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Statue of Buddha, from Burma

Today, 14th July, is the Saffron Premiere of Burma VJ

Buddha statue

31 Comments leave one →
  1. David Gelsthorpe permalink*
    15/07/2009 9:00 am

    This statue of Buddha has been on a long journey over the past century. It was originally donated to the Manchester Natural History Society in 1868 before being sold to the Salford Museum and eventually ending up here. The Buddha is of great spiritual significance to members of the local Buddhist and Myanmar community who often leave gifts for him.

    Stephen Welsh,
    Curator of Living Cultures, The Manchester Musueum

    • 17/08/2009 7:15 pm

      hi ya!
      i live in Leeds,i come from Burma(Myanmar),today i check and come to visit ManU by internet,i like to go and study museum,i am very proud of our god of buddha at your museum.
      please read <==this website.
      If u want to know about of buddha,i can be tell you more.

  2. 15/07/2009 9:12 am

    It’s too big. Burn it for warmth.

  3. Stephen Welsh permalink
    15/07/2009 11:58 am

    Forgive me if I’ve misinterpreted your rather flippant comment Cunzy, but are you advocating the type of cultural cleansing as executed by the Taliban on the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001?

  4. 15/07/2009 1:54 pm

    No. Unless they primarily burned oversized objects to use the heat to keep warm, in which case, yes.

    Saves on central heating innit?

  5. Stephen Welsh permalink
    15/07/2009 2:13 pm

    You seem rather preoccupied with the size of the object. Believe it or not visitors to the Museum are instantaneously attracted to the larger objects, be it a Sperm whale skeleton or a statue of Buddha!

  6. 15/07/2009 9:45 pm

    For me the size of the object is neither here nor there, but I do wonder if it obscures our vision of the path ahead.

    Would Siddhartha Gautama, who came to be known as Buddha, be happier if I followed his example or if I laid flowers at his feet? Of course anyone who does try to put into practice his teachings naturally begins to feel tremendous gratitude, affection, even devotion towards this wonderful teacher. But devotion can very easily become habitual without my being aware of it. Soon I’m just going through the motions. All the outer trappings remain with none of the actual practice. Surely it’s better to err in the other direction. Buddha gave a practical technique to be used, not something to be displayed in a temple.

    I have seen the beauty of Mandalay and the Shwedagon Temple in Rangoon, but I’ve also smelled the blood and fear that surrounds them. Generals far more ruthless than the amateurish Taliban regularly pay homage to golden statues like this one.

    The Taliban do serious violence of course, but I’m curious about the Islamic injunction against idolatry. I’ve always thought it very wise to discourage any attempt to capture the form of god in any object, as that would prevent us from seeing the immanent spirit in everything. Can any muslim expand on this for me?

    • m.e. montenegro permalink
      05/08/2009 1:37 pm

      Where would we be without the image, searing in our minds, of serenity? I don’t advocate idols. Not at all. But that is not what a statue of the Buddha represents for me. Rather, a statue of the meditating Buddha serves as a mirror for my higher being, my potential for awakening, should I decide to incline myself toward that enterprise.

      Look carefully at that face. How many faces do you personally see that radiate peace, compassion, wisdom, friendliness? How many? How many eyes do you see that convey depth, truth, understanding, hope? What happens to you, in your body, in your heart, seat of your mind, when you see such a person?

      Since there are fewer and fewer individuals on this planet that embody the qualities gained from disciplined realization of inner potential, we are actually, collectively, beginning to believe they do not exist.

      And when we do see such beings, even in the representation of them in a statue that was modeled on the qualities they exude, in our cynical hopelessness we become suspicious of them.

      We quickly dismiss them because of the pain we are in, the dissociated, unconscious pain by force of which we keep expending energy in myriad misguided ways to push out of our awareness the truth of the absolute pathos and helplessness of our existential situation, as though there were no liberative options.

