The Jade Buddha of Universal Peace is more than just an icon. According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the 4.5 ton, 8-foot tall jade carving “will illuminate the world and bring inconceivable peace and happiness and help prevent the destruction that is happening so much in the world, including war.” To achieve this, the statue is touring the United States, Canada, Germany, and the UK, so that people everywhere can “take a moment to reflect upon peace.” Everywhere except San Jose, that is.

True, Mayor Chuck Reed said that the visit to San Jose was ideal, because this is a city where, “people choose to focus on what they have in common rather than their differences.” He might not have considered the Vietnamese community, which is actually hosting the statue. The community here is sharply divided between supported of City Councilmember Madison Nguyen and Vietnamese-language radio station owner Tran Do on one side and supporters of anti-communist activist Ly Tong on the other.

Attorney Michael Luu, who supports Ly Tong, had hoped to have the Buddha displayed in a building he owns on 10th Street. But then he violated zoning restrictions, and added a banquet hall to the site. The city took him to court, and Luu was forced to stop using the building as a temple. Instead, the Buddha was relocated to a building on Senter Road owned by Tran Do.

Luu now claims that Madison Nguyen used her connections with the city to have the Buddha relocated because Tran Do is a vocal supporter of her reelection campaign. Nguyen vehemently rejects the charges, saying, “I’m not even Buddhist.”

She went on to condemn the idea that members of the local community are “taking this opportunity to make a religious event political.” Nguyen herselfsurvived a bitter recall attempt in 2008, and is involved in a run-off election for City Council against Minh Duong. In July, one of Nguyen’s supporters filed a complaint against Duong for violating city campaign disclosure for his 2008 campaign.

From its current location, the Buddha will be moved to the Di Lac Temple on Story Road. Even there the Buddha is facing problems.  Thich Quang Bao, who serves as monk at the temple, is being sued for copyright violation for making small jade replicas of the statue to sell at the site. Bao claims that the profits would be used to pay the $20,000 in debt he incurred preparing the temple for the statue and advertising the event.

The dispute should reach closure by Sept. 29, when the Buddha finally leaves the city for its next stop, Sacramento. As an icon of peace in a turbulent world, it has certainly brought turmoil to this city.
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