing a statue, the mudra is almost like a scorecard, offering a key as to which buddha you're looking at.

The mudra in the Miroku statue shows a buddha engaged in the act of teaching.
To me, the position of his hand makes it look as if he's exquisitely and delicately stressing a point.
"It is just like THIS," I can almost hear him saying. "Just like this. Nothing more, nothing less."

A couple of years ago, I was in a Bloomingdale's department store here in New Jersey. I was taking a shortcut through the furniture department when I noticed a small sculpture on a shelf.
I stopped dead in my tracks.
It was of a hand forming the Vitarka teaching mudra.
"How much?" I asked the sales clerk.
"Well, it's really just part of the display," she said. "But wait a minute, let me see if there's a price on the bottom."
There was a price, and I gladly paid it.
In the bottom photo, you can see the statue on the right, rising above some of my other friends.
I never thought I would encounter the essence of Miroku -- and in a Bloomingdale's, no less.
We meet buddhas in the strangest places.


anu said...

I am loving all the pictures..the dogs, your karate outfit, and the beautiful mudra.

Michael, i felt a deep sense of calm as i read these words in your post today: "It is like THIS". I read this again and looked at the picture.

I understood 'something', which brought me a wave of peace and joy.
Hugs M :)

Michael said...

Thank you, Anu. I feel the same way when I read your poems. They offer just the right words -- just like THIS. :)

LBseahag said...

That's amazing....good thing it was for sale, long time ago i worked at a department store and the lady who dressed the mannequins was caught dressing one in something she bought at Express or some place like that!!!

Michael said...

Hi LB,

That's funny! Mannequins give me the creeps...

Justin said...

I only want to say that I'm really enjoying your blog Michael. It's interesting and seems to have a tranquil air. I love the mudra statue and the words about it.
Thanks Michael!

Just saw your blog for the first time. The poems are really nice. Peaceful atmospheric moments trapped with words like informal haiku.

Michael said...

Thanks, Justin!
The reality is, I'm usually anything but tranquil.
Agitated, animated, hyperactive, judgmental, confrontational, stubborn, intense -- I've been called all these things and much more, and deservedly so, but almost never tranquil.
I see this blog, though, as a refuge, a place to be tranquil or to strive for tranquility, even at times when my state of mind or my surroundings are not.

Justin said...

:) Well thanks for letting us share your peaceful refuge!

Michael said...

:) :)

Beth said...

wow! i love these. i'm loving all of the recent pictures as well. you have a fine blog, michael.
is that jizo bodhisattva in the bottom picture holding the staff?

Michael said...

Hi Kim,

Thanks so much, and may I return the compliments!
Yes, that's Jizo-san at the bottom of the picture.

greenbean said...

Thank you Michael for your sharing.." We meet Buddhas in the strangest and in the most unlikely places..." That's great insight! And the Teaching Hand - The Way It Is, Suchness, That's profound Michael so very profound...I wish I can embrace such Suchness without beeing swallowed by all the pain and the agony of daily living...Deep Bows to you.

Michael said...

Hi Greenbean,

Thank you! Greenbean, you just have to go on, one foot in front of the other. If possible, try not to look ahead so much. Just focus on this instant. I know ist's so easy to say...