After a recent hike, I visited A Nan Monastery and Buddhist Statue Park in Gainesville, Florida. The park has been in development since 2010. In 2011, the yellow building was constructed, and was designed to resemble a temple in Vietnam.
Although it looks small from the outside, it contains 3,144 square feet of usable space. The giant statues in the park, which were carved in Vietnam and shipped to the United States, were installed in 2017. Once these were in place, sidewalks and cement platforms were constructed around them.
Buddha statures represent different events in the Buddha’s life. A sitting Buddha, with hands folded, represents the peace and calm that comes with a disciplined mind.
When one sees a standing Buddha, it represents enlightenment and escape from self-imposed suffering (and the suffering we impose upon others when we torment ourselves).
A sleeping Buddha represents the Buddha’s passing into a different state.
My favorite statue in the park is a 45-foot tall statue of Avalokitesvara (ah-vah-loe-kee-tes-vah-rah), who interestingly may be depicted as male or female depending on various cultural norms.
Avalokitesvara is a bodhisattva (bah-duh-saht-vuh), or one who vows to return to earth and its suffering over and over again until all sentient beings (humans and animals) have reached enlightenment and can reside in a blessed state of divine love. Because of the level of self-sacrifice, Avalokitesvara is the embodiment of compassion.
The A Nan Buddhist Statue Park is laid out in a way that promotes quiet contemplation. In addition to the statues, which gaze lovingly downward, there are paved, meandering paths and scattered, screened gazebos with smaller statues, designed for individual meditation or prayer.
The park is located at 2120 SE 15 Street in Gainesville, Florida. Because the garden is walled by towering pines, the driveway can be difficult to spot from the road. Look for the yellow Buddhist flag at the entrance. The park is open to people of all denominations who wish to walk, contemplate, or pray in a peaceful setting. The hours are roughly sunrise to sunset.