The word Dazu means “Big foot.” For those familiar with the search for this mythical creature it brings to mind the large hairy ape like creature who has been spotted all over the world but never conclusively proven to exist in spite of blurry films, out of focus photos, and clumps of hair that are never identified. Well I have good news. There is a bus to Dazu (Bigfoot). It is easier than we ever thought. For about two dollars you can buy a ticket in Yongchuan or Chonqing and in about two hours arrive at the location of Big Foot.
It turns out that there are mythical creatures in Dazu County, China, carved in stone. A series of sites carved over a period of about 600 years offers moral admonitions to the viewer. Monsters from the 18 dimensions of hell and fallen angels with faces Boris Karloff would envy warns the viewer with scenes of perdition. Humans are warned to avoid alcohol, not kill animals, not to eat meat, and live lives of ritual purity. Otherwise one may end up in a vat of urine and feces for 50,000 lifetimes as just one example (see below)
On the positive side, the sculptures praise those who care for their infants and aged parents in an iconic blend of Buddhist imagery and Confucian philosophy.
The verses of Zongze, the Chan master Cijue Spoke:[The kind mother] breast feeds without ceasing; in the cherished thoughts of her breast, how could she ever feel a moment of separation? Never worrying should the fat and flesh [of her body] be used up, fearing instead that her small child should be hungry.
Kindness five: “The Kindness of Giving the Dry Place to the Child.” (Photograph by the author)
Master Cijue spoke thus in praise: The dry place [she] gives to the child to sleep in, her own body sleeping in the damp. Reverently, extrapolate from the loving mothers’ unconditional and selfless love the larger idea of the Buddha’s perfect compassion. What self- centered preference could the Buddhas possibly show?
Kindness two: “The Kindness of Suffering the Pains of Childbirth.” (Photograph by the author)
Master Cijue spoke thus in praise: The tribulations of father and mother bring tears to one’s eyes. (You) will know the weightiness of (your obligations to) their kindness when a child is born from (your own) womb. The loving father hears the birth taking place and, filled with anxiety, he is unable to control himself. [He realizes that his own] birth [on the part of his parents] is impossible to repay.
Perhaps the most spectacular and touching image in the Baodingshan grottos is the 1000 arm Guanyin, the goddess of compassion. She was adopted by Christians in China as the Mother Mary as early as the Tang Dynasty, long before these carving were made at Baodingshan. There is a curious story abut her converting to Buddhism. This so infuriated her father that he ordered her executed. She ran away (wouldn’t you?) and eventually ended up in hell where she found her father. She gave him her arms and eyes in order to save and release him from hell. She was rewarded for this act of love with a thousand arms.Of course this is a Buddhist version of the story. It is curious that it has this salvific and Christ-like feature of her going to Hell to save others. In Orthodox Christian tradition Christ went to Hell before his resurrection to empty hell of it’s citizens.
One area of research I am doing at the moment is looking into Christian influences on Buddhist doctrine in China. We know that the Hungry Ghost feast was an copy of the Christian Eucharistic meal by Buddhists. Likewise Christians adopted Buddhist terms and divine figures like Guan Yin to translate the Gospels into Chinese consciousness during the Tang Dynasty. What about the doctrine of Hell? Was this a Christian influence on Buddhism? Before the Tang Dynasty Buddhist did not have a doctrine of Hell. Buddhism relied on the doctrine of Karma and the endless cycle of reincarnation to motivate people to seek Heaven or Nirvana.
The use of fear and the dread of living lives where everyday is “Groundhog’s Day” are effective but necessarily moral, especially if one subscribes to beliefs of an All-Loving God (as in Christianity) or Eternal Bliss and Pure Consciousness (as in modern Buddhism). Perhaps we have evolved in our consciousness as human beings. I would rather be motivated by love than fear.