Baoding Shan Rock Carvings-Nic!
At Dazu, Chongqing
The Baodingshan cave is located 20km northeast of Dazu. The site is about 500m long from west to east in the shape of a hairpin, with about one kilometer total length of sculptures. The carved areas which are between three and 15 meters tall are believed to have been carved under the direction of monk Zhao Zhifeng during the Southern Song Dynasty, between 1179 and 1249 AD. However, Some Daoist images date the carvings to the Qing Dynasty and later.
These reliefs and sculptures reflect a diverse school of Esoteric Buddhism that highlighted the faction of Liu Benzun (855 – 907), a pious layman of Sichuan province who became venerated for his asceticismand spiritual perfection. The three traditions Huayun, Pure Land and Zen are represented, blended with Confucianism. Shakyamuni’s birth and death, the Wheel of Reincarnation, Hell Punishments, and popular deities are also featured.
The reliefs are like illustrated sermons in stone, being interspersed with copious quotations from the sutras, which show that the intention of these reliefs is variously devotional, sermonic and in the pursuit of transcendence. As expressed by Zhao’s signature text:
Even if one spins a burning hot iron wheel on top of my head,
No matter how excruciating the pain is,
I will not relapse from the mind of enlightenment.
Many of the reliefs are lively, realistic and of high artistic quality. The reliefs were parables or teaching devices for the common people and elite persons of the time by depicting scenes of ordinary people and situations. For the monks who trained at the site, the reliefs illustrated Zhao’s spiritual doctrine in a concrete and memorable way, and remains so for visitors today.
The sequence of reliefs effectively amounts to a manual on ultimate liberation. Zhao promotes the Mahayana ideal that everyone can be saved through various means i.e. reflections on Shakyamuni’s life (the Parinirvana and Birth reliefs) and the doctrine of Karma (the Wheel of Reincarnation), encouraging good acts (reliefs of Parental and Filial Kindness), discouraging evil acts (Hell reliefs), promoting various kinds of worship (Huayun, Pure Land, and Esoteric reliefs) and contemplation (Oxherding Parable).
Below are some featured carvings and statues in Baodingshan caves:
[Images and captions extracted from: http://www.art-and-archaeology.com/china/baoding/ba02.html]
This sculpture stands at the entrance to Baodingshan, where it symbolizes the dangers to be overcome on one’s spiritual journey.
Nine Dharmapalas (Protectors of the Law) guard the entrance to the Baodingshan. More often there are eight Protectors rather than nine, but the augmented number apparently comes from a sutra that was popular around Dazu during the Song Dynasty.
The features of the Baodingshan guardians often seem grotesque or even comical, rather than fierce, at least to modern eyes.
The guardians carry different implements, including sword (right), fan (middle), and spear (left, now missing).
The left end of the relief includes a pair of servants with human bodies and animal heads. This convention usually symbolizes humans who have been reincarnated as animals in order to pay off a karmic debt, as in the Dong Yue Miao in Beijing.
Wheel of Reincarnation
The Great Wheel of Rebirth summarizes the Buddhist doctrine of karma: an endless cycle of reincarnation into higher or lower forms of life according to one’s past deeds. In this sculpture the demon Mara, personifying existence, holds the wheel in his jaws and arms. The wheel is supported from below by personifications (l. to r.) of greed (an official), evil (a soldier), foolishness (a monkey), and lust (a woman). Six Buddha-rays emanate from the wheel, signifying that enlightenment, the goal of all Buddhist practice, enables the seeker to escape from the eternal cycle of birth and death.
According to Howard, the meditating figure at the center of the wheel is Zhao Zhifeng. The rays, emanating from Zhao, partition the innermost ring of the wheel into the traditional six realms of reincarnation. Proceeding clockwise from the top, these are the realms of gods, men, hungry ghosts, hell, animals, and demigods (asuras). The middle ring illustrates the chain of causes, technically called “links of dependent origination,” in Buddhist philosophy: ignorance, sickness, death, old age, desire, etc. The outer ring illustrates various reincarnations of men and animals.
