IN Bangkok there is a golden statue of the Buddha that stands 9’8” tall, weighs 5.5 tons and is worth approximately $250 million.
The statue is thought to have been built in 1403 and was revered by Buddhist for many hundreds of years. In 1757 the Burmese Army was invading Thailand. Facing complete annihilation, the Buddhist monks at the monastery hastily began covering their Golden Buddha with clay, which was painted and inlaid with bits of coloured glass to make it look of little or no value to the invading army. During the invasion all the Buddhist monks were tragically murdered, but the Golden Buddha was left undiscovered.
In 1955 a monastery in Thailand was being relocated by a group of monks. One day they were moving the giant and incredibly heavy 'clay' Buddha when one of the monks noticed a large crack in it. On closer investigation he saw there was a golden gleam emanating from the crack. The monk used a hammer and a chisel to chip away at the exterior until he revealed that the statue was in fact made of solid gold.
I remember when that story was told to me some thirty years ago it sparked within me the knowledge that we all know that deep within us is the truth. As a child I don’t know if I was blessed with a gift or a curse, but I remember I was always fascinated by others' religions and beliefs, so much so that as a young boy of nine or ten years of age I would sneak into churches like the Raider of the Lost Ark and I would always be puzzled in not really finding any difference. This was, I can tell you, a big let-down. It was as if in my young heart and soul churches were like the magic boxes on Take Your Pick and that all I had to do was pick the right one.
Truth is, there is no right one and at the same time they are all the right one. The search for me ended in the knowledge that we are all one and I got this experience the other night at an event in the MAC in Belfast when I celebrated breaking the fast of Ramadan with Muslims at a wonderful gathering named after a quote from the pioneering black US Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm: 'If they don’t give you a seat at the table bring a folding chair.'
At the Table aims to challenge who is and isn’t invited to the table where decisions that determine our lives our made. There was a long banquet table sitting diagonally across the floor and folding chairs hung on the wall, awaiting to be taken to the table. Congratulations to the MAC for this impressive lay-out. At the table was lots of Syrian food to be enjoyed as Ramadan was ending. I loved this idea – no mater who you are or where you are from there's a seat at the table.
A bit like the hidden Buddha, I found that I'd always had a seat at the table but somehow I felt that I didn’t, or didn’t belong. This idea, like the clay on the Buddha, was smashed and a wonderful evening ensued with food, music and conversation. You could tell by the atmosphere that we were all one and that our differences are to be celebrated.
In some strange way it reminded me of the Good Friday Agreement and how everyone got round the table.