Every time I visit my friend, Jew, I come away with more respect and admiration for him and what he does. He and I share a passion for the statues he creates, he with a firm love of making Buddha statues and I with a firm love for sharing them with the world.
Jew is a 40-year-old producer of Buddha sculptures in the small village of Nakom Pathom, Thailand, about an hour and a half north of Bangkok. Having known him for 12 years now I always knew that he took over the business from his father who started it 40 years ago. What I learned on this trip was that Jew had taken over a struggling business at the young age of 20. I was always under the assumption that his father had a thriving business that he took over and made better, but this was not the case at all. Jew’s father had only one artist working for him while Jew has created a prosperous business employing all the families in his surrounding village of almost 40 people. Click here to view his Buddha artists handcrafting Buddha statues. Every day he spends hours going over each of the statues to make sure they are being executed correctly. He is very concerned with the well being of his workers. He pays them well and wants them to succeed.
I first fell in love with his work because he had the best patinas on his sculptures that initially made me mistake them for antiques. He had beautiful antique patinas that no other producer was able to create. This is still the case today. He recently developed two new patinas of a stunning antique green and a deep red mixed with gold leaf. I went out to dinner with him last night and in his broken English he summed up his worldview…
“When I die, I cannot take money with me. Money paper…I make Buddha, I pray Buddha so I can be born next time.”
When I asked him about his customers he told me the majority of his business, besides Lotus Sculpture, comes from temples within Thailand. I asked him if he sold to the antique dealers of the Riverside mall in Bangkok who are known to sell fake antique Buddha statues. He leaned over to me and said, “No, I do not lie.”
This is who he is, he is the salt of the earth with a good heart. I love his family; his crotchety old mom who yells at me every time I see her in Thai I do not fully understand, his beautiful wife and 3 children. And most of all I love him!
Article written January 25th, 2020 by Kyle Tortora
My first trip to Vietnam was in 1998. I was a 22 year old backpacker just out of college, exploring the country without a care or worry in my mind. Vietnam had the distinct smell of salt water and the aroma of food. It’s as if their unmistakable flavor of fish sauce had permeated the air and surrounded you at every turn. Twenty three years later it still has that same smell I remember which immediately took me back with nostalgia to my backpacking days.
I came to Da Nang to visit my white marble statue maker, Lan, and her family. Da Nang is situated at the base of what is known as the marble mountains, a place famous for its abundance of quality, pure white marbles. Lan and I have worked together for 15 years. She was the first artisan I worked with in Vietnam. Her entire family is involved in the business. Her brother operates the workshop, where all the statues are produced and her cousin, who is the master carver, is responsible for the faces and all the intricate details of the statues.
All these years later I was still impressed with the quality of the Lan’s sculptures compared to that of other workshops in the area. Seeing her 22 foot Kwan Yin statue with my own eyes for the first time, I was completely blown away! She has this gossamer, realistic quality where it looks as if her robes are made of pure silk gently swaying in the breeze. The statue is so lifelike I found myself forgetting it was a 10,000 pound solid block of white marble. Later that day I visited another workshop where I saw a large Kwan Yin statue carved by a different artist. It completely lacked the life and beauty inherent in Lan’s Kwan Yin sculpture. The Kwan Yin at Lan’s workshop is stunning and has that special untouchable something that makes a masterpiece a true masterpiece.
“She has this gossamer, realistic quality where it looks as if her robes are made of pure silk gently swaying in the breeze. The statue is so lifelike I found myself forgetting it was a 10,000-pound solid block of white marble.”
Sadly, I arrived the week before Tet or Chinese New Year and all the artists were on break. In planning my trip I knew about Tet and figured being there a week before would give me time to see the artists before the shops would close. I was very wrong, no one was working. I found the workers take off 2 weeks prior to Tet and then a month following. Instead of hearing the incessant clinking sound of chisel on stone all I heard were birds chirping and wind blowing through the palm trees. All the carvers had gone home to their villages to visit with family and friends. It is the equivalent of going to Europe in August when everyone flocks to Mediterranean beaches.
