“Whether it is a Buddha or bodhisattva, it is styled with deep eyes, high nose, curly hair and beard....”
Buddhists can be said to have begun their knowledge of Gandhara from the statues of Buddha. Among the many schools of Buddhist art, the Gandhara Buddha statues are unique. Whether it is a Buddha or bodhisattva, it is styled with deep eyes, high nose, curly hair and beard, not like the look of the oriental people; but more like the gods of ancient Greece. These superbly sculpted statues offer a glimpse of an ancient Buddhist country: rich, prosperous, with an exquisite civilisation of craftsmanship, and at the same time a land where Buddhism flourished.
This ancient Buddhist country, with its glorious civilisation, was located in the north west of India, in what is today’s Pakistan. While Buddhists around the world have travelled halfway around the globe to Buddhist holy sites, famous mountains and ancient temples, thousands of Gandhara relics remain unnoticed. Perhaps, the Pakistan of the past hid this door, or perhaps it was the place that Buddhists always overlooked.
Now the door has been grandly opened and the curtain has been raised as Pakistan extends its welcoming arms to Buddhists around the world. The Gandhara Buddhist treasures that have been in the country for so many years, statue by statue, pagoda by pagoda, are no longer pictures on paper, but are now on display after a thousand years of being covered in dust.
Without stopping, Master Faxian had been here, Master Xuanzang had been here. The footsteps of the two masters, one after the other, bore witness to the rise and fall of Buddhism in Gandhara.
A thousand years later, we visited Gandhara again. We worshipped again and again, praised and circumambulated the Buddha’s statues over and over again, renewing the broken lineage of the Dharma. And we prayed that the statues of Buddha and pagoda will be revived and that thousands of Buddha’s disciples will be enlightened.
In March 2022, when the Pakistani government hosted the first World Buddhist Congress, Fo Guang Shan and the Buddha’s Light International Association were invited to take part in
the event. The Pumen magazine had the privilege of accompanying the delegation and producing this ‘Special Project’ issue to coincide with the coming Wesak Celebration in May.
We do not know how long had these Buddha statues and relics been hidden in the green hills and valleys. But what is certain is that with this peace and harmonious political relationship, they are about to receive worldwide Buddhist worship and veneration, bringing Gandhara’s Buddhist history back to life once again.
Since then, Buddhists get to know Gandhara without having to rely on books and pictures. Let’s go to Pakistan together.
Ong Kwi Keng
(Deputy Executive Director of
Fo Guang Publications Sdn. Bhd.)