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The City Journals

Community support brings back Buddha on 9th

Apr 11, 2018 10:41AM ● By Spencer Belnap

The Buddha after it was vandalized. (Photo/Ben Dieterle)

There is a Zen Buddhist saying along the lines of “When life is good we may enjoy the beauty that others put in our path to brighten our day and never say a word. But when we witness some injustice, then we call up our Buddha nature and try to make things right again.”

When Sugar House resident and Zen practitioner Ben Dieterle bought a pair of large terracotta Buddha head statues several years ago, he had no idea how much this saying would ring true for him and his community one day.   

“I bought them from Dancing Crane Imports (673 East Simpson Ave.) about six years ago,” Dieterle said. “One was placed inside my house and the other in the backyard. Several months ago though, I felt it was wasteful having one in the back. I had heard of neighborhood Buddha shrines in other cities and neighborhoods and how they became landmarks and sources of pride.” 

Dieterle decided to move the statue into his front yard along 900 East and create a shrine of his own. He enlisted a local carpenter friend to help build a custom wood structure to house the Buddha head. It was renamed Buddha on 9th and opened to the public on Nov. 5 of last year. Local Zen master Michael Mugaku Zimmerman with Two Arrows Zen Center came out to dedicate it to the community.

“There is a lot of Zen and Buddhist décor in the neighborhood already,” Dieterle noted. Buddha on 9th even had its own Facebook page created, and neighbors began posting photos and positive feedback. “People would leave candles, light incense, maybe stop and take a picture,” Dieterle said. 

The shrine was sitting peacefully and being appreciated. Dieterle went about his daily life as manager of transportation services for the nonprofit company Intermountain Donor Services. When he came home for lunch one day at the end of January, a woman was in the front yard, and asked how she could help. Someone had vandalized the shrine, throwing a large rock at the face and stealing the crown. The wood structure that encompasses the head was fortunately not damaged.

“I was very surprised,” Dieterle said. “I wasn’t super upset, but not happy about it either. I think I would have been more bitter if the community did not show as much support as they did.”

With a neighbor offering to help before he even knew about the vandalism, it was an immediate outpouring of support. Pictures of the shrine’s damage were posted on the Facebook page, and messages of hope and assistance started coming through. Dieterle started a GoFundMe page to try to raise enough to purchase a new statue. Local news stations featured stories on the vandalism and the $3,000 fundraiser. 

“The fundraising links started trending soon after the story broke getting a huge amount of traffic,” Dieterle said. “In just three days, we made 90 percent of the goal. People of all walks of life donated. Complete strangers, neighbors I knew, neighbors I didn’t know. We had over 100 donors, ranging from $5 to $200. I was still receiving donations at the end of February and raised more than $3,200.”

Local sculptor Eric Wilson was chosen to create a new statue head, this one with some vandal-resistant features. The revamped Buddha on 9th will be an identical cast of the previous one, but with a mold with reinforced concrete made to look and feel like stone. It will feature some alterations to the crown, and be made with a bright bluish-green verdigris, with veins of copper throughout. It will be reinstalled in the wood structure in the front yard, and a re-dedication ceremony will be done the beginning of April. There will also be a security camera in Dieterle’s front yard going forward.

“I hope it’s a one and done situation,” Dieterle said.

Visit Buddha on 9th Facebook page for up-to-date details on the new shrine’s unveiling.