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.