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THE TRUE FORM OF BUDDHA

On or about my 60th birthday, when I first heard that the Taliban had destroyed the monumental Buddha statues at Bamiyan, my first thought was, “How ignorant!” Not in the sense of the kind of arrogant ignorance (or ignorant arrogance) that leads to religious prejudice, the mere preference for Islamic teachings over those of Buddhism. Not even the ignorance that leads to the interpretation of the statues as “graven images” of a God, apparently prohibited by Islamic teachings. Buddha is not a god, not even in Buddhism.

Taliban Destroy Buddha Image — 2001
The Buddhas of Bamiyan were two 6th century monumental statues of standing buddhas carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan, situated 230 km (140 mi) northwest of Kabul at an altitude of 2,500 meters (8,202 ft). Built in 507 AD, the larger in 554 AD, the statues represented the classic blended style of Gandhara art.

They were dynamited and destroyed in March 2001 by the Taliban, on orders from leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, after the Taliban government declared that they were “idols.” International opinion strongly condemned the destruction of the Buddhas, which was viewed as an example of the intolerance of the Taliban. Japan and Switzerland, among others, have pledged support for the rebuilding of the statues.
—    Wikipedia

I am speaking of an ignorance more terrible than that: the ignorance of the fact that religious art is simply pointing to a religious belief, or truth. In the case of Buddhism, statuary or painting represents an idealized, artistic expression of the form of the buddha (as opposed to Buddha). But this should be written as “form of the buddha” because it is not pointing merely at the form, or body, of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, certainly not as a god. It is instead pointing, symbolically, at the true form of Buddha. This true form, or complete body, of Buddha, is referred to in three parts: the Nirmanakaya, or Transformation body; the Dharmakaya, or Essence body; and the Samboghakaya, or Enjoyment body.

Buddhists see this tripartite body of Buddha as manifest in the form of the entire universe, embracing the heavens and earth, humans and other sentient beings, and the world of the insentient as well, including Earth, grass, trees, walls, tiles and pebbles.
 
Thus, the very sandstone bluffs — which the unfortunate, misguided Taliban blasted away with their howitzers — fully manifest the body, the “image,” of Buddha, just as they are, in spite of their efforts at defacement. They could blast away until they come out the other side of the planet, and it would still not make a dent in the form of Buddha. This form cannot be erased or defaced, added to, or taken from. All Buddhist art is merely pointing at it, including as the form of humanity, but can never begin to capture it.
 
However, the resolution and determination to restore these wonderful, inspirational monuments, however hopeless, is to be applauded. It is a fitting testament to the resilience of the followers of Buddhism. It is a reflection of the truth that the all-pervasive form of the Buddha is indelible. It lives on eternally in the human heart-mind.
 

Comments   

 
0 # Sanki 2012-04-14 15:48
Words, concepts all empty. Emptiness is form, form is emptiness. Mountains, rivers, sandstone bluffs, metaphors all. Buddha when spoken, thought, metaphor. Samsara and Nirvana, difference and unity, metaphor. Buddha images, sutras, dharma talks, tools, not merely though. Riding that which echoes through our heart/mind, we go beyond these -- and and yet can still grieve for what is gone.
 
 
0 # INMO 2012-04-20 12:47
We cling to the dirt. Isn’t that what a statue really is? It is our attachment to the ideology of Buddha and Buddhism associated with art that leads to dukkha/sufferin g (anger, intolerance, sorrow, feeling of loss) in this scenario.
 
 
0 # Sanki 2012-04-23 15:20
I remembered reading of the destruction of the Buddhas and feeling regret. Partly I think because I would never be able to see them, experience them, myself. The loss of the Buddhas I think says something about impermanence, and my feelings something about attachment/dukk a. Reminds me of Dogen in the Genjokoan talking about flowers fading while weeds thrive. The Buddhas would have gone away anyway--the action of weather on sandstone. The way it was done added to the world's burden of karma. As Sensei points out--destroying the Buddhas doesn't destroy the dharma or Buddha nature. The metaphor comment--metaph ors work by establishing a relationship of "likeness" between two "unlike" things in this case a sandstone Buddha is a visual/tactile metaphor
between the physical object and a concept--of course both physical object and concept are "empty" in that neither is the thing itself--and both become what they are in terms of a relationship to a third thing that is neither physical (limited to this sandstone formation) or conceptual. In otherwords, any representation of Buddha Nature is/has to be third hand. I think this is why Dogen objected to the representation of Nagarjuna on the teaching seat as a full moon (supposedly Nagarjuna manifested Buddha Nature--Dharmak aya?--as a full moon while teaching. This was represented in a painting--hung among other paintings of ancestors on a monastery wall in China. Dogen thought the artist should have just painted a picture of Nagarjuna the teacher on the teaching seat--not the moon. I think his objection (and I humbly acknowledge my possible error here if pointed out to me) had to do with this idea of a representation of a representation (the moon was was a representation- -not the thing--Buddha Nature) of something ultimately unrepresentable . For the same reason, the poems I like best only suggest or "point to" the beyond rather than express it.
 
 
0 # Sanki 2012-04-23 15:26
By the way--I really like the phrase "heart/mind". I plan to use it if Sensei doesn't care. I also like my use of "riding the echoes through the heart mind." Sometimes I feel like I'm riding echoes somewhere (no starting point, no destination, just riding), I never knew where I was--but "heart/mind" fits perfectly. Sorry for the additional goofiness.
 
 
0 # Ancient Mirror 2013-01-07 12:35
to paraphrase a famous Zen story, of the guest monk burning the Buddha image for firewood; " Does the statue house the Buddha?" "No!" "Then,Taliban, Blast Away!"
 
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