THE BOOK IS A UNIQUE ACCOUNT OF
A journey undertaken by the writer along the oldest and the greatest international route, the famous Silk Road that connected the continents of Asia and Europe, from China Sea to the Mediterranean.
The contact between the East and the West catalysed the co-existence of various religions on the Silk Road and the earliest to make its presence felt was Buddhism. Around the first century AD it had travelled from India to several parts of Central Asia and China spreading the words of the Buddha.
The book covering a vast region of China takes the reader through the dreadful deserts of the Gobi and the Taklamakan, over the snowy ranges of the Pamir, meandering through innumerable oases dotting the foot of the Tienshan and Kunlun ranges and traces beautiful river valleys. It takes a peep into the splendid grottoes and cliff theatres of the Silk Road where the Great Buddha still lives and breathes. The book offers an unforgettable train of awe-inspiring stupas, monasteries, paintings and sculptures even as it traves the complex and curious past of an immense heritage.
The exciting journey along the ancient route begins from Xian, the eastern terminus of the Silk Road and traverses the provinces of Gansu, Xinjiang, Sichuan and Tibet and traces, through maps, the several branch roads that were a conduit for trade, commerce, art and religion between the two Asian giants-India and China.
About the Author
Sunita Dwivedi belongs to Kushinagar, a sleepy town in eastern Uttar Pradesh. An intrepid traveler and amateur photographer, she set out to explore the Silk Road with the ardour of a self-guided researcher and a pilgrim. Inspired by the Dying Buddha, she has travelled thousands of miles - from Kushinagar to Kashgar, from Xian to Dunhuang, from Termez to Almaty and along the holy rivers of Tibet. Her tryst with Buddha still never seems to end. The result is this unique account of travels along the great Asian Highway.
Her earlier book The Buddhist Heritage Sites of India covered the entire Dhammayatra of the Buddhist circuit in India and Nepal.
She is a post-graduate in English from Lucknow University and has a Masters in Education from Allahabad University. An author and freelance journalist she has earlier worked for several dailies including The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Pioneer, and Northern India Patrika. She left a full time job to pursue her passion for travelling. During the last decade she has travelled widely across Asia and Europe tracing the legacy of the Silk Road.
Buddha is surely one of the three most influential persons in world history, the others being Jesus Christ and the Prophet Mohammad. Between them they continue to influence around half the population of the entire planet, and their presence is by no means confined to the country of their birth but has spread to the four corners of the world. The journey of Buddhism from the plains of Central India all the way to the nations of South and South East Asia is a fascinating story. There were two routes for this, the land route which is known as the Silk Route, and the ocean route. It is also important to remember that along with Buddhism, Hinduism also travelled to South and South Asia, the most dramatic example of which is the fabulous Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia, the largest place of worship in the world.
The journey of the Silk Route is one of the most fascinating in human history, and has been the subject of a large number of memoirs and books by Indian, Chinese and European scholars. The present book with its learned Foreword by the eminent Buddhist scholar Dr. Lokesh Chandra represents yet another significant addition to literature in this area. Sunita Dwivedi has researched the whole field extensively and has produced a volume which combines historical narrative with a contemporary travelogue. The illustrations are well chosen and give the reader a graphic picture of the varied cultural background of the countries to which Buddhism has spread.
In an age still torn with conflict, war and tension, the message of the Buddha remains even more significant than it was when he first delivered it 2-1/2 millennia ago. As it moved from India to different cultures and regions, Buddhism developed special forms and qualities so that where on the one hand we have somewhat rigid Hinayana tradition in Sri Lanka, in Japan thousands of miles away Buddhism has flourished in the form of Zen which itself is based on the Sanskrit word Dhyan. Similarly, the great mountain monasteries of Ladakh and Tibet have their own distinctive architecture compared with the magnificent Borobodour in Indonesia, based on the Sanskrit Bhadra Vihar. The whole area is full of fascinating cultural, linguistic, architectural and social facets, and I am sure this book will be of interest to students of Buddhism and of Asian culture around the world. I warmly commend the author for the energy and scholarship that she has put into the creation of this book.
The free-flowing vademecum of a journey across the mindscape of the Tathagata in the heartland of the Han, in Central Asia and in Tibet emanates from the quartets of the life, spirituality, wanderlust, and writing genius of Sunita Dwivedi. Her temporal solidarity and loyalty with her birthplace of Kushinagara flows in a continuous stream in this delightful narrative. Kushinagara is one of the four most sacred places associated with the Buddha, the others being the place of his birth, of his enlightenment and of his first sermon. It was the capital of the Mallas. Malla means a hero, Like them the heroic author has undertaken the arduous trail where once trod scholars, generals, merchants, and envoys. The living sancta and weeping ruins can be visualised in the majestic radiance of the mind.
