A Buddha Made of Stone

by Sarah Albom /
Sarah Albom's picture
Sep 26, 2013 / 0 comments

The world's largest stone Buddha is enticing and magical, a masterpiece of craftsmanship that I will never forget. Like many who visit the Leshan Giant Buddha, we drove the two hours from the city of Chengdu, China. It is a scenic drive through rural towns and fields, which our private guide enhanced with his knowledge of the surrounding countryside.


After arriving in Leshan, we hastily boarded the river ferry moments before it left port, and snagged a spot against the railing. Though most of the other visitors were Chinese-speaking, the excitement that could be felt throughout the boat was unbarred by language. We were slowly moving toward a wall of rock, the hidden side of the cliff face tempting us like a Cadbury chocolate bar on the highest shelf. Bit by bit, a stone gatekeeper came into our line of sight. This great statue was marveled at until the main Buddha appeared from behind the cliff. Towering above us, the Leshan Giant Buddha rose up, a 71 metre high phenomena that had taken 90 years and countless lives to complete. Cameras rose. The air was filled with the sound of clicking, as well as gasps and whispers of amazement.


Leshan Stone Buddha, China


We were glad to have an English-speaking guide who could tell us the history of this Buddha. A monk named Haitong began building the structure in 713 A.D during the Tang Dynasty, after almost 20 years of raising funds. At that time, the river was turbulent and boat accidents were common, which the locals believed was because of water spirits. Haitong thought that by carving a Buddha out of the cliff face, he could calm these spirits and make the waters safe. Plus, the removed rock deposited in the river would help change the currents. When local authorities threatened to take the funding, the monk gouged out his own eye to show his sincerity to the project, while saying that they could have his eyeball but not the money raised for the Buddha. When Haitong died, the construction was halted for almost 70 years due to low funds, until a Jiedushi (a Chinese military commander) sponsored the project. The Buddha was finished in 803 A.D, and to this day remains the tallest Buddha carved out of stone.


As the boat slowly turned back toward shore, I realized I had just seen a miracle from over 1300 years ago; an amazing, once in a lifetime experience. I was thankful that we had opted for the ferry, rather than drive to the top of the cliff and walk down the side of the Buddha, as we could take in the entirety of the structure. The water spirits may no longer be feisty, but the structure that had been created for them lives on, hardly worn by the years it has seen.





Sarah Albom is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program


Photo courtesy and copyright Sarah Albom