Lessons from a Portuguese Buddha

When we started planning this journey, I hoped to include some spiritual sites, specifically Plum Village in France (Thich Nhat Hahn’s center), and Mooji’s retreat center in Portugal. As luck would have it, neither was open to the public while we were in the country. As in, “Although we are almost never closed to the public, we will be from [insert dates of the Johnson’s proximity].” So, like most of the rest of the trip, we just had to roll with it…

But, fate and life being what it is, we were able to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes (which should definitely be the subject of its own post) and then today, Buddha Eden* in Portugal. (I should also note that, as you might expect, we have been visiting many incredible cathedrals and having wonderful experiences and lighting many, many candles).

I had a long list of things to do while we were here in central Portugal. National parks, seafront, more little walled medieval cities… But, on our last night in Porto we were at Ze Bota and there was a television on right in Tucker’s line of sight. Have you met Tucker? If there are pixels moving, he is noticing them. So, midway through dinner with a Portuguese soap opera on in the background, Tucker (knowing me and my interests) says, “I just need to mention, there’s a giant Buddha on this show.” My first instinct is that they’re in the far east, but this is a Portuguese soap opera and Portuguese soap opera budgets probably don’t send an entire cast and crew 1/2 way around the world for a plot twist. So, we google it. And what do you know, Buddha Eden in Bombarral is about 15 minutes from our next rental. So, we add it to the list.

But since we’ve gotten to Cadaval, it has been pouring rain with nothing but rain in the forecast. So, we’ve been homebound. We’re staying in a lovely, spacious, modern home so it has been a pleasure, and so yesterday I came to peace with nothing on our list getting done during this particular visit.

So, of course, the sun was out when I woke up this morning.

My trusty google weatherman said it was only going to be for an hour or two, so I woke up the crew, made the quickest breakfast I could, and of all of our options, Buddha Eden was the closest and (although i’ve been interested in the Portuguese coastline since 2nd grade) the most interesting to me. So, off we went.

And it was stunning.

We walked around soaking up dozens of Buddha’s, Guan Yin’s, replicas of the terra cotta soldiers, pagodas, Ganeshas, beautiful gardens and sculpture…

I tried to impart key concepts, like “you need to be willing to face and move past the guardians (foo dogs, dragons, whathaveyou) to get to and experience the diety” which I’m pretty sure wasn’t as much as an epiphany to my kids as it was to me when I learned it (from Joseph Campbell when I was 17, and then again at 22, and once more, when it really stuck somewhere in my 30’s)…

and then BAM! it started to rain. I mean, POUR. Did I say POUR? I meant HAIL! For real! Dime-sized hail balls. And so we ran back to the building and into the cafeteria, but it was far enough that we got soaked (and pelted. it kindof hurt).

Jacob was not happy.

So I told him: “Buddhism tells us that life is suffering…”

Blank stare.

“Enlightenment is not just a sunny walk in the park.”

He was unimpressed.

“Buddhism teaches impermanence. That sunshine? It was impermanent. This rain? That’s impermanent, too.”

He wanted to go home.

And I didn’t blame him.

But then, the sun came back out. And as much as I wanted to practice compassion for my cold, wet son, I really wanted to check out the terra cotta pieces. So, on we went.

We discovered three additional sections to the garden, another terra cotta warrior section, a wooded enclave and a modern art section. Beautiful. But the Portuguese winds were really blowing, so it wasn’t long before the rain came back. We hid behind a thousand-armed Guan Yin. She protected us. The sun came back. We got to see more. Josie got to exercise her camera. Back came the rain. This time, we made our way to the gift shop (which only had wine, isn’t that funny?) and ended our very beautiful and memorable visit.

We came home and had lunch to the rain beating against the windows harder and faster than ever, just like the forecast promised. We were really happy to be inside, and really grateful for our adventure.

Most unexpectedly, the sun came back out! We got in the car and were able to soak up some amazing coastline, cliffs and waves in Peniche, where our visit ended with the full arc of the most pronounced and richly colored rainbow I think i’ve ever seen.

Lucky day.




**Turns out, Buddha Eden, the largest Oriental garden in Europe, was created in response to the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, 1500+ year old statues that required weeks of dynamite, anti-aircraft missiles and mines to ruin. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhas_of_Bamiyan


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