Welcome to the EverLife Art Gallery.

This area provides the Center with a middle path that, like Buddhism itself, opens to and embraces all surrounding sections. It is the perfect spot for a gallery of Buddhist art. We hope that you’ll find the featured exhibits profoundly inspiring and enlightening. When you’re done here, be sure to look up at the skylight in the gallery’s ceiling. It’ll take you into the cosmos of Buddhism.

 

EXHIBITS:

•  #1: Sakyamuni at Vulture Peak

•  #2: The Tower of Abundant Treasures

 

 

Exhibit #1:

Sakyamuni Preaching at Vulture Peak

Spot in India where Sakyamuni taught the Lotus Sutra

8th century Chinese silk embroidered banner

Height: 7' and 10-7/8"

Location: Cave 17, Dun-huang, China

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When Siddhartha, a former Indic prince who had abdicated the throne of the Sakya clan in order to embark on a spiritual quest, attained limitless enlightenment, the achievement earned him the venerated title of Buddha (Enlightened One). For the next 40 - 42 years following his personal breakthrough, the Buddha, also known as Sakyamuni (Sage of the Sakyas), taught a large volume of sutras containing progressively sophisticated doctrines that aimed at helping his disciples unravel the Truth of the Reality of All Existence. Having reached the age of 72, the Buddha announced that the time had come for him to reveal his pinnacle teachings. At that time he was staying at the City of Royal Palaces on Mount Grdhrakuta (Mount Vulture Peak) along with a large assembly of devoted disciples. It is from this elevated stage near the southern face of the Himalayan mountains that for the next 8 years (up to 3 weeks before his passing at the age of 80) the Buddha preached the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, the Lotus Sutra and the Sutra of Universal Virtue. These three constitute the preface, main body, and postscript of the text known as the Threefold Lotus Sutra. In the central portion of the mythic sutra, the Buddha transforms Mount Vulture Peak into the Land of Tranquil Light — a transcendent space representing the pure state of Perfect Enlightenment. It is in this metaphysical place that the Ceremony in the Air is unveiled. Consequently, the transformation of Mount Vulture Peak into the buddha-land is a metaphor denoting that the Lotus Sutra possesses an inherent visceral power to reform the mortal plane (i.e., mortal state-of-being and corresponding experiential sphere-of-existence) into an enlightened realm. In other words, it figuratively denotes that this sermon offers the means for unearthing the absolute, pure eternal illumination that characterizes life’s subcognitive primordial state (i.e., buddha-nature or original enlightenment) so that it may break through the surface of mortal existence and rise to the highest level of enlightened wisdom and joy.

The 8th century silk embroidery exhibited here depicts Sakyamuni preaching the Lotus Sutra at Mount Vulture Peak. The Buddha is shown standing on a floating lotus platform in iconic fashion with a stiff right arm and an open palm aimed downward. This gesture seems to be introducing an unseen multitude of Selfless Volunteers, his eternal disciples, just before they emerge from below the ground. He is flanked by bodhisattva aides; at his feet two lions stand guard; the miniature figures below him denote his Indic followers (i.e., mortal beings). The colorful halos and auras used here denote the influence on Buddhism of Hindu styles established in India and exported to China starting from the 7th Century. Note that this rendition of Vulture Peak is not illustrated as a typical triangular-shaped mountain. Rather, the sacred protuberance is depicted using a fantastic collection of multicolored rainbow rocks strewn behind and around the Buddha figure.

 

Exhibit #2:

Scene from The Lotus Sutra: the Two Buddhas Sakyamuni and Abundant Treasures Aloft in the Grand Tower

• Vision from the Lotus Sutra’s Ceremony in the Air

• 7th Century Japanese bronze relief tablet

• Size: 32-3/4" x 29-1/2"

• Location: Hase-dera Temple, Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture, Japan

(displayed in the U.S. at the Japan Society’s "Enlightenment Embodied" exhibition, May 15 - July 6, 1997, New York; a Japanese national treasure courtesy of Japan’s Agency of Cultural Affairs).

