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Tag Archives | Buddhism

The Destruction of the Buddhist site of Mes Aynak


When Buddha met Taliban (via Hadi Zaher)

Last December, the Hosni Mubarak’s government gave 2.8 square kilometers of land around lake Qarun to developers to build a tourist resort. If the resort was built, a Neolithic site would have been lost. Now, due to the revolution, that land deal has been revoked.

Archaeologists say the remains of rain-based Neolithic farming in the reserve may hold vital clues to a technological leap that led to irrigation-based farming along the Nile.

Around 4,000 BC, humans occupying a strip along the northern shore of the lake seized a window of only a few centuries of rainfall to grow grain in previously inhospitable desert, archaeologists say.

“We have the evidence of the earliest agriculture activity in Egypt. So it’s before the Pharaohs, it’s before the early dynastic period when Egypt becomes a state,” said Willeke Wendrich, an archaeology professor at the University of California in Los Angeles.[Egypt’s revolution may save Neolithic treasure]

But the Buddhist monasteries of Mes Aynak in Aghanistan are not so lucky.

Mes Aynak (Little Copper Well) lies 25 miles south-east of Kabul, in a barren region. The Buddhist monasteries date from the third to the seventh centuries, and are located near the remains of ancient copper mines. It is unclear whether the monastery was originally established to serve the miners or if the monks set up there to work the mines themselves.Here, 7,000 ft up the mountains, Bin Laden set up a training camp in 1999 to prepare terrorists for the 11 September attack. All traces of the camp have gone, but the region still remains a Taliban stronghold.

During the early 2000s, widespread looting occurred at the Buddhist sites after the Kabul government found it difficult to impose control. Archaeologists are now uncovering dozens of statues with missing heads that were broken off to sell.

Mes Aynak’s fate changed again in 2007, when the government negotiated a 30-year mining concession with the state-owned China Metallurgical Group. The archaeological remains sit on the world’s second largest copper deposit. The $3bn deal represents the largest business venture in Afghanistan’s history.[Race to save Buddhist relics in former Bin Laden camp]

Now that mining the place is lucrative, you can say bye bye to the monastery next year. After all who wants that in Afghanistan now? Definitely not the Chinese and definitely not the folks who run the country. In 2001, the Taliban used  mortars, dynamite, tanks and anti-aircraft weapons to destroy Bamiyan. Now the Chinese are going to use dynamite and heavy machinery to destroy the remains of an Indic religion.

There is not much in the news about this Bamiyan type destruction. There are no screaming voices in the Guardian from international award winners who usually get upset when they hear the word mining.

If you want to know more about Mes Aynak and what the world is losing, please take a look at the ebook created by The Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology. (blog)


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A 17th Century Tibetan Deception

Statuette of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Mongolia, 19th century CE. (Wikipedia)

In 1679, China under the powerful Qing dynasty was trying to claim power over Tibet. The Fifth Dalai Lama was in his final years and the future looked bleak. To ensure that the spiritual and political leadership continued  he came up with a brilliant plan: he announced that he was retiring and appointing an official named Sangye Gyatso as the leader of the Tibetans. To see how this innocent looking plan, which is being repeated once again by the 14th Dalai Lama, fooled the Chinese, read on.

When the Fifth died in 1682 at the age of sixty-five, Sangye Gyatso duly informed the public that the Dalai Lama was in retreat. On the rare occasions when important visitors were allowed an audience, he enlisted an elderly monk of similar age and appearance to pretend to be the Fifth; the monk wore a large eye-shade, much like the current Dalai Lama, albeit for different reasons.

The deception was so effective that it was fourteen years before the Chinese Emperor realized he had been duped, and then only because some Mongolian prisoners of war mentioned reports they had heard in Lhasa that the Dalai Lama had died more than a decade earlier. By then the next Dalai Lama had been identified, educated, and established: a succession crisis had largely been avoided. The Qing had been denied any say over the selection of the Sixth Dalai Lama, thus taking away a fundamental part of their claim to overlordship. “You, Regent!” thundered the Emperor Kangxi in a 1696 edict to Sangye Gyatso, “You are nothing except an administrator working for the Dalai Lama, you were elevated to be the ‘King of Tibet’ by us! …This news should have been communicated to us directly!”

Hence the concern in some quarters of Beijing that the current Dalai Lama might be similarly using his retirement to prevent China from selecting his spiritual successor and thus reinforcing its claim to sovereignty over Tibet. [The Dalai Lama’s ‘Deception’]

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Threatened rock art of Pakistan

(via dawn.com)

At this point in time, survival of some ancient rock art may not be the most important item in Pakistan, but here it is anyway. Due to the construction of the Diamer-Basha Dam, some 30,000 carvings and inscriptions will vanish forever.

