Thoughts About Our Next Pilgrimage, and an Artistic Dream is Becoming a Reality – Painting The 500 Enlightened Arahats
We all have a multitude of dreams and ambitions.
Some of them are worthy of our efforts, and others need to stay on a shelf, like a yeasty dough that needs to rise and mature.
I have wanted to paint the 500 Enlightened Arahats, the students of the Buddha, for over fifteen years.
Because this project will take me five to seven years to complete, and will require many thousands of hours and thousands of dollars, I have put it on an imaginary shelf, hoping that one day I would have more clarity about how to approach it.
Now, I have turned to my long-held artistic dream that I placed on that shelf, completely out of sight, and I have asked myself if it is a dream that is worth all the effort required to embody and live it, or if it is a dream that needs to float away into the ether, to live on only in my imagination….
“Make me real…” it whispered back at me…..
“Make me real or at least try…..”
And so I am going to do it….
I am going to make it real, despite the despair, tears, frustrations and all that I know will be coming, when one takes on such a huge project….
I am going to paint the five hundreds Arahats, the enlightened students of the Buddha.
I plan to use as models the images of sculptures that Jules and I have photographed all over Asia, especially during our foot pilgrimage around Shikoku island in Japan, where we came upon two temples that had many stone sculptures of the Arahats.
It was a misty and very rainy day when we arrived at the temple to stamp our pilgrim’s book, and we still had a long way to go before arriving at our accommodation for the night.
But still, I asked Jules to split the task with me, and we spent hours photographing many of the Arahats in preparation for my art project.
Now, forced to stay at home in Colorado for a few months, I am taking the project on.
The reason we have been forced to stay at home is because we were waiting for the container from New Zealand that we had shipped four months ago when we sold our house in NZ.
Finally it arrived, and we spent some time opening the boxes and putting things away.
We are also in the process of replacing the roof of our Colorado home.
This new ‘Cold Roof System’ will cost as much as a small house in Bali, Sri Lanka or rural Thailand.
But it is money that we do have to spend, and it looks like the roofers are doing an excellent job.
To beat the summer heat, every morning the roofers arrive at 6:30am, and the banging on the roof gets me out of bed and into the studio to paint the Arahats.
And while all this is going on, we are dreaming about our next foot pilgrimage.
At first, we thought to walk the Camino de Compostela.
But to make it more challenging we thought to walk it all the way from Paris.
Then Jules suggested that instead of walking the busy roads of the most famous pilgrimage route in Europe, we should walk the less well known and very quiet roads of the Via Francigena.
And so it was decided.
We will walk the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrimage route from the Canterbury Cathedral in the UK, all the way through France, across the Swiss Alps and into Italy to St. Peter’s in Rome.
It is a journey of an estimated 2700 kilometers, perhaps longer if we walk one of the alternative routes into southern France.
I am reading all the books and blogs that I can find of those who have walked this pilgrimage, especially the excellent blog of Kym Wilson from Australia.
Jules is studying French every day, in preparation for the pilgrimage.
Because he has already studied French in the past, his memory is reawakening quickly.
I prefer to be in the studio painting instead of brushing up on my very rusty high school French.
Painting the Arahats is an enormous project, and for years I was not sure how to approach it.
Finally, I decided to paint them not on stretched canvases, but on long rice paper scrolls.
I contacted in China a small rural company that makes these rice paper scrolls by hand, and negotiated a big order.
Each scroll is floor to ceiling length, comes with a variety of silk borders around the rice paper, and is ready to hang.
The scrolls come with individual silk brocade boxes, to protect them.
The lovely woman who help me design the scrolls sent me a video of my scrolls being made.
She also said that she admires the huge project I am taking on
To be honest, I am a bit overwhelmed by the enormity of the project myself.
For the past six weeks, I have been experimenting with ideas of how to paint the Arahats.
If they are painted too small, they do not look as impressive, and it is too strenuous on my eyes to paint small.
I have to work very cleanly and precisely, since it is hard to fix mistakes on thin rice paper surrounded by silk.
The first few paintings I made led me to a thought that maybe I will paint less Arahats per scroll and paint a large dragon in the center of the paintings.
The mythical dragon is a powerful creature, representing the mysterious shadow, or the ego, that each of us, and each Arahat, has to overcome in order to reach the inner realm of pure bliss and enlightenment.
The shores of the inner ocean of Nirvana cannot be reached until we master the inner dragon and learn self control and self mastery.
As I told May Pan, the lady from the art supply factory in China who has arranged to make my new scrolls, I do not know how this project will develop, but I am hopeful that the way will be shown to me in the upcoming years that I have to work on the project.
I am hopeful that when I will be done, I will be able to display the long scrolls in a gallery or a Buddhist temple in Japan, so people will be able to see it and enjoy it…
Meantime, I am adding the three paintings that I have done and experimented with.
I will post the first one with the dragon as soon as I finish it.
With all my blessings,