A pair of wizened eyes observe in silence. August and unchanging, they take in the wisps of incense and gentle stirrings of people at ease. Candlelight toys with the gold leaf of its irises, as it does with the rest of the ornate statue of Guru Rinpoche.
The statue is one of only 26 of its kind in the world. This one finds its home in Palri Pema Od Ling, a Tibbetan Buddhist temple nestled between duplexes on 45th Street. It celebrates the sage who brought Buddhism to Tibet in the 700s.
The value of the 13-foot-tall figure? Priceless, in the eyes of Palri’s resident lama, or teacher.
“He is my guru,” Lama Lobtsul said without affect, embodying the dharma that has been passed down from the revered master for over twelve hundred years.
The guru instilled in his 8th century students an appreciation for balance, self-knowing and compassion for “all sentient beings.” He is so respected that followers call him Buddha, the “enlightened one.”
And to the Buddhist way of thinking, enlightenment knows no bounds.
As a universal well-wishing, the Austin statue’s 25 counterparts are scattered across the globe, grounded in Spain, Australia, and Bhutan, among other countries. They are part of the Padma Global Project for World Peace, an Indian teacher’s endeavor to scatter concord through the earth via Rinpoche statues.
“Whoever has faith in [Guru Rinpoche] should do their utmost to create and spread images of him,” said Khenpo Namdrol, the founder of the project.
The point is to have a positive impact by helping to bring about universal peace.
The impact is seen in the intimacy of Palri, where the noble statue oversees everyday people pursuing the Buddhist lifestyle. From his lofty vantage point, it might appear that:
The world slows down as worshippers enter the space, barefoot and composed. Smiling, they settle onto cushions laid out in rows.
Sunlight casts rainbows on the stone floor as it shines through glass window ornaments, and candles wink up at tapestries thick with colored thread.
A gong sounds.
Blue eyes flash from behind a swath of purple fabric as Kimberly Patterson, a local acupuncturist, takes a cue from Lama Lobstul and fans incense through the temple.
“Buddhism is like medicine,” she says. “Your life is your practice.”
In a row further back, Sheila Yeo, a Central Austin resident, sings the lilting mantras chosen by Lama. Her tone is dulcet and has a way of sweetening the air around her.
“The goal of all this meditation is to have a changeless mind. Then everything is just a blessing.”
All the while, Lama Lobtsul patters cymbals against each other from his elevated place in front of the worshippers, carrying on the practices he learned in person from the Dalai Lama.
Thought not fluent in English, his Tibetan chants are as rippleless and throaty as the deepest of wind instruments.
“Guru Rinpoche says, ‘Follow me.’ Rich or poor, I follow,” he later said from his small kitchen beneath the shrine room.
Actually, his modest residence is set right beneath the guru’s statue on the upper floor. It seems that the gold figure is a compass for his living, every detail pointed toward the age-old teachings of the Chinese instructor.
And above the kitchen table, there is a secret weight, a heavier burden than just a gold-leafed statue; within the golden body are hidden bone relics, gems, and recovered writings gathered from throughout the centuries. A wealth of tradition, knowledge, and compassion.
So behind the statue’s eyes, a heavy burden is contained, and before his eyes, the burden is lived out:
DZAM LING CHI DANG YUL KHAM DI DAG TU
At this very instant, for all the people and nations of Earth,
NED MUG TSHON SOK DUG NGAL MING MI DRAG
Let not even the words “disease,” ‘famine,” “war” and “suffering” be heard,
CHÖ DAN SO NAM PAL JOR GONG DU PHEL
But may virtue, merit, wealth and plenty increase
TAG TU TASHI DE LEG PHUN TSHOG SHOG
And auspiciousness and well-being ever abound.