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Buddhism in the News


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Practicing Impermance Through the Destruction of Buddhist Heritage.

The Sunday Times, Feb 8, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The 200-year old Buddhist heritage in South Western city of Pakistan - Swat, is now in danger with local Taliban militants threatening to destroy the regions one of the precious museums, media reports here said. The besieged Swat museum which is now under the threat of Pakistani Taliban. It houses pre-Islamic heritage, mainly Buddhists artifacts and Buddha statue of Gandhara era.

"The museum will be reopened only after peace returns to the valley," says its Curator Aqleem. But it must be protected from Taliban, too, to be reopened. The Taliban has threatened to wipe out the symbols of pre-Islamic cultures in Swat and the museum has become a prime target of the militants - a repository of relics dating as far back as to the 3rd century BC, the Dawn reported this week (Wednesday). Swat museum is rich with many pre-historic artifacts and statues mainly belonging to the Buddhist civilization of the South Asian region. Its Buddhist statues are supposed to be the few remaining representations of the Gandhara art.

In November 2007, the militants blew up a historic Buddha statute in the Jihanabad area of Swat causing irreparable damage to the seven-meter tall historic statue. After the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statue of Afghanistan in March 2001, the meditating statue in Swat was the most precious one, according to the Curator.

James: As an historian and an art lover I am dismayed by this tragic destruction of these Buddhist relics and the region's ancient heritage. When I first read this story I could feel anger rise inside of my mind as well as frustration wondering why someone would do such a thing? Then I realized that a part of me sees a threat to Buddhism as a threat to myself or more accurately the ego-self.

I think this stems from the part of me who enjoys Buddhism for its "trappings," which means the statues, architecture of temples, the history of Buddhism, incense, the bells, the monk robes and on and on. These things are wonderful to be sure, they have their place and I don't see anything wrong in enjoying them in so far as I realize that they are not permanent nor can they bring me lasting peace, happiness and freedom from afflictive emotions such as desire.

It doesn't do me any good to be attached to a statue of Buddha who was a man who taught against attachment!! How silly of me. If Buddha were around to see my thought process and how attached I was toward a bunch of old, empty statues then he would probably smash them himself!! This fear is for the destruction of Buddhism, which has become a very important part of my life and unfortunately seeped into my self-identity/ego.

So If I dig deep enough I can see that what I'm truly afraid of is losing that "self" even despite all the meditating and working on letting go of the self. It's a bit like a virus that keeps mutating to stay alive looking for nooks and crannies to embed itself into thinking the last place I'll look is in structure of Buddhism itself. In other words, in the relics, traditions and history of the religion.

I shouldn't see this destruction as a loss but a chance to practice one of the most important and liberating teachings within Buddhism-impermanance. Traditions are wonderful, so are statues and architecture but in the end I must remember that they are merely fingers pointing to the moon and not the moon itself. This all said I don't think that we should just let all our museums be destroyed and looted (if we can prevent it) because even though they are just objects they do offer some benefits to society. It's just that I need not become agitated when objects/relics do disappear or are destroyed. Everything must go in the end and no amount of Buddha statues and relics is going to deliver me from samsara.

~Peace to all beings~

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Anonymous said...

Although I do agree with your sentiment. This is also the same mentality that causes the extinction of Buddhism. It is bad Karma to prevent the knowledge of Buddhism to pass on to future generations where they will be trapped in the darkness of Islam with no escape.

Anonymous said...

What does it matter if a statue exists but no one knows of who it is? Or a statue is destroyed now or at the end of the existence of the world?

The [b]THOUGHT[/b] of Buddha will prevail, and the teachings from that thought will grow into the realization of the end of the physical.

Remember: If you meet Buddha on the path, kill him.

They call him James Ure said...

First Anonymous:

Yes that is why I said:

This all said I don't think that we should just let all our museums be destroyed and looted (if we can prevent it).

This is where the structure of a society comes into play with the police forces and investigative divisions like the FBI here in America to help protect the Buddhist heritage. As much as it can be protected.

Yet even the Buddha warned that one day Buddhism would disappear, which will usher in the Buddha Maitreya:

“After my decease, first will occur the five disappearances. And what are the five disappearances? The disappearance of attainments [to Nirvana], the disappearance of the method [inability to practice wisdom, insight and the four purities of moral habit], the disappearance of learning [loss of men who follow the Dharma], the disappearance of the symbols [the outward forms, the robes and practices of Buddhism], the disappearance of the relics...”

“Then when the Dispensation of the perfect Buddha is 5,000 years old, the relics, not receiving reverence and honor will go to places where they can receive them... This, Sariputta, is called the disappearance of relics” (The Surangama Sutra).

In other words, all of this stuff that we attribute to "Buddhism" MUST disappear if Maitreya is to restore the Dharma after a period of darkness and neglect.

Too I believe that Buddhism will always exist in one form or another on other worlds in our universe. It is taught that there are infinite Buddha worlds.

Not that I want to be apart of its extinction but there will come a day when Buddhism will disappear. I mention this only because even Buddhism itself can be an attachment.

That's why I focus on the present moment because that is the only place where I can practice. To be upset with the loss of these artifacts is to waste the present moment and replace it with suffering.

It is important though as you said and as I stated to honor and protect our Buddhist heritage as much as possible within the law.

Second Anonymous:

Well said.

Cappella said...

Remember the last saying of Buddha ... "Subject to change are all things". Statues of Buddhas will one day come to pass, destroyed not via man-made events, but via natural events (erosion, earthquakes, etc).

