The Image: An enormous golden statue of the Buddha sits in a hotel lobby. The Buddha's hands, folded in his lap in a perfect mudra position, are filled with flower petals and coins and the little pink umbrellas that come with piņa coladas. Something somewhere must be funny, because the Buddha is smiling.
The Buddhas of the Hyatt don't talk much. They just smile. They know that what is important in life can be conveyed much more accurately in silence than in words. When you gaze eternally upon eternity, what is there to say? The very thought of saying anything at all must make them smile.
They sit in lotus posture by artificial waterfalls. They stand like silent guardians in mirrored hallways, reflected into infinity in each direction. Some are so detached that they've left their bodies behind and are nothing but heads, mounted like trophies on the pedestals that human beings are so fond of. But they all smile. They sit there, oblivious to the tourists jostling by on their noisy way, and they simply smile. The tourists talk and talk and talk to fill the silence, and glance at their watches to see where they are in time. The Buddhas say nothing and watch with an amused grin, because they have left time behind. Eyes open or closed, the Buddhas see only eternity.
The Hyatt Regency Hotel in Maui is very beautiful. One of the reasons is that several of the forty million dollars they spent on the complex went for authentic Asian art, which is displayed most tastefully throughout the buildings and the grounds. Everywhere you turn is a tapestry or a sculpture or a painting from Japan, China, India, or some even more rarefied part of the Orient. It's rare to see this much care put into a modern building.
Even though we are staying at the Sheraton at the other end of the Kaanapali beach, the students from Lakshmi spend a lot of time here because it is so beautiful. After all, we are supposed to be in Hawaii to be spiritual, right? We wander in the halls and the lobbies among timeless goddesses and find our eyes following the tanned legs of more ephemeral ladies. We sit and sip piņa coladas in a bar designed to look like a hermit's cave and laugh when we notice a Tibetan Buddha gazing at us across the pool, across a thousand years of real solitude. We meditate in the Zen gardens among kids playing Frisbee, and wonder who is having the better meditation.
I am here tonight because I have no choice. After today's walk with Rama in the Haleakala crater, I simply had to be in a place of serene beauty. I don't know what happened to me up on the volcano today. It will take me weeks to figure out that something profound did, in fact, happen. All I know tonight is that the world is on fire with light, and that I just want to be in a place of beauty with my friends to appreciate it.
Several of us who felt this way have decided to have dinner in the fanciest restaurant in Kaanapali, which coincidentally happens to be in the Hyatt. We are seated around an impeccably set table at water's edge. A fine mist from the waterfall occasionally touches our faces as we eat, and swans gently nuzzle the ankles of those closest to the pool. The service is crisp and prompt and a chef used to carnivores has done his best to prepare something exquisite for seven vegetarians. It's a nice dinner; we chose the right place.
Strangely enough, even though we have all spent the day at 10,000 feet in the midst of the most intense vortex of light any of us have ever seen, no one talks about it. What is there to say? We savor the food and savor the moment and toast each other often in the warm night. After the meal, we walk for a while in the hallways and in the gardens, admiring the peacocks and the Buddhas and the flowers. No one says much as we walk, and we seem to be wandering aimlessly, but everyone knows where we're going.
In a long, mirrored salon beside the Zen garden is a Buddha more magnificent than the rest. All of the Buddhas of the Hyatt seem to have a field of energy that surrounds them. You walk by, and if you're sensitive and have spent some of the time of your life in the timelessness of meditation, you can tell that they radiate a very familiar stillness. If you stand and meditate upon them, some of that silence reaches out and gathers you into itself. But this particular Buddha is astounding. It is a large bronze figure, seated in lotus, and from its platform at the end of the salon, dominates the entire area. Even though there are some other magnificent pieces there, all you can really see when you come down the stairs is that Buddha.
The Buddha smiles serenely from behind closed eyes, but you know that even if they were open he wouldn't see you. He is looking elsewhere. The silence surrounding him is so intense that even the haole tourists are often stunned to speechlessness, a minor miracle in itself.
We are drawn to his feet like the proverbial moths to flame, and stand gazing up at his timeless face. Normally the hotel plays contemporary Hawaiian music on the public address system in the salon. Suffice it to say that this does little to create a meditative ambiance. Tonight, however, as if on cue, the tape changes just as we enter the room to some soft, spacy New Age music similar to what we meditate to with Rama. Without a word we all begin to meditate on the Buddha.
As I meditate, the huge figure begins to take on a golden glow that has nothing to do with the bronze of its manufacture. His face begins to change and shift just like Rama's occasionally does, displaying secondary visages superimposed over the primary one. But these phenomena hardly touch me, because I am no longer there. I have fallen through the open doorway of the Buddha's smile and am suspended in a timeless, eternal world of light. I am one with that smile for what could be seconds, minutes or hours, until the tape runs out and someone puts the Hawaiian music back on. When I bow at the end of my meditation, I finally have a feeling for what it is I am expressing my thanks to. As I turn away from the Buddha and begin to walk with my friends back along the long salon, I feel more silent, more at peace, and more complete than ever before in my life. It's as if the still, peaceful smile of the Buddha has become my smile. I find myself remembering a line from one of my favorite books: "I never knew I was so empty, to be so full."
I reach the end of the salon and turn to take one last look at the great, golden Buddha. He hasn't moved. He's still sitting there, calmly watching eternity. As I turn back, I notice Rama walking down the stairs into the salon. He is with a couple of students. They've been wandering through the gardens, too, and like us have decided to take a last, midnight look at the Buddha before heading home.
Rama comes over to where I'm standing and we gaze together at a lovely sculpture of a Southeast Asian goddess. I have forgotten her name, but as I remember the legend, she is beauty incarnate, probably the Thai version of Lakshmi. We don't talk, we just stand there. The silence is so complete, the night so still, that I feel we could be standing in space, among the stars, gazing upon eternity itself. We only stand there for a few seconds, but there is no thought of seconds, there is no thought of we, there is no thought. We stand out of time in the salon of the Hyatt. We stand there still as I write this.
Only an idiot would try to intrude into such timeless silence with words, but when you run into your spiritual teacher unexpectedly in the middle of the night, you're supposed to say something, right? So, as Rama turns to walk away I babble something incoherent about how beautiful the music was before as we were meditating on the Buddha. Rama just smiles.