Arlington center seeks permanent home for revered Buddha
The bronze face of the Buddha, always serene, gazes down at recent gifts from the pilgrims who have come to see him: two apples, dried sage, a bouquet of artificial flowers, a $20 bill.
This replica of the most revered Buddhist statue in Tibet, 8 feet tall and 600 pounds, sits inside a stucco rental house in Arlington, behind Johnnie’s Foodmaster.
Although there is no sign outside, Tibetan immigrants find their way to the Bartlett Avenue property to see the only version of the Jowo Rinpoche statue in the United States. Rinpoche is an honorific in Tibetan Buddhism, used for respected teachers.
Buddhists believe the original statue, 2,500 years old, gives blessings to pilgrims who travel to look upon it. The replica, which arrived at the Drikung Meditation Center in Arlington three years ago from Nepal, is believed to confer the same blessings, and was brought here for Tibetans who could not make the trip to their homeland, as well as Westerners.
“When you sit down and look at the serene face, it’s like being transported,’’ said Tsering Gesar, a Tibetan doctoral student who lives in Somerville. “It has a very calming effect. You have to grasp it with your sixth sense because it has no rationale to it.’’
The pilgrimages to the statue increase during the celebrations marking the Tibetan new year, or Losar, which usually falls in late winter. In the past two years, the center has opened at 7 a.m. and stayed open late at night to accommodate the visitors.
“The stream of people coming in and bringing offerings and food didn’t end until 10 o’clock at night, literally hundreds of people from all over the country,’’ said Paul Orr, a member of the Drikung Meditation Center’s board of directors.
Now the meditation center is raising money for a permanent home, which is a requirement for the statue to be consecrated. The center has raised $70,000 toward a new building, which leaders want to keep near a bus line in the Arlington or Cambridge area. They hope to raise $100,000 for a down payment.
The center is outgrowing its rental space. When Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche, one of the spiritual leaders of the center’s lineage of Buddhism, visited Arlington to speak last year, the event was moved to the Regent Theatre to accommodate the crowd.
In Tibet, Buddhists travel to the Jowo Rinpoche to seek blessings for their studies or their business, said Khenpo Choepel Rinpoche, the lama who lives at the meditation center and leads meditation groups. When relatives are sick or dying, Tibetans offer gold to the statue, which represents Buddha at the age of 12.
“Tibetans believe that statue is very precious,’’ Choepel said.
Alexis Tsapatsaris, president of the meditation center, said its founder, Khenchen Rinpoche Konchog Gyaltsen, wanted to make the statue’s blessings available to Buddhists living in the West.
The center’s resident teacher and spiritual director, Lama Konchok Sonam led a campaign to raise money for the statue, which was made in Nepal and shipped to Arlington.
“The purpose of the statue was to bring a spiritual object to the United States that would benefit the whole Boston area and the whole US, and also to give people who didn’t have access to going to Tibet a spiritual object here,’’ Tsapatsaris said.
Gesar, 40, is Tibetan but has never seen the original Jowo Rinpoche. Born in India, he came to the United States about 15 years ago. He first saw the Arlington statue soon after it arrived.
Gesar’s mother, who grew up in eastern Tibet, had never made the long and difficult trip to visit the original statue, he said. Living in Somerville now, she goes to see the replica in Arlington about once a month, Gesar said.
“This is made accessible to people outside Tibet,’’ he said, “and it carries the same weight in terms of merit.’’
Another Tibetan, Tenzin Youdon, 27, also went to the Jowo Rinpoche in Arlington shortly after it arrived.
“Although I got the opportunity to see the main one in Tibet, I think it’s a great privilege to have a Jowo here,’’ the Medford resident stated in an e-mail, “since for many Tibetans going to Tibet is not as easy.’’
Americans who study Buddhism and meditate at the Drikung center also say they feel the power of the statue.
Orr said he had long felt an intellectual pull toward Tibetan Buddhism. About three years ago, he decided to seek out a center and turn his reading about the religion into a practice. When he searched online for “Tibetan Buddhism Boston,’’ he was startled to learn that the Drikung center was only a half-mile from his house in Arlington.
“For me, the statue is just iconic,’’ Orr said. “It’s such a stunning representation of what Tibetan Buddhism means.’’
Kathleen Burge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.