This Big Buddha at Kamakura Breathes in Perfect Solitude

by Kooi F. Lim, The Buddhist Channel, 6 July, 2023

Kamakura, Japan -- Awe, reverence and tranquility. The usual testaments one gets to hear as visitors lay their first gaze at the Daibutsu, the Big Buddha of Kamakura.

For the novice visitor, this colossal masterpiece produces a great impression when one discovers it for the first time, and this impression grows as one studies it and moves around it.

Towering above the surrounding landscape on the grounds of the Kotoku-in temple at 13 meters high, it weights 121 tons. This famous singular statue sits in a firm, dignified lotus position with the most serene of expression. Its sapphire-blue eyes, a glimpse of it which can be seen from below the eyelids, seemingly casting a benevolent gaze upon all who comes near.

Its hands are formed in a mudra with two circles - the index, middle and ring fingers touching while the thumbs and little fingers do not. This Daibutsu’s mudra is a little unusual in the sense that its thumbs do not rest on top of its index fingers. Called the “Jobon-josho-in", this mudra is considered the highest ranked.

The statue's craftsmanship is meticulous, a great character of simplicity. Each line and curve of its intricate carving animates the embodiment of Buddha Amida (Chinese: Amitabha). The face of the Buddha breathes in perfect solitude, with an ineffable sweetness.

How it is possible for one to produce so much effect by such simple means? This great work is an irresistible proof of the perfection to which the art founders of the Kamakura period (1192–1333) had attained.

Visitors will often find themselves instinctively slowing their pace, allowing their senses to absorb the profound stillness that fills the air. As tranquility envelops the spirit, it invites contemplation and reflection. For some, it is a moment to find solace and inspiration. A moment where the burdens of the world momentarily fades away, replaced by a profound sense of calm and contentment.

And yet in many others, the Daibutsu evokes a sense of wisdom, compassion, and enlightenment. The Buddha speaks to us of the higher ideals we should aspire to in our lives. He offers a poignant reminder of the impermanence of life, urging us to embrace the present moment and seek the path of inner peace and spiritual growth.

This means that making effort to reflect deeply into our mind that shapes our reality is really an important spiritual practice. The way we see the Daibutsu or anything else, for instance is influenced by our mind and our thoughts. In Yogacara philosophy this is called "vijnapti-matra", which means "consciousness-only." It suggests that our experience of the world is actually made up of our thoughts, ideas and perceptions. When we learn to see things clearly, we reduce the influence of illusions or misunderstandings, hence our suffering.

We take cue from the eyes of the Daibutsu, to gaze into our ignorance and tear away layers upon layers of present and past stupidity. We make vows to regain our dimmed "Bodhicitta" (Buddha nature), steadfastly keeping to the precepts and discipline, like how the Daibutsu sits firmly in lotus position with hands folded in "Jobon-josho-in". We do this and presevere in whatever condition - rain, snow or shine - just as the statue endures day after day. Finally, by recognizing the patterns and habits stored in our storehouse consciousness, we can work towards transforming them and cultivating a more positive and compassionate state of mind, breaking free from the cycle of suffering and achieving enlightenment.

In the presence of the Daibutsu, visitors - whether it is a pilgrim seeking enlightenment, a traveler in search of beauty, or a one yearning for solace - the Big Buddha stands as a testament to the enduring power of spirituality, inspiring all who encounter it to embark on a journey of self-discovery and inner peace.
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