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Friday, October 14, 2005


Anorexic Buddha

During the Buddha's search for enlightenment he tried just about every method going at the time. One of these was severe deprivation. At times Theravada Buddhists create Buddha images showing him looking extremely thin from his long-term fasting.

A friend of mine in Australia recently acquired such a Buddha image. I told him that such things were not uncommon in south-east Asia. 'Good,' he said.'Get me another.' Since returning to Asia I have been searching.

Melaka has an abundance of antique shops catering to tourists. They have Buddha images both Theravada and Mahayana. But every one I saw looked quite robust.

I looked in several antique shops in Kuala Lumpur and found much the same.

In Penang I was staying on the edge of both Chinatown and Little India. Little India is delightful. Not having seen the real thing I can't say it is like it. Perhaps a more romantic version. There I found a store with nothing but religious icons. Not antiques, all new stuff. They had the pantheon of Hindu gods. They had many Buddhas, both Theravada and Mahayana including several of the Chinese boddhisatvas. They even had both Jesus and Mary. I thought I was in heaven just walking through this shop. But there were no emaciated Buddhas.

One evening I had my dinner in Chinatown and walking back home I found the Chinese version of the above store, only much larger. They had Buddhas from huge to small. They had other Chinese deities. They also had many Hindu gods. They had almost lifelike lotus flowers from which came the sound of chanting that sounded Theravada to me. But there was not one Theravada Buddha, only Mahayana. There seems to be a bias on the part of the proprietors.

The antique shops of Penang were no better than those in Melaka, so the search goes on. Unfortunately I don't see a lot of point in searching now that I am here in Thailand. It is illegal to export Buddha images from Thailand and I would hate to have Buddha seized by the authorities.

I trust my friend's present Buddha image is not lonely.

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