Dazu Grottoes
Saturday, October 26th, 2002
Dazu County, China
All Photos © 2002 Ting and Randy Vogel

 A Basket Backpack
 Busy Chongqing Sidewalks
 Mr. Shen Chats with Mom & Pop
 A Building under Construction
 A Smiling Ting
 Randy Enjoys the Ride
 Sidewalk Vegetable Vendors
 Pack Horses
 Quack Quack!
 A View of the Hillside
 Brooms Laid out to Dry
 The End of the Road
 Fresh Meat
 Pointing the Way
 A Bike-Shaw
 Carvings in the Rock
 Entrance to Dazu Grottoes
 View of a Grotto from Above
 A Stone Frog Covered with Moss
 Colorful Roof Details
 Etched Drawing Decorates end of Rooftop
 Entrance to Baodingshan
 Scenery Surrounding the Grottoes
 Introduction to the Cliffside Carvings
 Ting Checks out a Carving of Two Gods
 Front View of Carving
 God & Goddess Carving
 Vine-Covered Stone Pillar
 Ritual Site of Liu Benzun (panorama)
 Vajra (Southern Song Dynasty)
 The Lay Buddhist, Liu Benzun, and his Attendants
 Top of the Niche
 A Sleeping Buddhist
 A Stone Ox?
 Scenes of Torture in Hell
 A Closeup of Hell
 Niche of the Nether World (panorama)
 Demons Stirring a Pot of Heads
 A Reclining King
 A Sinner is Tortured
 Judgment in Hell
 The Lay Buddhist, Liu Benzun
 Bamboo Scaffoldings used in Restoration
 Scenes Depicting Filial Piety & More Scenes of Hell
 Heavenly Kings
 Writings on the Rock
 A Phrase Carved on the Rock Face
 A King Cutting his Ear Off
 A Buddhist in Front of a Pagoda
 Two Demons Tortured Sinners
 A Buddha Statue Being Restored
 More carvings Being Restored
 Buddha Surrounded by Attendants
 Buddha Comforting the Sick
 Scenes of Filial Piety
 More Scenes of Filial Piety
 A Dutiful Son Carries His Legless Parents to Beg for Alms
 Stories in Rock
 Gods of the Nether World
 Carvings in a Rock Overhang
 A God on a Dragon
 Niche of Parental Love Sutre
 Crowds of Tourists (Pop in Foreground)
 Scenes Depicting Parental Love Below Sitting Buddhas
 End of the Niche of Parental Love Sutre
 A Soldier?
 Incense Urn
 Sakyamuni on a Goose
 Reclining Buddha (panorama)
 The Nine Turtle Head Fountain
 The Turtle Head Fountain Pool
 At the Head of the Reclining Buddha
 Carvings at the Foot of the Reclining Buddha
 Goddess of Mercy with a Thousand Hands and Eyes Seen Through a Hole in the Cave
 The Reclining Buddha (Song Dynasty)
 Another View of the Goddess of Mercy with a Thousand Hands and Eyes
 Three Buddhas in a Pagoda
 Manjusri holding a pagoda in his hand
 Vairocana (Middle) and Samantabhadra
 End of Niche Featuring Manjusri, Vairocana, Samantabhadra, and 88 Buddhas
 A Monkey Carving
 The Ghost Variable and the Wheel Illustrating Six Conditions of the Heart.
 Niche of Grand Precious Garret
 A Fish Carving
 Roof Ornament
 More Roof Carvings
 The Nine Guardians of Buddhist Law (panorama)
 Tourists Crowd Around the Three Saints of Huayan School of Buddhism
 A Stone Monkey
 A Grinning Rock Dog
 A Cow-Herd with an Ox
 Carvings of Oxen
 View of the Grottoes From Across the Canyon
 Mr. Shen and Mom Checks Out a Stone Lion
 Buddha with his Eyes Closed
 World Heritage Committee Sign
 Firecracker Dust Littered the Path
 Tourist Map of Baodingshan
 Tourist Map of Dazu County
 A Craftsman Carves a Piece of Rock
 Rickshaws Await Tourists
 Carvings Seen Above the Treetops

We were up by 7 AM this morning like the day before. As we were scheduled to board the M.S. Isabella tonight for the Yangtze River Cruise, we had to pack and check out. Between that and breakfast, we did not leave for Dazu Grottoes until quarter-to-nine. The drive to Dazu Grottoes took us through the streets of Chongqing, which seemed busier today than yesterday. The porters were out in full force, waiting at street corners for possible customers. Sidewalk vendors hawked their wares to passersby. Pack horses waited by the side of the road for their loads. Even the ducks were out, sauntering unhurriedly by the side of the road like any casual shopper.

