The Broken Buddha Statues of Bamiyan, or Bringing Back the Political Buddha

I learn from my friend Bishnupriya Ghosh’s Facebook post that the shattered Buddha statues of Bamiyan in Afghanistan have been temporarily resurrected. The Taliban destroyed these statues in 2001. And now they have been revived as light images projected onto exactly the spot the statues occupied. I wonder what the Buddha would have thought of this resurrection of his purported stone likeness—this temporary revival of the likeness of a likeness.

The Buddha is famous for asking the woman who begged him to revive her dead son for a grain of rice from a house that had never experienced death—if she brought him such a grain he would perform the miracle of raising her son from the dead. The mother failed but I doubt her success in procuring a magical grain of rice was ever the point. The Buddha knew a thing or two about personal sorrow, or the cessation of it.

Today this Buddha—the Buddha of personal redemption—is the most prevalent. He is the Teacher who can lead you, without regard for the world at large, to a state of diminished sorrow. What a travesty—this is not the Buddha of history. Through their destructive acts the Taliban unintentionally remind us of a more complete picture of the Buddha. They are right to regard the statues of the Buddha as a threat, for the Buddha represents the antithesis of everything for which they stand.

The Taliban recognize the political force of the Buddha and so should we. If the broken Buddha statues of Bamiyan lead us to rescue the political Buddha from the clutches of the Buddha as lifestyle guru it would be an outcome well worth the loss of the statues.

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