According to tradition, in the 1920s a Chinese warlord sent a roughly 900-year-old statue of Buddha to America, where it sat unclaimed for many years in a New York City warehouse. In 1936, two friends of E. A. ("Ned") McIlhenny purchased the statue and sent it to him by rail as a surprise. Ned responded by designing an Asian-influenced garden setting for the sacred statue. He constructed a long forest pool, an arched stone bridge, and glass-enclosed temple. He built up seven "hills of knowledge" that surround the Buddha and covered them with azaleas, sasanqua, camellias, and bamboos.
Today the Buddha statue serves as a centerpiece of Jungle Gardens and greets thousands of visitors annually, including many Buddhists who offer prayers and gifts to the statue.