Gilded spiritualized metal: buddha finds place in bremen

After being ritually filled, the Peace Buddha in Bremen’s Botanika will have transformed into a cult object

When it’s finished, it should look like this: a golden little guy next to pink azaleas Photo: Montage: Schulze Pampus Architekten

What peace! What power! What a massive figure with an almost childishly small head! In the future, an almost three-meter-high Buddha figure will sit in Bremen’s Science Center Botanika, gleam golden and exhale its peaceful spirit over Europe – as a peace Buddha.

To feel what the radiance of such a statue can mean, you have to forget your secular "I think, therefore I am." Sit for an hour in the rhododendron park, simply enjoy the peace, immerse yourself in nature and the sound of birdlife. This is the environment in which the Buddha, which was delivered from India in a large wooden crate on a car transporter at the beginning of January, is supposed to work. Currently, there are only models of what it will be like. The statue will be consecrated in August. The ceremony needs to be well prepared and will take several days. The statue weighs 450 kilograms, 650 kilograms of mantra scrolls have come along – as spiritual filling.

Time is not money for Buddhist philosophy, on the contrary: money costs time. Buddhist spirituality is the stark opposite of secularized Western civilization. Where, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, statues of gods are forbidden to us and we have to be content with substitute objects such as holy books, images of the Virgin Mary and prayer wreaths. There the Buddhist is allowed to look into the eyes of the great master, he should virtually immerse himself in the visual experience of his sight.

There are strict guidelines as to what a Buddha should and should not look like. Where the enlightened religions try more badly than good to harmonize the old mythical stories with the secular world view, Buddha teaches simply: The ego is an illusion, a cultural product, forget everything – "Om mani padme hum". All the wisdom lies in the mantras that help you to come to peace.

The plan, to erect Buddha statues on all continents was conceived by Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso in the 1980s.

The realization still lacks sites in Australia, Antarctica, and North and South America. In India, the statue was erected only ten years after Gyatso chose Jayanti Park in New Delhi in 1983.

The consecration took place from 30. 9. to 2. 10. 1993 according to the ritual of the diamond fear maker, Vajrabhairava Yamantaka, designed to lead viewers through terror to transcendence, under the direction of the Dalai Lama and the highest cleric of his order.

The celebration for number two in August turns out to be more modest: The sole celebrant in Bremen is Lama Geshe Pema Samten, who has led the Hamburg Tibetan Center since 2003 and founded its Hanover offshoot in 2006.

Unique Botanika

Bremen’s Science Center Botanika is an exhibition on biodiversity and species diversity and also presents many elements from the Buddhist cultural sphere. There is a prayer mill more than two meters high, weighing several tons, with 168 million mantras, and in front of the Botanika there is a "stupa," also such a sacred object, a monument to happiness and peace. In the Himalayan greenhouse there is also a Nirvana Buddha, the largest bronze Buddha statue of its kind in Europe. A rich Asian merchant had ordered this statue for himself, but had died before it was completed. An employee of Bremen’s environmental department had discovered it in 1995 in the artist’s workshop in India, and in 2011 they had finally agreed on a price. The statue depicts Buddha entering Nirvana lying on his right side, Buddha dying smiling happily, having broken the cycle of being reborn forever.

"The Botanika in Bremen is unique in Europe," Lama Doboom Tulku, the director of the Tibet House New Delhi has explained in 2004 during his visit to Bremen, "here, on the one hand, the nature of the Himalayan region is presented to the general public in a vivid way, on the other hand, Buddhist elements – such as prayer wheels or a Mani wall are integrated into the extraordinary botanical collection."

The special thing: The cult objects are not behind the closed doors of a Buddhist temple, but in a place that is accessible to all people. When the Peace Buddha is erected in August, people will be able to visit it free of charge.

So far, the Buddha is just a hollow piece of metal with a gold leaf coating, sculpted by artisans in India. In order for it to have its effect, the statue must be consecrated. The Buddha figure thus becomes a "blessing object," and the mantra scrolls with which it is to be filled are "protective sounds," explains Stefanie Karrasch of the Diamond Way Buddhist Center in Hamburg.

Dipped in saffron water

She is one of twelve people worldwide who are allowed to teach how to ritually fill statues. She will come to Bremen in the summer and accompany the ceremony here. The paper rolls with their printed mantras represent the Buddha’s speech. The paper of the mantra scrolls is dipped in saffron water, a substance that colors the paper yellow and at the same time "purifies" it spiritually, and then wrapped in cloth. They must stand upright in Buddha form.

"They can be wrapped with threads in the five wisdom colors. The top of each scroll is marked red, as the mantra scrolls are placed upright in the statue," Stefanie Karrasch explains. In addition to the mantras, semi-precious stones and various fragrant flowers and herbs are added to the statue, as well as a yew stick, the tip of which must touch the Buddha’s "third eye" exactly.

After that, it is not just a hollow piece of metal filled with half a ton of paper and covered in gold leaf – but a cult object for followers of Buddhism. In the Botanika, these cultural objects in the greenhouses representing authentic landscapes of Borneo-New Guinea and the Himalayas complete the impression of the completely different world in which visitors are to be immersed there.

The fact that not only nature but also culture is presented in the Botanika goes back to the initiative of an employee of the environmental authority, where the concept was developed more than 15 years ago. Again and again there were small attempts to put the brakes on the implementation, once there was even an evangelical managing director who understood the Buddhist elements as competition and not as enrichment and declared that he would like to counter the figure of the dying Buddha with the Christian one of the resurrected one.

With the Peace Buddha, however, the crowning touch has now been added. It is a gift from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who wants to place a Buddha statue on every continent on earth as a symbol of peace and international understanding. The first Peace Buddha is in Jayanti Park in New Delhi – for Asia. The second one is to stand in Bremen – for Europe. Lama Doboom Tulku, a great animal in the Tibetan hierarchy, has even traveled specially to check the location, it says on the page

The statue radiates wisdom – like a prayer mill that can be turned to send out good wishes. The mantras, however, are not texts in our sense, but protective sounds that are murmured, an onomatopoeic representation of a force field, a "sound icon" one could say. The "mani padme" stands for "compassion". This sounds mysterious and it should be, people need good spirits and mysterious ceremonies – every child knows that.

And isn’t the idea of possibly being reborn as a butterfly something enchanting-lightening? Especially in contrast to the theology of sin, with which the Augustinian-Lutheran tradition makes Christian people submissive to their God? But Buddhism also loses its mystical seriousness when it is perceived in the secular world like a pragmatic relaxation technique and merely serves as a contrast foil to everyday life. This should not happen to the Peace Buddha.