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Buddha bandit held for ‘faith-based theft’

March 3, 2009

Japanese police have arrested a 59-year-old man after finding 21 Buddha statues in his house, including a 400-year-old, 70-cm wooden statue from Kenninji, a zen temple in Kyoto.

The suspect, who has reportedly admitted the crime, called it faith-based theft.

Statues have been going astray from several temples in the ancient capital of Kyoto recently, leading at least one to set up surveillance cameras to keep tabs on any wandering Bodhisattvas.

buddha“I stole this because of my devotion. I like Buddha statues. I took it home and prayed to it every day,” the suspect was quoted as saying by a Kyoto police spokesman.

Kenninji, founded in 1202, has beefed up security with patrols as well as 30 cameras, double the number before the relic robberies began.

“We always thought those visiting the temple were good men and women,” Kenninji official Zenyu Asano told me. ”We would rather not use such equipment. It’s sad, it’s like doubting those around you. But the incident did happen.”

In other such cases, statues have been auctioned off, but not this time.

“Fortunately, this person was very devout - but in an odd way,” Asano said.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

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