The initial concern I had was when I read the article was the "backlash" from the Buddhists, but Buddhists must take this opportunity to appreciate the state of impermanence. Everything around us is just nothing more than mere illusion.

Dhamma81 said...

I think this was well said James. Buddhism is not really about statues and relics or even the scholarly study of the texts, it's about freeing the heart from suffering.

There is no real peace in the world at all. The Buddha came to teach a way out of the world and to show us just how uncertain and unstable it is. There is no doubt about it, the ruthless Taliban is a perfect example of what the Buddha meant even if none of us in here or in the Buddhist community have anything good to say about them.

Muslims can kill us off, but in the end we all die anyway, and if the Buddha's teachings on Kamma are true all of us will be reborn according to our deeds and the guy that just blew up a Buddha statue or sawed off a journalists head with a machete while praising his God might not get the reward he hoped for. It's gruesome but this is the world and the way it is. Get out while you can, or at least don't contribute more to the suffering that is already raging out there.

forest wisdom said...

As with so many of your posts, I find this one quite interesting and thought provoking. And so is the discussion here in the comments. I suppose my comment is going to go off on a personal tangent, however, that has little to do with whether the statues should be preserved or not....

Like you, I am a historian (by education and training) and an art lover. But the sentence that most struck me personally in this post was "the part of me who enjoys Buddhism for its "trappings," which means the statues, architecture of temples, the history of Buddhism, incense, the bells, the monk robes and on and on."

I suppose for all intents and purposes I am a Buddhist. I think the Buddhist way of seeing the world makes the most sense of it all.... I have a robust meditation practice. I read the sutras and I take "refuge" in the sangha.... But I can't bring myself to say that I am Buddhist....

I have a personal distaste for "labels" (as useful as they can be and as impossible as it is to conduct life completely without them) and I suppose a rather intense distaste for "religion" and all religious trappings. No doubt this has its history and cause in my own journey through religion(s) (even for 13 years as a clergyman), and my rejection of it all as--and this is just an honest expression of where I am at, I do not speak this to offend anyone and I offer my advance apologies if I do--mostly delusions, fictions, superstitions and wishful thinkings. Buddhism to my view (or most forms of it) has far less of these--far less trappings--than most other religions, but they can still be found....

As I said, for all intents and purposes I live my life as a Buddhist, but I cannot (yet) bring myself to call myself one.... And I do not understand why I felt compelled to share that here, as it has little to nothing to do with the immediate topic of your post.

But anyway....

Thank you yet again for this blog and your thought provoking postings. Again my apologies if anything I said offends anyone, and finally:

I truly wish you all peace.

St.John said...

How timely that your blogs always seem to coincide with my personal experiences james. i only yesterday watched a film about Afghanistan and the ruling regimes that have forced people into Pakistan for refuge. While watching the film i was thinking about the Taliban's attack on the Buddhist artifacts in the region and now i read your blog and i must agree with you. impermanence must be observed during these trying times. kudos.

Paul said...

I have mixed emotions about this as I have always loved museums and galleries. So the destruction of these artifacts are breaking my heart, but only from an artistic and historic view point.

Does that sound bad? It kinda does but what I mean is that a statue is not buddha. A statue is a piece of material (metal, concrete, stone) that is shaped, nothing more and nothing less.

I mean I would never choose to have the statues destroyed but to me every statue and text and everything to do with buddhism could be destroyed but the dharma is in me, it is in everyone when they realise it. I suppose its like Braveheart ('they may take our lives but they'll never take our freedom).

[holds aloft my mala]

They may take our relics, but they'll never take....our....dharrrrrrmmmmmmaaaaaaaaaaaa!


Special K said...

I have to say, when I first read about the destruction, the first word that popped into my head was 'impermanence'.

Thank you for your article.


PeterAtLarge said...

Ah, yes, James, all that eloquent wisdom... and yet...! And yet... there's more than just a beautiful object in these statues which, you're right, should not become the object of our clinging; there's also a teaching, wordless, intangible and powerful, that speaks to countless numbers through these art works. It's not just the "thing" that's lost by their destruction; it's also a meaning, a message, a guiding spirit...

Pete Hoge said...

Thankfully the Dharma cannot be
destroyed in any way by human hands.


Anonymous said...

Here is the Hindu expanation of the problem:

"The attack on the host nation isn’t just against its religion and economy, but is aimed at its very cultural identity.

Islam is a complete system, including a culture, which Muslims regard as superior (despite all evidence to the contrary) to other cultures. Muslims are
therefore required to destroy the symbols of ‘Jahiliya’ (sometimes sp. Jahiliyya) - non-Muslim culture.

In the East this has included destruction of Hindu temples and Christian churches and replacement with mosques, and destruction of Buddhist artwork and universities and replacement with heaps of rubble."

Anonymous said...

More on the Hindu perspective .

Buddha said...

I agree with ur views.
Gud that ur writing ur insights.

Jennifer said...

I love reading your blog. It really puts things into perspective, and calms me.

buddha statue

Jim said...

James, I found your post and comments 2B of much interest, given that I'm now something of a novice at the local zendo. Also given the Touchdown Jesus incident this past week. You'd think that Christians would take it with Buddha-like equanimity, given the Second Commandment of the Bible.

The Dharma, the Tao, the Good News, the song of Israel, the recitations of the Prophet, the Vedanta, all will survive the corruptions of human efforts to capture them, to bottle and sell them, to codify them, to politicize them, to militarize them . . . great doubt, great effort ('walking the walk'), and great faith will survive rocket attacks, lightening strikes and other teachings by force or showmanship.

Let's hope, anyway . . . (I have faith, but forgive my lack of faith). Jim G

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