My wife was listening to an amazing story told by a Buddhist monk.
What was even more amazing was it turned out to be absolutely true.
In 1955, in Bangkok, a large cement Buddha sat under a leaky tin roof in the grounds of Wat Traimit temple.
It had been there for 20 years, ignored under the leaky tin roof.
No one paid it any attention, but eventually it was moved to a roof that didn’t leak.
Being cement, it was so heavy they needed a crane to lift it.
But the statue weighed much more than they thought, one of the straps broke, the statue slipped and hit the floor, part of the cement cracked and fell away.
Inside something glittered, all work stopped, the cement was very carefully chipped away.
Behind the cement was a solid gold statue of Buddha, solid not hollow.
Pure gold, it weighed five and a half tons.
Twelve feet tall and nine feet wide: the biggest solid gold statue anywhere in the world.
It was seven hundred years old and worth a quarter of a billion dollars.
So how did it end up encased in cheap cement, and how come no one knew anything about it?
The gold Buddha had originally been made around 1300 and housed in its own temple in Ayutthaya, then the capital of Siam.
In 1767 the Burmese invaded, destroying and looting everything, including temples.
The monks couldn’t move the statue, so they disguised it by covering it in cement.
The Burmese weren’t going to steal a worthless cement statue, so they left it alone.
To protect it from looters, the monks spread the rumour that the Burmese had taken the real gold Buddha and left this cement replica.
No one wanted to worship at a cement statue, so the temple fell into ruins.
In 1801, King Rama I had the cement Buddha moved to Bangkok, to Wat Chatanaram.
It was ugly and worthless, so it was put somewhere out of the way.
Because no one came to worship, the temple fell into decay, and around 1840 King Rama III had the cement Buddha moved to Wat Phraya Krai.
Again, no one wanted to worship at a cement Buddha, so this temple also closed.
In 1935, the cement Buddha was moved to Wat Traimit, and put out of the way under the leaky tin roof.
And there it stayed, ignored, until that lump of cement chipped off and people found out what was underneath.
Suddenly it wasn’t just a cheap, ugly cement statue, it was the largest, most valuable Buddha statue anywhere in the world.
In 2010, a magnificent temple was built to house The Golden Buddha.
For 250 years it had been a cheap statue no one was interested in, but now it had queues of people coming from all over the world to worship at it.
But what had changed really? The gold statue had been there all along.
Because they wanted people to accept it as being ordinary, the monks had covered it in cement to give it the appearance of being ordinary.
And pretty soon the cement Buddha became the only reality anyone knew.
The monk telling the story said, this is the way most of us live our lives.
In order to fit in, we cover up whatever is unusual and different about ourselves.
It might be our ideas, our personality, our opinions, our creativity.
To fit in, we disguise ourselves, and what we do, to look ordinary.
Because we can’t take the risk of letting anyone see that we’re different.
So we pretend to be ordinary, and we convince ourselves that it’s a good thing.
That it’s better to cover up the part that makes us different.
In time, we come to believe that the cement coating is really us.
And we forget there was something different and amazing under the cement.