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.
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.