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Buddha statues impermanent:
Should Buddhists keep mum?
Manpreet Singh
Buddhism Today News Service

 The world Buddhist community appears to be divided in its reaction to the unfortunate loss of the world’s most precious Buddha statues in Afghanistan which recently fell prey to Taliban militia’s mindless fundamentalism. These Islamic fundamentalists call the statues as "false idols" and against the spirit of Islam, and thus destroyed them, including the world’s two ancient towering Buddha Bamiyan statues with tanks, canons and rockets.

While the whole world is shocked at the Taliban’s action Buddhist community seems to be divided as to how to react to this situation in context of Buddha’s teachings of anicca and compassion. Consequently, a myriad of reactions and interpretations of Buddha’s teachings fill their response.

‘Buddhism Today’ started a "Special Guest Book on Buddha Statue Destruction in Afghanistan" last week to record the Buddhists and world’s citizens’ reaction to this unfortunate incident in history.

The Special Guest Book aims to record Buddhists and world’s reaction as the debate is growing amongst the Buddhist circles; the statues are impermanent, should Buddhists complain or keep mum on the issue? The response has been active and here we bring you some of the reactions and interpretations forwarded by people from all over the world.

Those believing strongly in Zen school, giving the theory of anicca, want Buddhist community not to be attached to the statues as all things are bound by impermanence, and pray for the peace and prosperity of one and all, even of the Talibans. But the general feeling of hurt and anger at this act of Taliban is widespread amongst the ordinary Buddhists world over, and the secular minded people.

Shousie Hanayama from New Jersey feels that this event should be forgotten, but sees in this an opportunity to spread Buddha’s teachings: "Unfortunately, the Buddha statues in Afghanistan will be destroyed by human beings. But everything is impermanent. Therefore, we better leave the attachment for the Buddha statues in Afghanistan. Of course, it's tragedy for us. However, one of the reasons of the tragedy depends on us. We had better spread the teachings of Buddha worldwide."

One Buddhist asks others to ponder on Buddha’s teachings at this hour: "The mind is naturally pure and radiant. But external objects pollute the mind, Thought, influence of senses, And mental faculties or defilements. The last word of our teacher: ‘Behold, O disciples, I exhort you. Subject to change are all component things. Strive on with diligence’."

Jivananda Ong, from Malaysia, also observes the impermanent aspect of Statues and all things: "All component things are impermanent. The statues will be destroyed by human beings or by the power of the nature. We should not be very sad on this matter. Because it is natural. It will go sooner or later. All conditioned things are impermanent (anicca).

However, Tran Nguyen Nhu, feels that Buddha’s theory of anicca is being misinterpreted as destruction. He tries to put Buddha’s teaching on anicca in right perspective, "I strongly disagree with those Buddhists who consider that Buddha statues are only "stones" and that their destruction as making stones into pieces. Although the Buddha claims that He is only the Path-Pointer and does not ask us to worship him as God, there is nothing wrong in making His statues as well as worshipping them as symbol of enlightenment. What I am worried about is that some Buddhists may have misinterpreted the Buddha's theory of impermanence (anicca) as destruction. When He says all things and phenomena are impermanent, He does not mean that we have to destroy our body and properties, nor let others do so to ourselves. He simply tells us the fact that things get changed or transformed. Under any sad circumstances, one should not react violently or unwisely. What we have to do is try our best (but not "indifferent") to improve things in a positive way. The Buddhists should stop misinterpreting Buddha's teaching of anicca as destruction either by self of others. As a Middle Path, Buddha's teachings are well-known as avoiding two extremes of permanent and impermanent theories."

Tran Nguyen Nhu further exhorts Buddhists to show courage and stand actively and compassionately for justice: "I suggest all Buddhists should actively react with "compassion" in protest against any fundamental acts of religious intolerance, especially towards Buddhism, in the future. Otherwise, all Buddhist heritage would be smashed at any time, like those of Nalanda and other holy Buddhist places in India. Don’t be a silent observer to destruction of Buddha statues! One should not do any harm or injustice to others but also don’t let anyone do so.
Again I would like to request that all Buddhists should show the courage, right effort in protecting Buddhist culture and heritage. React with wisdom and compassion."

Thich Nhat Tu, a Vietnamese monk, now in India, sees this unfortunate incident as "the darkest" in the world in the new millennium; the biggest calamity after the India’s deadliest earthquake in March which left over one lakh people dead. He advises: "The Buddhists should not react violently or create hatred against the ignorant Taliban militia, otherwise there will be no difference left between them and the Buddhists. We should work towards world peace."