      Yet there is some part of each of us that knows that the paths that sages have taken is a possibility for each of us (why else would they have left us teachings?), and that what we experience from day to day, year to year, lifetime to lifetime, is not the whole of what we are capable of as humans endowed with the absolutely stunning miracle of awareness, consciousness.

      Yes there is a part of each of us that wants desperately to be a superhero helping others in amazing heroic ways, such as by helping them to free themselves of whatever their misery.

      We just need to make the connection. And one way to make it is to gaze into the face of a Buddha.

      If the Buddha statue needs a home, it would be my privilege to find it one with any of a number of Dharma centers with which I have connections in Europe.

      I resurfaced for this, Ansuman. I sensed a gentle call.

      • Ceppy Hite permalink
        05/08/2009 2:51 pm

        You put it so beautifully, so glad you felt the gentle call. It’s rare that one gets the opportunity to expound on the simple truths of human life.

        What we put on our attention on ususally grows. And the Budha is an idol representing all the positive qualities, such as inner peace, and harmony, which we as humans aspire to, but it is just a piece of matter. And I agree that the idol is simply a door, a way into an area of peace, but only so much is attained by looking at or touching an idol. Unless the viewer has the ancient technique for transcending the gross levl of life, the key to open that door, as handed down by the masters Budha, Christ, Krishna and others, he may look for a long time before attaining real inner peace. But then I think you know that and have re-surfaced from that area of your self to give us your comment.

        I would not disturb the Budha, but in addition, I would fill the museum with those men and women, whose practices and teaching reach back in a direct line to any of these great masters, who hold the key to the source of our consciousness, our inner being. Then to teem the building with a constant flow of visitors, who recieve their ancient wisdom and spilling out onto our streets, transformed by that experience, to really enjoy their lives and cast a peaceful eye on everything they see. How they would then gaze upon the Budha, or any worthy idol and be truly happy. How they would, in turn, transform the world. And the great thing is that they should not be hermits, except for a few minutes meditation each day.

        • 05/08/2009 6:29 pm

          It’s true that a beautiful work of art can inspiring, m. It’s also true that it is the living practice which is important Ceppy.

          For me this statue has another very particular resonance. It is from Burma, a country which is very dear to me because it is the one place on the planet in which a core teaching of the Buddha survived. For me it speaks directly to the nature of conservation and museology. This particular teaching was preserved in theory and discussed and debated, but its practice was lost for 2ooo years. It emerged again only in the last few decades through a line of teachers who have kept from breaking line a thin fragile thread. The practice is now once again available to anyone. It is a teaching which gives supreme importance to vedana, the bodily sensations.

          I have tried many, many different kinds of practice and this is the one that satisfies me in every way. It seems to me a truly universal practice. It was kept alive by a lineage of teachers in Burma so now I feel, along with gratitude, a sentimental attachment to the ways of that country. Paradoxically, though, the very thing that attracts me to this particular practice is that it requires absolutely no trappings of any particular culture. No visualization, no language, no idea. Simply the truth of sensations.

          But whenever I think of Burma I am also filled with sadness at the state of that country now. I deliberately revealed this object on July 14th when the film Burma VJ was released. Of course I have not yet seen the film because I am in this Tower, but I hope that it may open more peoples eyes to the destruction that is going on beneath our very noses.

          If this statue could inspire us to fight for the freedom of the gentlest and friendliest people in the world, its beauty would be deeper than a layer of paint and a nice smile.

          • m.e. montenegro permalink
            05/08/2009 7:01 pm

          • Ceppy Hite permalink
            06/08/2009 3:55 pm

            Asuman, I will try to view the film Burma VJ. I am so glad your practive of vipassana meditation is so successful, coming from such a pure line of knowledge as you describe.

            Nobody can blame people in general for being sceptical about self realisation, when they are faced with a miriad of “less genuine solutions” peddled daily as supreme knowledge.

