Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Remember the Bamiyan Buddhas

I’m trying to remember where I first wrote about the Bamiyan Buddhas. I thought it was in my earlier blog, The Bush Diaries, but now I recall that the great Buddhas were wantonly destroyed by the Taliban’s dynamite in March, 2001, before 9/11 even, and long before The Bush Diaries started. And yet I do remember having written about these great monuments, the larger of which towered to 174 feet, and the smaller to 150. Ancient and venerable with history and religious significance, they were said to have been built in the years AD 554 and 507 respectively, at a time when the great Silk Trail was the major commercial route connecting East and West.

There has been speculation that these “twin towers” were destroyed at the behest of Osama bin Laden, in a kind of symbolic rehearsal for those other attacks that followed in September. Be that as it may, this needless, spiteful vandalism on the part of the Taliban stands as one of the great barbaric assaults on the splendors of human culture, conducted in the absurd belief that to destroy the symbols of a religion is to destroy the religion itself. Buddhism has not been substantially the poorer for the loss of these great tributes to its founder; for humanity, it’s a different story. We are all in some way impoverished by a grotesquerie of this kind.

These thoughts return thanks to the op-ed article in yesterday’s New York Times by Roger Cohen, written from Bamiyan itself, where he returned after nearly thirty-three years to renew his acquaintance with the site he had first visited on the “hippie trail” in a VW bus named Pigpen. Climbing to the place from which the great Buddha’s head had once looked out over the valley, he was as much moved, it seems, by the absence of the statues as he once had been by their presence. He demurs about the rumored intention to reconstruct the Buddhas, mentioned in this August 2006 issue of Tricycle and still, apparently, under live discussion. “Absence speaks, shames, reminds,” writes Cohen.

Even so, it would something of a miracle to see the Buddhas rise again.


They call him James Ure said...

I read that article, it was very interesting. And while it was saddening, it reminded me of the reality of impermanence.

How ironic a lesson that event was for us Buddhists. Hearing of the destruction of the images of our founder remind us to accept the reality of change. That even within Buddhism and it's treasures, nothing lasts forever.

That all being said, it really was a great loss to humanity as you said. It is a loss of great art and heritage to the country of Afghanistan as well.

Mark said...

Wonderful post. I think the Buddha would have watched the destruction and said something to the effect of, "See? Didn't I tell you it was all impermanent?"

Thanks for the comment on my blog. Sometimes it's nice to realize that I'm wrong, especially when being right means nihilism. I appreciate the insight very much.

khengsiong said...

Thanks, Peter, for your reference to Cohen's article.

But really, I don't think we should waste money re-constructing the Bamiyan Buddhas in a place where they are not appreciated.

Gary said...

Out of compassion for the suffering people of Afghanistan, it might be more appropriate for any funds going to that beleaguered nation to be spent helping the sentient beings there, rather than .

I've reflected on this issue on Forest Wisdom previously, coming to similar conclusions as other commentators; If you go to http://forestwisdom.thaipulse.com/ and look in the August archive on the right, click the article entitled "Afghan Buddhas & Impermanency", and you can read more. (Hope you don't mind the plug, Peter!)

Be well,
Gary at Forest Wisdom.

PeterAtLarge said...

Delighted to spread the word, Gary. I'll check in, myself, more often. I'm ambivalent about the restoration: the same argument has been made about churches and cathedrals throughout the centuries, and there's some justice to it. But I do believe that we humans need awe, as well as compassion.

. . . said...

I always thought it ironic how the destruction of the Buddhas was a beautiful example of a central reminder in Buddhism: impermanence. In that way, the destruction was a great teaching.