You only lose what you cling to.”

Gautama Buddha
image Eckhard Pemsl

When I first asked myself this question it occurred to me that it sounded rather existential, like a rhetorical question for which there is no real answer. It was a bit like “Who Moved My Cheese?” or “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?”

But the reality is that someone did steal my Buddha in the form of a small but solid stone garden ornament. As I do not usually spend much time on the front porch, it took me a while to realise it was missing. Ironically during the Corona lockdown, I have been spending more time in the front garden putting in seedlings and giving my garden more care than is usual. While teddy bears gazed out of my front windows, I was busily decorating the tree on my verge with rainbows and hearts to spread the love and share compassion with the many neighbours walking or cycling past our house.

Despite spreading goodwill in the community, my tree is a common Box Tree and not as auspicious as a Banyan. However, it did start me thinking about the link between the Buddha and the Banyan Tree. When I went to India and wrote my book, Chasing Marigolds, I was thrilled to see Banyan trees with their aerial roots spread out in ghostly mythical formations. Being the national tree of India, it is regarded as sacred, because the Buddha while sitting under such a tree, first achieved enlightenment.

image by Daniel Lienert

When I discovered that my Buddha was missing, I was concerned with the “when”, “where” and “how” questions as I tried to think of the last time that I had seen the little statue. Where was I when it happened? How had it been removed? I last remembered positioning it next to a potted plant behind a large brick pillar, so it was not visible from the road.

How the theft had occurred was more disconcerting when I realised that someone must have been close to our front door to have seen it. Being quite heavy, it would have been difficult for a child to lift, let alone carry it off. A teenager would be able to lift it but perhaps not manage to run down the street with it. An elderly person would have trouble bending to lift it while an unfit younger person would not have enough sprint in them to quickly escape. So that narrowed down the likely suspect to a person who was fit, strong, agile, reasonably young and probably large enough to conceal the Buddha on his or her person.

The Buddha had been given to me many years ago by my teenage son who at the time could have benefited from some enlightenment in his life. Instead he gave it me and while it was not expensive, it was of sentimental value to me. Each time we moved to a different house, the Buddha came on the journey with us and had occupied a variety of positions around many gardens. You might say he was a well-travelled Buddha and was spreading enlightenment wherever he went. I guess he was also witnessing my own spiritual journey as it evolved over time.

Some years ago, when I was studying Buddhist meditation, the monk commented on how strange it was that people in Western countries had statues of the Buddha in their gardens. As he pointed out, Christians would find it rather weird if they saw miniatures of Jesus as decorative garden features. For this reason, I kept my Buddha close to the front door.

After analysing the Buddha’s disappearance, the question that proved to be the most thought-provoking for me was “why”?  Why would someone who stoops to steal an object from another person likely to be interested in the Buddha? Striving for enlightenment is not the typical behaviour of practising petty criminals. It occurred to me that perhaps they did not recognize the statue as an esteemed spiritual being.

image by Nguyen Khanh

It is more likely that it was the size and weight of the ornament that attracted their attention. On a practical level it would serve as a makeshift weapon useful for smashing windows or worse! Fortunately, our windows are still intact and although I miss my Buddha, I have not lost my sense of humour.

But the final question I like to ask myself is “What can I learn from this?” I guess I could have moved the statue indoors but the message I derived from the universe is that the person who took the Buddha needs enlightenment much more than I do.

I hope that the Buddha has gone to a safer place and is enjoying his garden surroundings, teaching others how to escape the inherent suffering of life. I wish the new owner divine infinite blessings in his or her journey towards seeking enlightenment. But I also sincerely hope that no one in the neighbourhood is suffering from Buddha-shaped holes in their windows.

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