- Associated Press - Sunday, January 15, 2017

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - It took 40 days for the Buddhist statues to sail from Vietnam to Jacksonville.

It took five trucks to drive the Shakyamuni Buddha statue to Gainesville, its two fellow statues following along.

And after three years in the making, the statues arrived this week at their home at A Nan Buddhist Temple, where they will be installed in the temple’s gardens this week.

“It took a long effort to get them here from Vietnam,” said Benny Tram, one of the temple’s congregants, after the statues arrived safely. “We’ve been waiting, waiting, for almost three years.”

Thay Duc Thong, chief resident monk of the temple, started the Buddhist Garden Project to introduce Vietnamese Buddhist culture to Gainesville residents and to establish a Buddhist landmark in the area.

He traveled to Vietnam and performed prayer sessions in front of the massive blocks of stone before they were sculpted into three grand Buddhist statues: Shakyamuni Buddha, who is sitting and meditating; a reclining Buddha, on his deathbed reaching Nirvana; and Quan Am, a motherly, compassionate figure.

Tram said it cost $300,000 to create the statues and additional thousands of dollars to ship them to Gainesville. Over the years, temple visitors have donated money as they could. Tram, who works in a nail salon, said he saved his tips to donate to the project.

“This is going to be the best thing for people to visit in Gainesville,” he said.

The temple hopes the statues encourage Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike to visit, study and reflect there, Tram said. He hasn’t seen anything like the statues in the United States.

The reclining Buddha is about 30 feet long. His stone eyes are closed, and he wears a faint smile and draped clothes, bare feet sticking out of the cloth. It looks peaceful and unburdened for a 70-ton statue.

The Quan Am figure remained laying on a truck bed Wednesday. When she stands upright on a pedestal, she will tower at 40 feet.

Those two arrived intact. The meditating Buddha, though, is like a puzzle: legs and hands, back, chest and head, plus its base. When complete, it will represent the thoughtful process of enlightenment.

Everyone can live a life worthy of becoming a Buddha, Tram said. Enlightenment isn’t reserved for the historic Buddha now memorialized at the garden in solid stone.

“All of us have the heart of Buddha,” Tram said.

___

Information from: The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun, http://www.gainesvillesun.com

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