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5. Buddhist Paintings
Paintings not only make the Dharma halls more dignified, but they also convey the Buddha’s teachings as in the case of the Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life and the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures.
The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life
These scenes depict the eight most important events in the Buddha’s life. The first scene depicts a Bodhisattva riding a white elephant (a sacred and auspicious animal) from Tushita Heaven. This Bodhisattva, who lived in Tushita Heaven, is the Buddha before he was born. The second scene is the birth of Buddha to Queen Maya in Lumbini Garden. He is named Siddhartha, which means the one who accomplishes his goals. In the third scene, Prince Siddhartha sees a sick man, an old man, a dead man, and finally a beggar. He resolves to find liberation from suffering by becoming a monk. In the fourth scene, the prince leaves the palace and becomes a renunciant. In the fifth scene, he practices austerities as a monk for six years. In the sixth scene, the prince subjugates the demons and becomes enlightened under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya. In the seventh scene, the Buddha teaches the Dharma for the first time to five monks. In the eighth scene, the Buddha passes away (para-nirvana) at Kushinagar.
The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures
This is a well known series of Seon paintings that depict the process of ‘taming the mind’ or, ‘finding thy true self.’ In the first picture, the practitioner sets out in search of the ox. This represents the decisive point to begin spiritual practice. In the second picture, he finds the footprints of the ox which means understanding of the Dharma begins. In the third picture, he sees the ox for the first time. This is when the mind is seen clearly and understood how it works. In the fourth picture he catches the ox just as one struggles to tame their unruly mind. In the fifth picture, the ox is tamed which is when one has achieved a tranquil state of mind. In the sixth picture, he rides the ox home. The struggle is over and oneness with the mind achieved. In the seventh picture, the bull is gone and the practitioner remains. This represents that with nothing to tame, the mind and self become one. In the eighth picture, the self is also gone. Even the concept of oneness is transcended into the ultimate reality of emptiness. In the ninth picture, the world appears just as it is. This is the moment of clarity that represents suchness, or tathata: One sees clearly that a mountain is a mountain and a river is a river. In the tenth picture, the practitioner, now a fully enlightened being, returns to the village to save others.