Detail of Foolishness (symbolized by a monkey) and Desire (symbolized by a woman) are seen supporting the Wheel of Reincarnation.
Cat and Prey
This delicate vignette of the natural world shows a cat menacing its treed prey. It is located near the Wheel of Reincarnation.
Vast Jeweled Pavilion
Three figures, identified by Howard as Zhao1 and two disciples, meditate in a bamboo grove on the legendary continent of Jambudvipa. Behind them, the Vast Jeweled Pavilion manifests as a result of their efforts. The characters “Bao Ding Shan” are inscribed from right to left below the relief. These translate as “Treasure Peak Mountain,” or as Howard’s title has it, “Summit of Treasures.”
1 None of the figures conforms to the “standard type” figure of Zhao. Chinese scholars have identified the figures as Zhao in youth (right), middle age (center), and old age (left). While this is certainly possible – the age progression in the figures from right to left is evident – the central figure is not dissimilar to Liu Benzun himself. This might actually be a triad of Liu, rather than Zhao, in the three stages of life.
Three Worthies of Huayan
The Three Worthies are Manjushri (left), Vairocana (centre), and Samantabhadra (right), a triad venerated by the Huayan (Jp. Kegon) School of Buddhism.
Precious Relic Stupa
This relief depicts a reliquary stupa, with Buddha images carved in rondels on each level. Many such stupas were built, after the Buddha’s death, to enshrine fragments of his cremated remains. The image seen here is a symbolic reference to this “Division of the Relics.”
1000 – Armed Avalokiteshvara
In this stunning devotional relief, the thousand hands of Guanyin (Avalokiteshvara), which give him the power to save sentient beings everywhere, have been shaped into an aureole surrounding the deity. The lady and official flanking the image may be donor statues.
The relief is 7.2m high by 12.5m wide. Someone has actually counted the hands: according to Howard, there are 1,007 of them.
The 31m long reclining statue occupies the east end of the Baodingshan; it illustrates the death of Shakyamuni, attended by Bodhisattvas and other attendants. The Buddha’s lower body and legs were omitted from the statue, so as to create a larger bust than would otherwise have fit into the available space. An offering table is positioned towards the bottom of the sculpture. Above this, a platform supports effigies of the Buddha’s relatives. The emphasis on Buddha’s family – here and elsewhere at Baodingshan – reflects the Chinese “family values” which had been adopted by Buddhism in order to thrive there.
Bodhisattvas and officials symbolically attend the Buddha at the moment of his death. The inclusion of Song officials and disciples, as well as the Buddha’s colossal length, construes this sculptural group as a devotional tableau, rather than a historical description.
As with the reclining Buddha, the lower extremities of the attendant’s bodies are absent. This adjustment brings them closer to the ground, and to the viewer. Odd as they seem at first, their legless bodies (including that of the Buddha) successfully combine the divine and human scales in a scene that includes the viewer as witness and participant.
This figure of an attendant Bodhisattva exemplifies the fine carving of these sculptures and their contemplative, devotional intent.
Head of Buddha – Parinirvana
The colossal head of Buddha, with eyes very slightly open and a blissful expression, is attended by Zhao Zhifeng (left) and Liu Benzun (right). Since Zhao is the monk who supervised the construction, his features may be taken as a portrait. A student copy in clay rests on a table to the left of Zhao’s portrait bust.
Zhao Zhifeng and Liu Benzun
As mentioned previously, Zhao is the creator of Baodingshan and Liu is Zhao’s spiritual father. While there is no doubt of Zhao’s sincerity, this was also an astute move in terms of religious politics, since Liu had long been revered in the area around Dazu. The 300-year gap between the two men is bridged here by the placement and orientation of the statues that show Zhao contemplating the figure of Liu and the other attendants. By placing himself at the head of the line, and bearing some signs (curly hair, urna) of a Buddha, Zhao clearly means to claim for himself the status of an enlightened being; he simultaneously expresses his spiritual descent from Liu, and his devotion to the Buddha, at the pivotal moment of the Parinirvana.