            My own practice of TM originates in the Shankaracharya Jyotir Math tradition in India, which came to the west via his holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. We were indeed fortunate that this particular line is without blemish for thousands of years. So may traditions, even in India have become corrupted and there are indeed many false prophets both east and west these days.

            But to trust no-one is like the misanthrope hermit, versus the self-realised one. There are genuine techniques available to everyone for the taking, maybe all it needs is someone like ourselves to give voice to these, and with some little grace alleviate suffering of others.

            If the keeping of the Buddha at the museum, does this for one single human being, it will have been more than worth it. If it gives many, the knowledge and power to peacefully change the politics in Burma it will have been moved by some intention, emanating from a deep and profound source of human consiousness. Lets hope it does both.

  7. Bodger permalink
    16/07/2009 5:00 pm

    It’s truly beautiful. And (as far as I can tell from the picture – which gives no idea of its size) it seems like it could almost envelope you in it serenity and calmness.

    Why is it stuck in what looks like a science lab of some sort?

  8. Stephen Welsh permalink
    17/07/2009 9:17 am

    Hi Bodger

    The Buddha isn’t ‘stuck’ it’s simply being stored at this precise moment in the conservation lab as it has recently been taken off display to make way for the new Manchester Gallery. It will shortly go back on display as part of the redevelopment of the Museum reception area.


    • Bodger permalink
      17/07/2009 9:19 am

      Cool. Thanks for that information. Any idea when I’ll be able to come and see it for real?

  9. Stephen Welsh permalink
    17/07/2009 9:22 am

    By all means make an appointment and I’ll gladly show it to you in person.

  10. 17/07/2009 12:08 pm

    This Burmese Buddha was originally displayed as part of the History of Manchester Museum in I think the old museum entrance hall in about 1989. Next it moved upstairs to the first floor on the edge of the old Ethnology gallery. In 1995 it was cleaned by Michaela Augustin-Juetter of the Conservation Department before being put on display at the entrance of the Explorers and Encounters gallery in October 1995. During the next few years, as Stephen Welsh has said, it received small offerings, mainly of money, from local Buddhists, who usually came on Saturdays. I collected these offerings and put them in the Ethnology Department. While the Explorers and Encounters gallery was being redeveloped it was lent to Salford Museum for an exhibition about th

  11. 17/07/2009 12:33 pm

    I was in the middle of saying it was lent to Salford Museum for an exhibition about the history of Salford Museum. While installing it in Salford Museum, one older member of the security staff said that the security staff used to touch the left knee of the Buddha, hoping it would bring them good luck, which explains why the l. The Buddha is hollow and can be lifted by 4 strong men.

  12. 17/07/2009 12:50 pm

    I was in the middle of saying that the left knee the Buddha is a bit worn as a result of being touched by the Salford Museum security staff.

  13. 17/07/2009 2:07 pm

    Dear George, that last little touching detail was definitely worth three goes. You are the consummate internet raconteur.

  14. 17/07/2009 3:53 pm

    the buddha is not reall up for ‘destruction’ is it? it’s too substantial to let go… but in the spirit of this blog as i understand it so far, someone has to vote to save some things over others. I am going to leave a comment to save the labels. Yes the labels that mean nothing detatche from what they labelled. Simply because I like old stationery. That’s a frivolous reason but there are frivolous people in the world and so there’s never a guarantee that what gets saved is something worthy.I personally could spend hours shifting through those labels and wondering where they may have accompanied. But i’d save lots of things. I’m like the hermit who spends too much time being interested in too many things and there simply isn’t enough time in one life….or one universe w/o any parallel ones… wish they existed but only in movies…

  15. 17/07/2009 6:04 pm

    Thank you hermit for your comment, which I appreciate. I am not sure whether my 3 goes was caused by my stiff fingers, which are caused by primary lateral sclerosis (a very rare form of motor neurone disease), or whether it was this blog’s fault. I suspect it was my stiff fingers.

