Temple to World Peace

In White Tranquility, The Hidden Pagoda Suggests a “Higher Truth”

On The Town | Darko Gacov | May 2008

Pagoda (Photo: Robert Aichinger)

Living in the urban blur, you can easily get carried away by the dynamic tempo of life, swept away by everyday concerns. It is like a current, an endless loop, where you end up being the ignition of continual repetition, maybe not you as an individual, but definitely as the role you have come to represent.

Which is what I was thinking about as I sat in the UBahn riding across the Danube. Now, I have seen the Danube River many, many times, every single day for the last couple of years, in fact, and each time gave it less and less attention. In the end, it has become just an object, a direction to set my gaze so that my blurry thoughts could nestle their way into my consciousness.

You many say it was a wake up call, but for me it was just another Sunday with beautiful weather as an excuse to spend some time outside. It was time for me to get as far away as possible from the concrete, in attempt to rediscover simplicity in the everyday.  Which is not something that should be taken for granted.

"Donauinsel. Bitte alle austeigen ." The Danube Island. Everybody off the train.

It was strange that the U-voice asked for everyone to get off at this station; the train usually goes on to Leopoldau. There must have been a breakdown. Still, I didn’t mind … It was a beautiful day; this was as good a destination as any.

I got off and headed down along the River, where I could find some peace of mind amid the calming flow of the water. I felt in my pocket for my phone. Ah, there it was. I hadn’t left it at home.  My thoughts wandered. I wondered what Monday was expecting of me… Oh yes, that presentation. Then a report due on Tuesday. And Wednesday I needed to be ready for that meeting where we would make the offer to the clients…

Wednesday was the last day that came to my mind. Not that I don’t know that Thursday comes after Wednesday. It was that my "stream of problems" was abruptly cut off, as the astonishing scenery grasped my attention, gathering me up in the lush perfume of lilacs and fresh cut grass, explosions of cherry blossoms and the serenity of the river sliding by.  Suddenly I knew exactly what I wanted to see that day.

A white bell-shaped structure appeared in the horizon, half hidden in the line of trees along the shore. It is rare to see a man-made creation blending so easily with the greenery surrounding it. As I came closer, the structure shyly reveled itself. The wail of trees as pushed by the wind, allowing the Peace Pagoda to emerge before me.

I had heard of the Peace Pagoda, set in a quiet spot on the Danube in the 22 District, but had never seen it until now. It is actually a small Buddhist temple, oval in shape with a piercing, pearl white tranquility sheltering a golden statue of Buddha in the center. It is a closed structure, with no internal space, and no entrance, only a stairway leading up to the central statue. A shrine rather than a temple.

The pagoda was built by Elisabeth Lindmayer, I learned from Matzuga, the grounds keeper who lives in a house next door, daughter of a family of Viennese restauranteurs. Lindmayer converted to Buddhism in the 1970s and set about building the pagoda to inspire a commitment to world peace. Built with the assistance of the monks of the Michidatsu Fujii Order, who had built around 70 peace pagodas in Japan, Sri Lanka, India and the US, it was completed in 1983, the first peace pagoda in Europe.

The peace pagoda is a representation of the Buddhist Dharma, a central concept of the religion explaining the "higher truth" or ultimate reality of the universe where every part is symbolic and represents a higher state. The square at the base of the pagoda is a symbol for the fundamental virtues of a human being, the bell shaped dome is a symbol of freedom and the top of the peace pagoda, narrowing towards the sky, is a symbol of Nirvana, reaching the heaven.

It’s a serene and beautiful place. But if it isn’t meant for worship, what is the point, I wondered.

"It will distribute love." Matzuga assured me, "and create peace in mankind." Well, perhaps this is as good a method as any, I thought, as I turned my back on the Pagoda, head back to the Donauinsel and the U-Bahn station.

Now what was it I had to do on Thursday?

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