During the first week of March, I made a trip with a friend to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Every first Sunday of the month, admission into the museum is free, with the exception of $5 to see the featured exhibit, of which was themed around Bali.
I was quite impressed with the collection of Buddhist items, with entire sections dedicated to Buddhism from different time periods and regions. Of all the historical artifacts, I would say what became most apparent and valuable as a take-away lesson was the diversity of Buddha imagery in Buddhism, again depending on time periods and regions. As I walked from one room to the next, I sometimes found myself not sure if I was even still browsing the Buddhist exhibit in seeing images I would initially associate with Hinduism or other Eastern religions.
Specifically, this statue of the Buddha surprised me. My first impression, as I think yours might be, is that it looks quite like a certain other religious leader popular and dominant in Western culture.
Description of Bodhisattva Maitreya
The description of the statue points out certain details that mark this to be a figure of Bodhisattva Maitreya, namely the princely garments and water bottle held in the left hand. Moreover, with origins inPakistan, it is no wonder that their regional depiction of Maitreya is much different than the Chinese-derived Buddhist images I’m used to.
And though I enjoyed the informative exhibits and felt the museum overall was well worth my time (especially for free), I did notice one detail near the end of the exhibit that triggered a cringe, especially for such a reputable facility.
Asian Art Museum restroom
What do you notice in the picture below? Yes, you’re right. Those are restrooms right across from Buddhist figures that are as much part of the exhibit as any of the other statues. Really? Could they find no where else to put those items? It seems as though in treating the museum items as representatives of history and culture, the curators seem to have forgotten their original function as representatives of religion and faith, a significant factor to consider regardless of whether placed in a temple or museum.
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First thing in my mailbox this morning was an email from my father about the New York Time’s article In Buddha’s Path on the Streets of San Francisco. The article begins with the oldest Buddhist temple, Tien Hau Temple, and moves its way through the Buddhist Church of San Francisco down to modern institutions which are more famous across the Buddhist community: City Lights Books, the San Francisco Zen Center and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.
From my past writing, you might imagine that I finished this article with a page full of criticism already set to spew forth. Well, last night I was watching Tavis Smiley, and he mentioned something along the lines of this: he has such low expectations for the accuracy of the mainstream media, that he’s thankful when they even put out an inch of the truth. I had to agree.
This article is for non-Buddhists. While I disagree with certain aspects of the content and presentation, this article still does more good than harm, especially for someone who knows nothing about Buddhism. If this article becomes someone’s first step towards the Buddha Dharma, they’ll probably be interested in learning more. For that I am indeed thankful.
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Just got back off a five hour drive from San Francisco. Some thoughts…
Finally I understand why monks are supposed to sleep on low beds. I’ve been spending the last few nights with a quilt across two zabuton (and a pillow). As a result I would only lie down to sleep for the sake of sleep, not for any pleasure at all! (I still got good sleep.)
I love staying with family because I can waste five minutes of my day by gently taking an ant outside, and no one will question why, and no one makes me defend expending so much effort for the sake of a little ant.
Someone should install a traffic camera at the corner of Oak and Octavia. The city could make millions on those tickets. And maybe it would even be safer.
Much time with family also meant much time speaking our language! I think it’s definitely important to speak another language with family for at least the following reasons.  You can talk about people in the same room without them knowing. (“Don’t nag Mom right now, she’s having a bad day.”)  Language is like a cultural glue. If you have language, you have almost direct access to so many aspects of culture, from recipes to history to religion. If you try to study a culture without its language, learning about it is like crawling the net with a dial-up modem.  Language binds family at a very deep emotional level. You share a knowledge that no one else has.  Perhaps the most obvious reason: if you don’t speak it, your language just might die out.
Lastly, I just came across an article from Urban Dharma with the topic: How will the Sangha fare in North American Buddhism? More about this later. But first sleep, and I shall sleep for the joy of it too.
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