Smile : Buddha & Bodhisattva

At 2 am of new year’s day as part of a post ‘Spiritual Countdown’ to 2009 celebration program, I helped to lead a chanting session at the largest temple in Singapore. We practised mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha (Amituofo) by reciting his name. For the occasion, I wrote a short aspiration prayer, which was read for all present:

In this new year, may we be mindful of Buddha as much as possible.
May we remind ourselves of the virtues of the Buddha –
his great compassion, his great wisdom.

May we emulate these virtues as much as possible.
May we become more and more like the Buddha.
May we progress towards Buddhahood.

As we aspire to be reborn in Pure Land to learn from the Buddha in our next life,
may we also, by the power of our virtues,
aspire to make this world a Pure Land as much as we can.

During the chanting, I stole a few glances at the towering Buddha image in the hall, where I was seated beneath, facing it right in the centre. To my pleasant surprise, I saw the image smiling in a way I had never seen before… despite having visited the hall numerous time before. The Buddha image was beaming. Nope, not beaming in the sense of radiating beams of light; but beaming as in smiling broadly. This was in great contrast with its more serious countenance, which is what I usually saw. 

What changed? Was it my physical perspective? Was it my spiritual perception? Or both? Was I seeing the Buddha image with more of my Buddha-nature, as a subtle purifying effect of practising mindfulness of Buddha? I hope so. In case you think it’s obviously a personal illusion, another fellow Buddhist also saw the image to be smiling in a way never seen before… while a third Buddhist friend did not see anything out of the ordinary. The third friend was busy helping the activity in another way – so he was not practising mindfulness of Buddha along with us then.

Maybe this is a little similar to the case of the largest outdoor Guanyin Bodhisattva image on Mount Putuo (the sacred mountain dedicated to her). When afar, the image looked displeased to/at me. But the closer I approached, the more kindly she smiled. It was a shocking ‘shift’ of expression, which had a humbling and stress-relieving effect on me. It’s as if this thought ran through my mind – ‘Phew! Here I am, on pilgrimage to Guanyin Pusa’s holy mountain and “she’s” not really mad at me!’

Even if this might be an optical illusion due to the way the Bodhisattva image was designed, this is unlikely to be the case for the Buddha image – because I had walked around it and looked at it from near and far many times before. A nice mystery! Incidentally, from the case of the Guanyin image with ‘changing’ expressions, I was reminded of the truth that some people might seem unfriendly or even downright hostile from afar, but are really cheery and warm-hearted when you become closer to them. Never judge a person by his appearance – and not even from the person’s few initial words or gestures.

Though first impressions tend to last,
they should not be the last. 

– Stonepeace

5 thoughts on “Smile : Buddha & Bodhisattva

  1. You don’t have to go far, the Medicine Buddha at kmspks, level 2 of Pagoda of Million Buddhas has similar effect. The nearer you move towards the image, the more kindly He smiled.:lol:

  2. i have a similar experience before at KMSPKS “Wu Xiang Dian” where the past OM retreats were held. As we were chanting Om Mani Padme Hung, i thought i was hallucinatiing at a point when i was ‘startled’ to realise the buddha in the hall seems to be really beaming than usual times when i look at ‘him’. When i asked my friends around me, they just say they don’t see any difference. The ‘effect’ lasted quite a while.

  3. There are a few possible theories how this is so…

    1. Due to the angle we look at the image
    2. Due to the mindstate with which we look at the image
    3. Due to the special manifestations of the ‘divine’

    It’s even possible that it’s due to all three?
    On no. 2 and 3, this is simultaneously possible because…

    ‘When the mind is [more] pure [in the moment],
    the land [or whatever perceived] is pure [too].’

  4. I had a previous experience when I visited a temple, there was a painting of a Bodhisattva which in my opinion did not seem to project a welcoming look at me. However, after attending a few sessions of the chanting there, when I re-looked at the painting, the Bodhisattva seems to be smiling at me now. ^_^

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