Seeing, unseeing and seeing again | Daily News

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Time passes over events, personalities and outcomes. In that passing truth bends or is made to bend. Time is the password that lets in the lie. And so we have stories. Version. Legends. Some preposterous and some believable. However, in both lies and truth, in the relevant excavations, in the inevitable interpretations, there are tales that delight and lessons that are useful.

What is before us could very well be a composite of error and deceit as much the work of men, women, artists, historians, the elements and time. A finely crafted statue of the Buddha always calls for meditation. That’s probably because of the cultural ethos I was born into and grew up in, heavily influenced by Buddhist thinking and practices, but then again there have been churches, Hindu temples and mosques that have had a similar effect.

For now, it’s about Aukana. The majestic budu pilimaya (it’s 42 feet in height) is dated to the reign of King Dhatusena and therefore the 5th Century has never failed to inspire awe. The sheer dimensions and the exquisite craftsmanship would call for long reflection, if not on the eternal verities perhaps nudged by the buddhaalambana preethiya then by the effort and skill of the sculptor.

Thus has the Aukana stilled and awakened me. I’ve wondered about that unknown and unnamed sculptor. I’ve known that it was during King Dhatusena’s reign and have wondered why he and not the sculptor is mentioned by name.

And then there’s the legend. Apparently the king had been journeying with his Royal Sculptor and having come upon the rock from which the statue has been hewn, had asked, ‘Do you see the Buduhamuduruwo?’ And the sculptor had said ‘yes.’ The work had been commissioned. And the Aukana Buduhamuduruwo, ‘trapped’ in a rock for who knows how long, was released.

I don’t know if the story is true, but it is a nice story and it makes for deep reflection. I have, since hearing it for the first time, imagined the rock without the statue. I have imagined images trapped in rocks and therefore releasable. And reflecting on the reflection, I have obtained a sense of what upadanas (fixations) are, how they are created and how, perhaps, they could be avoided.

All this from the Aukana, remember. All this from an image released from a rock. All this from working back from release to entrapment and all the traps that distract and stop the exercise of grasping the eternal verities.

I remembered the Aukana story because of an incredible extrapolation, again associated with a rock, again associated with a depiction associated with the Buddha or Buddhism.

The rock, Bathalegala, has been in the news recently over the construction of a temple at the summit. Objections have been raised by people who claim that the natural beauty would be sullied. Visual pollution, they say. Let’s not get into the politics and hypocrisy of any of the many parties involved.

For me, nothing that has been mentioned or expressed about Bathalegala and the controversy has been more compelling than an artistic projection posted by Sumudu Athukorala. Sumudu, an architect, imagined Bathalegala as the base of a massive stupa. The projection has drawn a lot of invective. Some feel he’s encouraging stupendous and stupendously silly constructions on rocks and mountain tops, desecrating the environment and in many ways demonstrating abysmal understanding of the Dhamma. Others see this as an alternative to the construction of a stupa and therefore locates Sumudu in those who are virulently anti-Buddhist.

I feel, though, that Sumudu was merely proposing an option. He had a single word caption: ‘avasarai...’ (with your permission). There’s humility and a most benign engagement in that single word. What is he saying?

You don’t have to build a stupa to ‘see’ a stupa. You can see the Buduhamuduruwo in a rock and leave it at that. You could chip away all that is ‘not Buduhamuduruwo’ and obtain an image, a sculpture and delight thousands of people centuries into the future.

Sumudu has shown a way for those who are to a greater or lesser degree fascinated by objects that are associated with a doctrine, faith or religion. You could, theoretically, eye-manufacture a massive cross upon Sigiriya. It’s yours. It’s your faith. Your way of affirming faith. You can see a temple in a church and vice versa. And, if that is your preference, you could make a mind-offering of anything and everything to that object of worship.

I’ve seen Bathalegala. Thanks to Sumudu, I can see Bathalegala as the base of a gigantic stupa. It will astound me. It will make me reflect on ‘constructions’ at a deeper level. I hope, by and by, the stupa will disappear and the rock as well. I will confer merit on Sumudu and move away and towards the destination I have happened to choose.

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