Buddha Recognises Buddha

Lovely Cotinga and a Black-Necked Red Cotinga

In this third painting I’ve attempted to subvert the more familiar image of two love-birds framed in a heart. I hope I have avoided sentimentality by framing the birds in a twisted branch shape which can even be ‘read’ as an upside-down heart. Also, in the sea of lotuses there are plastic bottles. This is to represent samsara and nirvana because within Zen practice there is no difference; they are not opposites.

The birds are a Lovely Cotinga and a Black-Necked Red Cotinga, species found in South America and Central America. The names themselves speak of the miraculous beauty of nature.

Buddha Recognises Buddha is a familiar saying in Buddhism. On one level it describes how we should approach everyone in an attitude of compassion and acceptance; on another level it describes how we can recognise the buddha nature in another person when we don’t have a personal agenda, in other words when ‘self’ is out of the way. The birds are beak to beak to show this meeting. The twisted branch and the central lotus support the two birds to suggest how karma can be converted within Zen practice.

I’ve been reading Zen in the Art of Painting by Helmut Brinker which is a historical study of Chinese and Japanese Zen art. In this ancient art, birds are often depicted, usually as unassuming creatures in a natural landscape. The style seems effortless and spontaneous. My more exotic bird pictures in no way parallel these typical ink on paper or ink on silk marvels. However, there is one quote from the book which chimes with my more modest aims. After writing that certain Japanese artists were not concerned with creating an exact reproduction of reality, Brinker writes,

rather, they sought to grasp the inner vitality of things, their inner essence, and their ear was quietly receptive to the ‘spirit resonance,’ if we may use a classic expression from the ancient Chinese theory of art.

Many people know these lines from William Blake:

To see the world in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.

But he also wrote these less familiar lines:

How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way
Is an immense world of delight closed by your senses five?

This evokes the sort of sense of wonder I feel as I watch swallows skimming across the surface of a lake; or the delight I feel when looking at the endless forms and vivid colours of nature. And it is really this sense of wonder about existence which I try and put into my paintings.

As you may have noticed I’ve a penchant for symbolism and, on reflection, the three paintings taken together could represent the three treasures of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. I will leave you with that thought and would be interested in any responses you may have. Looking at art is subjective so we will each see something different in the same art work.

There are other Buddhist-related articles and other paintings on my blog.

Buddha Bird 2

Buddha Bird 2
Buddha Bird 2

The second painting is of a recognisable species; it is a red headed barbet which is found in South America. I’ve kept to the actual colours fairly accurately. Recently I’ve tended to choose birds with bright colours and mostly species which I’ve never actually seen. The colours of the birds suggest what other colours to use; for example I often use complementary colours (they are the colours opposite each other on a colour wheel). Here, blue is the complementary colour for orange, so together they seem more vivid.

As with the first painting, I’ve positioned the bird on a lotus; in this one the lotus is more obviously a throne or altar. I painted the shower of petals thinking of the Sunday Festivals at Throssel Buddhist Monastery. During the ceremony a monk weaves in and out of the walking congregation showering everyone with artificial petals. I also seem to remember showers of flowers being described in The Lotus Sutra.

I hope both stillness and activity are conveyed in the painting – the stillness of the bird and the activity of the petals.

Note; In some of the tales about the previous lives of the historical Buddha he is ‘king of the wild geese.’ This is one reason why geese are depicted so often in Chinese and Japanese Buddhist art. There is also a charming Buddhist ‘Conference of the Birds’ where Avalokitesvara is transformed into a cuckoo and the rest of the birds gather round while he expounds the Dharma. For anyone interested in reading this it is included in Penguin Buddhist Scriptures.

The painting is acrylic on board, 34cms x 30 cms

Bird and Lotus

bird and lotus
Bird and Lotus

I used to be an art teacher and became a Buddhist in 1985 at Throssel Hole Monastery. I’ve been a keen birdwatcher also from the 1980’s. Now retired, I recently started painting again and chose birds as a theme. I’m not interested (or skilled enough) in wildlife illustration, so although I start out with a reasonably faithful depiction of a species I will change colours and shapes to fit the composition. This one is different; the bird is entirely imaginary.

As you know, the lotus is a common and potent symbol in Buddhism so I featured a large one here. Instead of a Buddha sitting on the lotus I painted the imaginary bird to suggest that everything is Buddha. The rest of the landscape is semi-abstract and developed without any pre-meditated composition. I hope it suggests the life-force with the tree-shapes and vegetation. I chose the colours as I painted, again to suggest life-force and fecundity.

The painting is acrylic on board and is 30cm x 29cm. There are two more in the series.

Gassho

Eric