Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The Allegrezza Ficcione, Part 15

"It is said that the sage Bodhidharma brought the teachings of Buddha to the Kingdom of Wei. & that is true if you accept as the beginnings three temples the size of privies, a few old men who claimed to be monks & who ate only dried waterlily shoots to prove it & a handful of believers who could not reach consensus on a single point. Let us say, therefore, that it was Bodhidharma who planted the first seeds, even if they grew into straggly plants.

That put behind us, it can be then said that it was Hsuan Tsang who truly brought Buddhism to our land, who brought the strong seeds that grew into a forest. A long & perilous journey that he undertook, that we knew he had begun only after he had finished it. Who could not have accomplished it on his own, but who, being a simple man, would not admit that he was worthy of the assistance of the Hosts of Heaven. I have corrected the story, added in those who I know to have been his traveling companions, so his true adventures can now be told.

& yet - there must always be an '& yet' for there is no journey that does not contain the traces of an earlier one - a commentary on the Mahayana Sutras of the Masters Asanga and Vasubandhu says there was one who came from the north before Hsuan Tsang & left with the Sutras. A man from the Eastern Turkish Khaganate, from the Takla Makan desert, who had a vision that he must first travel east to Wei where he would find the true faith struggling to survive, learn what he could of it so he could then learn more. Who would then travel west, retracing his earlier steps, until he arrived back from whence he came; & then go south, across the Karakorum, down through the Hindu Kush & into India, to find the Sutras. Who would take them back to the Great Tang where they would flourish.

But the Kings of the Four Corners of Heaven were not yet ready to welcome Gautama so they caused misfortune to befall this man whose name is never told. In Afghanistan, in the Bamiyan Valley, his legs were crushed by a falling rock so he could travel no further. (In another version, it is implied that the followers of the Hinayana, the Lesser Vehicle, caused the rock to fall, seeking to prevent the rival teachings from spreading.)

There he stayed, & taught. & people came & were so inspired by what they heard that they decided to glorify the Buddha, carving two enormous standing images of him into the sandstone of the cliffs with the details of the Buddha's face shaped by a mixture of mud & straw covered over & fixed with lime.

It is also whispered that there is a third statue at Bamiyan, hidden in a secret cave deep within the cliffs whose entrance has only ever been known to a few, a reclining figure as large as the other two but with a different face, that of the teacher, because some believed he was truly the Buddha reincarnate.

This is all I know of that story. But I know that when Tripitaka saw the Buddhas of Bamiyan he knew that he had almost completed the first part of his quest. & I know that the Monkey-King was so excited when he saw them that he jumped up onto the head of one with a single leap & shouted with joy."
A Preface to Monkey, by Wu Ch'eng-en. Dated The 181st Year of the Ming Dynasty.

Previous Part / Next Part

No comments: