History of the statue at Karma Choling

In 1977 the Ven Lama Karma Thinley Rinpoche was in residence at our fledgling centre, and a few years later was instrumental in offering the idea of a 25 foot high concrete Buddha statue to H.H. Karmapa. In a small exchange with me, H.H. said something quite abrupty, which was translated as a statement, rather than a question: "So, it is definite you will build this!" My mind was in considerable confusion, but what could I say? "Yes!" Later I was presented with a small statute, made by him, to be put in this new edifice. The translator, I remember quite clearly, was at great pains to impress upon me the significance of these events.

When Lama Samten and Lama Shedrup arrived to take up residence in their outpost in a barbarian land, it was assumed work would commence on the statue forthwith. I was especially eager, being obsessed with the fear of dying prior to having carried out my pledge. But the Lamas thought a gompa was a higher priority. That took a few years.

When His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche came in 1988 he blessed the site chosen 9 years earlier, and we were able to get started.
By then we had mastered the intricies of beaurocratic manoeving, and had all the necessary approvals. Vast amounts of steel and concrete were placed in convoluted formwork. The first year saw the foundations and throne roughed out, including the two rooms (later to be sealed) underneath.

Another summer came and the formwork leapt up to shape the torso. To be honest, it's all a bit hazy now, anyway, years of hot summers past on top of that hill, with the sea glistening invitingly in the distance.

Generally, most parts were formed around tied steel, then concrete was pumped in.

The arms were fun. The Lamas made the fingers and toes out of clay, from which we made moulds of fibreglass, so we could pour them in concrete. They had steel sticking out the ends. Whist welding up the steel fingers to the hand, it looked like a take out from the original "Terminator" movie. We left two more doors, to get into his torso. When it came to the head, Lama samten was determined to have a cube. In vain I tactfully suggested pre - shaping the formwork, so there would be less concrete carving; no way. So we put up this gi-normous cube on top of buddha's shoulders, I seem to remember it was about 10 tons, and an extensive scaffold. We provided Lama Samten with an air driven chisel, and left him to it.

First lines were snapped with chalk, then he started whittling. Over the next two months, he carved one side of the face, the lines still being visible on the other. Having finished one side, he started the other. Four months of whittling, at least four air chisels worn out.

After the face was more or less finished, we started plastering, to form the robes. We mixed in oxide to colour the concrete, arriving at a very dark colour that Lama Samten liked. Here's an image of Lama at the head then.
Not long after this, H.H. Dalai Lama came, for an amazing two hour visit to the centre. That's him in the gompa at this time. During this visit, he consecrated the statute. It was winter, it blew and rained. We had draped the head in cloth, with a complicated system designed to draw back the covers at the strategic moment. This was actually acheived, doubtless due to divine intervention, by monks swinging on ropes in a hilarious moment.

Having basically got the Buddha right outside, the serious work got under way inside. The life tree was fitted, all the holy objects collected over all those years were installed and the back doors also sealed. The head (just big enough for me to get inside) was the most special of all, and here finally went that little statue from H.H. I'd been worrying about for some 14 years.

The base still remained a mess, and the Lamas had become dissatisfied with the face. They subtly reshaped it. The cause of the less than perfect work to date had been the rush to finish in time for H.H. Dalai Lama's visit. This time both Lamas worked very carefully to get the tiniest detail exactly according to tradition, and expressed solid satisfaction upon completion. Leaving the face still unpainted, they next turned their attention to the lotus petal throne.