Buddha gets the Big Money

The San Francisco Arts Commission has announced it has won a $70,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support their acquisition of internationally acclaimed artist Zhang Huan’s 26-foot tall, 15-ton copper sculpture of the Three Heads Six Arms Buddha.

zhang huan three heads six
© Zhang Huan Studio, from sfartscommission.org

I like statues of the Buddha. I own a couple myself. But, $70,000! How many starving Buddhist artists could they feed with that? And what about all that copper? It doesn’t grow on trees, you know.

The big money seems to be flowing up there in San Francisco. A little park over at 16th and Bryant could get a fancy new entrance gate as long as it is named after Daisaku Ikeda and the Board of Supervisors accepts up to a gift up to $180,000 to do it, according to the SF Examiner. Ikeda is president of the Soka Gakkai, the world’s largest Buddhist organization.

Now here is a guy who needs another park, building, monument, and/or gate named after him about as much as he needs a hole in the head. He must have hundreds by now. He holds the world record for honorary academic degrees. He and his followers (I can criticize, I used to be one) seem to crave these things. Over 200 so far, and it was just recently announced that Ikeda has racked up another one. According to PRWeb, “Daisaku Ikeda will receive a doctor of humane letters degree, honoris causa, from UMass Boston for his work as a Buddhist leader, peace builder, and founder of the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue in Cambridge.” The SF Examiner, in their article on the gate monument, calls Ikeda a “peace activist.”

Well, if talking about peace a lot qualifies one as an activist, I guess so. However, if truth be told, Ikeda has done little else in his life other than chase after honors and dole out pithy bits of guidance to his followers.

PRWeb says that “[Ikeda’s] dialogue partners have included Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, and Rosa Parks”, while neglecting to mention, out of ignorance perhaps, that some of them were paid to dialogue with him.

I don’t want to go off on a rant about Ikeda and the Soka Gakkai, the unseemiliness of pursuing worthless honors, or about spending obscene amounts of money on statues or gates.

I do think it is worth noting that the Buddha expressly asked his followers not to worship his relics after his death. Buddha didn’t need any statues or honorary degrees. Ok, they didn’t have honorary degrees back then, but you get my point. For several hundred years, Buddhists abided by his wishes and a bodhi leaf, a footprint, or the Wheel of Dharma represented his persona. Then human nature took over, and the statues began to appear.

Money is supposed to be in short supply these days, and it seems to me that a better use could be made of what is available. If UMass Boston just has to give someone an honorary degree, how about me? I don’t have any at all. I would also be glad to sell the San Francisco Arts Commission one of my Buddha statues. Dirt cheap. Only $1000 dollars. I’ll keep $500 (I could use it) and feed some hungry people with the rest.

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