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The Golden Buddha


It was a massive statue, standing about 15 feet tall, weighing about 5-and-a-half-tons, in what some call the Land of Smiles, in what others call Thailand. Constructed of stucco and decorated with sparkling glass, this massive statue depicted the Buddha, seated in the lotus position, eyes open, with a little half-smile on his face.


Now, based upon his features, most experts date our stucco Buddha to the 200 years spanning from 1200 to 1400 while still others argue that he’s a newer imitation of earlier styles.


But none of that really matters.


Some history: as part of the conquest by the Burmese, Taiwanese relics of every sort – including stucco Buddhas — were looted for profit. Somehow, our stucco Buddha was among those items left behind, abandoned among the desolate ruins and forsaken temples of Taiwan’s capital — seated in the lotus position, eyes open, with a little half-smile on his face.


Well, around 1800, King Rama I established a new capital and commanded the relocation of all images of the Buddha. So, our stucco Buddha spent the next 100 years or so in a prominent temple in Bangkok before being moved yet again – this time to a pagoda of little significance, where he was housed in a basic structure covered by a tin roof; where decades of modern tourists would deliver offerings of flowers and fruits and pause to meditate at his feet; or, less nobly, place caps on his head and eat candy in his lap, as he remained seated in the lotus position, eyes open, with a little half-smile on his face.

The year was 1935.


Now, there are varied accounts of exactly what happened some 20 years later.

Upon the city’s decision to build a highway through that pagoda’s humble courtyard, common wisdom offers that the movers constructed a pulley system to hoist our stucco Buddha onto his new pedestal and that the rope failed under his weight. And of course, our stucco Buddha fell. And of course, our stucco Buddha cracked.


Another popular account expands this account to say that the rain that followed completely compromised the cracked stucco by morning.


It was as the movers began to assess the damage that the truth of our stucco Buddha was gradually revealed.


What we now believe is that this truth of our stucco Buddha was originally hidden to protect him from being looted for profit as part of the conquest by the Burmese; but that this truth was quickly forgotten.


And so it was that as the movers began to assess the damage, and as the last of the cracked stucco fell away, what gleamed forth at long last was a wholly intact, a completely untarnished, a perfectly unblemished, solid gold Buddha.


Standing about 15 feet tall, weighing about 5-and-a-half-tons, worth about $250,000,000.00; seated in the lotus position, eyes open, with a little half-smile on his face.

Now, I have to say, I just love this story. I love this story because it speaks to me of just what it means to be a human being.


Unity would say that there is only one thing happening here and it’s the self-existent “is-ness” we call God. This the self-existent “is-ness” we call God is unopposed, unlimited, unrestricted, unbounded. So, yet again — while it might feel or appear otherwise from time to time, this core principle offers that there is not a force for good and a force for evil jousting for possession of your soul; rather, that the fundamental substance behind all expression is singular – that truly, we live in a “uni-verse.”


And yet, because we’re hardwired to project ourselves outward, we have imagined God in our image since our first ancestors meandered out of Africa and began scratching on cave walls. With the rise of hunting tribes, we imagined gods of strength and stamina. With the rise of agricultural societies, we imagined gods of earth and stars. With the rise of city-states, we imagined gods of might and conquest.


So, that gods have faces mirroring everything from geography to circumstance doesn’t speak to the nature of god, you see – it speaks to the nature of humanity. The early Hebrews didn’t imagine a seven-day week because they knew a seven-day creation mythology. The early Hebrews imagined a seven-day creation mythology because they knew a seven-day week. “Of course, God would work for six days and then rest and reflect on the seventh. It’s the way it’s done.”


Because we’re hardwired to imagine gods with arms and legs, because we’re hardwired to imagine temperamental, fickle beings, because we’re hardwired to project ourselves outward, in a very real sense a pursuit of our spirituality requires an eclipse of our physiology.


So, this core principle is tough because it places the responsibility for how our spiritual resources are used where? Squarely upon the shoulders of humanity. This core principle is tough because it effectively says that how the human species evolves during its sojourn on planet earth is up to the human species.


