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Buddhadharma : Winter 2008
54 2nDCHanS Nikaya, where the Buddha tells Anathapindika, “Who sees the dharma, sees me. And who sees me, sees the dharma.” But the Buddha also told his disciples that five hundred years after his paranirvana, his followers would turn from the teaching to its representation in images. He was right, except that they didn’t wait that long. As early as the first century BCE, we find likenesses of Shakyamuni carved in relief on the burial caskets and coins of the Greco-Indian and Kushan rulers of Gandhara (Pakistan) and Bactria (Afghanistan), and we see more sophisticated rock sculptures in Mathura (Uttar Pradesh) during the following two centuries. Such a development in this particular area was no accident, for it was in the region bounded by Bactria, Gandhara, and Mathura that Mahayana Buddhism arose, with its emphasis on devotional practices aimed at gaining access to the sacred through the accrual of merit rather than meditation. As the merchants and rulers in that part of the world began to fund this new, lay-oriented movement, the Buddha took on an Apollonian guise. And by the fourth and fifth centuries, he appeared not simply as another god but as a superman of monumental proportions. Now that the buddhas of Bamyan have been reduced to rubble, nowhere is this vision of the Buddha’s likeness presented on such a colossal scale as it is in Tatung, located just inside that section of the Great Wall that separated Shansi Province from Inner Mongolia. Tatung was the ancient capital of the Toba, a Turkish tribe that conquered the Chinese and established the first non- Bill Porter (red Pine) is an American author and translator of Chinese and Sanskrit texts who lived in east Asia for many years. His published translations include Poems of the Masters and The Heart Sutra: The Womb of Buddhas. this article is adapted from his forthcoming book, Zen Baggage: A Pilgrimage to China, published by Counterpoint. PaulHollanD PHoto ©Damon Sauer