Once highly cherished, these ancient Buddha statues are broken and covered with the dust of time -the very picture of impermanence. But upon closer examination, the plucky 6th Century Chinese statues (buried for protection by the sangha) show the strength of the dharma and the Buddha to outlast countless long forgotten dynasties.
National Geographic Magazine says of the picture, “The head of a Buddha statue peeks above the dirt in Handan, China, where archaeologists have reportedly unearthed nearly 3,000 Buddha statues, which could be up to 1,500 years old.”
Anthropologists suspect the statues were buried to protect them from political turmoil after the fall of the Northern Qi dynasty when later emperors attempted to purge the country of Buddhism.
It is reminiscent of the story of Ozymandius told in the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley
Both Ozymandius and Buddha statues are found partially buried and neglected, but each leaves a different legacy. If when you die, you will be remembered more for what you gave away than how much you amassed for yourself, then Buddha certainly outstrips Ozymandius. Ozymandius’s stern countenance and braggadocio of material gain and world conquest look ridiculous in retrospect. Meanwhile Buddha’s serene countenance, life and message still reverberate with us today.