And if there is only one thing happening here and it’s the self-existent “is-ness” we call God (and others have called it Brahma and Source and Cosmic Consciousness and Quantum Field and Mother Nature), if there is only one thing happening here and it’s the self-existent “is-ness” we call God, then we necessarily arrive at the essence of Unity’s second principle and that is that we, too, must exist within this self-existent “is-ness” — unopposed, unlimited, unrestricted, unbounded.


So, in these first two principles, not only do we lose a paradigm in which we get to blame the devil for what he took from us, but we lose a paradigm in which we get to blame God for what he didn’t give us.


Yes, it’s in these first two principles that our addiction to quiet mediocrity, cloaked in the glorious garb of false piety, comes crashing down.


So yes, I just love this story. I love this story because it acknowledges that there’s a greater self residing behind the fragile stucco of a human incarnation.


And yet, while life is sustained by this same, self-existent “is-ness” — unopposed, unlimited, unrestricted, unbounded (in more traditional language, we might say that while all life is of God), don’t we slap a layer of stucco on every newborn with those first labels of male and female? What’s that first question that flies from the mouth to the new parent, “Oh, congratulations! Is it a boy or a girl?” Don’t we slap a layer of stucco on every newborn when we assign it a date and a sign and a weight and a length? And then we spend the months that follow saying things such as, “Bottom of the chart,” and, “Top of the chart,” and, “Ahead of the curve,” and, “Behind the curve,” and so forth.


And don’t we slap a later of stucco on every child with every label of gifted or challenged, fast or slow, good or bad?


And don’t we slap a layer of stucco on every adult with every label of race and geography and ethnicity and age? Don’t we slap a layer of stucco on every adult with every label of orientation and role and credential and religion and class?


I don’t remember a time when the stucco of politic has been crustier than it is right now.

And don’t we slap a layer of stucco on ourselves every time we come to identify with our so-called failures and our so-called successes? Every time we come to identify with our conditions and our circumstances? Every time we come to identify with our statistics and our probabilities? Every time we come to identify with our regrets and our fears?


Don’t we slap a layer of stucco on ourselves every time we come to identify with the opinions of others? “The world says I’m not young enough. The world says I’m not smart enough. The world says I’m not educated enough.”


I was in college when I was told for the first time that I was talented. We were standing in that eternal hallway of sterile, white practice rooms known simply as “the second floor,” when David Shen dropped this shocking news in a manner so matter of fact that it was completely believable.


I say it was completely believable because had we been talking about the pressures of upcoming competitions, I might have expected him to offer such a statement as part of an obligatory social dance — you know the one: If I had said, “Oh, if only I had another week to prepare for so and so competition in such and such place,” I might have expected him to say, “But you’re one of the most talented pianists at the Conservatory,” at which point he might have expected me to say, “But you’re one of the most talented pianists at the Conservatory,” from which point we would have continued to whisk each other’s egos into stiff peaks of airy froth until some awkward and hollow truce was reached.


Yes, I was in college when I was told for the first time that I was talented.

Had we been talking about the pressures of upcoming competitions, I might have expected him to offer such a statement as part of an obligatory social dance.


But we weren’t. And he didn’t. He meant it. And it changed my life.

And in a sense, I think that’s what we’re here to do for each other.


I might suggest that never before has the weight of our divinity placed greater strain upon the ropes of our mediocrity to crack the stucco of our humanity.


I think we’re here – as intentional spiritual community – to acknowledge that greater self who resides behind the fragile stucco of a human incarnation.


I think we’re here – as intentional spiritual community – to acknowledge that greater self who resides behind the fragile stucco of race, geography, ethnicity and age; behind the fragile stucco of orientation, role, credential, religion and class.


I think we’re here – as intentional spiritual community – to acknowledge that greater self who resides behind the fragile stucco of so-called failures and so-called successes, conditions and circumstances, statistics and probabilities, regrets and fears; that greater self — whom I like to imagine as wholly intact, completely untarnished, perfectly unblemished — seated in the lotus position, eyes open, with a little half-smile on his face, just waiting for someone to see him.

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