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Of the 24 chapters of text that compose the Lotus Sutra, one grand scene spans chapters 11 - 22. These 12 chapters feature the Ceremony in the Air — a surreal gathering of countless numbers of beings in a sacred space of infinite expanse prepared by Sakyamuni Buddha for the purpose of revealing his ultimate identity. All that precedes this section may be considered a build up to this event and all that follows lends to the support and confirmation of the revelation made in the Ceremony. The Lotus Sutra’s Ceremony was imparted in metaphoric language, which, like a dream, conveys through its visual symbolism the culminating doctrine of all the profound insights the Buddha had taught during his 50-year teaching course. The ceremony begins with the sudden, silent arrival of a miles-high, bejeweled tower that parks itself in the sky. The floating tower is soon surrounded by all the buddhas from every universe that constitutes existence. They have assembled in order to participate in verifying the truth that the Buddha is about to reveal. Apparently, the tower is an ancient mortuary belonging to an extinct buddha by the name of Abundant Treasures. Long ago this buddha had made a vow to reappear within this mammoth structure whenever and wherever any buddha would preach the Lotus Sutra. As such, he represents that the Lotus Sutra is the final and quintessential teaching of all buddhas who ever existed, now exist or ever will exist. From inside the tower, the voice of Abundant Treasures is heard calling to Sakyamuni to join him. Sakyamuni walks across the sky of pure wisdom and opens the massive doors with one finger. As the inside of the tower is revealed an audience of Sakyamuni’s disciples is astounded to find that they can see a virtual image of Abundant Treasures seated therein. After taking his place upon the lion throne (seat of enlightenment ) next to the ghostly figure representing boundless wisdom, Sakyamuni declares that he wishes to bequeath his teachings for the future consumption of humanity. When he calls upon those capable of transmitting the Lotus Sutra to people in a far-off age thousands of years hence, countless numbers of enlightened beings suddenly emerge from below ground and ascend through the air until all are present at the Ceremony. The Buddha introduces them as Selfless Volunteers who have promised to be born in a future Age of Decadence when they will offer the gift of Perfect Enlightenment contained in the Tower of Abundant Treasures.

This exquisite work of art is likely to be the oldest extant depiction of the Ceremony in the Air. It dates from a time when Buddhism was fairly new to Japan — also a time when the Lotus Sutra enjoyed a high degree of respect in China due primarily to the work of Zhi-yi (c. 538 - 597 C.E.), a brilliant scholar and chief monk of the monastery on Mount Heavenly Terrace (Chi. Tian-tai). He founded the first Lotus Sutra school some 100 years before this tablet was created. Officially, Japan first encountered Buddhism in the 6th Century (either in c. 538 or c. 552) when the Japanese Imperial court received a formal delegation of Buddhist priests sent by the ruler of the nation-state of Pakeche (present-day Korea). A copy of the Lotus Sutra was included among the gifts they presented to the Japanese emperor. By the end of the 6th Century Japan came under the sovereignty of Prince Shotoku (c. 574 - 662) who at age nineteen was designated the nation’s Regent. At about the same time Emperor Wen Ti of the Sui dynasty in China lauded the teachings of Zhi-yi, after the latter had proved the Lotus Sutra to be the Buddha’s supreme teaching at a debate held among the major Chinese Buddhist sects of that time in the presence of the emperor. Zhi-yi’s treatises deciphering the Lotus Sutra may have found their way to Prince Shotoku when his cultural envoy arrived at the Chinese imperial court of Yang Ti (c. 607). Afterward, the Prince developed an abiding personal interest in the Lotus Sutra and in due course became its devoted student. Believing that he could use it as a guide for transforming Japan into a great civilization, Shotoku’s achievements included the establishment of the nation's first Buddhist temples, education centers and hospitals. Hence, the Lotus Sutra gained a position of prominence and respect early in the evolution of Buddhism in Japan. However, the sutra did not gain a temple dedicated exclusively to it until the Eighth Century, when a determined Buddhist priest, Saicho (c. 767-822), also known as Dengyo, studied Zhi-yi’s work in China and returned to Japan to found the Heavenly Terrace/Lotus Sutra sect (Jpn. Tendai/Hokke). Apparently, the tablet exhibited here precedes his formal establishment of Lotus Sutra Buddhism in Japan. The inscription at the bottom of the relief states that it was created for an unnamed emperor of Japan who presumably received it during one of the following years: c. 674, 686, 698 or 710. This places the tablet’s origin between the time of Prince Shotoku and the establishment of Japan’s Lotus Sutra sect. Although this piece is of Japanese origin, it evokes a style characteristic of Chinese Buddhist art. The facial features of the buddhas and bodhisattvas appear innocent, almost childlike, and the heads are somewhat too large due to a double perspective used by the artist — looking down from the top of the tower and looking up from the areas below the tower. A combination of metalwork techniques were used to forge this iconography. The main body of the piece had been cast in bronze; the upper half was affixed with clusters of hammered-out bronze buddhas; and the lower portion, where heavenly beings are playing musical instruments, was incised by a chisel.

 

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