Thursday, May 3, 2012

Buddhas (at Bamiyan)

My big Buddha now has a "little Buddha brother," which I've situated in the East Side Shade bed.

The arrangement reminds me of another famous pair of Buddhas, Vairocana and Sakyamuni, the 6th century Buddhas of Bamiyan. One stood at 180 feet, the other at 121 feet tall; both were for a long time the largest examples of standing Buddha stone carvings in the world. But, after 14 centuries looking out over an Afghani valley, they fell, one after the other, in March 2001, brought down by the Taliban's insane intolerance of difference.

Of course, the story is apparently not that simple. The decision to destroy them was made after a Swedish monuments expert offered to pay for the restoration of the heads which had deteriorated over time. The Taliban minister demanded instead that the money be used to help children (why do I find that hard to believe?); the monuments expert responded flatly, "No, the money is just for the statues, not for the children." This sent the Taliban minister into a rage; in went the explosives, and down came the Buddhas.

Now, some may think: 6th century Buddhas on the one hand, starving children on the other. Hmmm... no brainer... But my doubt regarding the use of the money derives from the fact that the Taliban, of course, never did publicize the fact that, according to an Afghani Ambassador, a foreign museum offered to buy the Buddhas (the money of which could have been used to feed the children).

The story (of which I have brushed but the surface), therefore, seems really more about an affront to the idea of a shared global cultural heritage, not about idolatry an an assault on its brand of radicalism as the Taliban claimed. It is about the assault against different and plurality, about human history and creation and ingenuity against an omnipotent God, knowable only, of course, by an extreme and deranged group of henchmen.

Bamiyan must always live with the massive scars in the mountainside, though Japan and Switzerland have offered the reconstruct the Buddhas with fragments of the originals pieced together with silicon (work is being done to that effect). While the voids demand to be filled, visually and aesthetically, I wonder if the world, and the Afghanis, should be forced to suffer the perpetual emptiness of space to remind us all of intolerance's ugliness. For recounting numbers of lives lost is an anesthetic; ears numb and minds wander. But seeing the physicality of a void: now that is a statement.

In this moment in time, my little Buddha sits, a gaping hole in the gardenscape before it, a tiny presence in a vast world. And the visual effect, if one replaces the omnipresence of green with tan, is that of a protective shell encasing a Buddha, surrounded by nothingness. At Bamiyan today, we have the reverse: a protective shell encasing nothingness.   


The emptiness before my Buddha is a temporary one caused by the shyness of Autumn Fern, which really likes to make a grand entrance, guaranteed only with consistent warmth and after all other guests have arrived.

While staring at the void in my garden, and gazing at my little Buddha, I was suddenly struck by how much our gardens become reflections of not our selves, but of our views of the world, and not of our views of the world, but microcosms of the world itself. No wonder why we gardeners continually arrange and rearrange, subtract and add, divide--though multiplying is not up to us. Nature retains that sexier, less labor intensive function for herself.

Why? Because we continually need to revisit our views of the world and experiment with our place in it. This may be a heavy burden to place upon the garden, but I cannot help but think of the parallels and representations found within in, and borne by it.

And though gardeners detest every bit of empty space and seek to fill it, the voids are necessary (if only briefly), for they make us aware, all too palpably aware, of the richness and enormity and density and levity of Nothingness.

Could anything be more Buddhist?

** Thanks to Viet for "seeing" the Bamiyan Buddhas in our garden**

No comments:

Post a Comment