Buddha as crime fighter on one rough street corner

Here’s a great story to get you through your Tuesday. It’s out of Oakland — a pretty rough town as so many are — and via the San Francisco Chronicle:

The 11th Avenue resident in Oakland’s Eastlake neighborhood was simply feeling hopeful in 2009 when he went to an Ace hardware store, purchased a 2-foot-high stone Buddha and installed it on a median strip in a residential area at 11th Avenue and 19th Street.

He hoped that just maybe his small gesture would bring tranquillity to a neighborhood marred by crime: dumping, graffiti, drug dealing, prostitution, robberies, aggravated assault and burglaries.

What happened next was nothing short of stunning. Area residents began to leave offerings at the base of the Buddha: flowers, food, candles. A group of Vietnamese women in prayer robes began to gather at the statue to pray.

And the neighborhood changed. People stopped dumping garbage. They stopped vandalizing walls with graffiti. And the drug dealers stopped using that area to deal. The prostitutes went away.

I asked police to check their crime statistics for the block radius around the statue, and here’s what they found: Since 2012, when worshipers began showing up for daily prayers, overall year-to-date crime has dropped by 82 percent. Robbery reports went from 14 to three, aggravated assaults from five to zero, burglaries from eight to four, narcotics from three to none, and prostitution from three to none.


To this day, every morning at 7, worshipers ring a chime, clang a bell and play soft music as they chant morning prayers. The original statue is now part of an elaborate shrine that includes a wooden structure standing 10 feet tall and holding religious statues, portraits, food and fruit offerings surrounded by incense-scented air.

On weekends, more than a dozen people show up to worship.

And yes, before you ask: Someone did at one point try to take the Buddha, but the statue had been installed with some serious epoxy. And, double yes: The government also tried to step in, but community backlash was so severe that the city ended up deciding to “study” the issue. So far, that’s meant nothing is happening. (Insert your own government joke here if you want.)

If you click over to the story and check out the photos, I’ll then tell you that the roadside shrine looks a lot like those in India (albeit not to a Hindu deity). But there is a similar, makeshift and informal feel to it all.

You can decide if there’s a corner near you that could use a similar infusion of calm.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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