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Bamiyan Valley: A Glimpse Into Ancient Buddhist Culture

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The name Bamiyan means “the place of shining light.” Embraced by the Hindu Kush Mountains, Bamiyan is situated on the flat, broad, fertile plains and flanked by high stone cliffs. The city was a busy layover point for merchants on their trips some 1,500 years ago, bringing together diverse cultures from Greece, Turkey, Persia, China, and India. These merchants also brought with them their Faith. Back in the first millennium, Buddhism had reached its peak, and many of the merchants were Buddhists. As early as the Kushan period in the first century, Buddhism became an important religion in this region and attracted many missionaries and pilgrims who traveled there to spread and revere the Worshipped Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings. The Bamiyan Valley became the westernmost point of Buddhism’s expansion. In the year 632, the venerated Buddhist Master Xuanzang from Tang Dynasty China visited Bamiyan Valley. According to Master Xuanzang, the Bamiyan Valley locals worshipped the Three Jewels or Triple Gem sincerely. Strong in their Faith, they took refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Sincerely practicing Buddhism was meritorious to Bamiyan Valley. The region nurtured religion and philosophy. It was also the source of numerous fantastic new artistic expressions, and many Buddha statues were carved into the sides of sandstone cliffs facing Bamiyan. Most prominent were two giant standing sculptures of Buddha that were made in the sixth century. The statues embodied the confluence of ancient cultural and religious styles of Indian, Persian, and Gandharan art. According to historic documentation, Bamiyan Valley housed a flourishing religious center where celebrations were held every year, attracting numerous pilgrims, and where offerings were made to the Buddha statues. It was perhaps the most famous cultural landmark in the region. For more than 1,500 years, the Buddha statues blessed the Bamiyan Valley and the people as they traversed the ups and downs of everyday living. Although the statues were ultimately lost, the spirit of the Buddhas has never diminished. After the loss of the statues, numerous international groups have become involved in efforts to preserve and restore this holy site. With thankfulness to all the governments, groups, and individuals working to protect this culturally-rich site, may the history of the Bamiyan Valley continue to inspire us to focus on our own Buddha Nature within.
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