Guardian Official – Parinirvana, Baodingshan
A weaponless guardian, with determined expression, rises from the ground with half-formed legs to protect the head of the reclining Buddha.
Our final example of the Parinirvana sculptures is this striking Bodhisattva at the foot of the Buddha, who balances the guardian official at the Buddha’s head, almost like a pair of bookends. Holding a ruyi scepter, his expression of authority is emphasised by his frank stare, narrowed eyes, and the stern, almost mask-like lines of his brow ridges and cheekbones. This is an active and protective, rather than a contemplative, deity.
Birth of Shakyamuni – Baodingshan, Dazu
Maya, the Buddha’s mother, appears as a crowned Bodhisattva with ruyi. Her son, Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha’s birth name), appears beside his mother as an oversize child, alluding to his miraculous birth from the side of his mother.
Maya’s shalabhanjika posture and her attendant maid are retained from the original Indian iconography. However, in deference to Chinese sensibilities, she grasps the tree with her arm decorously extended, rather than provocatively raised.
Nagas Bathe Shakyamuni
The young Buddha is lustrated by nagas, in this magnificent scene that owes much to the imagery of Southeast Asia. The sculptors channeled a natural stream to issue from the principal naga’s mouth. The Birth Scene is just to the right.
It is probably no accident that the three scenes illustrating Buddha’s life on earth are placed together (Birth, Death, and Lustration), although technically the Lustration is out of sequence.
The cult of Mahamayuri was widespread in Sichuan, although this deity – the only female Vidyaraja – seems little-known outside of that area. She rides the peacock, an enemy of snakes, to symbolize her power against snakebite. She also granted protection against drought and many other evils. Her inclusion at Baodingshan is explained not only by her regional popularity, but more particularly by her local title of Buddha’s Mother: in esoteric doctrine, Maya was considered to be the mother of Buddha only in respect to his physical body, while Mahamayuri was the mother of Buddha in respect to his metaphysical body.
This pillar is the centerpiece of grotto no.15, which represents the sacred abode of Vairocana. In Huayan doctrine, Vairocana is the supreme god who presides over an infinite number of universes, in each of which a Shakyamuni Buddha is born to preach the Dharma. The idea of multiple universes has deep roots in Hindu thought, and finds a distant echo even in contemporary scientific cosmology.
The walls of Vairocana’s grotto are decorated with Vairocana Triads; their repetition reinforces the idea of multiplicity that is a centerpiece of Huayan doctrine.
Parents Bestowing Kindness on Their Children
The statues illustrating parental kindness are laid out beneath a line of seven Buddhas (Shakyamuni plus six other Buddhas of the past). This relief incorporates a homiletic Confucian message about family values, under nominal Buddhist auspices. This answered Chinese critics who had censured Buddhism as indifferent, if not actually hostile, to the claims of family.
Asking Buddha for Progeny
In the center of the relief, parents ask the Buddha to grant them children. This was an overriding concern for Chinese families. Children were considered essential to carry on the work of the clan, to continue the family line, to support their parents in old age, and to care for their spirit tablets after death. The people in this relief are commoners, not kings and princes; ordinary viewers could easily identify with the family values depicted here.
In a part of the relief called “Protecting the Child in the Womb,” the mother-to-be (seated, blue robe) takes nourishment for the child in her womb from a standing servant who is holding a bowl. Below sits Zhao Zhifeng, wearing a rosary. To the right, “Forgetting the Pains of Childbirth and Raising the Child,” the mother (standing) has now given birth; she supports the child on her shoulder, as the father looks on dotingly.
“Placing the Child on the Dry Side, Lying in the Wet” sees the kindly mother supporting the child on the dry side of the bed that the child has just soaked, while she lies in the child’s urine. She does not want to disturb the child, not even by getting up to change the bedding.
On the other side of the relief, the mother, standing and heavily pregnant, endures the “Pain of Childbirth” while supported by a servant; a midwife kneels in front of her, as the father looks on hopefully.
