Buddha’s Caves

As part of his continuing series on China’s cultural legacy, New York Times art critic Holland Cotter reports from Dunhuang on the state of the Mogaoku Buddhist cave paintings:

Mogaoku is in trouble. Thrown open to visitors in recent decades, the site has been swamped by tourists in the past few years. The caves now suffer from high levels of carbon dioxide and humidity, which are severely undermining conservation efforts. The short-term solution has been to limit the number of caves that can be visited and to admit people only on timed tours, but the deterioration continues.

[…] The question of access versus preservation is a poignant one and is by no means confined to Mogaoku. It applies to many fragile monuments. What are we willing to give up to keep what we have? If you’re a Buddhist — I am not — you know that the material world is a phantom or a dream, “a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, a flickering lamp,” as the Buddha puts it in the Diamond Sutra.

As part of that world Mogaoku is a phantom too, but one that I had always wanted to see, one of my must-get-to-in-this-lifetime places. And finally I was here.



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