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Buddhadharma : Winter 2008
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 08 52 I Oh Mighty Buddha In the Diamond Sutra, the Buddha asks his student Subhuti, “Can the Buddha be seen by means of the attributes he has acquired?” Although he urged his disciples to look within, the Buddha knew that it was far easier for them to look at their teacher and imagine them- selves with his golden-hued skin, gossamer attire, serene gaze, and radiant awareness. Attachment to appearances not only plagues ordinary mortals, it also plagues those who would otherwise rise above the red dust of the world of sensation. Twelve hundred years after the Buddha’s paranirvana, Lin-chi (Linji), the patriarch of the Rinzai school of Zen, told his disciples, “When you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha.” That would be one solution. But I bore the Buddha no grudge, and I didn’t think meeting him would be a problem. The place I had in mind was the old garrison town of Tatung, 225 miles west of Beijing, toward which our bus now sped. No one knows when the Buddha’s followers began making images of their teacher. According to an account attributed to the early Buddhist sect known as the Mahasanghikas, when Shakyamuni left this earthly realm for a few months to teach his mother in the heavens atop Mount Sumeru, two kings from neighboring regions had their artisans fashion statues of the Buddha so that his followers wouldn’t be distressed by his sudden disappearance. One of the statues was carved from sandalwood, the other was made of burnished gold, and both were said to be life-size. The early Mahasanghika text known as the Ekottara-agama notwithstand- ing, in the beginning the teaching was considered more important than the teacher. We encounter this refrain in such early Buddhist texts as the Samyutta aaronkyle Bill Porter travels to China’s ancient yunkang caves, where devotees carved more than fifty thousand Buddhist statues, including some of the largest and most magnificent Buddhas ever set in stone