Hard Knocks Buddha

There are many wonderful representations of Buddha in this world. Among them paintings, statues, and mandalas. They appear in temples, homes, and monasteries. Their postures, noble bearing, and beautiful features instill inspiration and higher levels of possibility in us. Back in the early 70’s when the San Francisco Zen Center acquired Green Gulch Farm and turned it into the Green Dragon Zen Center, there were a lot of small buildings in the long green valley that extends to Muir Beach. Many of them were cow barns that little by little were converted to other uses. One of those buildings became the electric and auto shop. Being so close to the ocean, it was always a bit dark and somewhat grimy and damp. It is customary within Zen Center for most buildings to have an altar, and on each altar for there to sit a Buddha figure or some representation. The shop at Green Gulch is no exception. Every morning the shop crew meets at the altar and has a short service; three bows and a chant before going to work. I would like to describe the unique qualities of this particular shop Buddha, as I remember it. He was not very high, maybe ten inches or so and was made of clay. If I remember correctly, he had a white glaze. He seemed to be made by a talented artist but probably not a professional. He was no doubt originally a handsome figure. But for one reason or another he had fallen to the floor a couple of times and been put back together rather awkwardly. The head was a little off center. The nose was flattened and some of the limbs were chipped. He seemed to have the look of an old auto mechanic or a longshoreman, or maybe a carpenter or fisherman. He gave off a feeling of someone who had grown up on the street, in the school of hard knocks and had the scars to prove it. His slightly bent posture expressed the mature humility of someone who had seen through the veils and was not fooled by anything. He also seemed to have been adjusted by auto mechanics before they washed their hands. At the same time there was an unmistakable beauty that drew one to him as if the hardships he had endured only made him glow more brightly, lighting up that dark corner. I went looking for him recently but he didn’t seem to be around. No one knew where he was or even remembered. To me he was an archetype, the real thing, and I miss him.