‘Buddha’ goes to the hospital: A convergence of science, history and artBy Emi Kolawole, Published: March 22 | Updated: Friday, March 23, 8:00 AM
The hospital admissions sheet simply read: “Name: Buddha; DOB: 1662.”
The 350-year-old patient’s visit started with a routine x-ray in the summer of 2008. But doctors discovered there were signs of an unknown mass inside his head and yet another inside his stomach – objects that his new caretakers were intent on identifying and extracting if at all possible. The x-ray wasn’t detailed enough to make a proper diagnosis, so doctors at Shands at the University of Florida in Gainesville cleared the schedule and ordered a CAT scan.
After a trip through the scanner, receiving a radiation dose higher than any human could endure, doctors and “Buddha’s” caretakers were a step closer to identifying the mysterious masses.
But why stop there when they could get more detail?
An endoscopy was scheduled roughly two weeks later at North Florida Regional Medical Center in Gainesville. And, after three scans at two medical centers, doctors, with the help of Buddha’s caretakers, were able to identify the mysterious masses: rare religious texts.
It was a surprising discovery, since Buddha is a Korean bodhisattva, or “bodhi” for short, and his caretakers are curators at the University of Florida’s Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art who, until then, had no idea the documents were inside the statue. The two sets of documents — inserted only months after the statue was carved — were written in two separate languages. One set was written in Korean and the other is a dharani written in a combination of Chinese and a Nepalese script called Ranjana. While the documents have not been fully translated, segments of the text were discovered to be the Lotus Sutra — one of the most sacred texts in Buddhism.