The seated mother at right is “Chewing the Bitter [food, for herself], Spitting [out] the Sweet [for the child];” left, the mother is “Breast-Feeding the Child.” An accompanying text (not shown) enjoins all parents to follow these precepts of kindness.
Spirits of Wind, Thunder, and Lightning
The next relief, around the corner, honors the non-Buddhist weather gods that were so important to an agricultural community. Spirits of Wind (right, with bag of wind, like Aeolus in Greek mythology); Thunder (middle); and Lightning (left) are shown here. Wind and Thunder in Japan are known as Fujin and Raijin.
Spirits of Mist and Rain
Spirits of Mist (right) and Rain (center, riding dragon) are carved into the rock; the figure on the left is one of Rain’s assistants. Below, a weathered homiletic text (not shown) calls down the wrath of the elements upon evildoers, while promising that it is never too late to mend one’s ways.
Shakyamuni Repays His Parents’ Kindness
The colossal statue of Shakyamuni, seen here, overlooks a relief that illustrates twelve instances of Buddhist filial piety, taken from various sutras and jatakas, including the sutra titled “With Great Skillful Means, the Buddha Repays [His Parents’] Kindness” (Da Fang Bian Fo Bao En Jing). The relief is both moralistic (to illustrate the benefits of filial piety) and propagandistic (to prove that Chinese Buddhists can be as filial as anyone else).
Ananda and the Dutiful Son
This story relates the origin of the Baoen Jing sutra. Buddha’s disciple Ananda (photo left) encounters a dutiful son who is laboriously carrying his aged parents in baskets suspended from his shoulders (center). Also present are some Hindu Brahmins (photo right), who praise the filial son, and disparage Shakyamuni’s own filiality by comparison. Ananda reported this encounter to the Buddha, who preached the Baoen Jing in response.
Scene #18, bottom right side
This view of the Ananda scene illustrates two Brahmins to the right of the dutiful son; the Brahmin in front is pointing out the son to his companion. Beyond them is a group of foreign entertainers, playing musical instruments and dancing, beneath a flute-player in an alcove.
Scene #18, bottom right side (detail)
This detail captures the determination of the son, pointed out by the arm and hand of the Brahmin at the photo right, as he transports his aged parents.
Flute Player – Scene #18, bottom right side
A flute player provides musical accompaniment to the foreigners dancing below. The figure to the left of the dancing foreigner is playing a clapper; his feet are also in a dancing pose. Depictions of foreign entertainers were common in China from the Tang dynasty onwards.
Parables of Filial Piety – Scene #18, upper right side
Lower left, the child Prince Subhuti accompanies his royal parents (standing) into exile. The father rests one hand on his sword while his other arm supports the boy. Subsequently (not shown), the Prince offered his own flesh to feed his starving parents. Lower right, Prince Mahasattva sacrifices himself to feed a hungry tiger and her cubs. His distraught parents examine their son’s remains on a table beside the tiger. Upper right, a farmer releases a filial parrot who took grain from the farmer’s field in order to feed its parents. Beside this figure, Prince Kshanti (right corner) sacrifices his eyes and bone marrow to make a medicine for his father (at table, upper right). Upper left, Shakyamuni (kneeling) reveres his parents (seated above).
Shakyamuni Carries His Father’s Casket – Scene #18, lower left side
Top left, the dying Shyama asks his slayer to look after his blind parents. Top center, a king (praying) sacrifices his flesh in order to reach enlightenment. Top right, Prince Good Friend kneels as he offers a curative jewel (cintamani) to his parents. Bottom center, a householder throws himself down a mountain in order to attain enlightenment, while India (kneeling) and an ogre (standing, actually Indra in disguise) look on. Bottom left, Shakyamuni (left) comforts his dying father (King Shuddhodhana, stretched out on table). The two enlightenment stories are exceptions to the general theme of filial piety that is displayed here.
Western Pure Land
The Western Pure Land (Sukhavati) unfolds around a triad consisting of Amitayus, Avalokiteshvara, and Mahasthamaprapta. The right-hand side of the relief, surrounding Avalokiteshvara, is imaged here.
