I want to tell you about a millenarian culture, the Chinese culture. Lapis Lazuli in the Mythical China tells us about the perfect combination of ancient Chinese culture and modern art. We’ll talk about where it all began, the Bamiyan Valley. The extensive use of lapis by the Buddhist and Taoist religion. We´ll learn about the magical Medicine Buda and his Lapis Lazuli Pure Land. Of course, let’s not forget about the experts of today, the Hong Kong craftsmen. Enjoy!
The Wakhan Corridor, Iskar
China has been perfecting their craftsmanship on lapis since the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220AD). Chinese traveled through a village called Iskar via the Wakhan Corridor. They traveled seeking for afghan horses and they found tiān qīng shí or Lapis Lazuli.
The Bamiyan Valley is located in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan. This is the region where Chinese and the natives historically traded Lapis Lazuli and bartered.
This valley is located in the silk route near the Badakshan. Remember we’ve talked about this region? The best quality of lapis comes from here. The Chinese use to call the Badakshan, Tu-ho-lo or Tukharistan.
In the 1 century B.C the Buddhist religion migrated from China to the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan. They built two Buddhas on a vertical sandstone cliff. One of 170 feet high and the second 115 feet high. These Buddha’s represent the importance of this lapis valley to the Chinese.
The Yungang Grottoes are ancient Chinese Buddhist Temples grottoes or caves near the city of Datong in the province of Shanxi. It is on the valley of the Shi River at the base of the Wuzhou Shan Mountains. It is one of the three most famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites of China.
This enigmatic place has 252 caves with more than 51,000 Buddha statues and statuettes. This beautiful and magical place is completed with master pieces painted on the wall of the caves. Lapis Lazuli, like in most of Buddhist art, is used brilliantly and extensively all around the grottoes.
The Buddha of healing and medicine in Mahayana Buddhism commonly called the “Medicine Buddha” is also known as the “King of Medicine and Lapis Lazuli Light”. He is described as a doctor who cures dukkha (suffering) using the medicine of his teachings. The most distinctive feature of this Medicine Buddha is his color, the deep blue of Lapis Lazuli.
According to Wikipedia, Bhaisajyaguru’s original name and title was raja (king), but Xuanzang translated it as Tathagata (Buddha). The image of Bhaisajyaguru is usually expressed with a canonical Buddha-like form holding gallipot and, in some versions, possessing blue skin.
Medicine Buddha is one of many Buddha’s who have attained the state of perfect enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. The enlightened mind has eliminated all negativity and perfected all positive qualities.
When the Medicine Buddha achieved Buddhahood he became the Buddha of eastern pure land of Vaiduryanirbhasa “Lapis Lazuli Pure Land”. A pure land is the celestial realm. Bodhisattvas would obtain pure lands after they attained buddhahood. Known as the king among medicines because of its effectiveness in treating both mental and physical diseases.
Lapis Lazuli Pure Land is far to the east and its ground is made of lapis and its streets are paved with precious stones and marked off with gold. The boundaries are demarcated with golden cords, the towns, towers, palaces, pavilions, as well as the balconies, windows and draperies are all made of the Seven Treasures.
The Lapis Healing Master is often shown in the company of seven other Medicine Buddhas. The Healing Master in his eastern Buddha realm known as Pure Lapis Lazuli is generally flanked by the two leading bodhisattvas of that pure land, Suryaprabha and Chandraprabha, respectively All-pervading Solar and Lunar Radiance.
He made twelve vows. The Twelve Vows of the Medicine Buddha upon attaining Enlightenment, according to the Medicine Buddha Sutra are:
- To illuminate countless realms with his radiance, enabling anyone to become a Buddha just like him.
- To awaken the minds of sentient beings through his light of Lapis Lazuli
- To provide the sentient beings with whatever material needs they require.
- To correct heretical views and inspire beings toward the path of Bodhisattva.
- To help beings follow the Moral Precepts, even if they failed before.
- To heal beings born with deformities, illness or other physical sufferings.
