Travel to China: Baodingshan: Photo 2
In Dazu shiku (Beijing, 1984) Li Lisheng was perhaps the first student to interpret Baodingshan as a giant mandala, which is to say a visualization of a dharani, or incantation or sacred verse. That, at least, is the judgment of Angela Falco Howard, whose Summit of Treasures: Buddhist Cave Art of Dazu, China (2001) is the best introduction in English. She agrees with Lisheng and writes that the dozens of cliff sculptures in Dazu and neighboring Anyue County were stations on a pilgrimage that culminated at Baodingshan. (The captions here rely very heavily on her book.)
There are actually two Baodingshans, Large and Small. The Large Baodingshan, shown in these pictures, was the focal point for pilgrims, while the Small Baodingshan, a few hundred yards away, was the sanctum for training cult practitioners.
The Large Baodingshan is set in a box canyon, whose sandstone walls on three sides are carved with 31 sets of figures illustrating the many doctrinal threads woven into Zhao's brand of Buddhism. Here, guarding the approach to the U-shaped line of carvings, are the Nine Protectors of the Law.
Back to China: Baodingshan chapter
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