On January 7, 2549 a large bronze Buddha statue was cast for Vimutti Buddhist Monastery. Considering that fact that our monastery is just a newly born baby, the turnout was truly amazing. Many of Thailand’s meditation masters attended as well as most of the abbots from our monasteries in the West. Food was prepared for 1000 people and it seems at least that many attended. Crews from two television stations were filming, radio stations were broadcasting and newspaper reporters were taking notes. Why all this fuss for Vimutti?
One reasin is that the making of a Buddha for a monastery is a rare event. It is a work of art that will probably last many hundreds of years as a focus of devotion. It was especially significant that a symbol of the Buddha would be sent overseas to help a monastery in a land that is new to the Dhamma. The fact that Luang por Sumedho graciously took time out of his busy schedule to be the senior monk drew much attention. Also many senior western abbots were in town to attend the world abbots’ meeting, held at Wat Pah Nanachat shortly after. Finally, Thais just love to gather together for occasions of spiritual significance. I found the entire process to be very moving.
The day was filled with Dhamma talks from Luang Por Sumedho and others, chanting, offerings to the Sangha, reunions of old friends and a general festive atmosphere.
When I told people in New Zealand about the custom of melting gold and silver jewellery into the new Buddha, I didn’t expect anyone to be interested enough to hand something over. But by the time I was ready to get on the airplane I had a good sized bag of precious metals to accompany me. I was deeply impressed by some people’s renunciation. For example, the morning before I left, Sumana offered the meal, and when it was over she slipped off her wedding ring and offered it for the Buddha. I asked her, “Are you sure Freddie is OK with this?” She assured me that Freddie had given his full consent. Now that the ring has been incorporated into the statue, it means that Freddie is married to the Buddha.
The gold and silver I brought from NZ was just the beginning. At one point in the ceremony it was announced that anyone who wished to offer some for the casting could present it to me. People started approaching offering bracelets, rings, earrings, chains and even small solid gold bricks. The line got longer and longer. I must have sat there for 45 minutes as person after person–mostly people I had never met–came forth to make their offerings. By the end we had more precious jewellery than I had ever seen outside of a store. We then separated the gold and silver into two piles. Silver melts more slowly than gold, so that was added first to the waiting cauldrons of molten bronze.
Luang Por Sumedho and I then ascended a raised stage. The gathering of approximately 50 monks then began chanting parittas, the ancient chants of well-wishing and protection. Luang Por then added the gold into the first batch of bronze that was to be poured into the mould. It took many fistfuls before all the gold was in the pot. As the monks continued to chant, the bronze cauldrons were poured into the upside-down mould. Molten bronze glows with a beautiful fluorescent radiance, and as it flowed and sparkled in the midday sun with the huge crowd focusing their attention, with the booming voices of so many of my supportive kalyanamitta brethren, with the culmination of months of planning bearing fruit with such perfection and enthusiasm and joy, it was indeed a moving experience.
The following is a partial list of the Sangha members who attended the ceremony:
Luang Por Sumedho – Spiritual Director of Amaravati Buddhist Monastery
Tan Ajahn Pasanno – Co-abbot of Abhayagiri, USA
Tan Ajahn Tiradhammo – Abbot of Bodhinyanarama, NZ
Tan Ajahn Jundee – Abbot of Wat Ampawan, Thailand
Tan Ajahn Gavesako – Abbot of Sununtaram, Thailand
Tan Ajahn Sucitto – Abbot of Cittaviveka, England
Tan Ajahn Piek – Abbot Wat Fah Kram, Thailand
Tan Ajahn Anan – Abbot of Wat Mahp Jun, Thailand
Tan Ajahn Somjai – Assistant abbot Wat Mahp Jun
Tan Ajahn Dtun – Abbot of Wat Boonyawat, Thailand
Tan Ajahn Amaro – Co-abbot of Abhayagiri, USA
Tan Ajahn Vajiro – Acting Abbot of Amaravati
Ajahn Suriyo – Abbot of Devon, England
Ajahn Punnadhammo – Abbot of Arrow River, Canada
Luang Por Monton – (a well-known forest monk. Because he is senior to LP Sumedho, he arrived politely late)
Mai Chee Sansanee – Abbess of Satien Tam, Banbkok. (The most famous nun in Thailand)
Special thanks goes to Khun Kittinan and At Samuthrsindh, who offered the Buddha Image. Khun Plern and Khun Usa worked hard for months to organize the ceremony.
Sumana Abeysekera did an fantastic job organizing the sheets of bronze on which people wrote special messages. These were all then melted into the new Buddha.
Much thanks goes to Khun Nuk, who helped to organize the group from New Zealand, who arranged to have 25 sabongs sewn so that I could offer them to the senior monks and who wrote a brochure in Thai for Vimutti.
Pushpa Jayatillaka flew in from Sri Lanka for the ceremony, and after it was over she invited Tan Ajahn Dtun and two of his monks to teach a retreat in New Zealand. He accepted.
So you see, it was truly an amazing day.
May you all be happy and well,
PS The Buddha statue arrived in New Zealand on March 21, 2006.