The Giant Buddha of Leshan

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Zi Mu Ke Wan Fo Cai Nan De

It is easier to pluck out your eyes than get wealthy following Buddha

(Inscription at the base of Giant Buddha statue)

Facing a voluminous and turbulent confluence of three rivers, the Giant Buddha in Leshan happens to be a gigantic manifestation of (cosmic) peace. This was the message of Chinese monk Hai Tong who had gouged his eyes to prove his integrity and piety to 7th century bureaucracy, lending godlike credence to the epigraph for ages.

The ancient city of Jiazhou, located in the south west basin of the Sichuan province has some of the world’s most famous and beautiful Buddhist structures such as the 71 meters (233 ft) tall Maitreya Buddha and the Golden Pagoda atop Mt Emei, where the first Buddhist temple in China was constructed in the 1st century CE. The Leshan scenic area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses Oriental Buddhist Park, cave tombs, murals, fishing villages and Wu You temple.

The main entrance of this area also called the Gate of the East, gives a teaser of the magnitude of the statues that are inside when it opens into a view of a giant Buddha in slumber. At first, the sleeping Buddha can’t be seen in entirety given its size. Towards the feet of the statue is the way to the Fengxian Temple and Ten-thousand Buddha Cavern that starts with a tunnel; several statuettes adorn the wall of this cave-like path.LeshanIMG_5253 copy

The historicity appears to have a deja vu like quality; there is obviously a lot that is shared from some centuries of the past from neighbouring dynasties. The dancing divas perfecting a pose, contemplative bards editing their words, smiling monks begging for alms, and the various Buddhas that are depicted with murals/carvings on walls offer stories for the immersed traveller.

Much of the work thereafter contains reproductions of several Buddhist statues from all over China. They are all placed in an arch that has another giant Buddha at the centre atop the hill. These stone sculptures are about 8 meters in height and show Buddhist monks from other provinces of the country with the plaques explaining their concise history.
The stairway to the central structure has thousands of locks on its sides that visitors have permanently clamped on the chained railing along with their wishes. Once inscribed on metal, the wishes are locked with the Buddha, and the keys thrown away in the mountain as an act of surrender before the almighty. The heart-shaped locks are not just for uniting estranged lovers or to keep those in love star crossed forever. Individuals looking to strengthen their familial ties could also use them. They key is in the inscription, and it costs good. So, one ought to carefully think before ‘buying’ a wish. Also, size does not matter at all; actually, neither would such an exercise, but every human has a right to have their own system of belief. The other option is that of buying colourful bands that could be tied or lamps of various sizes that one could light up in front of the deity.LeshanIMG_5322 copy

The mind simply cannot stop buzzing with unlimited questions about how such a structure came into being in the first millenium CE.

The caves that lead to the Giant Buddha thereafter have works showing Avalokiteshwara (Guan Yin) with a thousand arms, and early disciples of the religion.
Purists may argue that the correct nomenclature should be Avalokeshwara as the name has Sanskrit roots, and that Avalokit may not have a correct genesis. Language and knowledge wade through several terrains, all of which end up affecting them. It would be interesting to learn who all travelled with this scholarship and how was it received or carried forward.

It is advisable to carry water and some energy replenishments for these products are costly once inside the park, and there is lots of walking and climbing to be done, especially when one has to walk down several stairs from the head to the feet of the Giant Buddha.
The mind simply cannot stop buzzing with unlimited questions about how such a structure came into being in the first millenium CE.

The monumental statue located on the banks of Minjiang, Dadu, and Qingyi rivers was carved out so as to control the violent currents that were claiming the lives and stock of the Sichuanese folk. The ascetic Hai Tong’s spiritual resolve to place a Maitreya at this site to calm down the troubled waters reached fruition when the construction started in 713 CE. Following a prickly altercation with a bureaucrat, who demanded the money that the mendicant monk had collected be returned, Tong denounced the order with words that he later put in action. Following this, the construction was stalled for about seventy years until a jie-dushi (local governor) sponsored the project leading up to the completion of the statue in 803 CE.LeshanIMG_5237 copy

The construction resulted in so much stone being removed from the cliff face and deposited into the river beds that the currents were indeed altered making the rivers safe for passing ships.

A sophisticated drainage system was incorporated into the statue when it was built. In fine working order, it includes pipes carved into various places on the body, to carry away the water after the rains so as to reduce weathering.

The simplicity and precision of the construction highlights the firmness of the belief that shines in such a form. The writer envies those who bore witness to an event that underlined a universal truth – the pursuit is not that of peace, but faith. And mankind must work together to strive for that.

There are vantage points such as Diecui Hall and Yong Cui Pavillion that give the perspective of the enormity this area boasts of. Standing at the topmost level of the former, one is attracted towards ‘that’ structure – Wu You temple – atop a mountain across the river. The way to this temple complex starts with stone paths and stairways from the Giant Buddha that run through the ancient city or what is left of it. There is a small museum that has cave temples and archaeological artifacts, a fishing village where locals will be seen angling for the day’s meal and, for those interested, souvenir shops and restaurants.

The mountain is a Buddha and the Buddha is a mountain.LeshanIMG_5031 copy

The path to Wu You temple begins with the Hao Shang bridge that is at the foothill of the mountain. It is an elegant structure with beautiful pavillions and graceful arches and, historical motifs such as dragons that adorn the walls and gateways. With greenery as its cover, the stairway winds its way to the pink-walled monastery. Constructed in 742 CE, the complex houses a museum, collection of calligraphic paintings, terracotta monks, and other relevant artifacts. A walk in the gardens of this monastery brings one to praying towers, fish ponds, and several important halls that played hosts to luminaries of the religion.

From this hill, a panoramic view comprising the Lingyun and Guicheng mountains with the beautiful Giant Buddha at the centre brings gratitude in one’s mind towards the hard work of the civic folk who tirelessly worked to preserve Buddhist ideals of faith, peace and surrender on such a grand scale. The calm rivers that shield this scenic area from degenerating modern construction of cities flow seamlessly as if they have learnt the pace that keeps everything in harmony.

They must be right in propounding the wisdom – The mountain is a Buddha and the Buddha is a mountain.

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Photos and article © -Kirit Kiran



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