While Buddha Hall construction permit applications make their way through various government regulatory departments, a different kind of construction is well underway.

Meet Venerable Mahaprajapti Gotami, the Buddha’s step-mother and the first Buddhist nun. Sculptors Peter and Denise Griffin are at work constructing her statue to stand alongside the Buddha on the main altar in the future Buddha Hall.


 

Samten Regan and Venerable Thubten Tsultrim connect before the procession to the Hall.

Peter and Denise are creating three statues: a central 10’ 6” statue of Shakyamuni Buddha seated on a lotus, which will be flanked by two 7’ 11” standing statues—the Buddha’s attendant, Venerable Ananda, to his right, and the Buddha’s stepmother and the first Buddhist nun, Venerable Gotami, to his left.

We are especially excited about creating a statue of Venerable Gotami as there are few sculptures of her in the world. We only know of four: at Wat Thepthidharam in Thailand, Dongyu Gyatsal Ling in India, Upaya Zen Center in New Mexico, Fo Guan Shan Buddha Museum in Kaoshiung, Taiwan .

Why Peter and Denise Griffin?

In December 2018, when Venerable Chodron stayed at Amitabha Buddhist Center (ABC) while teaching in Singapore, she was struck by the beauty of the 1000-Armed Chenrezig statue on their main altar.

That’s about the time Buddha Hall planning began in earnest. Naturally, we asked ABC President Hup Cheng about the artists who had brought their stunning Chenrezig to life. Would they be a good choice for the Abbey’s project?

Hup Cheng was unequivocal: “I rejoice in your intention to build big Buddha statues. Peter and Denise Griffin are the right people to do it!”

Thus began a series of email exchanges and Zoom meetings to discuss working together to design the Buddha Hall’s main altar and statues. It didn’t take long for the Abbey building team—Venerables Chodron, Tarpa, Samten, and Damcho—to agree with Hup Cheng. Peter and Denise are the right people for this beautiful project!

Abbey nuns hold up the merit robe for all to see

Credentials

English artists Denise and Peter Griffin met studying sculpture in London in 1984. They graduated in Sculpture from the renowned Camberwell School of Art in London in 1987, and have worked as professional artists ever since.

The pair undertook three years of art training in India to learn traditional Indian and Tibetan art practices. A continuous stream of transnational arts commissions followed, leading them to travel and make art around the world. They now have their home and workshop in Lavaur in Southern France.

Tibetan Buddhists may know them for their involvement with the Maitreya Project, a visionary initiative led by Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche to place many Maitreya Buddha statues worldwide, including two enormous Maitreya images in India. Peter and Denise created the initial Maitreya prototype in 1997.

Well on the Way

Peter is the main artist working on the Abbey’s Buddha Hall statue commissions. He began with the Venerable Gotami statue last year and worked around the Covid lockdowns in France. In the middle of our 2021 winter retreat, we were delighted to receive the first set of photos for our feedback. These photos show the work in progress, which will be refined as the process continues.

In addition to touching up the details of Venerable Gotami’s hands, feet, and robes, Peter has made the lotus flower base that she will stand on.

He has also started to work on small sections of Venerable Ananda. He had to add a mezzanine floor and storage in his workshop to make space for constructing Venerable Ananda’s body.

man kneels before nun offering a gift

What’s next?

We look forward to receiving more photos and learning more about the sculpture construction process as it unfolds.

The core of the statues are made of a high-density structural insulation foam with an outer shell made of a nontoxic modelling putty that will be painted.

There will be a small interior void in the statues that we can fill with mantra rolls and a tsogshing, in line with the  traditional practice for Tibetan Buddhist statues.

Peter tells us that completing the statues is a real community process! When we’re able to have Peter come out to the Abbey to complete the statues onsite, we’ll invite you to come to help to roll mantras and fill the statues together with us.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Go here to learn ways to help Build the Buddha Hall.