The Buddha, Hoi An


Down the street from where I’m staying, along a route that I ride almost daily, is a Buddhist compound with a large pagoda. It’s not the only Buddhist compound in Hoi An, by any means. Despite its relatively small size, there are many temples, churches, and shrines here. Spirituality is in the air, which is why I’m relishing my stay. 

One morning I visited the pagoda. A group of nuns was eating breakfast in silence off to my left. Entering, after removing my shoes, I found one of the most beautiful Buddha in a city of beautiful Buddha. All statues of the Buddha have a presence, but this one was extraordinary. 

The golden Buddha sat in the traditional lotus posture with its left palm in its lap facing upwards symbolizing heaven, or spirituality, while the right hand on his right knee to show contact with the earth, or being grounded. This mudra is called the Bhumisparsha mudra, and it symbolizes the moment the Buddha attains enlightenment. Enlightenment is further emphasized by the painted bodhi tree in the background under which he’s sitting. Looking at this mudra I also see the Buddhist path of “the middle way” as it shows a unity of heaven and earth.

This is the first statue of the Buddha that I’ve seen that employs painting the way that this one does. It almost felt like a diorama.

After praying, I took this photograph. 

As I was leaving a nun came walking by, looking at the ground, just as the statues of the Buddha do. I stopped to let her pass, but she just stood calmly, choosing to allow me to go first. We never made eye contact or spoke (clearly she was in silence), and I put on my shoes and left. 

Had I been rude in visiting their Buddha, I wondered afterward.  That wasn’t my sense. Perhaps she was concerned that I wasn't behaving respectfully (many of the temples in Thailand have a watcher sitting with the Buddha to ensure proper behavior), or perhaps she was just curious. Or maybe our encounter was random. Regardless, I found that moment of meeting the silent devotee as moving as meeting the Buddha himself.