The Shatial, Thor, Hodur, Thalpan, Naupura, Chaghdo and other sites of northern Pakistan having clusters of carvings but the Basha-Diamer area holds thousands of very important rock carvings.

Hauptmann told Dawn.com that a total of 37,051 carvings on 5,928 boulders or rock faces will be inundated after the construction of the Diamer-Basha Dam.

The site represents hundreds of inscriptions in Brahmi, Sogdian, middle Persian, Chinese, Tibetan and even ancient Hebrew languages. Some 80 per cent of the writings are in Brahmi language.

These writings not only provide insights into the religious and political situation but also show the name of the rulers and a rough date of the time. These details of the inscriptions helped the experts arrange them chronologically.

One of the interesting Brahmi inscriptions can be read as; Martavyam Smartavyam, which means: “(Always) remember that (one day) you must die.[Threatened rock carvings of Pakistan]

Maybe Werner Herzog should visit the place with this 3-D camera before this happens.

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Indian History Carnival – 40: Gandhi, Disaster Management, Buddha in Tanjore, Suicide Bombers

Tanjavur Big Temple
(Image via Melanie-m)

  1. What do our ancient texts say about disaster management? Sriram writes about a talk he attended which quotes Kautilya and Kalhana.
  2. In Tamil, the speaker gave details of how in Tiruvizhimizhalai the saints Sambandar and Appar sang songs during a famine for which the Lord gave them one gold coin for every verse and they used this to feed the people. Was this not similar to the conducting of rock concerts today for collecting funds for natural disasters in Ethiopia and other places asked Prabha.She gave an enthralling account of the Pittukku Mann Sumanda Kathai from the Tiruvilaiyadal wherein a flood is contained by the building of a bund. There are references in Tamil classics of when a flood occurred at a particular town or village as well. Some examples of this were given.

  3. Why are there depictions of Buddha in the Tanjore Big Temple? Vijay has the answer
  4. Its interesting to note that there was a conscious effort even during the Pallava period to show Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu. However, is this Buddha the same as the Sakyamuni is a difficult question to comprehend. But the point to dwell on is the portrayal in both stone and paint – the size and the dignified manner in which he is portrayed. The reverence is very visible.

  5. According to William P. Harman, a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of Tennessee, LTTE suicide bombers were motivated by Hindu devotionalism. Aravindan Neelakantan takes this argument apart.
  6. The female suicide bombers of LTTE is part of this legacy of Western Indology. But Prof.Harmann wants to throw the blame at the doorsteps of Hindu folk tradition of women worship. Coming to the specifics we may ask: Is Hindu worship of folk women deities a honoring of martyrs? The answer is ‘No’. Hinduism has always been a life-affirming religion.

  7. A book that has generated controversy in India is Joseph Lelyveld’s Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India. At Center Right India, Dilip Rao has a review
  8. Coming to the most controversial aspect of the book dealing with Gandhi’s sexuality, a lot has already been written about it. With regard to his relationship to Hermann Kallenbach, columnists such as Tridip Suhrud and Lelyveld himself have made much of the fact that the word ‘bisexual’ has not been used. Quite so. He concludes only that it can reasonably be said that it was “the most intimate, also ambiguous, relationship of his lifetime”. He quotes Tridip Suhrud saying they were a couple and a “respected Gandhi scholar” characterizing it as homoerotic rather than homosexual “intending through that choice of words a strong attraction, nothing more”.

  9. On the same book, Anne has a post after listening to three podcasts.
  10. As Lelyveld points out in all three interviews, (the other two are at Roundtable (feed) and the NYT Book Review (feed) to this background, the relationship with Hermann Kallenbach is not very likely to be sexual and much more a case of two close friends being engaged in a spiritual search. And he goes on to emphasize the complexity of the political relationship between Gandhi and the untouchable activist Ambedkar. They politically find each other on the issue of social justice for untouchables but fall out on the finer details of this politics.

If you find interesting blog posts on India history, please send it to varnam.blog @gmail or as a tweet to @varnam_blog. The next carnival will be up on May 15th.

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Western ethics

Sila is usually translated as “virtue” or “ethics”, but we need to be careful not to confuse it with Western ideas of virtue and ethics. A traditional foundation of Western ethics is commandments and values often handed down from a god. These values include ideas about right and wrong, good and evil, and absolute rules that we have to live by. This approach to ethics leads easily to guilt, an emotion that is pervasive in the West, but which is considered unnecessary and counterproductive in Buddhism.

Buddhism understands virtue and ethics pragramatically, based not on ideas of good and bad, but rather on the observation that some actions lead to suffering and some actions lead to happiness and freedom. A Buddhist asks, “Doe this action lead to increased suffering or increased happiness, for myself and others?” This pragmatic approach is more conducive to investigation than guilt.

The Issue at Hand, Essays on Buddhist Mindfulness Practice, by Gil Fronsdal

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