As with yesterday's trip, the drive was a series of challenges, with road construction being the biggest obstacle. Reaching the end of an improved stretch of pavement generally meant a traverse of several hundred yards of potholed and washboarded hardpack, complemented here and there by occasional stretches of sticky red muck. Mom commented that the earth looked just like the red clay in Georgia. The most unusual addition to today's list of transportation obstacles relates to the season. Piles of cut rice were spread on the road in front of many farm houses so that traffic in both directions was pinched towards the center of the road. According to Mr. Shen, what with the steady stream of obstacles, it made it easy to pick out the drunk drivers - they were the ones that drive straight!

We arrived at Dazu Grottoes a bit over two hours later, arriving at 11AM, and promptly disbursed ourselves from the confines of the minivan. Located about 90 km away from Chongqing, the Grottoes are tucked away on the side of a steep hill in the countryside.

Although we had to traverse a large "tourist-trap" area of restaurants and memento vendors, Mr. Shen took us along a back route that avoided the main drag (and the most aggressive of the vendors). We soon arrived at a small plaza where folks were queued up to take electric trams down the last half-mile or so to the grottoes. As an alternative to the tram, a dozen or so bike-shaws were sitting around, their owners half-heartedly trying to lure customers from the tram queue. The problem being, as far as we could see, that the majority of the tourists there were arriving in large, organized groups, requiring multiple tram-trips (at 6 to 12 seats per tram), whereas the bike-shaws had room for two, or perhaps three customers.

A sign in the plaza pointed us to Guangdasi Temple in one direction and to the Baodingshan Cliffside Carvings on the other. Mr. Shen directed us towards the Baodingshan Cliffside Carvings. The introduction at the entrance read:
The Cliffside Carvings at Baodingshan were created under the supervision of Zhao Zhifeng, a famous monk in Southern Song Dynasty, in more than 70 years from A.D.1174 to 1252. Centreing in Dafowan, Xiaofowan and stretching 2.5 kilometres in all directions, the nearly 10000 carvings at Baodingshan form a large ritual site of Tantric Buddhism. In 1961, the State Council of China designated the Cliffside Carvings at Baodingshan to be protected at the national level for historic and cultural value.

Rich in subject matters, grand in scale, excellent in drawings and texts, the cliffside carvings are a complete system of Buddhist doctrines. With close attention to the expounding of philosophical principles, the statues show the integration of the basic doctrines of Buddhism, the ethics of Confucianism, the theory of Taoism. Displaying the easy words, the carvings play an important part in encouraging people to do good deeds. Incorporating the principles of various schools of thinking, they reflect the characteristics of Buddhist ideology in China's Song Dynasty. Full of flavour of life and local characteristics, the cliffside carvings are a model of displaying nationality and life. They vividly reflect that the grotto art which originated in India completed its process of localization in China. These carvings tell people the truth of life, arouse their sentiments, captivate them with Buddhist blessings and happiness or warn them against afterlife misfortunes and sufferings. The carvings combine scientific principles with plastic art. They are an epitome of grotto art.
Walking through the main site, we were awed by the span and magnificence of the cliffside carvings. The carvings were divided into various niches with themes centering around Buddhist doctrines, filial piety, and punishment in hell of the most painful sort for sinners.

The first niche we came to was the "Ritual Site of Liu Benzun". Liu Benzun was a lay buddhist from Leshan in Sichuan Province in the late Tang Dynasty. He was reputedly the first patriarch of Esoteric Buddhism in Sichuan Province and the founder of a peculiar religious movement which stressed the use of mantras (incantations) and self-mutilations for the welfare of his followers. Legend has it that he successively amputated and burned ten parts of his body. Although described as a "lay" buddhist, part of his niche featured statues of his attendants.