Western Pure Land, right side
The Bodhisattva of Compassion, Amitayus’ chief assistant, overlooks the Western Paradise with a kindly expression. Avalokiteshvara (Ch. Guanyin, Jp. Kannon) displays a standing image of Amitayus in his crown (a variant; typically the Amitayus is seated in meditation). His right hand holds a lotus stem (absent), and his left supports a bowl.
Western Pure Land, Center
In theory, there are four Buddhist Pure Lands (paradises), one for each direction of the compass. Each is ruled by its own Buddha. In practice the cult of Amitayus (Ch. Wuliangshou, Jp. Amida), Buddha of the Western Pure Land of Sukhavati, was by far the most popular. Devotees could expect to be reborn from lotuses in Sukhavati, attaining one of nine degrees of bliss, depending on the degree of merit they had accumulated in their earthly life.
Amitayus’ hand gesture combines elements of vitarka (thumbs touching index fingers) and dhyana (hands together, palms up, fingers bent).
Western Pure Land, left side
Amitayus’ other helper, Mahasthamaprapta (Ch. Dashizhi, Jp. Seishi) appears here on Amitayus’ right side (viewer’s left). The usual emblem in his crown is a vase, although none appears in the crown of this figure. His typical gesture is to hold a lotus bud, but here he appears to be making the dhyana/vitarka gesture (see previous page) with his right hand, while his extended left holds an unidentified object. Unlike Avalokiteshvara, Mahasthamaprapta never developed an independent cult following; he represents the power and wisdom of Amitayus, as Avalokiteshvara represents the compassion of Amitayus.
Western Pure Land, left side (detail)
This scene illustrates the rebirth of happy souls in the Pure Land. They are greeted by various deities as they emerge from lotus plants, the symbols of purity.
Six Roots of Sensation
The figure in this relief is Fu Dashi (Jp. Fu Daishi, 497-569), a Zen master who taught that the senses deceive the mind. Here the six senses are personified by animals, who are tethered to Fu Dashi’s platform: Sight, a dog; Hearing, a crow; Smell, a snake; Taste, an unidentified animal; Touch, a fish; and Passion, a horse. The master cradles a monkey, personifying Mind, in his lap.
Hell Punishments, right side
This elaborate hell relief vividly illustrates the deities and officials in charge, and the punishments meted out to sinners. The standing figure at photo upper left is Jizo, who releases souls from hell. He carries a tall Buddhist staff and jewel.
The Hell of the Boiling Cauldron
In this hell, a horse-headed “hell warden” boils sinners in a cauldron. In spite of their horrific punishments, the hells are not eternal; in fact they are more like the Western concept of Purgatory. While it is always better not to sin in the first place, you can avoid the hells (or at least shorten your stay) by repenting, invoking the proper deity during your lifetime, and by being prayed for after your death. Otherwise, you must suffer in them until your full karmic debt is paid.
Hell of Excrements and Impaling
In these hells, sinners are beaten into a vat of excrement, while others are impaled alive by ferocious “hell wardens.” These employees of the hellish bureaucracy are merely doing their job, and should not be confused with the malicious fallen spirits (devils and demons) of the West.
Hell of Impaling
The sinner is bound to a post, where he is impaled in the stomach by a hell warden. His sin was eating meat (the sutra-writers, from whom these punishments are derived, were serious vegetarians). The vividness of these images was calculated to make them highly memorable and easy to understand to anyone who saw them.
Hells of the Iron Wheel and Boiling Cauldron
Just to the right of the Impaling Hell, a helpless sinner is ground to pieces underneath a heavy toothed iron wheel that looks like an oversize tea grinder; his sin was eating rabbits, like the woman seated at the table above. Meanwhile another sinner, guilty of evil speech, is picked up like a slab of meat and tossed into a boiling pot. The monkish figure at the right, in front of the three-tiered stupa, is Zhao Zhifeng; his captions advocate the pursuit of enlightenment as the best way to avoid suffering.
