Buddha at the British Museum

Over several days our small band of pilgrims made our way to the world pilgrimage sites of the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. We were not the only pilgrims there. Thousands, and tens of thousands, all there with us, elbow to elbow, nose to nose. holy relic to holy relic, on every floor, in every hall, pilgrims from all over the world, speaking languages and taking photos and moving, moving, moving, only pausing to rest our feet.
Moving from item to item. Absolutely stunning items– holy relics– in both museums. One could– did– stand inches away from the Rosetta Stone and the Gold coin of Abd al-Malik and the sculpture of ‘Samson Slaying a Philistine’. One– at least this one– is quickly overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty and deeply refined artistry of the world’s most precious relics.
I found I had a hard time keeping my peace, my inner stillness. (I’m still a novice at this.) The noise and the movement and the array of objects and disarray of people all dazzled the senses, moment after moment after moment.
So I sat with three larger-than-life-sized statues of the Buddha, one smiling, one stern, one decked out in dazzling Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. None of the Buddhas moved. Sitting on my bench, I didn’t move with them. Tourists would come, line up, get a photo of the Buddhas in the Background, then move on.
Struck me, that the objects of a place do not of themselves make a place holy. Six floors of Holy Beautiful Objects in the Victoria and Albert, and even more at the Brit Museum.. enough to dazzle and dizzy anyone.
Yet somehow, it came to me, sitting with my Buddha friends, these objects had lost much of their identity, their utility, and thus much of their beauty. When they were each in their unique time and space moved from their intended location and function, and put on display, something was lost. Yes, of course, we tens of thousands of pilgrims each and every day would have an opportunity to view them when otherwise we would not. And yet . . .
Outside the museum, heading back to our flat, I saw a traditional red British phone booth, fast disappearing with the advent of cell phones. It was not being used. A throng was rushing past. Something sad and true and beautiful about that relic, that connection with our ancestors, and our past. The pilgrimage continues.

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