Statues “enlightening the world”

Posted on September 1, 2010


The Statue of Liberty, a gift to the United States from the people of France, was originally called “La Liberté éclairant le monde” (“Liberty Enlightening the World.”) Excluding the plinth, she stands at just over 151 feet (46 meters). The UNESCO “Statement of Significance” describes the statue as a “masterpiece of the human spirit.” The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886.

Over 7,600 miles away and 120 years later, another gargantuan icon of freedom and enlightenment is being built, at Changri Künsel Phodrang, on a hillside 100 metres above the Wangchu River overlooking capital city of Bhutan, Thimphu. The Buddha Dordenma (“Vajra Throne Buddha”) is a 169ft (51.5 meters) tall statue of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni seated on a vajra throne. The statue, one of the biggest and tallest in the world, is set to become a major pilgrimage centre and a focal point for Buddhists all over the world.

Buddha Dordenma under construction

Embodying the values underpinning Western civilization, the Statue of Liberty’s torch is a symbol of enlightenment, lighting the way to freedom through peace, not violence. The seven rays of her spiked crown that jets out into the sky symbolizes the seven seas and continents and resembles the sun’s rays streaming upwards. She holds a tablet with the inscription “JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” (July 4, 1776) the date of the USA’S Independence, showing that progress depends upon  acknowledging history. Also, the shape of the tablet is known in architecture as a keystone – the stone which keeps all others together. Here it represents law, without which freedom and democracy cannot prevail.  

Statue of Liberty

She is not standing still, but walking ahead and moving forward. The broken chains at her feet symbolize her freedom from slavery and bondage. Her free-flowing robe or stola, powerfully refers to the Roman influence of the goddess “Libertas”, who was worshipped by freed slaves.

Expressing the values underpinning Buddhism, the three most important symbols of the Buddha Dordenma are the vajra, the lotus seat and the mudra (gesture) of the Buddha. These are all described below according to Robert Beer.

The vajra:

vajraThe vajra or dorje is the quintessential symbol of the “diamond vehicle” or Vajrayana Buddhist path, becoming both its namesake and the appellation or prefix of a host of vajra-names, divinities, attributes, and qualities. The Sanskrit term vajra means ‘the hard or mighty one’, and its Tibetan equivalent dorje (Tib. rdo rje) means ‘the lord of stones’. Implying an indestructible hardness and brilliance like the diamond (Tib. pha lam), the adamantine stone which cannot be cut or broken. The vajra essentially symbolises the impenetrable, immovable, immutable, indivisible, and indestructible state of enlightenment or Buddhahood as vajra mind.

The lotus seat:

lotusThe lotus is a symbol of absolute purity; it grows from the dark watery mire but is untainted or unstained by it… The lotus seat or throne on which most deities sit or stand symbolises their innate purity; they manifest into cyclic existence, yet they are completely free from its defilements, emotional hindrances, and obscurations.

The ‘earth-pressing’ or ‘earth witness’ mudra:

earth-touching mudraThis mudra, formed with all five fingers extended to touch the ground, symbolises that Buddha’s enlightenment under the bodhi tree, when he summoned the earth goddess, Sthavara, to bear witness to his attainment of enlightenment. The right hand, placed upon the right knee in earth-pressing mudra, and complimented by the left hand – which is held flat in the lap in the dhyana mudra of meditation – symbolises the union of method and wisdom, samsara and nirvana, and the realisations of the conventional and ultimate truths. In this posture Shakyamuni overcame the obstructions of Mara whilst meditating on emptiness.

Buddha Dordenma face

installing the dzomyu

installing the dzomyu

On 25 July 2010 a  dzomyu or “third eye”, comprising 1,000 diamonds and 18 carat gold in the shape of a conch shell was installed on the brow of Buddha Dordenma and consecrated by His Holiness Je Khenpo, the senior religious hierarch of Bhutan.  Made in Hong Kong, it weighs about 10kg and is worth approximately 5 million US Dollars.

The total cost of the project is estimated to be over USD 100M. The external part of the giant statue is expected be completed by 2011. Its creators explain that it “will radiate auspicious energy over the country and to all parts of the world, bestowing blessings, universal peace and happiness to the whole world.” Once completed, the throne of the statue will be big enough to house 17 storeys of different lhakhangs (meditation halls), three storeys within the throne, two each inside the lotus, waist, chest, face and shoulder and one each in the legs, neck and hands. The first storey, which surrounds the centre, will house statues of eight 10-foot standing bodhisattvas.

Buddha Dordenma eyeBuddha Dordenma head

The construction will house various kinds of relics, mantras, precious substances and statues. The second storey surrounding the central pillar will have eight more 10-foot sitting Medicine Buddhas. The third storey inside the lotus seat will house six-foot high sculptures of the 16 arhats, King Hasang, Dharmatma tiger, Sutra Holder and the Kings of the Four Directions. In the central chamber will be seated the main Buddha Shakyamuni. The room for the third storey up to the top will accommodate 100,000 eight-inch statues of Buddha Dordenma, made of copper and gilded in gold, placed in multilayered grid boxes. 25,000 12-inch high Buddha statues will be also be placed inside.

Buddh Dordenma under constructionStatue of Liberty pre-911

Once the Buddha Dordenma statue has been completed and consecrated, it will join the world’s largest and most iconic symbols of enlightenment, freedom and peace. As “Liberty Enlightening the World” Buddha Dordenma is also masterpiece of art, but much more. It is said that its presence will diminish painful diseases and disasters from the four elements, and help to restore peace and happiness to the whole world. For future generations it will show the path to enlightenment. Those who visit it will receive blessings and their wishes will be fulfilled. Anyone who even hears of the Buddha Dordenma project and rejoices in it will also accumulate vast amounts of merit.

More information can be found at the Dordenma website. Below is a video showing the internal design of the statue:

Posted in: Buddhist art