Wednesday, 1 September 2004  
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Mihintalava - The Birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhist Civilization

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Happy is he who tastes the flavour of truth Having tasted the flavour of seclusion and the flavour of appeasement, free from anguish and stain becomes he, imbibing the taste of the joy of the Dhamma. - (Sukha Vagga - The Dhammapada)

Early Gandhara Buddha images

by N.U. Hingalgoda

Images of the Buddha occupies a prominent place in the Buddhist Art and Architecture anywhere in the world. In the early history of Buddhist Art and Architecture Figure of the Buddha was represented symbolically as the earliest sculptures refrained from direct representation of the Buddha in human form.

The parinirvana of the Buddha. Grey Schist. 2nd to 4th century AD from Gandhara.

The Buddha figure was represented by a Lotus, a Wheel, a Tree or the Feet of the Buddha. In the second century AD Kanishka, the greatest of Kushana Kings convoked a council of learned Buddhist monks, which decided to popularise Buddhism by encouraging sculptors to represent the Buddha in human form.

The cult of the Buddha image therefore had its origin in Gandhara. The first Buddha figures had Greek faces and wore Roman-style robes imitating Greek God Apollo.

'This Western look later gave way to more mask like expression, representing the inner serenity, the private ecstasy, achieved through deep meditation'.

Early Gandhara Buddha images 'are shown either standing, sitting cross-legged or lying on his death bed and in different poses including Abhayamudra (Reassurance) Dhayanamudra (meditation), Dharmachakramudra (preaching) and Bhumisparshamudra (the earth touching).

His hands are frozen in certain gestures recognised by the faithful as prayer, preaching, blessing or accepting gifts. His hair is wavy or curly and tied in a bun on top of his head, which was later mistaken for a protuberance from his skull. His earlobes are usually elongated, and the middle of His forehead bears a round.

Most conspicuous among the large number of Buddha Statues and images discovered in the Gandhara region are the two colossal rock cut images in the Swat Valley. A huge image of a seated Buddha carved into a high rock is found at a village called Jahanabad (old Shakhorai).

The Buddha figure is about 7 metres in height and is certainly the most impressive piece of sculpture found in the Gandhara region. 'This excellent figure of the Buddha is seated on a high throne in the attitude of meditation. The snail shell curls are carefully rendered. His eyes are more than half closed. There is a prominent Ushnisha and long ear lobes.

The folds of the robes are stringy, with a planned alteration of high and low ridges. This Buddha figure is dated to 7th to 8th century AD. It resembles the rock cut Buddha image at Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka.

The other colossal Statue of the Buddha in Swat is found at the village Ghalighai on the main road to Mardan from Saidu.

This statue is carved out of a marble stone cliff in a big boulder is 4 metres in height and seated on a high throne in meditation pose. The vandals have mutilated and defaced the upper portion of this beautiful image. However the lower part of the body is still in good state of preservation. This statue too belongs to the era 7th to 8th, AD.

In the northern areas at Kargha, near Gilgit a 3 metres high Buddha statue is seen carved half way up a cliff. This statue is dated 7th to 8th century AD.

However, the biggest and the most famous rock cut Buddha Statues of this era were the Bamyan Buddha Statues in Afghanistan which were unfortunately destroyed by the Taliban regime a few years ago.

Apart from these colossal statues, miniature Buddha images have been discovered from almost all excavated sites in Taxila, Peshawar and Swat. These statues, some of which are considered to be masterpiece of art have been distributed among renowned museums all over the world. The statue of the fasting Buddha is famous, the world over as a masterpiece of art and is now on display at Lahore museum.

In Gandhara Art another cult object is the Bodhisatwa figure. Padmapani, the lotus holder and Avalokitheshwara, the God mercy are forms of Bodhisatwas popular in later Buddhism in the Swat Valley due to Mahayana influence. The future Bodhisatwa Maitraiyya is another important creation of Gandhara Art. In Swat a colossal Statue of Avalokitheswara is found at Jare, cut out of a boulder.


