Painting The Buddha

Blue Buddha 12”x12” Acrylic on wood panel 2016

The Buddha has been a reoccurring subject in my artwork. Time and again I explore this ancient symbol. Why? The answer is simple: The Buddha is a timeless icon of peace and compassion that provides an immediate sense of harmony to anyone who views it.

Before I express my inspiration around this influential figure, let me share with you the essential story of his life. The Buddha was a spiritual teacher who arrived on planet earth in approximately 563 BCE or 480 BCE as Gautama Siddhartha. He was born into a wealthy Indian family, with very favourable conditions. From early childhood onwards, he questioned life and the way in which society operated. Although his father, a king like leader in their community, tried to shelter him from the harsh realities of life (death, ageing, mental and physical illness), Gautama Siddhartha persevered in his quest to understand the nature of reality. One day, as a young man, he explored outside the palace walls. A place his father had forbid him to go. Along the journey of his chariot ride he witnessed a man who was old, a man who was ill and a man who had died. Upon seeing these unsettling matters, Siddhartha became overcome with grief that these facts of life were kept from him.  Soon-after, he encountered an ascetic Yogi. The Yogi had devoted his whole life to obtaining salvation. Whether by Yogic practices of eliminating karma from past lives, reading scriptures or performing good deeds, the Yogi was in pursuit of freeing his soul from the cycle of reincarnation (samsara).Siddhartha had found hope. Perhaps he too could devote his life to the pursuit of truth.

Arriving back home to an entourage of dancing women (organized by his father), Siddhartha decided to leave that very night. To find answers to the questions that dwell in his mind. How can humans free themselves from this cyclical experience of birth and death? He left in the darkness of night, leaving his wife and newborn son behind. Taking to the road, from one place to another, he began following suit with the religious monastic traditions of the time. He roamed the forests, excepted offerings of food from civilians, practiced deep contemplative meditation and sought knowledge from yogis and monastic practitioners.

Colour Buddha 8 1/2”x11” Acrylic on watercolour paper 2017

After years of ascetic practice, such as sitting on cold ice, eating only what was offered to him, holding asanas (yoga postures) for many hours and deep silent meditation, Siddhartha still felt that he hadnt attained what he set out to find. An answer to the cessation of suffering. If anything, he had only put himself through considerable discomfort. While his intentions were good, he decided to go a step further by completely abstaining  from food of any kind. Siddhartha fasted for what some say was 49 days. He became very weak, skinny and malnourished. Walking for miles from place to place and sitting in deep contemplation, alone and hungry, he observed his mind and body. He suddenly realized this was a futile practice, and began to remember that without compassion for himself, he could not achieve the goal of salvation. His health and well-being were important in reaching his objective. It was time to put some of the strict mindsets he had garnered to rest. How had they served him? Was he more free” than before?

Crossing the river Niranjana by foot with the little strength he had left , he sat down underneath the Bodhi Tree in a forested area. Beneath the full moon, under the canopy of this tree, he resolved to finally experience his truest nature. He would not leave until an absolute state of clarity was achieved. Otherwise, he would stay seated until he perished from hunger. Immediately, his mind became clear. Facing the attachments of fear, desire, anger and ego one by one, Siddhartha entered a state of being that was empty, like water. He became nothing. And in doing so, he became everything. By the will of God, he surpassed all sense of Self. Siddhartha became The Buddha- the awakened one”. Taking his ego and placing it unto infinity, he reached the goal he had set out to experience. Mara, king of the demon world, reared his haunting presence. If you have truly attained freedom from the illusions of life, provide a witness. You are all alone!”. The Buddha simply reached down and touched the earth. The earth spoke, I am witness to your enlightenment”! In that very moment, the whole world shook and flowers blossomed into bloom. Beautiful colours appeared in the sky and nature rejoiced. The handful of ascetic monks who had been following The Buddha saw he was in a deep state of bliss. The Buddhas face shined brightly with the aura of a holy man. What have you discovered? Please, tell us?”. The Buddha opened his eyes and said with a soft smile We are all very hungry…Let us eat”.

Overcoming the Matrix of Mind 16”x20” oil on canvas 2015

The Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching ascetics, yogis and people of the everyday world to find a middle way”. To perform the service of good deeds, acts of good karma and to be present with every moment of everyday. He directed them to not abandon the world and ones family but to become a knowledgable, proactive, meditative aspirant in the ever changing society of human life. The Buddha was knowingly poisoned by one of his students. After he passed away from his physical being, the stories of the Buddha were recorded in scriptures and entire cultures changed according to his new teachings. He was a revolutionary of compassion for all beings. He lovingly shared what he painstakingly learned through trial and error. Many other Buddhas” followed his formula and reached states of deep peace within their soul.