Hell of Breaking the Knees
The evils of drunkenness are illustrated, in a very Confucian way, by their awful effects on the family. In the scene, a drunken son seduces his own mother, and in turn is speared by his mother’s lover. The punishment of everyone involved is illustrated. The seated figure at bottom is wearing a cangue around his neck, while awaiting his turn to have his knees broken by the hell warden at left. The cangue, a kind of yoke around the neck upon which a person’s transgression was inscribed, was a common punishment in China.
The Ten Austerities of Liu Benzun
As mentioned previously, Liu Benzun, who lived 300 years before Zhao Zhifeng created these grottoes, was Zhao’s spiritual ideal and inspiration. Liu’s deliberate damaging of his own body is shown in this relief. Liu is the large central figure in the photo, and his austerities (acts of harming himself) are shown to either side upon the upper ledge.
Asceticism, also known as penance, austerity, and “mortification of the flesh,” has deep roots in India, Christianity, and many Native religions. The practice aims to achieve a spiritual state by sacrificing one’s physical being; physical and sensory deprivation or pain can, under favorable circumstances, lead the prepared mind to a realm of religious and visionary experiences that seem compelling to the practitioner. Although rejected by the historical Buddha (who advocated the Middle Way after earlier austerities), asceticism was incorporated into early Chan (Zen):
The Second Patriarch, who had been standing in the snow, cut off his arm and said [to Bodhidharma], “Your disciple’s mind is not yet at peace. I beg you, my teacher, please give it peace.” (Mumonkan, no.41.)
There is no evidence that Zhao himself practiced self-harm, but the theoretical importance of asceticism to Zhao is attested by his epigram quoted earlier:
Even if one spins a burning hot iron wheel on top of my head,
No matter how excruciating the pain is,
I will not relapse from the mind of enlightenment.
Liu’s Ten Austerities are: Burning the Index Finger, Burning the Ankle, Cutting the Ear, Burning the Top of the Head, Burning the Genitalia, Burning the Knees, Cutting the Arm, Burning the Chest, Gouging the Eye, and Meditating in the Snow.
Cutting the Ear – Ten Austerities relief, left side
Liu Benzun, not content with already having gouged out his right eye (shown missing, in photo), cuts off his left ear in this relief.
Smelting the Genitals
Liu Benzun commits what would be, for most of us, the ultimate sacrifice: burning off his genitalia.
From the left bottom side of the relief, below Liu Bnzun’s austerities, we see Hayagrigva (left.) and Trailokyavijaya (right.); source: Howard, pp. 60-61.
Acalanatha (left.), and Yamantaka (right.) are displayed here (Howard, pp. 60 – 61).
Continuing from the back side to the center, we see Yamantaka (left.), and Ucchushima (right.) (Howard, pp. 60-61)
Ten Vidyarajas (Wisdom Kings, Jp. Myo-o) are displayed in the lower register of the relief. The Wisdom Kings, fierce protectors of Buddhism, were introduced to esoteric Buddhism from India. In this photo Da Huiji, a Wisdom King whose name is not known in Sanskrit, occupies the central place below Liu Benzun.
Kundali Vidyaraja (Ch. Daxiao, Jp. Gundari) is placed just to the right of Da Huiji (previous page). According to some mandalas, he is an emanation of Ratnasambhava (Frederic, p. 209).
These Vidyarajas are identified by Howard (p. 61) from left to right as Aparajita, Mahacakravajra, and Padanakshita respectively.
The Daoist reliefs at Baodingshan are a modern addition; they date from the Qing dynasty and later. On the left, a female deity is paired with a crowned male deity who rides a tiger and carries a parasol. The figures on the right are the Three Purities.
Daoist Gods and Goddesses
On the left, we see a paired male and female deity. On the right, a fierce multi-armed god rides a tiger, paired with a bald and bearded figure who is riding a different animal.
Bust of Vairocana – Liu Benzun Perfected
Liu Benzun is poised between two rays that emanate from Vairocana’s crown, a startling elevation of Liu to the status of an emanation of the cosmic Buddha. The repairs to Vairocana date to the Ming Dynasty.
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