I don’t know if they call it an altar but, at one end of the room, there is a tall symmetrical gilded structure, very intricate and ornate in design. On the floor in front of it, is a forest of objects, including statues and another ornate artefacts. I guess they are presents from worshippers.
But here is what holds me. In the middle of that gilded screen is a window, and inside that window, set back a little way, is a golden Buddha, illuminated by a light from behind the screen. Its face is serene. From certain angles it seems almost cruel. It is at the very centre of the gilded intricate structure and at the same time behind and completely apart from it. It looks out at the world, and is at the centre of a teeming and restless structure that resembles golden flames, yet it is itself untouched.
How unlike a Christian or Muslim god. It is not a father demanding respect and obedience. It is not a king or a judge who will dispense eternal reward or punishment. It is not a shepherd looking out at its flock. It does not dictate holy books. Nor has it died for us and come alive again, or loved the world so much that it has gave us its only son.
Why doesn’t it care for us? Why doesn’t it offer us help, out here on the far side of the screen, out in the world of grief and pain and dreariness and hate and wickedness? Do our sufferings mean nothing to it at all?
But those are the wrong questions. They are questions for a father or a son or a king, a creator apart from us and above us. And this is not separate from us. It is the thing that looks out from our own eyes.