The Eternity of Life – oil on panel – 45 x 60 cm
With spring in the air I thought I would feature this painting because it is full of flowers. At first glance it looks very psychedelic but what does it all mean?
The subject of this painting is the passage in the 12th chapter of the Lotus Sutra that describes how the Dragon King’s daughter was able to gain the fruit of enlightenment or Buddhahood. From the perspective of the written down Buddhist teachings this passage is immensely significant because in all of the earlier sutras women are denied Buddhahood or at any rate they would need to be reborn as a man in order to attain it. The sutras that preceded the Lotus Sutra also deny enlightenment to persons from the worlds of learning and realization and to evil people. However in the Lotus Sutra all of these teachings are overturned and when the dragon girl attains Buddhahood the assembly (that had gathered to hear this teaching) goes wild with joy because this event means that Buddhahood is open to all.
Buddhist teachings can be confusing so I’m not going to go into too much detail here, suffice to say that the Lotus is considered to be Shakymuni’s ultimate teaching. In this sutra the Buddha describes his own enlightenment and that’s why the events narrated in the Lotus Sutra are on a cosmic scale. This is the teaching that elucidates the essentially eternal nature of all phenomena as it passes through the phases of life and death. It tells us how the Buddha-Nature exists in everything (not just in humans) and its emergence is a potential at any moment in time.
In my painting living things considered to be transient, such as the flowers, insects and the songs of birds are seen as being eternal. The diamond in the lower half of the picture is the jewel that the dragon girl offered the Buddha when she attained enlightenment this symbolizes the indestructible nature of Buddhahood. In between the thumb and forefinger of each hand she holds a golden seed, these are the seeds of Buddhahood. The silver and golden apples close by indicate the wisdom needed to comprehend profound teachings. The circles of standing stones show that all teachings are contained within Buddhism and the central position of the hands emerging from the earth is a reference to the role of the ‘Bodhisattvas of the Earth’ in propagating the principles of the Lotus Sutra in the future. This part of the painting is about devotion and as such it corresponds with the character of ‘Nam’ from the mantra nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The portrait of the dragon girl represents the next character ‘Myoho’ which means mystic law or wonderful dharma. Next up we have the lotus flower which is called ‘Renge’. In eastern philosophy the lotus flower is revered because if flowers and seeds simultaneously and this indicates the principle of cause and effect by which karma is created. The next character ‘Kyo’ which means teaching or sutra is illustrated by the key and the crown because the Lotus is the king of sutras and the key to understanding. At the top of the picture the sun, moon and stars show that all the forces of nature follow the principles of the Lotus Sutra. By reciting nam-myoho-renge-kyo one is saying – I devote myself to the mystic law of cause and effect that permeates all phenomena throughout the universe.