- To help relieve the destitute and the sick.
- To help women who wish to be reborn as men achieve their desired rebirth.
- To help heal mental afflictions and delusions.
- To help the oppressed be free from suffering.
- To relieve those who suffer from terrible hunger and thirst.
- To help clothe those who are destitute and suffering from cold and mosquitoes.
The Lapis Healing Master is one of the most honored figures in the Buddhist pantheon. In Tibet the Medicine Buddha is revered as the source of the healing arts for it is through him that the teachings embodied in the Four Medical Tantras, the basis of Tibetan medicine came into being.
As explained in the first of these Four Tantras, the Lapis Lazuli Healing Master was once seated in meditation surrounded by an assembly of four circles of disciples including divine physicians, great sages, non-Buddhist gods and bodhisattvas, all of whom wished to learn the art of healing. Rendered speechless by the radiant glory of his countenance, they were unable to request the desired teachings. To accommodate their unspoken wishes, the Medicine Buddha manifested two emanations, one to request the teachings and the other to deliver them. In this way, then, the Buddhist explanation of the various mental and physical ailments, their causes, diagnoses and treatment and the maintenance of health is said to have originated.
During the 6th century the Taoists worshiped animals. They carved creatures from lapis. In the 14th century they made libation cups, urns and vessels.
Temple of Heaven
The Temple complex was built from 1406 to 1420 in the southeastern part of central Beijing during the reign of the Yongle Emperor. The Yongle Emperor also constructed the Forbidden City in Beijing. He used abundant Lapis Lazuli in the construction of this magnificent complex regarded as a Taoist Temple.
The most recognized carvings of lapis in the Ch’ien-lung period (1776-1795) were of Ho Tei, the God of Happiness. They also made carvings of Kuan Yin, a court lady. Chinese also made artifacts like snuff bottles and incense receptacles for cremated ashes sages. Delicate creatures like lions and other creatures from nature and mythology were made as tomb guardians.
The Chinese grounded lapis into a cosmetic to paint their eyebrows and made sheets of it into screens studded with pearls.
They made the famous Chinese fish, the carp. This exquisite fish amulet is a prize you can acquire in your favorite Nammu.com store.
The Pamir Mountains (discovered in the 1930’s) are between Russia and China. These mountains contain a poorer quality of lapis. From this we conclude that the Pamir Mountains were not the source of Chinese early trade of lapis.
Famous craft centers are in Liaonng, Kiangsu and Hunon. Shanghai is by far the most famous city where lapis carvings are made in rich and mythical traditions.
The cosmopolitan Hong Kong has a great quantity of carving workshops for lapis carving. The artisans polish and engrave the stones with a masterful skill. They pick the best colored pieces and make them into finer jewelry. The bigger pieces are also turned into images from libation cups, duck images to beautiful court ladies from the old days.
The Hong Kong artisans decide what kind of design best fits the piece of lapis. They are experts in their trade. Armed with the best tools and dills they work in small factories. An ordinary artisan has over a hundred diamond tipped drills in its working station which helps them cut intricate designs.
Raw lapis is sold by the kilo and some of the original pieces weigh 25 kgs. Lapis is sometimes dipped into a dye to enhance the color. Taiwan is considered a top center for dyeing stones.
Chinese artisans made Imperial buildings (tiles) of lapis lazuli. Lapis was also found in mausoleum screen walls, religious temples, worship offerings in stupas, as well as in utensils and adornments in the early Ming Dynasty.
It’s been appraised as one of the Seven Buddhist Treasures. It is also considered in the five famous Chinese wares (Bullion, jade, lapis lazuli, porcelain and bronze ware).
The Chinese artistic and cultural richness of the Chinese ritualistic traditions combined with the skills of the craftsmen lead to magical lapis Lazuli pieces.
To my standards and I think everyone’s standard, the Chinese artisans work more exquisitely than any other artisan in the world. They have a historic, mythical and rich tradition of lapis statue carvings.
Lapis Lazuli, a millenarian gemstone used by a millenarian culture…