Crossing the Hiranyavati, or the Golden River, Lord Buddha had entered Kushinagara. This narrative too is golden like the Hiranyavati where the glory and majesty of Buddha’s message burst into bloom. She opens up a time capsule that has preserved a marvellous slice of art and thought across two millennia, and continues to illumine the way for millions today.
The author commences her journey with a visit to the Famen monastery hallowed by Lord Buddha’s relic and in tune with her intentions appropriately termed Gateway (mea) to Dharma (fa). The octagonal pagoda represents the eight directions of space and the eight petals of the frail cup of a lotus. The mind is the eight-petalled lotus where blossoms the fire of the Spirit. Like the Vedic seers, she seeks the Agni born in an eight-petalled lotus. The frail lotus and the fiery luminosity of the mind are the powerful coordinates of the deep silence of the octagonal stupa.
The author speaks of the blue sky covering the Wild Goose Pagoda of Xuanzang. Blue is the colour of meditation in Buddhism or thought luminous by nature. What a strange coincidence that she should be fascinated by the blue sky before visiting the stupa dedicated to the great yogin Xuanzang. Wild Goose (or Great Goose) is a misunderstanding of the Sanskrit pamma-hamsa who is an ascetic of the highest order and has attained the fourth or the supreme stage in abstract meditation. Xuanzang was accorded this honour by his teachers in India. Hamsa is swan and not goose. It is time that the nomenclature of the stupa to one of the greatest masters of Chinese Buddhism is corrected and its meditative symbolism restored. The author gives an absorbing account of the cultural relics that Xuanzang brought to China.
The author describes in vivid terms the mausoleum of the Chinese emperor Qin Shihuangdi (22l-8 BC). As early as his reign, Yueh-chi Buddhist monks brought a number of Sutras to his court, but he did not accept the Dharma. These monks Sanskritised his dynastic name Qin (pronounced Chin) to Cheena, which travelled from India to South-east Asia, from Malay to European languages and now it is the international name. China is a Sanskrit name given to the Middle Kingdom by the Yueh-chih.
Emperor Qin Shihuangdi had all the Confucian classics burnt all over China, and so Chinese scholars have professed a thorough contempt for the Qin dynasty. They freely call themselves ‘Han people, after the Han dynasty which collected the Confucian classics and made them the central philosophy of Chinese life. The Qin emperor joined the different sections of the Great Wall of China and gave rise to Sinocentrism with China as the Central Kingdom and barbarians around to be conquered. The inner certitude of China arises in this rapture of their psychosphere to this day, The billboard at the entrance of Jichuan, the Space City of China, has enormous Chinese characters in scarlet, and interestingly enough their translation in English: (Without Haste. Without Fear. We conquer the world’.
What a sensitive choice of the author, namely the city of Xian, to commence her pilgrimage to China’s living and extinct symbols of glory and transcendence. It was the metropolis of the golden period of Chinese history under the Tang dynasty. The supreme power of the Tang was represented by the Thousand-armed Avalokitesvara who was painted by an Indian monk as early as 618-26. As recently as 8 August 2008, the World Olympic Games commenced with a dance of the Thousand-armed Avalokitesvara with a thousand girls dancing and singing his Sanskrit hymn in Chinese pronunciation. It was the Buddhist heritage of China followed by a recitation of the Confucian Classics by three thousand young men from ‘bamboo books° used in the days of Confucius. The resounding resonance, the profound depth of time and the numbing number of thousands were to remind the visiting ‘barbarians’ of the might of the Confucian Land.
Away from the neolithic village of Banpo, the author speaks of Lady Yang Kweifei whose beauty mesmerized the emperor Xuanzong (r. 712•56). She became the heroine of his countless stage-plays, as well as the misfortune that marked the end of his reign. When An Lushan captured Chang-an in 756, the emperor fled and Lady Yang had to be offered for hanging. The emperor’s fascination for her led to the neglect of the Central Asian states when they sought help from China. In 751, the Arabs gained victory over the Chinese in the Talas Valley and the Buddhist kingdoms of Central Asia were gradually taken over by the Islamic armies. It was not only an emperor’s grief, however, the grief of the (second blossoming of T’ang culture) and of a millenarian Buddhist culture.
