As monks chant inside the Linh Son Buddhist Temple here, thousands of people gather outside to see what is called the Jade Buddha for Universal Peace.
This temple, inside what was once a single-family home just off a main thoroughfare next to a doughnut shop, is an unlikely spot for the only New England stop on the statue's world tour.
While browsing at the dozen or so stands set up by Vietnamese vendors nearby, Dennis Troy, of Worcester, says the eight-foot-high, four-ton statue transcends religion.
"I love jewelry, and to look at a piece of jade that's been hand-carved by an artisan out of respect for their religion or their, sort of, God is an incredible thing to look at, no matter what faith you are," Troy said. "As a work of art, it's absolutely beautiful."
The statue is made of a solid piece of jade known as "polar jade" that was found in the Yukon in 2000. An Australian sculptor helped lead a team of Thai artists in carving the statue. Valerie Sampson, of Holden, helped coordinate the this Worcester visit. She describes the statue as a classic Buddha depiction.
"I'm not worshiping a statue; I'm not really worshiping. I'm just respecting and appreciating what it represents: the hope for universal peace."
"This is like the closest likeness to what people think of Buddha when they think of what Buddha looks like," Sampson said, "the sort of half smile — the Mona Lisa smile I guess you'd call it. The long earlobes is a sign of wisdom and a Buddha thing, anyway. Gold head, gold neck, the standard curly hair with a top knot, sitting in a lotus position.
"The amazing thing is this was carved from one piece of jade," she adds. "It weighs four tons and is valued at about $5 million. But how do you put a value on something like that? I don't know. It's surrounded by fresh flowers and fruit. The incense. One of the things people can do here is pay respects to their ancestors for them to move smoothly into the next life. That's why you'll see so much burning incense."
Thousands of people showed up May 22 when the statue was unveiled to the public in the temple's parking lot. Sampson said the crowd in Worcester was a lot smaller than the throngs that have turned out to see the statue elsewhere.
"When they were in Houston, they had about 100,000 people for the opening ceremony and a separate 350-foot staging area. Here. we're in a parking lot next to a doughnut shop, across from a car dealership. It's the smallest site they've ever had," Sampson says.
Regardless, Sampson says the statue represents big ideas.
"I'm a Mennonite. For me there's something about the Dalai Lama perspective — you know, take whatever path you need to get to peace and contentment in your mind, and for me this resonates. I'm not worshiping a statue; I'm not really worshiping. I'm just respecting and appreciating what it represents: the hope for universal peace for people to be more peaceful, more content in their lives," she says.
"People can sleep here, and many people do sleep next to the jade Buddha. Well, they do require security 24-7. Nobody is gonna walk off with it," Sampson says. "I think they sleep here because there's something about being near something and what it represents for them. Faith — it's a weird thing."
The Jade Buddha for Universal Peace will be on display here through next week. You can see the Buddha for yourself at Linh Son Temple, 16 Ruthven Ave. The temple is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. After the world tour wraps up next year, it will be permanently displayed in Australia.
This program aired on May 28, 2010.