You see them everywhere. Yoga studios. Tea shops. Book stores–but these aren’t real. The real ones are found in museums and the homes and businesses of art collectors. A Buddha’s head on a stick.
But when you see one of these Buddha heads, please realize that they don’t come that way. That head that is supposed to evoke peace and calm may have come from a decapitated sacred statue.
I’m not a Buddhist, but I do know that eastern spirituality is generally based on holistic principles. Unlike in western spirituality, there is no disconnection between the mind and body or the spirit and flesh. Mind and body are one while we are incarnated, and ne’er the twain be separated.
I have yet to see a Buddha head in its place of origin. I never saw Buddha heads when I visited China, only whole statues.
Where is my non-attachment, you may ask? Do genuine Buddhists even care what happens to a Buddha statue? They do. I care because the popularity of these heads speaks to colonization.
Are you a collector of things? Where did this habit start? In Victorian times, the British and other European colonizers were at their zenith. People would bring back precious items from the colonized countries and display them as exotic conversation pieces as indications of an owner’s wealth and power.
It was popular at that time to own an elephant foot table. This was an actual elephant’s foot, cut off to table height and used as such in many an elegant Victorian front parlor. Masks from Africa, a Native American pipe–these are sacred objects, taken or bought by the dominant colonizers.
One way to crush a people is by destroying their sacred places and rituals. The colonizers settled on their lands (“I’m just building a house, for my family.”), outlawing their religions, their languages and their traditional practices; their very ways of being and living were obliterated. These techniques are still being used today.
In Thailand, the ancient city of Ayutthaya was invaded by Burma, decapitating the Buddha statues as a form of dominance. When you see a Buddha head, realize what it represents–a colonizer’s taking what he wants, showing his power over others, disregard for a people’s way of knowing and being. This is what I see.
Imagine the head of Jesus, torn from its body, rough edges intact, attached to a nice iron stand for display. I would find the image not just odd, but gruesome. The internet search results for such a thing, unlike those for Buddha heads, are mostly articles about his hierarchical role as the head of the church, with a few results about religious jewelry.
When you see a Buddha head, realize what it represents – a colonizer taking what he wants, showing his power over the conquered, contemptuous of a people’s way of knowing and being. The intentions of the yoga studio owner, the book shop proprietor, and the rejectors of Western traditions are the opposite of what the Buddha heads actually represent.
The display of Buddha heads invokes for me not peace and tranquility, but instead the violent history of conquest and colonization.