McCANDLESS, Pennsylvania (AP) – The main branches of Buddhism are often referred to as “vehicles” or paths of spiritual practice.
It is only fitting that when the monks at the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center needed a major outdoor restoration of their Buddha statue they turned to an auto restoration shop that specializes in vintage cars.
This partnership of ancient Asian spirituality and modern American craftsmanship was recently realized with the reinstallation of the newly renovated, gleaming white statue on the temple of the center.
With his eyes closed and sitting in the lotus position, the Buddha went through weeks of meticulous work at Exoticars in the town of McCandless, north of Pittsburgh. The statue stood amid a range of vintage cars from Bentleys and Corvettes to Porsches and a 1951 Ford pickup.
The workers removed several coats of deteriorating paint and primer – a job that required precision tools while working on the Buddha’s hair, which is depicted in detailed curls.
They also repaired cracks in the fiberglass, added a strip of metal to reinforce the statue’s base, and painted it over with white car paint that gave it a vitreous sparkle in the sunshine.
The repair job fascinated customers and also the classic car enthusiasts who, according to Exoticars co-owner Dave Ley, bring old hot rods and their own sports cars to the shop’s happy hours on Friday evening.
“There is always something here that people follow the progress of,” Ley said, and that fall, the Buddha was “a big hit” for a couple of weeks.
The Pittsburgh Buddhist Center practices the Sri Lankan Theravada vehicle of Buddhism, where the monks come from and where the statue was made. Paid by a donor, the Buddha was first installed in 2006 at the temple’s former location in Harrison Township, another suburb.
After the original color went bad years ago, monks were temporarily applying new layers, said Bhante Soorakkulame Pemaratana, abbot of the temple.
However, when they moved to their current location in West Deer Township, also north of Pittsburgh, earlier this year, they looked for a more permanent solution. A carpenter who used to work for the temple recommended the auto repair shop.
The result, unveiled in the temple on October 24th, is “so great” and “exceeds my expectations,” said Pemaratana. He thanked Ley and his crew for removing the paint by hand rather than using a sander, which could have damaged the statue.
“I also appreciate his courage to take this job,” said the abbot. “It’s beyond his comfort zone.”
Buddhists use such statues to focus their devotions and to contemplate the virtues of the founder of the religion.
According to Pemaratana, this particular Buddha depicts in a pose that symbolizes samadhi or silence. The monks regularly bring it to an annual festival to celebrate the birth of the Buddha, a gathering that brings together the various Buddhist groups of Pittsburgh.
Pemaratana appeared at Exoticars for one of the Happy Hours on Friday and delighted many there who he said had never met a Buddhist monk before.
“You saw monks in the films, but not a real monk,” said the abbot. “I am so happy with the relationship we have built.”
“We thought we were getting good karma,” he said.
Ley also tried out what could become a slogan for the shop: “We’re working on everything from Bentleys to Buddhas.”
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