I watched The Giant Buddhas earlier today, a documentary about the Bamyan Buddhas shown as part of our local/international archaeological film festival.
It is a very well made movie, weaving together several different stories and perspectives: A Chinese monk traveling along the Silk Road around year 630. A woman from Kabul visiting the Buddhas that her father has visited in his youth. A family living in a cave between the Buddhas, and then relocated by the current regime. A French archaeologist searching for the location of a 300 meter long reclining stone Buddha in the same valley. An Al-Jazeera reporter who filmed the destruction in 2001.
Some of the information is not so well known in the west, such as the claim that Saudi Arabian engineers were called in and helped with the destruction. And that the destruction of the statues was ordered in response to western money coming in to restore artifacts, instead of as much needed aid to the people of Afghanistan. (It may be just a way to blame the west for something people in the west were upset about, but there could also be a grain of truth in it.)
When I first heard about the destruction in March of 2001, I thought of how well it illustrates the essential teaching of Buddhism – impermanence.
If we really get impermanence, if we see it and feel it, over and over, not only in stories of impermanence but as it happens here now in immediate awareness, there is no foothold for identification within content of awareness. And this invites a shift into Big Mind, into finding ourselves as that which experience happens within, to and as.
Exploring impermanence, thoroughly, over and over, as it happens in the sense fields here now, is one of the many ways to discover what we really are, and probably a sufficient one as well.
Also, it is an invitation for me – and us all – to see what stories we cling to as true, and examine them and find that is already more true for us.
It is a reminder that iconoclasm is maybe not so useful when targeted at artifacts, but has more value and meaning if we target the real icon worship: Taking stories as true. Making a thought – a story, an image – into a God for ourself.
And a reminder that we all are at different places in regards to all of this. Some of us take a modern western view on it, emphasizing the value of culture, art and tolerance. Others take a more fundamentalist view, seeing literal iconoclasm as a pretty good idea. And others again see it as a reminder of impermanence, and of iconoclasm having its value if targeted with some wisdom and applied with gentleness.
And if we want to be practical about it, we see the validity in each of those views, work on ourselves with impermanence and investigation of beliefs, and in the world in trying to prevent these things from happening using whatever – hopefully skillful – means seem appropriate.
Btw: Here is a link to the German version of the movie, although it is also available in English.