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Chief Run Amok and the Buddha (02/22/2004)
By Janet Lewis Burns

What do we see as we travel to distant places, on what we Americans call "vacation?" From one reality to another, and with varied inborn characteristics, we don't all march to the beat of the same bongo drum.

I think of all the places Pat and I have traveled. The rows of vaults in Louisiana cemeteries were not, we learned, awaiting burial - but are placed high and dry on swampy terrain. There were the yellow-headed blackbirds at Ottertail Lake (somewhere in northern Minnesota), lizards on our motel room wall in Ixtapa, and a sea of plastic and cardboard strewn just across the Texas border on Mexican soil.

"Biophilia" is a term used to describe the urge to affiliate with other species. I get plenty of exploration time up at our Chetek hideaway. Last summer we added a mascot, which sits nobly on our deck. At Bargain Billy's, a massive discount store near Rice Lake, I found our so-called "Chief Run Amok" (my Webster's II dictionary notes "amuck" as a spelling, as well).

The eloquent Native American sculpture reaches toward the heavens, a pensive look on his russet face. If the Chief's painted eyes were to see, would he perceive the tapestry of forests and lakes in the same way Pat and I do?

Luther Standing Bear, a Lakota Sioux once stated, "The roots of the tree of the white man's life have not yet grasped the rock and soil...But in the Indian the spirit of the land is still vested; it will be until other men are able to divine and meet its rhythm. Men must be born and reborn to belong. Their bodies must be formed of the dust of their forefathers' bones."

"All plants are our brothers and sisters. They talk to us and, if we listen, we can hear them," an Arapaho proverb states. Chief Run Amok, as tradition and legend has it, would remove his moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth...and perhaps he does, when we aren't looking.

Driving through archways of massive live oaks on a winter's day down south, Pat and I once visited the Jungle Gardens at Avery Island, Louisiana. Eerily, we were the only humans in sight as we explored. We noted luscious tropical plants (camellias and azaleas) and foreboding swamp ponds, where signs read, "Don't feed the alligators." I was disappointed not to see any.

We were drawn to a long pier on a lagoon, where hundreds of white egrets were landing; like pearls from a broken string, they dropped in precision. Strolling heady paths, we came upon an oriental gazebo-type hut, where a noble Buddha peered out towards the gardens from his ornate throne. What does this Louisiana Buddha see?

Buddhists worship no supreme being, maintaining that the universe is eternal, with ages of creation and destruction following one after the other. Inhabitants of multiple worlds, they believe, are destined to an ongoing cycle of rebirth, from one realm to another. Humans are in constant transition.

Does our clay Buddha see his surroundings merely as a prop, or not even take note of them at all? Buddhist truths were discovered through inward reflections. Meditation is a private and internal matter requiring deep concentration. The Buddha in the serene garden seeks enlightenment.

What did Pat and I, as sightseers, take away from our visit to Avery Island? We scan, with scurrying eyes, what practical man feasts upon, fleeting aesthetic allure, scientifically labeled organic compositions. We praise a Creator. Then we go on with our hectic lives.

As for the American Indian, the sacred proverbs of their nations speak it best: "We stand somewhere between the mountain and the ant." (Onondaga) "From a grain of sand to a great mountain, all is sacred. Yesterday and tomorrow exist eternally upon this continent. We natives are guardians of this sacred place." (Peter Blue Cloud, Mohawk).

We may all believe that the land is ours, but the land and all of its virtues could go on very well without any one of us mortals...brothers and sisters of a mutual universe. 


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