Where Buddhism Meets Quantum Physics
Story and Photos by Gary Singh
Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall
ost of No. 3 Road in Richmond, British Columbia, runs north and south,
in tune with a grid of endless LA-style thoroughfares crisscrossing
the city. But as it approaches the middle arm of the Fraser River, No.
3 Road veers about 60 degrees to the northeast, as it plows into the
beginnings of the Middle Arm Bridge. Right above me, the Canada Line
of the SkyTrain splits west to the airport in one direction and straight
south to downtown Richmond in the other direction.
It is here that Im standing at a rundown, abandoned
two-story warehouse at 3211 No. 3 Road. The building looks gutted, as
if a fire recently whipped through the entire structure.
While exploring, I accidentally stumbled into a
Façade of the mysterious gutted warehouse
The upper story windows are mostly gone. Roll up doors
on the ground level are wide open. Shattered glass and pieces of industrial
machinery lay strewn about the property. Concrete bricks are piled on
the side of the place, where multiple tire tracks reveal recent activity.
I have no idea what this place is about, but I am intrigued. Something
about this half-destroyed edifice speaks to me. I ask peoplepedestrians,
a store clerk, the concierge at my hotelbut no one seems to know
what happened here. It is a mystery.
From the Wreckage a Lotus Blooms
At the International Buddhist Temple on Steveston Highway,
I am staring at one of the few authentic lotus plants in the entire
country of Canada. Actually, quite a few of them are planted here at
the temple. They normally dont grow in Canada, explains Apui Lam,
my tour guide. He wears an orange employee vest with the temples
name in Chinese characters. As a whole, temple complex somewhat resembles
the Forbidden City in Beijing.
Lotus at the International Buddhist Temple in Richmond
The temple is over 25 years old and every tiny little
architectural detail is designed according to the traditional Chinese
imperial style. Throughout the complex, there are numerous gardens,
courtyards, murals and statues. Chinese Buddhist perspectives influence
all of the horticulture. The Venerable Guan Cheng, the Abbot of the
temple, designed much of the flower arrangements himself over the course
of many years.
Aromas of incense meander in and out of the scenery,
as Lam guides me through the various landscapes. Other visitors are
purchasing incense from vendors and then leaving the sticks as a blessing.
It is an unusually cloudless day in the greater Vancouver area. The
morning sun begins to warm the environs. Little children scamper about
the temple grounds.
Happy Buddha statue with explanation in Chinese
Lam takes me through most of the outdoor garden areas
and then to the Gracious Temple, a few halls, the lunch area and several
other buildings. In a thick Chinese accentand I didnt even
know this was cominghe explains the Buddhist concepts of Dependent
Arising and Emptiness.
No phenomenon or object, he says, exists all by itself,
independently. All things arise from causes and conditions. An example
would be a flower, in the sense that its existence arises due to its
roots, the soil, the earth, the moisture and everything that combines
to create the flower. The flower itself is empty of any intrinsic, autonomous,
built-in existence. In fact, the more you zoom in, or zoom out, all
things are empty of intrinsic, autonomous, built-in existence. All beings
and phenomena depend on other beings and phenomena. Reality is a system
of phenomena connected with each other, a web of cause-and-effect relationships.
After the tour, and on my way back to the car, I stop
to observe the lotuses as they bloom. In the hour weve been walking
around the temple, the petals seem to have opened up considerably.
The lotus leaves an impression as one exits the
Not too far away, the Richmond Maritime Festival erupts
each year at the Britannia Heritage Shipyard, a national historic site
preserving components of West Coast marine history in an open-air, park-like
setting. An authentic representation of what a fishing village once
looked like, replete with canneries, boat yards, stilt-houses and stores,
the site tells the stories of multi-ethnic residents through exhibits,
tours and activities. Located on the waterfront amidst half-crumbling
boardwalks and dilapidated wooden buildings, the site allows one to
scope out the restoration of working wooden boats or learn the ins and
outs of what life in a fishing village was like 100s year ago.
As I enter the Seine Net Loft, I gawk in amazement at
whats easily the main attraction of the Maritime Festival this
year: industrial machines and artifacts from the now-defunct Marine
Products Company, an outfit Jack Lubzinski cofounded and operated. For
over 50 years in Richmond, beginning in 1951, his company custom-built
wooden steering wheels for ships. This display intends to show what
his factory actually looked like when it was operational.
Custom-designed machines like the rim-shaper, were
made for every step of the wheel-manufacturing process.
But the story is much deeper. Lubzinski, a physicist,
miraculously designed and built all of the industrial machines just
to manufacture these ship wheels. He didnt just make the wheels,
he built the machines that made the wheels. He even cast his own bronze
for the wheel hubs.
