The Buddha statue in our Dharma Room (Zendo) at Zen House comes from Korea. It does not look like the usual Buddha you see on Korean temple altars because this one was saved by some Westerners from the gold-plated dressing-up that Korean tradition expects of every Buddha. This bling-blingy gold-plated experience is something that took some getting used to, when I began practicing in this tradition. It resembled the flashy stuff that marked so much of the corruption in Catholicism that I struggled to flee. It took me some years of experience in Korea to understand why this gold-plating was done: 1) gold represents the qualities of knowledge, enlightenment, purity, happiness, and freedom; 2) in the Avatamsakka Sutra, and the tradition following therefore, the Buddha is often referred to as “the golden One”, and whenever depicted, they used gold to adorn the image to “bring this to life” in the most devotional way possible — sacrificing even material positions to express it; 3) and this might be most prosaic of all, but also the most important reason: Buddha statues in northern Buddhism were made most often from wood, and wood dries as it ages, and cracks appear. Those cracks can even cause pieces of the statues to fall off. Having a crack right down the face or chest of the otherwise well-crafted Buddha would not lend it to devotion and inspiration. So, there is an elaborate series of tree-sap lacquers that are layered on the statue, and then gold-leaf is pressed on the surface in a manner that “seals in” the natural moisture, preventing cracking from within, and keeping out moisture that can accumulate in drafty Buddha halls in misty mountain locations rife with pine-tree dewiness.
I like this Buddha very very much. I always pray for the donors in Korea who provided this Buddha to help us spread the Dharma in the West. We first transported this Buddha to Norway about eight years ago, and he/she/it has been saving these quirky Norwegians nonstop ever since. I also lent a sibling of this statue to some practitioners in Thessaloniki, Greece, and we have one always with me in Zen Center Regensburg. I also donated versions of this Buddha to Zen groups in Dresden, Athens, the Czech Republic, and Luxembourg.
If anyone is interested in donating one of these exquisitely hand-crafted Buddhas to a group practicing with me, please contact the Zen Center Regensburg main office.