Saturday, May 7, 2011


I once went to an exhibit of Buddhist art. There were scrolls and statuary and triptych screens and calligraphy and porcelains as delicate as a floating milkweed feather. It was beautiful stuff in my eye -- really beautiful -- and I basked in the beauty displayed in glass case after glass case. The care, the craftsmanship, the dedication, the soaring results ... it wowed me.

But then I came to a single case set off to the side. Its contents were rough and inept by comparison with the surrounding beauties. And there, in the center of several artifacts, was a single, blackened piece of wood perhaps 18 inches high. It looked like a log someone had grabbed off the wood pile. And whoever had grabbed it then carved what was recognizable as a representation of Gautama Buddha. The chisel marks were not smoothed. The features were not refined. The craftsmanship was clearly amateur. And yet it had what all art aspires to and seldom achieves ... it had heart and it damn near made me cry.

Simple, direct, devoted, honest. Someone had taken time away from what may have been a back-breaking existence and carved ... well, it is hard to say what, precisely, he carved. The best I could think of was...


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