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.