Ning-bo, located in southeast China, is known for its skillful sculptors. Wang Tai-sang, a Buddha-image maker, comes from Ning-bo. That's why the Buddha images he created are so well-adorned and wonderful to behold. Now Mr. Wang is coming to America and he is planning to pass on the art of making Buddha images to the western world. Given this good opportunity, many people will have a chance to learn the skill and make many Buddha images in the future.
Buddha images are the host of all Dharma images. In the Proper Dharma age, images are not really necessary. However, as the karmic obstructions of beings get heavier, the Dharma Image age emerges. During that period, images become indispensable. The decline of the Dharma Image age will cause descent into the Dharma Ending age.
Currently we are maintaining the Proper Dharma age. Although there are Dharma images, they are not essential. Why? It is partly because most people in the West do not recognize them. Many people have heard about the Buddha religion, but few people have ever seen a Buddha image. So even though we have Dharma images here, they are not widely known to people in general. In that way, we can be considered to be in the Proper Dharma age.
People who investigate the Proper Dharma do not attach to any form or image. But ordinary beings will feel lost and empty if they are not provided certain forms to rely on. A verse says this well:
If we are attached to appearances,
then we are going to wrong direction;
But if we never try anything at all
we will never go anywhere.
Beings are such that if something has not appearance and is devoid of form, they will think there's nothing there at all. There isn't a tangible substance for them to rely on. And so when it comes to the Dharma Image age, people are exhorted to make Buddha images.
The first Buddha image was made during the time of King Ashoka's reign. At that time the Buddha once ascended to the heavens to speak Dharma and his disciples missed him very much. They missed him so badly that they decided to make an image of the Buddha. They tried to make one, but it didn't look like the Buddha; they tried to make another one, but it still didn't look like the Buddha. They made a lot of images, but none of them resembled the Buddha. That happened because when the sculptor tried to look at the Buddha, his eyes couldn't open. He was blinded by the Buddha's dazzling light. Thus, he was unable to copy the exact features of the Buddha. Later on, the disciples asked the Buddha to be compassionate and sit by the seashore, so his body would be reflected.