Buddha statue brought to the US, welcomed by dozens in Arlington

By Ryan Kost, The Boston Globe, June 29, 2008

ARLINGTON, VA (USA) -- Outside the Drikung Meditation Center, strings of brightly colored prayer flags rode each breath of wind, while inside, voices were raised in prayer to Buddha.

For Lama Konchok Sonam and the more than 100 people gathered at the Tibetan Buddhist meditation center, yesterday was a day of celebration. After 2 1/2 years of fund-raising, Sonam succeeded in bringing one of Tibet's most honored statues to the Boston area, and they had gathered to welcome it.

The 600-pound life-size statue of Buddha called Jowo Rinpoche is a replica of a statue that sits in a temple in Lhasa, Tibet's capital city. The statue, made in Nepal, may be the only one like it in the United States.

Sonam said he hopes to create a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists who are unable to make the journey to Tibet for financial, political, or other reasons. He plans to move the statue to a new home when money has been raised to construct a building to house the Jokhang Institute, an organization Sonam founded recently that aims to preserve Tibetan culture and tradition.

"It's a very exciting time because we don't have a statue like this here," said Alexis Tsapatsaris, the president of the Drikung center, who has helped Sonam. "For believers of Tibetan Buddhism, it's the Buddha himself."

Tsapatsaris said a site for the Jokhang Institute has not been determined.

A little before 11 a.m. yesterday, Sonam sat on a pillow on the floor of the main prayer room in the center surrounded by monks and lamas. The statue rested in a smaller area at the front of the room. In front of it burned a traditional butter lamp.

He began the prayer, calling out words in Tibetan with his deep, baritone voice. Other voices joined his chant. Handfuls of rice and small, white flowers were passed around and later tossed into the air. Fruit, money, and white scarves were placed before the statue as offerings.

In the crowd were those who had been practicing for many years, and those who had only recently discovered Buddhism.

They were all welcome, Sonam said.

Alicia Snavely, 22, flew to Boston from Tampa to see the statue and the ceremony. Though she couldn't understand the Tibetan chants, she knew what they symbolized: wisdom and compassion for all.

"I cried a lot; it was just very, very moving," she said. "I'm still kind of overwhelmed."