Xuanzang's journey to the west
Statue of Xuanzang at the Great Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi'an.
During the early Tang dynasty, between 629 and 645, the monk Xuanzang journeyed to India and visited over one hundred kingdoms, and wrote extensive and detailed reports of his findings, which have subsequently become important for the study of India during this period. During his travels he visited holy sites, learned the lore of his faith, and studied with many famous Buddhist masters, especially at the famous center of Buddhist learning at Nālanda University. When he returned, he brought with him some 657 Sanskrit texts. Xuanzang also returned with relics, statues, and Buddhist paraphernalia loaded onto twenty-two horses. With the emperor's support, he set up a large translation bureau in Chang'an (present-day Xi'an), drawing students and collaborators from all over East Asia. He is credited with the translation of some 1,330 fascicles of scriptures into Chinese. His strongest personal interest in Buddhism was in the field of Yogācāra, or "Consciousness-only".
The force of his own study, translation and commentary of the texts of these traditions initiated the development of the Faxiang school in East Asia. Although the school itself did not thrive for a long time, its theories regarding perception, consciousness, karma, rebirth, etc. found their way into the doctrines of other more successful schools. Xuanzang's closest and most eminent student was Kuiji who became recognized as the first patriarch of the Faxiang school. Xuanzang's logic, as described by Kuiji, was often misunderstood by scholars of Chinese Buddhism because they lack the necessary background in Indian logic. Another important disciple was the Korean monk Woncheuk.
Xuanzang's translations were especially important for the transmission of Indian texts related to the Yogācāra school. He translated central Yogācāra texts such as the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra and the Yogācārabhūmi Śāstra, as well as important texts such as the Mahāprajñāpāramitā Sūtra and the Bhaiṣajyaguruvaidūryaprabharāja Sūtra (Medicine Buddha Sūtra). He is credited with writing or compiling the Cheng Weishi Lun (Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi Śāstra) as a commentary on these texts. His translation of the Heart Sūtra became and remains the standard in all East Asian Buddhist sects. The proliferation of these sūtras expanded the Chinese Buddhist canon significantly with high quality translations of some of the most important Indian Buddhist texts.
The Longmen Grottoes And Their Carved Statues, Henan province, China
Empress Wu Zetian and the Spread of Buddhism (625-705 C.E.)
Buddhism was carried into East Asia by merchants and Buddhist monks traveling the Silk Road from Northern India, Persia, Kashmir and Inner Asia. One of the most powerful champions of Buddhism in China was the Empress Wu Zetian. During her Tang Dynasty reign, the practice of Chinese Buddhism is known to have reached it’s height and influence.
Empress Wu Zetian ruled as China’s only female emperor. In promoting Buddhism over Confucianism and Daoism as the favored state religion, the Empress countered strongly held Confucian beliefs against female rule. To justify her rule, Wu used selected Buddhist scriptures and led the way in the creation of numerous visual representations of the Buddha. The most spectacular are the stone temples and statues chiseled into grottoes at Longmen, near her capital. In the largest cave there is a statue called the Grand Vairocana Buddha. Carved in limestone, the colossal statue is reputed to have been carved in Wu’s own likeness. Whether true or not, it is what people believed.
Given Tang China’s rich history of inter-regional connections and communications with its East Asian neighbors, it is not surprising that Wu’s sponsorship of Buddhism resulted in a flurry of scholarly exchanges, and the construction of many new pilgrimage Buddhist sites. Creating overpowering statues, like the one at Longmen, was important. There was a sense of trying to keep up with ones rivals by building something bigger than they had. These monumental statues, like the one carved into the mountain at Bamiyan, Afghanistan, which was destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, alerted the populous to the dominance of Buddhism. They also functioned as powerful reminders of imperial power. At these pilgrimage sites, rituals were performed which established a link between the standing Buddha and the ruler. For example, at the statue’s “eye opening” ceremony which dedicated the monument, the ruler was ritualistically seen to have been given the right to rule through the divine mandate of the Buddha icon.
The Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, China
The Mogao Caves (Chinese: 莫高窟; pinyin: Mògāo kū; Wade–Giles: Mo4-kao1 k'u1), also known as the Thousand Buddha Grottoes (Chinese: 千佛洞; pinyin: qiān fó dòng), form a system of 492 temples 25 km (16 mi) southeast of the center of Dunhuang, an oasis strategically located at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road, in Gansu province, China. The caves may also be known as the Dunhuang Caves, however, this term is also used as a collective term to include other Buddhist cave sites in the Dunhuang area, such as the Western Thousand Buddha Caves, and the Yulin Caves farther away. The caves contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art spanning a period of 1,000 years. The first caves were dug out in 366 AD as places of Buddhist meditation and worship. The Mogao Caves are the best known of the Chinese Buddhist grottoes and, along with Longmen Grottoes and Yungang Grottoes, are one of the three famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites of China.
An important cache of documents was discovered in 1900 in the so-called "Library Cave," which had been walled-up in the 11th century. The content of the library was dispersed around the world, and the largest collections are now found in Beijing, London, Paris and Berlin, and the International Dunhuang Project exists to coordinate and collect scholarly work on the Dunhuang manuscripts and other material. The caves themselves are now a popular tourist destination, with a number open for visiting.
The Entrance To The Mogao Caves
Leshan Giant Buddha
The Leshan Giant Buddha (simplified Chinese: 乐山大佛; traditional Chinese: 樂山大佛; pinyin: Lèshān Dàfó) is a 71-metre (233 ft) tall stone statue, built between 713 and 803 (during the Tang Dynasty), depicting Maitreya. It is carved out of a cliff face that lies at the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers in the southern part of Sichuan province in China, near the city of Leshan. The stone sculpture faces Mount Emei, with the rivers flowing below his feet. It is the largest stone Buddha in the world and it is by far the tallest pre-modern statue in the world.
The Mount Emei Scenic Area, including Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.
Construction was started in 713, led by a Chinese monk named Hai Tong. He hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters that plagued the shipping vessels traveling down the river. When funding for the project was threatened, he is said to have gouged out his own eyes to show his piety and sincerity. After his death, however, the construction was stuck due to insufficient funding. About 70 years later, a jiedushi decided to sponsor the project and the construction was completed by Hai Tong's disciples in 803.
Apparently the massive construction resulted in so much stone being removed from the cliff face and deposited into the river below that the currents were indeed altered by the statue, making the water safe for passing ships.
A sophisticated drainage system was incorporated into the Leshan Giant Buddha when it was built. It is still in working order. It includes drainage pipes carved into various places on the body, to carry away the water after the rains so as to reduce weathering.
When the Giant Buddha was carved, a huge thirteen storey wood structure was built to shelter it from rain and sunshine. This structure was destroyed and sacked by the Mongols during the wars at the end of the Yuan Dynasty. From then on, the stone statue was exposed to the elements.
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