Why Did the Ancients Build the World’s Largest Buddha Statue in Sichuan? Part 2

Looking up at the Leshan Giant Buddha statue.

Shi Xu had already completed his project of carving out a thousand Buddhas. But Shi Cheng had yet to finish carving out one foot of his Buddha. (Image: Gringos4 via Dreamstime)

Please go here for Part 1.

Shi Cheng chose a high rock cliff for the monumental task of carving out the Leshan Giant Buddha statue. However, by its very nature, this rock cliff was difficult and dangerous to work on. So he and his apprentices built scaffolding on the rock to enable them to maneuver up and down.

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They began work on the rock face with hand chisels and hammers. These were the humble beginnings on the statue of the future Buddha Maitreya, who brings light and happiness to the world.

Shi Xu had already completed his project of carving out a thousand Buddhas. But Shi Cheng had yet to finish carving out one foot of his statue. Shi Xu then said to Shi Cheng sarcastically: “I have carved a thousand Buddhas in two years, but you haven’t finished carving even one foot of the Buddha up to now.”  

Shi Cheng was not discouraged, and he said to Shi Xu: “Your thousand Buddhas, be it one thousand or ten thousand, cannot be compared to one foot of my Buddha.” After speaking, Shi Cheng continued carving.

When the old monk returned to survey the work, he also invited many skilled artisans experienced in chiseling stone statues to take part in the project.
When the old monk returned to survey the work, he also invited many skilled artisans experienced in chiseling stone statues to take part in the project. (Image: Gianni Tonazzini via Dreamstime)

The sound of hammers was like thunder, and the rock fragments were falling like rain

When the old monk returned to survey the work, he also invited many skilled artisans experienced in chiseling stone statues to take part in the project.

The news spread far and wide, and people heard the old monk asking artisans to carve the Buddha statue to suppress the three rivers’ water demon. Many people came to help, others came to prepare tea, and some delivered meals.

Suddenly, Lingyun rock cliff became a bustling place with many people getting on with the task of carving the rock and helping out. The sound of hammers was like thunder, and the rock fragments fell like rain.

The water demon that lived in the deep pool under the rock cliff was terrified of being hit by the falling stones. Seeing that his den underneath the water was about to be filled up with rocks, the demon leaped out with huge waves trying to lash the people off the rock into the water to drown them.  

When the masons saw the demon gushing out ferocious water waves, they picked up stones and threw them at the menace. The rocks were like hail; soon, the water demon was buried under the rubble. Since then, the wind and waves under the rock cliff have been calm, and the Leshan Giant Buddha protects boaters daily.

A greedy official comes to extort donations

At this time, a greedy official in Jiazhou who loved money like his life heard that the old monk had received many pieces of donated silver taels to carry out the work, so he came up with a ruse to extort the money.

One day, he and several soldiers went to Lingyun Temple and said to the old monk: “You disrespectful monk, you build a big Buddha statue without reporting to the officials first. You don’t follow the law. You are fined 10,000 taels of silver, and you must pay it within three days.”

The old monk said: “Sir, the purpose of building the Buddha is to suppress the three rivers’ water demon and relieve the people’s sufferings. This money that I have collected is to construct the Buddha. It cannot be touched!”

When the official saw that the old monk stood firm, he threatened him: “If you don’t pay, I’ll gouge out your eyes.”

A greedy official in Jiazhou who loved money like his life heard that the old monk had received many pieces of donated silver taels to carry out the work.
A greedy official in Jiazhou who loved money like his life heard that the old monk had received many pieces of donated silver taels to carry out the work. (Image: via Dreamstime)

The old monk stood his ground  

He thought the old monk would be scared and give up the taels of silver. But, unexpectedly, just after the official finished speaking, the old monk’s face remained stern, and he said to the official: “I would rather have my eyes gouged out than spend the money elsewhere, which is meant for the Buddha!”

​​The old monk then gouged out his own eyes. The greedy official was shocked, and he backed away in fright. At that instance, he forgot that he was on the cliff and fell to his death.

At that very moment, the pair of eyes miraculously flew back into the old monk’s eye sockets. After that, news spread, and after that, no one dared to extort money from the old monk.

Even after the death of the old monk Shi Cheng continued his work

Not too long later, the old monk fell ill and was near the end, but the statue was not completed. He called several disciples and masons to his bedside and said: “I may not see the completion of the Buddha figure. After I die, you must continue with the work.”  

He then drew his last breath. After the old monk’s death, his disciples continued with the work. Soon after, the builder Shi Cheng died, but his apprentices continued the work. In this way, generation after generation continued the work, and the Leshan Giant Buddha was finally completed after 90 years.

The Leshan Giant Buddha is the largest Buddha statue in the world. The Lingyun Temple (originally named Bao’en Temple) was also referred to as the Great Buddha Temple because the statue was carved into Lingyun Mountain.

Although most of the beams, pillars, and eaves have long disappeared, with only holes in either wall remaining, the majestic Leshan Giant Buddha stands tall, watching over all beings.
Although most of the beams, pillars, and eaves have long disappeared, with only holes in either wall remaining, the majestic Leshan Giant Buddha stands tall, watching over all beings. (Image: Gaoqing via Dreamstime)

Describing the Leshan Giant Buddha

The Leshan Giant Buddha’s head is at the same level as the top of the mountain, his feet are above the riverbank with water flowing beneath, and his hands are on his knees.

On the cliffs along the river and the left and right sides of the Buddha, there are two stone carvings of Dharma-protecting Heavenly Kings, which, together with the Buddha, form a pattern of one Buddha and two Heavenly Kings. There are also hundreds of niches and thousands of stone carvings coexisting with the two Heavenly Kings.  

On the left side, a newly constructed road leads to Lingyun Plank Road. On the right side is Jiuqu Plank Road. This is the only way for pilgrims to worship the Buddha up close.

After the Leshan Giant Buddha was finished, a seven-story pavilion was also built to cover the Buddha, but it was eventually destroyed. Although most of the beams, pillars, and eaves have long disappeared, with only holes in either wall remaining, the majestic Leshan Giant Buddha stands tall, watching over all beings.

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