But there are people like Toh Tin Lam from Singapore who think that a stricter and concrete action would be better to teach Taliban some sense than the mere expression of dislike to their actions in words, "I hope that Buddhists should take more practical actions discouraging further destruction of Buddhist heritage -- don't just pray and hope for their turning for the better!
Buddhist countries and organisations should stop all your aids to the Taliban Muslim leaders. Stop all dealings with them-- stop giving them
the revenue via tourism and businesses. And offer prayers to rescue their souls from the Avici Hell!"

Intellectuals and academicians aside; the general feeling amongst the ordinary Buddhists and world’s secular citizens over the statues uncalled destruction has been one of outrage, anger, compassion and regret.

"It's a shame; quite a timid and the most shameful act I ever heard," writes Dhananjaya Bandara from Colombo. Meanwhile reacting sadly and strongly writes Nhi Phan from the United States of America, "I was really shocked when I got the news about the destruction of Buddha statues in Afghanistan. For me, those Taliban people are not human beings, they are kind of animals (actually worse than that), they don't even have brains. That's all I have in my mind now. Please let me know if I can do anything to prevent them doing such stupid things."

Thich Nu Nhu Nguyet from Taiwan does not see any religious justification behind Taliban’s action of destroying statues, "The ultimate goal of all religions is to bring loving-kindness to all human beings. Religious people do not condemn or teach people in society to be violent. But the immoral action of Taliban government to destroy the Buddhist statues at Afghanistan is the act of violent and inhuman."

Islam does not teach hatred says Bianca Vermeij from Amsterdam, "It does'nt help the Islam or the Islamic people to do so and it is a loss to the world. And if Buddha doesn't mean anything to the people in Afghanistan, then please let the statues have their destination in another country. If Allah is wise Man, which I think he is, then he would never have destroyed something which is so valuable to some people, especially when it is invaluable to the Taliban. I see this as an action of hate and Allah didn't preach hate either. Of course everything is impermanent, but let it go in its own time!"

Condemning the Taliba actions Huong Huyen CHan tue bi asks Taliban militia to reflect on their misdeeds and repent what they have done to wash away their bloody hands, "We Buddhists feel sad to know that the tallest Buddha statues have been destroyed completely in Afghanistan by bloody hands of ruling Taliban. What will remain in Afghanistan if you Taliban live without understanding, loving-kindness, but only doubt and hatred towards other religious heritage??? We strongly condemn your destruction of Buddhist heritage particularly and world heritage generally. Please wash and stop your bloody and destructive hands! The World will remember you...."

Saying that Buddhist culture and religion is relevant in all the times to come, Dr. Manohar Lal Sharma in India questions Taliban’s courage in destroying the statues. "A brave neither disrespects nor frightens others. As a matter of fact, no one has the right or claim to destroy religious/ spiritual and civilizational heritage of others. The right thinking people do not approve of the conduct and behaviour of the perpetrators and operators of religious intolerance. Disruption and destruction of heritage do not glorify any person, cult or any religion. Brave people do not behave like this. Buddhist philosophy is valid and relevant for all times to come and the same cannot be wiped out overnight in this way."

To Toan Vu in Texas Taliban’s act reminds atrocities of the past, "The barbaric acts of the Afgan Taliban reminds me of the medieval periods (from 10th to 17th century) of Indian history, when the invaders, in the name of "Islam", killed millions of Buddhists and Hindus, destroyed all the temples and statues of these two religions. We must be aware that fanatic monotheistic religions do not threaten world peace.

Hai Hanh, from Australia, wants Buddhists to pray for the wrong doers who destroyed the statues, "It is very sad when hearing about destruction of Buddha statues in Afghanistan. Although the Buddha statues have been destroyed but Buddhism followers/layers and Buddhists always believe that Buddha really is in their heart and destroyers will bring bad karma. But according to Buddhism, Buddhists will pray for destroyers so that they could be steadily changed from bad karma to good karma."

Zoran, from Croatia, sums up (and wisely too) his explanation of anicca and compassion: "All worldly phenomena are impermanent. The statues are impermanent too. We all know that. But it does not mean that we should be completely inactive. Otherwise such things like the destruction of the statues will happen again. Barbarism can be stopped. Because barbarism is impermanent too. Barbarism should be made more impermanent than the statues."


Updated: 11-3-2001

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