Last fall, I was offered the chance to create a series of paintings for the Archives/Cultural Heritage Convention at Dongguk University. I created twelve paintings, summarizing and conveying the life of the Buddha, better known as the Eight Great Events.
1. Dream/ Announcement of the Imminent Birth
Prior to his birth, Buddha’s mother had a dream that a great white elephant descended from the heavens and entered her right side. This Birth prophesized that the child born would become a great king or a Buddha.
On the Queen’s way to her parents’ house, she gave birth from her right side to the baby Buddha.
3. Buddha’s First Steps
Upon his birth, the baby Buddha took seven steps, a lotus flower blossoming from each one, and on the final step raised and pointed his right finger to the sky.
4. Seeing the Snake
Since Buddha’s father was terrified that his son would not choose the path of sovereignty, he had all negative influences banned from the palace, so the child lived in pure happiness and pleasure, until one fateful day where he saw a snake attacking and eating a frog in the palace garden.
5. Four Scenes of Human Existence
When Buddha grew older, on his way towards the palace, he passed the outside market where he saw four things that deeply disturbed him; an old man, a sick man, a dead man and finally a wandering holy man who had given up his home and family to search for knowledge. Having always been protected from the harsh realities of life by his father who had been warned that his son would withdraw from the world should he encounter such sights, the Buddha had a moment of shock and revelation.
As a result, the Buddha fled home in search of the purpose and meaning of his own life. He took off all his jewelry and fine clothes, cut his hair, and entered a life depending only on spirituality.
7. Visit from the Palace
As the Buddha meditated and spent his days alone in the forest, people from the palace visited him and begged him to come back. But the Buddha’s did not comply.
He continued to starve himself and seated himself under a Bodhi tree or ‘Tree of Wisdom’, vowing not to move until he had gained enlightenment and finally solved the mystery of human suffering.
During this period, he almost gave in to many temptations.
10. Enlightenment and First Teaching
Siddhartha then entered deep meditation and through the following night had a succession of realisations that culminated in a final understanding of the cause of human suffering and sorrow. He saw his own successive re-births, how all beings passed into the higher and lower worlds and finally how craving, desire and ignorance are the cause of the process of re-birth. He then gave his First Sermon, which would precede the many he would give in his lifetime.
11. Buddha’s Travel and Purpose
The Buddha spent the next forty-five years travelling throughout north eastern India teaching and ordaining monks.
12. Passing Away, Nirvana
Before his death, the Buddha gave a last speech.
His final words were ‘Decay is inherent in all compounded things, work out your own salvation with diligence’. Then laying on his right side on a couch between two trees he passed into successively higher states of awareness and then into the final state of Nirvana.