Major sites in Swat, Taxila and Peshawar have yielded thousands of sculptures. Most of these sculptures are worked in stone, stucco and terra-cotta. These sculptures depict various Jathaka stories and scenes from Buddhist mythology such as the birth of the Buddha, His childhood, the Great Renunciation, The Enlightenment, The First Sermon in the Deer Park, and the various events of His life leading to Parinirvana and the division of his ashes.

Foot print of the Buddha

A Foot Print of the Buddha on a boulder was discovered at Tirat in Swat which is now displayed at the Swat Museum. Below the engraved Foot prints, there is an inscription in Kharosthi characters which says 'The Feet of Buddha, the Sakya Ascetic'.

The Buddha according to tradition on a visit to this area had descended from air, set His Foot Print on a rock at Tirat. He is also said to have had a bath in a nearby river and dried up His clothes and rested for a while before returning.


Although inscriptions are not objects of worship or veneration they provide authenticity and corroborative evidence obtained from Texts and Traditions.

In Gandhara, beginning from the Asoka era up to the end of the Buddhist period a large number of inscriptions have been discovered.

The two rock inscriptions of Asoka at Shabashgarhi and at Mansera (in the North West Frontier Province) are of particular importance since they are part of the sixteen famous Rock Edicts of Asoka wherein he explains Dharma.

One at Shabashgarhi is the only inscription which contains all the edicts proclaimed by Asoka. At the Sirkap site in Taxila an Asokan inscription has been found which is written in Aramaic and is a summery of his Rock edict IV. Mention also must be made of the Asokan Rock inscription near Kandahar in Afghanistan.

The Asokan inscriptions were written in the languages popularly used in respective areas and as such edicts in Afghanistan are written in Aramaic, in Shabashgarhi and Mansera in Kharoshthi and those in India in Prakrit.

Apart from these inscriptions there are a large number of small inscriptions found in the precincts of monasteries and in Stupas and on Buddha statues mainly mentioning the names of their donors.

In Gilgit in the Northern areas a Manuscript was discovered in 1939, which contain Buddhist texts and the names and dates of some of the rulers written in Sanskrit. The manuscripts are now divided among the British Museum, Rome, Delhi and Karachi.


It is thus apparent that vestiges of a great Buddhist Civilisation exists even today in Pakistan comparable to any country in the Buddhist world. Pakistan is an Islamic State and its Department of Archaeology has taken very important and meaningful steps to preserve these monuments in spite of great financial constraints.

Buddhists all over the world owe a debt of gratitude to the People and the Government of Pakistan for protecting and preserving these invaluable Buddhist treasures some of which have been declared by the UNESCO as part of world heritage.

It has therefore become imperative and incumbent on the part of the Buddhists all over the world to take notice of the present state of these monuments and help in whatever way possible, the Government and the people of Pakistan to preserve, protect and develop them in the land which was aptly known in the olden days as the Second holiest land of Buddhism.

- (Courtesy: Ancient Buddhist Monuments in Pakistan)


What does 'a good Buddhist' mean?

by Ven. Souraba Nanda

In my five years stay in Sri Lanka I have met many people of various characters. Whenever I wanted to know about them, most of them introduced themselves as good Buddhists.

At times I ask some of them, the question, what do they mean by a good Buddhist? Most of them keep quiet while some say as they are born in pure Buddhist families and that they memorise many Sutras (discourses) of the Buddha.

It should be mentioned that few of them could be really called good Buddhists as they know and really put into practice in their own life, the teaching of the Buddha. But what is the real meaning of a good Buddhist?

Let's have a look into how a man is recognised to be a good Buddhist in the present society. As we know the common religious activities in a Buddhist family are offering Dana (giving) making offerings to the Buddha, taking Panca Sila (five precepts) etc by which they introduce themselves as good Buddhists.

Some people give Dana because they think they should follow what the ancestors did or what their religion instructs to perform when some one dies.

They are not aware of why they are giving Dana in thereal sense. They are performing that with no conviction (Saddha). Saddha or conviction is very important in Buddhism when someone performs any religious activity. But what is Saddha?

