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The Little Metal Buddha

Spike Wilner By

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Of course, I was upset. Saddened, really. I wanted my Buddha back and began to think about it a lot. “Where did the Buddha go?” became a koan for me. I pondered this little metal statue and where could Buddha actually be? I realized that Buddhists learn to let go–to not attach.
A short piece this time. But sometimes saying what you want, like playing what you want, in as few words—or notes as possible, is really the way to go.

The Jazz Life is an interesting project I'm engaged in, writing and searching for things to say that focus on what we do in order to live and perform as jazz musicians. I'm interested in hearing from anyone via All About Jazz who has a story to tell about what it takes to play music these days. In my experience embracing the jazz world does encourage a kind of zen attitude to things. That's why when I read Spike Wilner's piece I asked him if I could reprint it here. For those of you who don't know, Spike is a jazz pianist who is also one of the owners of the iconic Manhattan jazz clubs Mezzrow and Smalls. And this story of his really embraces the idea of seeing the world from a kind of zen perspective. Hope you agree.

Peter Rubie

The Little Metal Buddha

One lovely afternoon, Zen Master Ma-tsu and his young student, Pai-chang, were out walking. A flock of geese honked noisily by in the sky. "What is that?," asked Ma-tsu. "A flock of geese," answered his student. "Where did they go?," asked Ma-tsu. Lazily, Pai-chang answered; "Why, they have flow away..." but before he could finish his sentence Ma-tsu grabbed him by the nose and twisted it sharply! "Ow!!," Pai-chang cried out in pain and surprise but before he could speak further Ma-tsu demanded, "How could they ever have flown away? They've always been here from the very beginning!." Hearing this, Pai-chang had a profound revelation.

(This all takes place in the early spring, late winter of 2018)

Well, they finally got him! My little metal Buddha, who has sat peacefully in meditation for the last four years on the shelf at Mezzrow, was stolen. This Buddha was special to me. My dear friend, the great jazz pianist and ordained Buddhist monk, Jeremy Manasia, had presided over a purification ritual the day we first opened Mezzrow. All my close friends, family, and musicians were present for what was a very beautiful ceremony and, I believe, set Mezzrow on its blessed course. The little metal Buddha was the one used for this ceremony. There had been one other instance in the first year that a theft of this Buddha was attempted. However, I was on hand that night and, through the use of psychic premonition, I found the thief and recovered the Buddha. Since then, Buddha has sat in samadhi, unmolested on his shelf—until just last week. I could not protect him this time. Now he is gone. Where did the Buddha go?

Of course, I was upset. Saddened, really. I wanted my Buddha back and began to think about it a lot. "Where did the Buddha go?" became a koan for me. I pondered this little metal statue and where could Buddha actually be? I realized that Buddhists learn to let go—to not attach. I, of course, was attached to my little metal Buddha and the sentimental symbology that he represented. Also, my own primitive superstitious fears came into play—the shades of my great grandfather and his study of signs. I believe the same—it's a sign, it has meaning, I need to pay attention. Where did the Buddha go?

The next evening, I came to work and went through my preparation rituals, which normally means getting things ready, setting the stage and tables, reservations, etc. Each night I also put a candle at the Buddha's little shrine and say a simple prayer: "Grant us the patience and compassion to run this jazz club for the benefit of all Humanity." Of course, this night, I found Buddha's little pedestal but no little metal Buddha—just his empty seat. This startled me, it was a shock to see it empty. But at that moment I had the strongest realization that I didn't need to look any further for the Buddha—he was here! I mean, where could he have gone? Where is there to go? We've always been here from the very beginning! This made me laugh. "Steal away, you thieves," I thought to myself, "take as many Buddhas as you like but he will always be here!" I then placed the candle by the empty pedestal and said my prayer anyway. I proceeded to open the club and we had an excellent night of music.
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