The Legend and Lesson of GoldenBuddhaSchmutz


In the realm of personal branding there are two camps: One believes that you create a personal brand through the way you dress, cut your hair, pad your resume and all that nonsense which ends up giving the concept of personal branding a bad name. The other sees personal branding as a process of revelation. Issues which you may consider to be “style” become the natural outlet for one’s core identity.

If you’ve seen me speak in public in the past couple of years, there’s a good chance you’ve heard me tell some variation of the following story. I use it to illustrate the point of using life as a means of revelation.

In the early 1900s reconstruction efforts in an area of Thailand required the demolition of an old abandoned temple. In the temple was a large stucco statue of the Buddha, painted gold. Destroying the statue wasn’t an option so the incredibly heavy statue was moved to a warehouse where it stayed for another 20 years.

In 1955 it was decided to move the statue into a newly constructed building. During the move, the crane’s cable broke and the statue fell in the mud. While examining the statue for damage, it was noticed that some of the stucco had cracked and fallen off.

The statue was actually made of solid gold.

All of the stucco was removed revealing the largest gold statue known to man. It stands almost 10 feet tall, weighing over 5 tons and can be visited in Bangkok today.

Here’s the point: the gold painted stucco gave off a false appearance (presumably to conceal the statue from the Burmese about 200 years ago), but it did not change the essential nature of what it was.

All the hurts you’ve experienced in life is the schmutz that covers you just like the stucco on the statue.

  • An elder says something mean and hurtful
  • You get beat up at school
  • Someone cheats on you

Schmutz. Schmutz.Schmutz.

You think the schmutz is helping the problem. You pack it on. It seems to reduce the hurt. You tell stories about the schmutz to anyone who pretends to listen. You say to yourself “because of this schmutz, no one will ever hurt me like that again.”

Eventually you’re totally covered with schmutz and you think that’s who you are. Maybe at this point you’re dissatisfied with what’s happening in your life so you paint the schmutz gold so others can now see how well you’re doing, how strong and independent you are and how you’ve got it going on.

None of it changes who you are but it does seem to do a great job at hiding the essential nature of who you really are. It prevents you from doing the good, and making the impact, for which you were put on this Earth.

Public school systems, human resource departments and governments love to apply GoldenBuddhaSchmutz on people too. Well-meaning friends give you advice that’s rarely authentically directed at you but is some random pontification to help fill the silence.

GoldenBuddhaSchmutz is sneaky stuff and it’s pretty sticky.

The thing is, you’re under no obligation to wear any of that.

While chipping it off and leaving it behind may not always be as easy as it sounds, the only other option is not to chip it off and leave it behind.

Which choice is really all that good for you?


  1. blogolicious on March 4, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    Nice explanation of the Golden Buddha story. I liked it so much I made Golden Buddha my comment avatar recently! It takes constant reminding to remember that the schmutz is not us.

    • Dave Saunders on March 5, 2010 at 1:16 am

      I also like the phrase “GoldenBuddhaSchmutz”

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