The author’s description of the Maijishan Caves arising out of the earth like a gigantic stupa and its environs is so vivid that we are there in its scenic charm and seclusion. The mountain derives its name maiji from its shape which resembles sheaves of grain. It recalls the great Indian monastery of Dhanya-kataka ‘heap of grain’, mentioned in the Manjusri-mula-kalpa. Dhanya-kataka ‘shaped like a heap of grain’ is one of the six conventional shapes of stupas in Sri Lanka. Maijishan was a holy site as early as the beginning of the fifth century. The works in the Cave of the Seven Buddhas are a transitional style between the early art of Yun-kang and Lung-men and the full Sui-Tang styles. The stiff hieratical style is replaced by naturalistic representations. The human foot is carved in the round with a shapely ankle and natural toes. The faces undergo a re-humanising process. Sexless deities become modest maidens, with a frank and worldly look, the archaic smile ends in dimples. The Four Guardians of Directions breathe martial vigour. Elegant flowing drapery surrounds mature goddesses, like an enjewelled prima donna with the ‘majestic indolence of a sultana’ (Grousset). The monumental Sung figures in the Maijishan caves come close to portraiture. The apostle Kasyapa in Cave 90 represents an Indian monk, and though imaginary, it carries naturalism in sculpture to a degree unknown in earlier times. These caves opened a completely new approach to sculpture.
As the author delineates the murals on the ceilings, the images of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, Arhats/ Lohan or apostles of Lord Buddha, or the kalavinka bird, in the long cave galleries, she takes the readers into the caves themselves by her evocative diction. She draws us into these splendid caverns to stir the eye and the spirit to their depths. They are symbolic tangents of what took place in the secret of human hearts for a millennium. Here time falls into the timeless, in the silence and solitude of meditation.
The author in her gripping life-like narrative is on a speedboat to the Binglingsi caves dominated by a twenty-seven metre high Maitreya or Future Buddha. The sculptures in these caves show a direct impact of Indian art as the expression of sophisticated worldly life when the bodies become more delicate and lithe. The sculptors give their deities relaxed and natural rhythms. A new elegance and sensitivity appears in these figures with an imposing majesty. The Indian style is acting directly and is being assimilated to serve the humanising tendencies in Buddhist sculpture, contradistinguished from the immobile and heavy figures of the Han dynasty, which resurfaced in the Ming period. The lovely sculpture of Amitabha accompanied by two Bodhisattvas and two Guardian kings in niche 51 of Binglingsi shows restyling in the graceful and dignified Indian mode, with the comparative slimness of the hips which Chinese sculptors felt to be a profane feature of Indian prototypes. The Bodhisattva on the left is Avalokitesvara who stands in an emphatic tribhanga. The sculpture displays all the vernal freshness and animation of pose, as distinct a rooted Chinese immobility of posture. Another stone image of Avalokitesvara in niche 50 stands in marked tribhanga, with the dhoti closely moulded to the body.
The author reaches the Labrang Monastery the first Tibetan monastery in her itinerary. It has been preserved in its original glory and its courses in Buddhist philosophy are in full depth of traditional learning.
On her way to Dafosi, the author saw the stupa of Kumarajiva who was the son of Kumarayana of Kashmir and Princess Jiva of Kucha. His translation of the Lotus Sutra is the major scripture of East Asia which is enjoying a vibrant renaissance in the Soka Gakkai movement of creating values. It is the first enunciation of the Peace, Harmony and Bliss of humanity. Kumarajiva is the only Indian whose Chinese diction has been hailed over the centuries by Chinese men of letters. He was self-sacrificing and humane, strikingly handsome, intellectually brilliant and hardworking. Emperor Yao Xing was highly impressed by him. The emperor felt that the extraordinary brilliance of Kumarajiva must be transmitted to future generations. He assigned ten girls to live with him. Kumarajiva adapted himself to the circumstances and complied with the wishes of the emperor. During his preaching, he warned his listeners to take only the lotus that grew Out of the mud and to leave the mud alone. The sons and grandsons of Kumarajiva failed to live up to the high hopes of this eugenic experiment.
|Foreword by Lokesh Chandra||xiii|
|My Journey beings from Xian||3|
|To the Pavilion of Buddha at Majishan||27|
|Along the Yellow River at Lanzhou||43|
|To Dafosi at Zhangye||65|
|To the Great Wall at Jiayuguan||75|
|To Yulin Grottoes at Anxi||83|
|Highway 313 to Dunhuang||91|
|To the Grape Valley at Turfan||119|
|To Korla on Desert Express||149|
|Kuqa-the City of Kumarjiva||157|
|Kashgar-A Heady Mix of Old and New||177|
|Inside Taklamakan at Khotan||203|
|To Chengdu-The City of Poets||225|
|A Cliff Theatre at Chongqing||243|
|Routes into Tibet||261|
|Beyond the Himalayas to Lhasa||273|
|Gallery of ‘Avalokitesvara’||311|
|Epilogue-How Many Buddhas! How Many Miles!||327|
Item Code: IHL674 Author: Sunita Dwivedi Foreword by Lokesh Chandra Cover: Hardcover Edition: 2009 Publisher: Rupa Publication Pvt. Ltd. ISBN: 9788129115218 Size: 9.3 inch X 9.3 inch Pages: 351 (Illustrated in Color) Other Details: Weight of the Book: 1.665 Kg
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