One thing that I am always impressed, when I visit any stone worker, is seeing the raw block of stone they have yet to begin carving. Climbing over them you can appreciate their pure size and mass. The raw white marble blocks are massive, larger than any I have seen in India or Indonesia. It is an amazing talent a stone artist has to visualize the god or goddess that is sleeping within the stone, waiting to be rendered by the hammer and chisel. But that is exactly what these artists do and I am amazed by it every time I see it.
Later in the day Lan and her brother took me to a beautiful seafood lunch on the beach and a leisurely stroll through the historic town of Hoi An for Vietnamese coffee. For anyone visiting Vietnam, Hoi An is a must see. Even though you are navigating your way through a maze of tourists it still has an old world charm visible through its tiny avenues and beautiful colonial architecture. Walking around the old streets I appreciate knowing that I will be returning to this part of the world for the rest of my life. I often think of how fortunate I am to be doing the work that I am doing…..today was one of those days.
A shipment of stone and wood statues has just arrived from Bali. We get about 4 containers a year from Bali but this one was special. I was excited to see the wood panels I custom designed on my last trip to Bali. I knew that I wanted to give my wood artists more work and I have been hearing from customers, like you, that you wanted more wood wall panels.
I spoke with my fat and happy Buddha artist, Will, about him carving large Fat and Happy Buddha masks with only the smiling face of the Buddha as a wall hanging. Here they are and they look amazing! The grains of the wood are beautiful and just add life to the joy emanating from the Happy Buddha mask! I am so happy with Will’s work!
I also spoke to a wood artist, Mr Komang, about carving different types of wood panels. He typically only carves trees and flowers for panels but I love his work so I really wanted to work together with him to help him grow so I sent him pictures for ideas about what I would want for Lotus Sculpture. He was very excited and said he could surely carve what I was looking to do. We quickly agreed on the designs and this is the first time I am seeing them. They came out exactly how I envisioned them! I am so happy that I am bringing a new artist into the fold and giving him more work!
We also received about 50 stone statues mostly of the Buddha that will prepare us for the coming Spring season!
The Buddha brought the world a philosophy in which to navigate the world of suffering. Here is a brief account of the life he led and the experiences that showed him the middle way to the cessation of suffering and samasara.
Siddhartha Gautama, known as Buddha, the “Awakened,” was the son of Suddhodana, ruler of the Sakhyas, a region lying to the northeast of Oude, in northern India and now this place is inside the border of the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal. It is believed that Queen Maya, wife of the King Suddhodana, had a dream that a shiny light appeared in the sky, gradually approached her, and melted into her body. The queen filled with joy described the dream to her husband and both of them met a wise man to know the meaning of the dream. The wise man’s words made the king very happy as the man explained that the king is going to have an heir to the throne. The prophecy came true and the queen gave birth to a beautiful son in the Lumbini gardens. All the people experienced great happiness and peace of mind. The joyous parents named the cute little Prince “Siddhartha”, which means “the one who has brought about all good.”
The words of hermit Asita
Asita was a Holy teacher and he came to visit the newborn. He saw many good signs in the child and told the king that if the child chooses to stay with the king, then he will be one of the greatest rulers in history, who will rein a large kingdom and keep the people happy. However, if the child chooses to leave the palace, seeking a way to end all suffering of humanity, then he will attain the greatest knowledge and will become the greatest spiritual leader ever.
The queen Maya could not stay long with Siddhartha and she asked her sister to take care of the little prince. The Prince grew up to be a handsome and kindhearted young man. He always loved to remain alone in the garden, when other children of his age group were busy with harsh games. He spent his childhood in Kapilavastu and its vicinity, and was very passionate to all the living beings; even the wild animals were friendly with him. Many instances that took place during his childhood describe the passion, love, and kindheartedness of the prince. The prince was very bright and intelligent in studies but never liked to learn how to rule a kingdom.
The king was so happy to know about the intelligence of his son, while sad that the prince was very gentle. Therefore, he along with the minister made a plan and found the perfect match for the Prince. Siddhartha was married to Princess Yasodhara at the age of sixteen.