It is from the Sanskrit word sra and dha, sra means mind while dha means to keep or to put, so it has the meaning keeping the mind on something, that's to know exactly what one does.

So if one performs Dana without Saddha, will it produce a suitable result? One must have Saddha when performing Dana or any other religious activities, that is, he has to know in his mind the action being performed, he must know that he is performing that with a generous mind and that he has no attachment in doing that. Then the action will bare a proper fruit.

It is also the same in observing precepts. Some people sometimes take Panca Sila (five precepts) two-three times daily. When they attend to a religious ceremony, they just take Panca Sila and never think of them later, not understanding the meaning and the utility of practising them.

Sometimes they do understand the meaning of each precept that they are promising not to kill, not to take without permission, not to commit adultery, not to tell lies and not to take liquor, but how many are really practising them? In spite of promising in such ways, what do they do? They go back home and do all what they promised not to do.

Is there any meaning in taking Panca Sila in such a way? Why is that? That is because they have no Saddha in taking precepts, that is, they are not aware of what they are doing? So according to Buddhism we ourselves must know what we do exactly in our mind and try our best to keep the promise.

If not with Saddha it is completely useless, on the other hand it will be harmful for us, as we are not keeping to our promise.

As I have mentioned earlier some have the idea of being a good Buddhist as they are born in Buddhist families. Can it be so? If so, we do not need to study them with much difficulty since our ancestors have studied enough. Is it?

Another very significant religious performance practised by most of the Buddhists can be seen everywhere in Sri Lanka. that is offering to God Skanda-Katharagama. Many people believe and have high respect in God Skanda-Katharagama.

Some times I ask people why they do believe in such gods, being Buddhists? In their answer they say that they are not so much interested in gods but they have to follow what their ancestors did for centuries. What do you mean by ancestors? In Kalama Sutta, the Buddha clearly has instructed them.

The Buddha has been very free when preaching Buddhism to others. The Buddha has said that you are the god of yourself; you can only protect yourself, not others.

So we can see how the Buddha gave freedom to others to accept any faith after having a comprehensive thinking, unlike other religions that force others to accept their faith.

So this belief in gods became so strong among people that so many efficient personalities like Ven. Gangodawila Soma, Anagarika Dharmapala and others tried their best to obliterate this misbelief from the society. I do not know how far their effort came to be successful.

There is a female goddess called Bhadrakali, who is also very famous in saving people from misfortunes. If people face any dangerous calamities in their lives, they make offering to this very goddess and pray for their salvation from the very problem. But the way they offer to her is very mysterious.

Yeh, it's true that some people, when they really fell into trouble they prayed to God and sometimes they really got relief. And therefore they think, yes, that's true; there is a God who can save the people from their misfortunes. But do you know what happens really. You get relief not because of the God but because of you yourself, we cannot feel it. But how? That is what is called Power of Mind.

As human beings we have potential to do anything that seems to be impossible with the power of our mind. This is something hidden in ourselves. We are not aware of that because we do not think of or want to develop that power in us as we are busy with our daily activities.

I am sure no one can say that the God has provided whatever he or she desired. If so why about 65% of the population in the world are in misery? Why the God does not have any sympathy to these poor people who even do not have anything to eat?

In Buddhism, the Buddha goes much more beyond than them.

Though he says he is not the saviour, if we think more genuinely, he is the noblest saviour. Unlike others He shows the Real path of Highest Emancipation and that we have to proceed through ourselves. We have to train ourselves along that path, the path of Enlightenment.

In fact He was the only human to realise the highest truth. All other religions are based on unknown, unseen, non-human Gods. So according to my knowledge praying to a Fully Enlightened One like Buddha would bring more result as he is the highest being who has trained His mind.

Even in my experience, when I get some problem, I contemplate on the great qualities of the Buddha and wish to get release from the problem. yes, that come true. But still I do not think it is the Buddha who has done it for me.

So it is now up to you to realise the True Path of Real Humanity. It is up to you to decide whether to develop your inner potentiality of your mind which can make you a much more better person than the gods whom you are praying to or to pray whole day hoping for salvation to an unknown and non-qualified powerful god.

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