I found myself thinking about the giant statues of the Buddha at Bamiyan today. They were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, and across the world, there was outrage and regret for the loss of monumental works of art, timeless reminders of history, the icons of a spiritual path followed by millions.
In her book, Buddha, Karen Armstrong states that the earliest icons of the Buddha were not of something present, as buddha-images, but of what wasn’t there: such as an empty footprint, marking the passing-by of the teacher who had lived, taught, and “crossed over.” The massive empty alcoves in the cliffs are a potent reminder of what had been there, unintentionally becoming icons themselves under the older aesthetics.
Much has happened since the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed: terrorist attacks, and attacks to prevent terrorist attacks. Revolutions and counter-revolutions. Prosperity and recession, protests and repression, peacemaking and hope, unprecedented travel and unprecedented quarantine. These all come and go, with effects that also come and go, as we, too, come and go.
However, several years ago, the Buddhas of Bamiyan briefly returned, as figures of light (see above). Perhaps the original sculptors would have chosen this medium if it had been available to them then. I’ll take it as a reminder to try to live as a light.