Ben Dieterle’s heart sank when he first saw the scene: Someone had thrown a large rock into his Sugar House shrine, destroying a large terra cotta statue of Buddha.
Dieterle, with dozens of friends and well-wishers attending, had dedicated the neighborhood sacred space on his front lawn, at 1917 S. 900 East in Salt Lake City, just six weeks ago.
He was initially stunned, bewildered and hurt, but credits his Zen Buddhism for helping him cope. “Oh, I’m still disappointed this happened, but, oddly enough, I’m rather serene about it all now.”
Dieterle, who makes his living delivering organs for transplants, said he had a premonition immediately after six months of work ended with the shrine finished and statue in place — just a few feet from the sidewalk outside his home.
“I had about a 24-hour period where I had this fear something would happen,” Dieterle recalled Thursday. “But eventually I gave that up. I couldn’t do anything about it; I don’t control the universe.”
The custom-made wooden shrine, locally known as the “Buddha on 9th,” has been a popular stop for neighbors and other passers-by who leave flowers, light incense and pause to reflect.
Its 300-pound Buddha head, valued at $3,000, was the focal point of the 5-foot-tall artwork, which itself featured intricate, patterned framework.
Dieterle heard a noise early Wednesday morning, but looking out at the rear of the shrine, he noticed nothing amiss. It wasn’t until noon that day, coming home from lunch, that he saw the damage.
He found the Buddha head’s forehead and nose shattered by a 25-pound stone. The vandal or vandals had taken the statue’s crown, also crafted of terra cotta. The shrine structure itself was not damaged.
Dieterle doesn’t believe anyone in his neighborhood was responsible for the incident.
“I would like to believe it was just some kids doing an ill-conceived prank,” he said, “that it wasn’t mean-spirited, not done by someone with an actual hateful intention.”
Dieterle did not file a police report. “No one saw anything, and there’s no evidence other than the damage and some obscured footprints.”
The shrine was dedicated Dec. 6 by former Utah Supreme Court Justice Michael Zimmerman, now a Zen Master at Salt Lake City’s Two Arrows Zen Center.
A GoFundMe site has been set up to help Dieterle repair or replace the statue.
Dieterle plans to hire sculptor Eric Wilson to either restore the statue’s face, or re-create it in “highly durable fiberglass.”
He also is considering covering the shrine’s entrance with a transparent, shatter-resistant plexiglass barrier as an extra security measure.