  16. Len Pole permalink
    20/07/2009 9:02 pm

    Correct me if I’m wrong George, but the Buddha figure looks like it was made using the dry lacquer process, especially as it is hollow as you say; in which case, it might create a merry blaze is it goes up in flames, but would not save much on the central heating bill. There is a similar Buddha figure in the Exeter museum made by the same process: this also generated offerings when it was on display, mainly of flowers. Sadly but pragmatically, we did not keep them, but I think it is good to know that people do respond actively to what they find on display in museums. A more effective form of feedback than most.

  17. 21/07/2009 3:48 pm

    Len thank for your comment. I think the Burmese Buddha in Manchester Museum may well be have been made using the dry lacquer process. When Manchester Museum first acquired it in 1989, I think we got a conservator from the British Museum to look at it. I think he said that textiles had been mixed in with the lacquer, presumably to give it ‘body’ and stregthen it. The bulk of the body is certainly made of lacquer, but I don’t know how to tell dry lacquer from wet lacquer. I thought all lacquer was originally obtained from sap of the lacquer tree and dried in layers over a shape. Yes I remember seeing the Exeter Buddha during the MEG conference some years ago. I saw another large Buddha in one of the galleries of the Department of Oriental Antiquities in the British Museum, but I cannot remember if it was from Burma. I am certain that at least the arms and pointed, detachable ‘top knot’ are wooden on the Manchester Buddha, which is what the British Museum conservator said.

    Salford Museum bought the Burmese Buddha from the Manchester Natural History Society for £20.00 about 1860.

  18. 03/08/2009 10:54 am

    So. IS it burned up yet?

    • 04/08/2009 11:33 am

      Cunzy, if you really want to see it burned you’re going to have to win some people over to your cause. It doesn’t seem to me that anyone is convinced by your rather feeble need for warmth. Have you not got enough clothes on?

      I questioned the value of this statue in order to make us confront the difference between unthinking devotion to an external object and the conscious practice of a way of living.

      What has emerged are some wonderful stories and reminiscences from people who have a real connection with craft, beauty and history. Compared to these contributions I’m afraid your burning question seems a bit pathetic to me.

      But – this is a democracy. Is anyone with Cunzy on this?

      If not, Cunzy, perhaps you could draw a picture of how you think this statue would look, engulfed in flames. I’d be quite interested in getting a glimpse into your imagination.

  19. Stephen Welsh permalink
    04/08/2009 11:12 am

    I’m afraid not Cunzy, we’re not aiming for a museological reformation regardless of how much you like bonfires. Don’t worry though, Guy Fawkes Night is a mere several months away now so you’ll be able to indulge your pyromania!

  20. Ceppy Hite permalink
    04/08/2009 8:50 pm

    All of these objects, the Budda included, are things from the past. It’s also to the past we must go to find the solution for the future. The voice of the past where Budda, Christ and Krisna’s teachingis found is now enshrined in the few precious human beings still able to teach pure meditation. The New Age is nothing unless is protects and preserves the purity of these masters of pure knowledge. I sincerely believe we can alter this world, by simply learing the practice of meditation. My own practice is Transcendenatal Meditation and it has saved me from many a black hole here on earth. It’s by transcending this world that we come to appreciate it more, by having the power to go within to a place of peace, to return with a peaceful mind and then to interact with the world. I hope more young people out there, direct their energies in this way. The present generation hold the future of this world within their grasp. This is my gift of wisdom to them. Please accept it.

  21. 10/10/2009 8:25 pm

    I think that was floating in and out of my reading as well. ,

  22. Garnet Hoyes permalink
    31/01/2018 2:25 pm

    This Buddha was almost certainly taken from Burma against the wishes of the local inhabitants who made it.

    • Garnet Hoyes permalink
      22/08/2019 4:16 pm

      The Buddha should be returned to its original location in Burma.

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