ELK RIVER, Minn. - The high demand and soaring prices for scrap metal appeared to be the reason a 7-foot statue of Buddha, covered in copper-laden bronze, was stolen from an outdoor temple shrine at the Thai Buddhist Center of Minnesota, police said.
Police Chief Jeff Beahen said a 45-year-old Elk River woman was arrested Friday night, and a male family member was being looked at as another suspect in the theft.
The statue, valued at $10,000, was stolen Wednesday night, and a detective issued a statewide alert to police and scrap dealers Thursday with a photo of the stolen statue.
Early Friday afternoon, a recycling company in Monticello called the detective, saying they had taken in two pieces of scrap they believed to be from the statue.
Police recovered the right shoulder and right hip of the statue, each weighing about 60 pounds, and with the help of the recycler were able to identify the woman who had brought them in.
"There are another 10 pieces or so, and I hope the other recycling companies are as diligent in talking with us," Beahen said.
The statue was specially made in Thailand for the center.
"It's too bad," said temple member Jay Cramer. "The whole community is real sad. It's a sacred piece."
But Cramer said there was some relief in knowing that the statue was stolen for money and not because of bigotry.
Anyone even a little familiar with Buddhism, and especially Zen Buddhism, has probably heard the story about the firewood Buddha. There are several versions of this story, but they all climax with a sacred, revered wooden Buddha statue (or several) getting chopped up by a senior monk to be used as firewood in an extreme time of need, much to the chagrin of the other resident monks (another, similar story has the head abbot peeling the gold off of a sacred Buddha statue to give to a poor man). The moral of these stories, of course, is that Zen has nothing to do with statues, scriptures, scrolls, saints...or even Buddhas. The act embodies typical, paradoxical Zen "counter-knowledge," in this case committing a sacrilegious act which is, in fact, the essence of Buddhahood. If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him, indeed (or, if you're the Taliban, blow him the hell up with yer anti-aircraft artillery).
The Elk River sangha's sadness at the loss of their Buddha is natural, true. And as a good Buddhist knows, sadness is a manifestation of suffering brought on by attachment. It's nice to hear Cramer take some comfort knowing the statue was stolen for money and not religious intolerance, but I am curious to know whether this organization has pressed or will press charges, what the economic situation of the statue-knappers truly is...and, whether or not the firewood Buddha story is being recounted this week in Elk River.