As a spiritual and artistic practice, the image of the Buddha was sculpted, carved and formed into statues, large and small. The symbolic meaning behind many features of the statues were representative of his message to the world.

His long ears connote attentive listening and silent mediation. A method for zeroing into the infinite. This is a state of Shuniya. When an individual loses their sense of self in deep listening”. Layers of awareness may unfold within, resulting in healing, understanding and peace.

The Buddhas mouth is often depicted as partly smiling, and partly serious. This represents the joy and happiness one may realize in life, as well as the undeniable reality that being human brings with it unpleasant experiences.

His eyes are often closed, to reference going within oneself to find refuge. To rely on ones own ability to navigate ones inner world. This may be cultivated through meditation and learning. When the eyes are closed, the energy of one's body is focused inwards towards emotional and spiritual concerns. This withdraws stimulation of the world so one can process what is going on on the inside.

 A centre point (dot) on The Buddhas forehead represents the third eye”. This dot actually represents glands in the brain called the pituitary & pineal. When activated through meditative focus, one can obtain insight into the nature of reality, perceive future outcomes and release feel good hormones stored in the brain. This produces a state of bliss and great intuition. Although considered spiritual, modern science is finding the correlation between this ancient symbol and the brains ability to have extra sensory perception” experiences.

The Buddhas hands are held in a mudra” of some kind. Mudra: a meditation tool that helps the brain be affected by energy in meridians related to each finger. For example, his index finger and thumb pressed together create Vitarka (Gyan) Mudra. Great knowledge and understanding flow from this position. As the Buddha realized states of this nature, this mudra is reflective of his position as a teacher of life. The light of understanding dissolves fear and ignorance. One can practice this mudra in meditation themselves to assist in quieting the mind and generating deeper levels of intuition.

His curled knots of hair or sometimes topknot” featured on his head represent a crown of spirituality”. This is sometimes considered similar to a turban or rishi knot. Having developed inner awareness and mastery of self, The Buddha's crown denotes the achievement of overcoming ones ego and self conceit. A direct connection with the universe and all things. Reality is experienced directly beyond religious conception. This is one of the most striking features of the Buddha. For many centuries different cultures, sages and religions have incorporated forms of keeping hair, tying turbans, or using cloth to cover their head. Upon further investigation, some have found these tools adjust the cranial bones, support meridians as well as protect the electromagnetically sensitive hair on the head from static energy.

Untitled 40”x20” Acrylic on canvas 2016

It is said that when someone sees the image of The Buddha, they immediately experience a sense of self-awareness, spiritual nobility and mental clarity. This is one of the main reasons buddhist artists create statues of The Buddha. It is a loving act of devotion to a positive image of peace in a world full of discord.

I am personally inspired to paint this subject as it brings me a profound sense of calm. When working in the studio, there is something quietly productive for the soul that happens without effort. In the process of capturing The Buddhas features, my mind relaxes. This reliability of influence draws me to paint this as a primary subject. I hold the intention that my work will also provide immediate peace for the viewer. In a century that is overly politicized, divided and burnt out, I appreciate this image of relief and tranquility.

Although I consider myself to be a spiritual person, my paintings of The Buddha are not religious. I merely find great enjoyment and peace in exploring this subject. With the variety of postures and features that may be present, I can discover different colour combinations, designs and patterns atop a strong unique figure. Respectful of tradition, I aim to be creative yet not appropriate the Buddha in any way for commercial appeal. As a person who sees humanity as one people, I am nourished by various cultures and motifs, without becoming overly identified with the subjects. One day, I imagine all barriers and borders will be broken and humanity will evolve into a harmonious culture of peace and prosperity for all. Perhaps the Buddha held a similar vision.

In a fundamental way, all those who relieve suffering of any kind in the world, are in fact a Buddha. A dentist who fixes the pain of a cavity. A lawyer who liberates his innocent client from trial. A performer moves audiences hearts in ways that heal. A farmer who provides food for the hungry bellies of working class citizens. Compassion makes the world go round.

Buddha by the Stupa 9”x12” Oil on watercolour paper 2020