THEOSOPHY, Vol. 38, No. 3, January, 1950
(Pages 122-123; Size: 8K)
(Number 1 of an 11-part series)



NEWSPAPER reports bring the information that these famous Caves (Ch'ien-fo-tung) have survived the war years, and are being looked after by the Chinese Government with every care and appreciation (London Times, August 20, 1948). They are to be found on the edge of a sandy desert twenty-five miles from the little town of Tunhuang in north-west Kansu, 710 miles from the provincial capital, Lanchow. In earlier times Tunhuang was on the great overland route -- the legendary Silk Road -- linking China with India and the western world:

For many centuries the caves were one of the greatest religious centres in all Asia, visited by monks from many countries. Sometime in the twelfth century, probably because of unsettled political conditions, they were abandoned and left to the mercy of plundering bands and priests of other religions, and to the destructive agencies of wind and sand.
In reading this footnote to history, we are reminded of those other Buddhist monks who turned the grottos of the Miaotse into rock-temples and cells, and who entered Central Asia about the first century of the Christian era.

In the case of the Bamian statues, The Secret Doctrine tells us that these gave "a imperishable record of the esoteric teaching about the gradual evolution of the races," and they are said to be "the handiwork of the Initiates of the Fourth Race, who sought refuge, after the submersion of their continent, in the fastnesses and on the summits of the Central Asian mountain chains." Over these images Buddhist Arhats had modelled new statues made to represent the Lord Tathagata (II, 339). The largest statue reached a height of 173 feet, 70 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour. At Tunhuang, the largest of the caves (which number 426 in all) contain images of Buddha more than 100 feet high, the smallest being but niches in the wall:

Although the earliest date from the middle of the fourth century A.D., the majority belong to the T'ang (618-936) and Sung (960-1276) dynasties. The caves were dug out and painted by the monks and usually paid for by high officials and rich merchants, whose portraits and those of their families are often depicted along the rear walls. Many of the images have disappeared or been renovated, but the wall paintings, depicting secular as well as religious scenes, are still in a wonderful state of preservation, far better than those at Ajanta. Wind has eroded the cliff face, exposing some of the caves, and drifting sand has filled up others, but extremely dry atmosphere preserved both the colours of the wall paintings and the manuscripts in the library. (Times, August 20, 1948.)
Reference was made by H. P. Blavatsky in Isis Unveiled (1877) to the sad neglect of architectural relics of the earliest races, and she mentioned in this connection the caves of Ajanta, which had for long been the shelter of wild beasts. It is pleasant to think that since she wrote much good work has been done in restoring to their rightful place in history many of these ancient sites. The Bamian statues are a case in point, since their rediscovery by the Chinese traveller Hiouen-Thsang in the eighth century. The Ch'ien-fo-tung (the Times reminds us) were first reported to the western world in 1892 by an Englishman, Capt. Bower; but the first serious work on the caves was done by Sir Aurel Stein early in the present century. Stein it was who first had access "to the long-buried library, a treasure-house of early Buddhistic and Asiatic literature, which has since yielded more than 20,000 volumes, many of the most important now in the library of the British Museum":
The Japanese war gave a great impetus to Chinese studies in the north-west. In 1943 the National Research Institute of Tunhuang was formed by the Ministry of Education, later becoming part of the Academia Sinica. To-day there is a staff of more than 20 Chinese officials engaged in looking after the caves. Two years ago some important Six Dynasty manuscripts were discovered, and this year 10 caves, buried by sand, have been excavated. Every facility and courtesy are extended to the visitor, and there is a special dormitory where Chinese art students can stay.

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(1) NOTE.--H. P. Blavatsky took pains to extend the "theosophical view" as far into the literature, the culture, the science, and the scholarship of the time as impartial investigations in the various fields would permit. Students of Theosophy are therefore on the lookout for other corroborative testimony on the philosophy, as new avenues of thought open up among modern thinkers. "Extensions of Evidence" will consist of random notes and confirmations of points discussed in the theosophical literature, and the scanning of common grounds whereon the theosophist may meet the mind of the race. --Editors THEOSOPHY.
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