Devotees and monastics from the Westlock Meditation Centre in Alberta, Canada, last week watched as a golden standing statue of Amitabha Buddha (Skt: Infinite Light) was erected above their meditation hall. At some 15 meters high, the statue finds itself between a giant sausage in Mundare (12.8 meters) and a Tyranosaurus Rex in Drumheller (25 meters) on the short list of tallest statues in Alberta. It is also the tallest human-figured statue in all of Western Canada.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held in July last year to begin preparations for the monument. Speeches were offered in Vietnamese, along with music and chants, and about 100 people looked on as Ven. Thien Tam and Ven. Phap Hoa, abbot of the meditation centre, broke ground. One journalist who attended the event observed: “Offerings were made and a family of Canada Geese looked on as distant train whistles harmonized with the ringing of bells.” (Edmonton Journal)
The statue arrived in Canada January after several years of planning, and construction work in China, with further work undertaken in Canada to ensure that it met with local structural quality standards.
The sculpture weighs 22.7 tonnes, according to Ven. Phap Hoa. Mounted on top of the hall and its lotus-shaped base, the total height is around 21 meters. The center fulfills Ven. Phap Hoa’s long-time dream of establishing a rural meditation centre where people could cultivate mindfulness peacefully.
Speaking at the installation ceremony last week, Ven Phap Hoa commented, “I feel that our society right now, we really need some time to calm us down to less stress. Less depressed. That’s why we have the statue of the Buddha here, as a symbol of awakening. We want to introduce the practicing of mindfulness, the practicing of Buddhism.” (CBC)
Before two large crains lifted the statue into place, a final ceremony was held to bless the image as it lay on its back. Monastics sprinkled floral water over the sculpture as more flowers, candles, and fruit were placed on a table nearby. “The candle symbolizes wisdom and insight. The flowers symbolize beauty. And the fruit symbolizes the results of the practice,” said Ven. Hoa. (CBC)
Despite Canada’s small population of just 36 million people, it has Buddhist centres representing all of the major schools and Asian Buddhist countries, with an estimated 370,000 Buddhists spread across the nation, or 1.1 per cent of the total population, according to US government data. Buddhists have resided in Canada since the 1800s, beginning with Chinese laborers, many of whom worked on the Canadian Pacific Railroad (built largely from 1875–85).
New waves of immigrants came to Canada in the latter half of the 20th century, including refugees from Sri Lanka, Tibet, and Vietnam, along with growing communties of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Buddhists. As of a 2012 survey, there are currently 483 Buddhist organizations in Canada.
Wildlife: enormous golden Amitaba Buddha on its way to live in rural Alberta (Edmonton Journal)
Towering Alberta Buddha brings prairie blessings from on high (CBC)
Highlights from the Survey of Canadian Buddhist Organizations (Journal of Global Buddhism)