Completely awestruck, I hang out for at least an hour,
just to look at these elaborate multipurpose proprietary machines. Theres
a pneumatic clamp, a triple drill press, a shaper, a sander, a buffer
and a monster dual saw/planer combo. Piles and piles of ship wheels
in various states of the manufacturing process lay strewn about the
building. People are lining up outside to get in.
Lubzinski himself is present. Now 89, he resembles what
I expect a legitimate genius to look like. Seemingly disheveled, he
wears a rumpled and oversized sportcoat and pants, he has holes in his
shoes and his baseball cap looks decades old. But he is outgoing, talkative
and sharp as a tack. He speaks with visitors about WWII, quantum mechanics,
atoms, thermodynamics and the history of the fishing industry in British
Jack Lubzinski with the first machine he ever built,
a multi-saw designed to perform a number of steps in succession. A drill
countersinks screw holes, a saw blade cuts a slot for the spoke, and
blades cut the wood.
Other visitors congregate around him. One of his old
professors rolls in. More oldtimers and retired folks who apparently
knew Lubzinski decades ago begin milling about. Former employees of
Marine Products Company also make themselves known amongst the onlookers.
Families from other parts of the festival show up to witness the dazzling
display of machines. A film on the far wall depicts each stage of the
Built by Jack Lubzinski, the spoke lathe turns each
spoke perfectly at the press of a button. It is a pattern-following
lathe. The pattern is a brass plate with different details on each side.
A follower traces the patterns simultaneously, while cutting
tools are driven in and out in response.
Again, Jack actually custom-built all these machines
just to make ship wheels. The old guy is a genius, I think again. Theres
no doubt. Before I have any chance to ask questions, though, Jack moves
off to the other side of the warehouse where he tacks a huge display
to the far wall. It looks like hes glued a few dozen 8x11 pages
together to make a giant three-foot by three-foot panel and attached
it to some construction paper. It has nothing to do with the ship wheels
or the Marine Products Company. Instead, its a homemade poster
displaying his current research into five-dimensional Hilbert Space.
Evidently, this is what Jack does in his spare time now that hes
Current research by the 89-year-old Jack Lubzinski
People continue to mill about, in sheer
awe of the machines and the piles of ship wheels. The film projected
on the wall continues to play over and over. As I contemplate the scene,
I overhear Jack talking with a visitor about quantum mechanics and how
atoms are 99.9 percent empty space. If two solid objects are pressed
against each other, he says, its only an illusion that they actually
touch. If you could zoom in close enough, youd see theres
something similar to a magnetic force actually holding the two objects
close together. Everything is almost entirely empty space. The conversation
turns into one of electrons, mind, matter and the interrelations of
objects and phenomena.
What I hear shares common ground with the
explanation I remember from Apui Lam at the templethe Buddhist
concepts of emptiness and dependent arising. Something to do with systems
of interacting objects, systems that cannot be represented by either-or
schemes, how nothing arises or exists independently by itself.
I cannot explain quantum theory, but quite
a few others have navigated these parts before, especially Victor Mansfield
in his book, Tibetan Buddhism and Modern Physics: Toward a Union
of Love and Knowledge. He even compares Hilbert Space with Buddhist
perspectives. In fact, here in Richmond, I should have used that book
as my travel guide. What an idea.
Jack designed this machine with pneumatic cylinders
to power the clamps, which apply inward radial pressure to the wooden
pieces, creating a flawless design.
A finished ship wheel from the Marine Products Company,
with eight handles.
As I take one last look at the industrial machines,
the piles of ship wheels in various stages of completion and the display
placards everywhere, only then do I spot a placard I hadnt yet
seen. This one displays a photo of Jacks original Marine Products
Company warehouse, the building where all these machines originally
sat, the structure at 3211 No. 3 Road in Richmond. Its the same
building I stumbled into earlier, the one now gutted, the same abandoned
building I couldnt get anyone to identify.
When I first stumbled onto the abandoned warehouse,
little did I know the history contained therein.
The city of Richmond, BC, is a system of interactions
between eastern and western phenomena. I didnt intend to experience
Buddhism and western physics on this trip. They just emerged. But I
find this to be the very purpose of travelto increase awareness
and elicit connections. And, of course, the universal symbol of Buddhism
is the Dharma Wheel, often depicted asdrum roll, pleasea
ships steering wheel.
The Dharma Wheel of Buddhism, with eight spokes
representing the Eightfold Path to enlightenment.
Raven in Edmonton; Prince
Rupert/Digby Island Airport; Whistler,
British Columbia; Vancouver