The Leshan Giant Buddha is a seated Maitreya statue chiseled on the cliffs of the Lingyun Mountain at the confluence of the Min River, Qingyi River, and Dadu River in the southern part of Sichuan province in China, near the city of Leshan. It has gained new fame recently when the record floods in China dampened its toes for the first time since the 1940s.
The creation of the Great Buddha took 90 years, four emperors, and three generations, from the year 713 to 803. It is the largest stone Buddha in the world.
The founder of the Great Buddha, Monk Haitong, was a monk in Lingyun Temple on Lingyun Mountain.
Legend has it that Haitong saw three rivers joining together at the bottom of the mountain. The flow of water was very fast, rushing straight to the foot of Lingyun Mountain, and the passing ships were often shipwrecked. Out of compassion, he thought that water demons were causing the situation and had the wish to erect a Buddha statue to suppress the demons and protect the people and ships.
Monk Haitong worked hard to raise funds for the Buddha statue. According to Fo Zu Tong Ji, or “Consolidated Records of the Buddha”, the groundbreaking scene was magnificent: people all tried their best, and thousands of hammers were working at the same time.
Leshan officials wanted to force Haitong to hand over the money he had raised after he got enough to begin the construction. Monk Haitong instantly refused and responded angrily: “I can dig out my eyes but you cannot take the Buddha’s money!” To show his determination to protect the Dharma, Monk Haitong dug out his eyes, put them in a plate, and presented them to a Leshan official.
According to legend, when the official saw the old monk gouging his eyes out, he backed away in fright. He forgot that there was a cliff behind him, and fell to his death. At this time, the pair of eyes flew back into the old monk’s eye sockets, and those corrupt officials no longer dared to grab the old monk’s money.
When the carving reached the Buddha’s shoulders, Monk Haitong passed away, and the construction came to a halt.
About ten years later, Zhangchou Jianqiong, a governor level official in charge of the area, donated 200,000 taels of money out of his own salary to continue the construction of the Buddha. The imperial court of the Tang Dynasty gave him local hemp and salt taxes as the funds for the project.
When the construction reached the knees of the Buddha, Zhangchou Jianqiong transferred to Beijing. Then, the work paused again.
In the year 788, Wei Gao, another governor of the local area, donated 500,000 taels of his salary, recruited craftsmen, and continued the construction. The imperial court again helped with local taxes.
After three generations of hard work, the Leshan Giant Buddha was finally completed.