Finding "Buddha" in the least expected place - a book about bacteriophage

A few months ago when the covid-19 pandemic was still raging I heard a story about treating a bacterial infection that is resistant to all known antibiotics. The cure is using a type of virus called bacteriophage, also known as phage. It is a virus that attacks and destroys bacteria. Bacteriophages do not target bacteria in general. Each phage targets a specific type of bacterium, whilst ignoring the rest.

I tracked down the story. A book was written about it: “The Perfect Predator.” The authors are Steffanie Strathdee and Thomas Patterson. Thomas Patterson, a psychologist, is the patient stricken down by the bacteria in Egypt. He was in near-death condition and he reported his experiences over the months of severe illness. Steffanie is his wife, an epidemiologist who out of desperation researched into the “phage” as a last ditch effort to save her husband. She found it with the help of other phage researchers.

I found the book and also the audiobook in my local public library. I checked out the audiobook online. While listening to the audiobook, I skipped through the 29 chapters quickly to get the gist of the story. When I came upon chapter 28, the title “The Buddha’s Gift” was totally unexpected. What is the Buddha doing in a book about bacteriophages? I checked out the hardcopy from the library. Here is what I found in Chapter 28.

Steffanie asked Tom: “Remember the time in the ICU in Frankfurt?” …
Tom tried to remember:
“I was a Buddha,” Tom murmured. “I was sitting in a lotus position, feeling absolutely beatific, on another plane.” “I was so at peace, I wanted to bestow upon the world a gift, so I opened my mouth, and all of these silver ribbons of tinfoil swirled out. They were so beautiful as they fell to the ground, how the flecks of light made them sparkle. Everyone was running around, picking them up; they were so happy.”

Steffanie remembered Tom was throwing up big time! Two paragraphs later:

“Years before he fell ill, Tom had started collecting Buddha statues. He’d had a particular fascination with the Starving Buddha, which had a skeletal appearance, depicting the suffering that Buddha experienced through an extreme fasting period prior to his enlightenment. Nirvana might have to wait, but Tom had certainly transcended states of ordinary consciousness in his months-long “fast” and maybe stumbled onto his own Starving Buddha, the one within.”

How strange is it to find Buddha mentioned in this story about phages?

These days the Starving Buddha statue is rarely seen anywhere. Several years ago, while visiting Hong Kong I learned that the Czech monk Bhante Dhammadipa happened to be in Hong Kong too. He was staying at a monastery in the New Territories. I paid him a visit. There was a Starving Buddha statue at the monastery. What a coincidence!

In early period of Indian Buddhism there were no Buddha statues, just symbolic representation such as two footprints, an empty seat, the Bodhi tree. I don’t suppose Buddhists want to see more of the Starving-Buddha statues.

The Starving-Bodhisatta is not technically The Buddha.

Generally monks never worship Starving-Bodhisatta, because,

  1. Starving-Bodhisatta is not The Buddha
  2. Starving is Self-mortification (Attakilamathanuyoga)

Yes, I too have once or twice had a fever high enough to start hallucinating! Though, I must admit, my hallucinations were not nearly so entertaining :joy: