Maitreya Statue Fundraiser
Maitreya is the symbol of the future Buddha. It is said that he will return to teach when the world needs a fresh injection of dharma. Here at Clear Sky we’re committed to awakening in this lifetime, helping others awaken in this lifetime, and bringing dharma into the future.
We are planning to build a statue of Maitreya on a ridgeline called “Dragon’s Back” at Clear Sky and are seeking donations to help support the effort.
This project helps our sangha connect our lineage across time. Mahasi Sayadaw commissioned the project. Namgyal Rinpoche’s ashes will be held in an urn within the statue. And Clear Sky’s founding teachers Doug “Qapel” Duncan and Catherine “Sensei” Pawasarat are overseeing the design and construction of the statue. At the base of the statue will be a small room for individuals to meditate in.
The statue is being built by Vietnamese sculptor Thaibao (pictured right), a Theravada practitioner with exquisite knowledge of Buddhist iconography.
Please see below for ways to donate and to learn more about the story and craftsmanship behind this statue.
Maitreya Statue Donations
In Yangon in 2002, Qapel, Sensei, and the sangha went to visit Mahasi Sayadaw (Namgyal Rinpoche’s teacher) at his monastery. At this point, we hadn’t built Clear Sky and the sangha was located in Japan.
Sayadaw said to Qapel, “Take a message to Namgyal, please. Tell Namgyal that he needs to build a statue of Maitreya at the center, before either he or I dies.”
When Qapel next saw Namgyal he passed on the message, but Namgyal wasn’t optimistic: “Yes, but Thai-Burmese sculptures don’t do very well in Canada. They kind of fall apart.”
Indeed, statues react very differently in climates like Canada’s than they do in Myanmar. With temperatures that range from +30 degrees to -30 degrees Celsius every year, statues need to be made of particularly durable and flexible materials to last.
With this conversation, the idea was tabled for the right time.
Now, twenty years later, it’s the right time. After more than 16 years of hard work, the Clear Sky Meditation and Study Center in BC, Canada is now running solidly. We have a strong residential team who take care of the property and support each other to do retreats. Founding teacher Cata Sensei is currently doing her first three-month retreat in one of our cabins. And, as you may know, we’re also excited about our plans to build a temple. We’ve got the temple design and the stages of construction all planned, and are fundraising for that effort. You can read more about that here.
But before we continue building the temple, the statue is calling to be built.
Maitreya symbolizes the future buddha, the buddha that will bring the dharma forward. As Clear Sky looks towards the future, we are considering all of the ways that we can share our practice to make a better world. We strive to awaken and help other beings awaken. With the temple as our next big project, what better way to break ground than to see Mahasi Sayadaw’s instruction through, and deepen our own pledge to the teachings of the past, present, and future.
The Discovery Phase
Once we decided to build the statue we started making inquiries. How much does a big bronze Buddha statue cost? Who can build it? If the sculptor is far away, what does it take to ship such a large object?
The sculptors we knew of were living in a neighbourhood in Mandalay, Myanmar, which specializes in making bronze Buddhist statues. There, at Sayadaw’s monastery in Yen Gong, lives a young monk who is originally from Edmonton. When we found out that our sangha member, Richard Clark, knew him, we reached out to Richard to make inquiries. He replied, “Well, why don’t you talk to Thaibao, in Calgary, instead?”
Calgary! At only a four-hour drive from Clear Sky, the whole project suddenly felt much closer to home. This opened up new possibilities and increased our excitement.
Thaibao is a Vietnamese sculptor who makes Buddha sculptures for North American environments. He trained and first worked as a sculptor in Vietnam. Now, he makes them in Calgary and ships them all over Canada and the US.
Standing at only five feet tall, Thaibao does all of his sculpting part-time in his garage. He is assisted by his wife, Tulan, who is also Vietnamese. Thaibao and Tulan were part of the wave of refugees who fled Vietnam following the end of the Vietnam War. Tulan escaped by boat, but Thaibao was driven away from the boats by gunfire. By good fortune he managed to fly to Canada the following year.