Next was "Niche of the Nether World". In the middle of the niche sat Ksitigarbha, flanked by 10 Boddhisattvas, the God of Present-life Reward, and the God of Quick Reward. Legend has it that Ksitigarbha vowed to not achieve Buddhahood until "all the Hells are empty". Quoting from Yuli - The Holy Book:
With my compassionate vows, I came to succor all the sentient beings in this spiritual realm. Unfortunately, more people did bad than good. People came and gone, and there is no end to my salvation. What good methods must I use so that all human beings will believe in the law of karma, repent their wrong doings, start doing good deeds, and distance themselves from the endless cycle of transmigration between life and death? Only by doing so, will human beings not fall into the nether world again. And those who are already suffering in this realm can be uplifted to a higher level by virtue of their descendants' merits .... For those who have made severe mistakes in life and have vowed not to repeat the same mistakes, and have since started to do good deeds, to show repentance, their punishments in hell will be reduced and amnesty is given. As for those whose merits equate their demerits, no punishment will be meted out.
The lower part of the niche depicted 18 graphic scenes of sinners being tortured in various hells, including "the Knife mountain and the Knee-chopping hells".

The theme of the next set of carvings was "Sakyamuni's Filial Piety". A large statue of Sakyamuni sat in the middle of the niche. Surrounding the center bust were various carvings depicting Sakyamuni practicing Buddhism and showing his filial piety in previous lives. One carving showed a filial son carrying his legless parents in baskets balanced from a bamboo pole on his shoulder while he begged for alms. In the carving, both his parents had a piece of bread in their hands. The son had another piece of bread tucked in his belt. The story is that instead of eating the extra bread, the filial son saved the bread for his parents' next meal. These stories were designed to tug at the heartstrings although not so much at the common sense. The filial son would have fared better leaving the parents at home so he would have had more energy to hunt for bread. (And Ting is heretofore condemned to the Knee-chopping hell for this astute but unfilial observation).

Seven Buddhas sat in the upper tier of the "Niche of Parental Love Sutra". The lower tiers of the niche depicted scenes of "parental love in bringing up children with plots linking to each other as (in) a picture book". The dominant message was the depiction of the sacrifices made by parents in bringing up their children. In return, the children should repay the parents with acts of filial duty.

The "Reclining Buddha", one of the most famous carvings at Dazu Grottoes, stretched the length of the next niche. According to legend, this scene represents the Buddha on his deathbed giving instructions to his 12 disciples.

The next sight was a cave in which resided the Goddess of Mercy with a Thousand Hands and Eyes. We were not allowed to take pictures here, but you can see glimpses of the statue through the holes in the cave through which we took pictures. Legend has it that when her father fell ill, she plucked out her eyes and sliced flesh from her arm to use as ingredients for a medicine that saved his life. To show his gratitude he ordered a statue erected in her honor telling the sculptor to make the statue "quanshou quanyan" meaning "with completely formed arms and eyes." The sculptor misunderstood the father as saying "qianshou qianyan" (that is the problem with having the different dialects in China) and made the sculpture with "a thousand arms and eyes." From that day on, the Goddess of Mercy has been represented with a thousand arms and a thousand eyes.

The next niche featured the "Three Saints of Huayan School of Buddhism". Three large statues of the Buddhist deities loomed over the niche: Vairocana Buddha in the middle, Manjusri Bodhisattva on the right of Vairocana, and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva on the left. The statues reached 23 feet in height. The pagoda alone held in the hand of Manjusri purportedly weighed close to half a ton!

Next, the "Niche of Grand Precious Garret" featured three Buddhists sitting in Zazen under a black bamboo grove. The significance of this niche escaped us except for the fact that Du Xiaoyan, deputy minister of the Ministry of War in Song Dynasty of China, wrote the three Chinese characters prominent in the middle of the niche.

Finally, The "Niche of Guardians of Buddhist Law" featured the nine guardians whose duty was to "guard the ritual site and subdue monsters".

Coming out of Dazu Grottoes, Randy had expected to visit Guangdasi Temple next. To his disappointment, we were all unceremoniously ushered into the van and chauffeured to the Dazu Hotel for lunch.