Path of renunciation
Prince Siddhartha was happy with his wife and they were blessed with a son, named Rahula. At the age of twenty-nine, the prince wanted to know more about his people and the world outside his palace gardens. He managed to get out of the palace and roam in the streets, with his servant Channa. The sight of a decrepit old man, a sick man, and a corpse changed the life of the prince and turned him to the path of renunciation. These sights made him leave the palace, wealth, power, father, wife, and his only child to find a way to renounce the world of miseries and sorrows.
The prince reached Magadha, and met the saints Arada and Udraka and learned from them. He was not satisfied with their teachings and moved to Nairangana River, near the holy town of Gaya. He then began to practice yoga, severe austerities, and Pranayama for several years. He finally tried to attain supreme peace by practicing self-mortification. He sat below the sacred Pipal tree or fig tree at Bodhi Gaya, abstained from all temptations, his mind became calm and relaxed, and by midnight, he attained nirvana. He woke up very happily with a calm and peaceful smile, and his face shone with divine splendor and effulgence. He became the Buddha, meaning the Awakened One. He was also known as Sakhya-Muni.
His Teaching or Dharma
Buddha traveled to different villages and farms of Banaras and wanted to spread the knowledge to all people and relieve all from the sufferings of this worldly life. His teachings were so powerful that regardless of the conditions, caste, creed, or types of men and women, people began to listen to his teaching and found that self-realization is the only way to get supreme peace of mind and happiness. Buddha treated all people as one, without any discrimination for the rich or poor, simple or intelligent, of noble birth or low. His first teaching, known as “Turning the Wheel of the Dharma,” given to five monks, who pleaded for knowledge to Buddha in the Deer Park, at Sarnath around 527 BC. He also revealed the four noble truths of life. People were attracted to him and he used different ways of teaching, which included interesting stories that will appease the children.
King Bimbisara was a disciple of Buddha and always visited Vulture’s Peak, where Buddha and his disciples lived. Buddha returned to his kingdom and by his great teaching converted his father, wife, son, and all his dear ones to his disciples.
At the age of eighty, Buddha felt that it is time to return to the palace where he grew up. He summoned his faithful Ananda, and started to Kapilavasthu. On the way, Buddha and his disciples passed through the village of Kushinagar. Buddha told Ananda that this is the place where he shall pass away.
Buddha, “the enlightened one,” traveled preaching the Dharma and was successful in saving many people from sacrificing the lives of innocent animals, as a part of their religious customs. Buddha is the founder of Buddhism and his teaching is known to fill with excessive intellectualism and agnosticism. The great historian Edward Arnold referred to the great legend Buddha as the “Light of Asia.”
In the Far East, it is considered a high honor for one to leave their family in order to delve deeper in ones Buddhist practice. This may seem strange to westerners to think of valuing ones children to leave home in order to become a practicing monk. But in Asia, delving one’s life completely into Buddhist practices is very highly regarded. These monks or nuns devote their lives to their faith and helping others in their personal quests. They live very simple and pure lives with others of similar values. Within the monasteries, although they are there to serve and practice, they are not completely torn from their previous lives and families. They are allowed to venture back in the case of illness or death of a family member. Otherwise their lives are spent in simple meditation and practice.
Within a monastery, the typical life of a monk is one of devote prayer and meditation within the temple. They have specific tasks allotted to them around the monetary so that they may collectively take part in upkeep and daily living. Everyone works with kindness and respect for one another. Some may teach outside the monastery in order to spread the Dharma to devotees. They are very much devoted to not only personal development, but the development of others. Monks need to conduct themselves in the up most regard, living with integrity and deep-rooted principles.
Most of the time monks have very few possessions. A few simple robes and an offering bowl. Most shave their heads in order to shed the desire for outward beauty focusing solely on their internal beauty. Although they have an offering bowl, they rely on the contribution of others. They do not beg for food by take what is given to them in humble graciousness. The robes are typically simple and made of cotton with no adornments.
In every way the life of a monk is one of simple devotion and intrigue. This is the way that the Buddha lived his on his path to enlightenment and the way he believes will produce the most uncluttered way to enlightenment. With spirituality being of the up most calling, Buddhist across Asia strive to live a life of such simplicity.
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