Thaibao and Tulan are devout Buddhists, and in Canada managed to find a new community centered around a Buddhist temple. A testimony to refuge and the power of practice, this new sangha helped them with the transition from Vietnam, and to recover from those extremely difficult experiences.
Thaibao brings to his sculpting intricate detail, a deep knowledge of Buddhist iconography, and a flexibility that is spiritual in nature. When Thaibao receives a commission, he often looks to his dreams to decide whether or not to accept a project. If he doesn’t feel like a project is right, he won’t make it, or rather, he can’t make it. He says if the project is not right, his imagination is confused and details often go wrong. Things break, and timelines slip. Over the years, he’s figured out that if the vibe’s not right, he simply can’t do it.
Qapel and Sensei first met with Thaibao in Calgary in 2021, along with local sangha members. The project seemed to fit, and later that year Thaibao visited Clear Sky accompanied by his wife and a friend. On the trip the teachers discussed details of the statue with Thaibao. What did we want the Buddha Rupa to look like? What should it be made out of it? What style should it be in?
Thaibao asked questions that conveyed his rich knowledge of Buddhist art history: “Do you want the statue in the Thai style, the Chinese style, or a different Buddhist style?” “If you’re going to aim for this historical period, you’ve got to use certain ornaments. Do you want those?”
His experience as a very strong practitioner showed through too when he asked questions like “Is your Maitreya a Buddha or a Bodhisattva? If you make Maitreya a Buddha the statue becomes a great work to aspire to. And if you depict him as more of a Bodhisattva, it means he’s more accessible for human beings, practicing in this lifetime.”
Maitreya comes in a number of forms, and Qapel and Sensei decided on a statue that depicts Maitreya relaxed, sitting in a chair, with one knee up. They also wanted to build a statue that didn’t have a strictly male appearance.
Going back-and-forth on the details, the final inspiration struck while close to home.
Catherine Sensei is from Kansas City. There, she happened to visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. And in the museum, she saw an exquisite statue of Kwan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion. Some of you may recognize it from the cover of the Shambhala book, “The Way of the Bodhisattva,” by Shantideva. Kwan Yin is called Avalokiteshvara in India, Chenrezig in Tibet, and Kannon in Japan.
Thaibao was open to adapting the sculpture to include some of the details from the statue of Kwan Yin.
The Maitreya statue will be built on a ridgeline called “Dragon’s Back” at Clear Sky, a spot on the property far from any buildings or roads.
While most monasteries or temples put their statues right at the front door so that everybody gets to see the Buddha Rupa, the inspiration for Dragon’s back is that the statue will be remote. Founding teacher Qapel explains, “I want it where nobody can just see it. So they have to go looking for it to find it.”
Thaibao agrees: “It’s important for people to work to find the Buddha!”
One of the important aspects of the statue is that it will provide an appropriate resting place for Namgyal Rinpoche’s ashes, which until now have been kept safely in Qapel and Sensei’s apartment. With this gesture, we hope to build a physical as well as metaphorical connection between generations of teachers in our lineage, from Mahasi Sayadaw’s original request to the completion of the statue.
Thaibao is not sure what the project will cost yet, and we are still in discussion on the different ways to cast the statue, either in laminated epoxy or in GFRC (Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete). Thaibao is sketching the design, and from there we will figure out which material would be the best fit, and finalize the other details.
Any donation amount will be helpful as we build the funds to support this.
May your generosity open your heart in ways you have never experienced before.
When we think about building this statue, we believe deeply in putting the symbol of Maitreya into practice in our lives. How can we bring the dharma into the world to secure a better future? How can our awakening connect with the awakening of all beings?
Your contribution is intimately connected with the Bodhisattva vow we treasure:
However innumerable beings are, we vow to meet them with kindness and interest.
However inexhaustible and states of suffering are, we vow to touch them with patience and love.
However immeasurable the dharmas are, we vow to explore them deeply.
However incomparable the mystery of being is, we vow to experience it fully.
From this moment forth, with wisdom and compassion as our lamp and staff,
We dedicate all of our life’s energy to the welfare of all beings.
In loving kindness,
Director of Fund Development